An opinion expressed on this thread and no doubt shared in some quarters is that [ my ] 2000 word epistles are not to some reader's liking.
And I can relate to that!
When I come across a boring or too long winded post that I am not really interested in I just move on and let them be without commenting.
Unfortunately there has also been some unnecessarily strong dissension on here about which of the older models of combines were mechanically operated or had the early electronically controlled push button systems in them.
Those developments are now all interesting but past history which both customers and manufacturers alike should try and learn from.
Let me also make it quite clear that I am all in favour of maximising the electronics and computer control of our modern combine harvesters and tractors.
I just simply and totally disagree with the manner and the way that the ag combine and tractor manufacturers are going about this.
They are increasing the complexity of the machines whereas computers used correctly are quite capable of greatly simplifying machines and their operating characteristics and significantly increasing the performance of those same machines.
One of the puzzles is the current trend to having multiples of circuit boards and on board computers in the new generation of combines and tractors.
Why can't and why don't the manufacturers just install one common standardised, interchangeable, volume production, reinforced and hardened circuit board / computer that suits agricultural conditions and that can be set up to run all the functions on the combines and tractors produced by a particular manufacturer?
Why the complication in the number of circuit boards, software, looms and sensors required to run multiple boards and computers?
After all, way back in the 1960's the American's had the most advanced computer technology in the world.
With it they did something that will one day be looked on with awe by future generations as a first, something that can never be repeated by mankind again.
For the very first time, the American nation, using the technology it had developed, blasted men into space to land on another world, the moon.
That technology was so good that it put men on the Moon 6 times and brought all of them home again to the safety of Mother Earth.
And those vital computers in the Apollo space craft had all the computing power of a standard cell phone of today!
Even the Space Shuttle still uses computers with all the power of the IBM 5150 of the 1980's and with only one meg of RAM.
The Russians had even less computer power in their Soyuz space craft but they still came close to beating the Americans to the Moon.
They made up for the lack of computer power by very efficiently machine coding their computers directly with the binary format programs instead of using a compiler to do the translation from the standard program formats we are used to looking at which are then translated into the machine language binary code that the actual computers need to operate.
Only a handful of gifted coders can do complex binary coding direct.
Now combines and tractors don't move very fast.
They don't have immense amounts of power that have to be very accurately controlled down to milliseconds.
The lives of their operators does not depend entirely on the correct functioning of those computers and etc.
So why are the combine and tractor manufacturers installing so computers in any one machine and which appear to be so apparently complex in operation and of so doubtful reliability and so costly?
A part of the answer to this question possibly lays in the componetisation of most combines and tractors.
The various major components in most combines and tractors, such as engines, variable speed gearboxes, clutch packs and PTO packs, Air cons, steering and guidance systems, hydraulic systems, some electronic monitoring and computing systems and software and many other and etc's, are often sourced from specialist companies that concentrate on the production of one type of component or a family of similar components.
Even within the major ag machinery production companies, there are divisions which specialise in a particular line of components.
And if a company does not have access to a particular required technology they will buy a license to use that technology on their particular product line.
To use engine manufacturers as an example;
The recent development of the fully electronicly controlled diesel engine using millisecond and variable timing control of the common rail type injection system needs very sophisticated computer control of it's functions plus of course the input of numerous other sensor inputs from the likes of turbine charger boost pressures, exhaust gas temps, numerous controls of the combustion process to meet the ever more stringent pollution requirements and etc.
The resulting program to control all of this is very closely held by the company who has put a lot of money into the research and experimentation to get the maximum out of their engine and they are not likely to give anything away on the engine computer control system if they can possibly help it.
So a dedicated engine control computer board and software is obviously an individual item and the engine company will not allow it's secret software to be put in jeopardy by allowing it to be loaded onto a common to all computer.
Now repeat this attitude and the company's requirements for maintaining the propriety rights over the software [ or even a company's own internal divisions ] that run so many systems in the modern combines and tractors such as the computer controlled variable speed gearboxes, steering and guidance systems, PTO clutch packs, some sophisticated hydraulic systems and three point linkage systems and etc and you can soon see how the number of discrete, dedicated software / computer systems and closed propriety computer systems can multiply in a combine and tractor.
We are still at an early stage in the development of the fully computer controlled combine and tractors and sooner or later a system like the international ISOBUS standards system will come up with protocols that will allow the loading of the various software needs of a machine onto a common heavy duty computer board but still provide discrete and very tight isolation of the propriety owned parts of those individual programs.
If common sense eventually prevails and the ag machinery manufacturers recognise the current problems and start to move towards such a single common circuit board and software system then we will really see just how much electronics can do to make farming much easier again and to increase productivity significantly in even small machines.