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post #51 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-28-2010, 08:35 PM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

I understand about the small wire and minimal insulation issue. I've seen the wires and heard the horror stories. Though I have to say, I really dont see it changing anytime soon. Small changes at a time to use in the marketing department, but no reworks of the electrical and using of better durable wires.

About the only thing I really know about the current "fly by wire" combines is that I'll never own one. I plan to weld, tape and haywire the old machines till someone comes out with a machine with reasonable amounts of electronics on it and mostly cables and levers.

I dont mind the manufacturers promoting their line of dealer service and all that sh.....tuff, but the dealers still have control over the hiring and firing of the so called "technicians". This usually equates to a steady turnover with the experienced techs being let go at their first review for a raise. It would be fine if the dealer wants to train the newbe with a free service, but that would void the point of letting the experience go to save a penny, so it wont happen.

After being burnt far too many times using in-experienced "techs", I learned the value real quick of doing my own maintainence and repair. I cant do that on a new machine as it requires a laptop with multiple abilities to read codes and repair software.

So far, no mouse has ever stopped my machine, and so far, I have never been down for long periods of time. The only lengthy repair in the my machines history was a pto rebuild in mid season. It was a 2.5 day ordeal, and the reason for that length of time was??.......................the dealer ordered the wrong parts and had to re-order the right ones. Now,..I realize no-one is perfect and things happen from time to time. That is not my gripe. We're all human after all. However the point of stating the breakdown is that there was no need for any outside diagnosis. No laptop, no multimeter, no continuity tests, just plain old "oh look, the pto blew up". In a manner of 10 seconds or less it was 100% known and proven exactly what was wrong and a plan was made in about 15 minutes of how to go about repairing the machine and getting it back in the field.

I also understand the reasoning for putting so much wire into the new machines. It is mainly market driven. Catch phrases like "increased productivity", "less fatigue", greater capacity", etc., etc. These combined with the king of all catch phrases "decreased labor", have trained the purchasers of the new machines to actually rely on the electronics to make their living. An alarming percentage of farm operations today litterally have no practical skilled labor. If the gps is offline or the sprayer blows a sensor, the operation litterally shuts down. If that works for those operations, that is fine with me, it dont cost me a dime.

I however dont have that luxury. I have limited weather and growth stage windows in which to apply chems and nutrients. The physical size of the machines here is limited and the fields size is small and irregular shaped. This takes time to cover acres in a day. Using the example I gave above with reguards to diagnosis and repair time, I cant afford waiting my turn for the tech to arrive. I cant afford the expensive labor hiring the tech to diagnose a wire or software issue. My operation requires that I be able to instantly diagnose the breakdown and be able to repair it without waiting my turn. To do this, my machinery needs are of analog and mechanical nature.

To continue being able to use mechanical and analog built machinery, I have to resort to custom manufacture or inhouse building. Cost for inhouse is usually a great savings in money, but in certain situations can be costly in time and labor management. Custom manufacture often is competitive with the mass manufacture built machine, but this often means a comittment to usage far beyond any depreciation schedule as often there is little if any trade value.

Should a mass manufacture ever pull their head out their paint filter, and design a machine that can be sent down the same assembly line but choices in order for mechanical or electrical be installed, I would certainly beat a path to that manufacturers dealership network. In other words, I'll continue to build my own machinery and even resort to a combination of custom and inhouse should the time come for a "new" combine.

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post #52 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-28-2010, 09:12 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

You have reminded me of a story from WW2, doorknob, that involves wiring looms and mice.
So off topic but probably relevant to a lot of combine owners who have had mice and wiring problems and who will have an affinity with this story.

At the great Battle of Kursk in July and August of 1943 which along with Stalingrad, was one of the two great battles of the Eastern Front that were the turning points of the war in the east and ultimately led to the defeat of the nazi empire, a german heavy armoured division had protected it's tanks from the extreme cold of the Eastern Front by covering them with straw.
When they were called into action at a very critical time during the battle and when the battle hung in the balance, almost all of the armoured division's tanks were found to be non operational and incapable of combat.

Russian mice had found a very cosy home in the straw and in the tanks and had eaten their way through the electrical circuits of nearly all the tanks.
The Germans suffered a strategic defeat from which they never recovered and the failure of this armoured division to enter combat was one of the contributing factors.
And all because mice had eaten their way through the tank's electrical wiring systems.

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post #53 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-28-2010, 10:05 PM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

doorknob, I couldn't agree with you more in regard to the time issues that failed high tech devices can cause. Yes I understand your thinking in not wanting to have to get in line with service and wait for relatively small components causing complete shutdowns. Reminds me of planting and my seed monitor failed with no warnint. Pretty tough to plant with any peace of mind with no monitor. Took it into the dealership and asked if they could test it to determine if it was the monitor or harness and of course the answer was we have to send it in, at least two days. Then asked do you have a loaner, again the answer was no. Luckily a salesman that I had done business with was in the store and I pleaded my case to him. He said he thought he had a planter he didn't sell that season and it had a monitor and I could use it. Saved the day, or two. That was luck, it it had been anything a little unusual, I would have been finished. Just not a lot of extra electronic parts in the inventory and virtually no dealer owned loaner boards or parts. Not a good feeling to have to depend so heavily on these complex systems.
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post #54 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-28-2010, 10:16 PM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

Rom, interesting story about the german armour on the eastern front at kursk in 1943. The german war machine depended heavily on small numbers of very complex and when operating, very effective weapons like the tiger. However, these units required such tremendous support to keep them working that they often were not operable when needed. It simply took too much infrastructure to keep them fixed and working that in the remote and often extremely harsh environment of Russia, this task was sometimes nearly impossible. No neat authorized service facilitys with white lab coat technicians to deal with these over engineered machines. In the end they were outproduced and outnumbered. Does seem strange though that the tanks mentioned with mice damage had not been being used prior to the battle as the germans were always trying to plug holes along that long front and their deperate situation wouldn't have allowed anything to sit long enough for the mice to go unnoticed. Anything is possible.
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post #55 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-29-2010, 08:00 AM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

Which brings us back around to ROM's original thought of the reliability of the electronics today in agriculture.

I'm all for the advancement in technology in all fields of industry and life. Last thing I'd ever want to do is wish for or support a stoppage of further advancement. I am awestruck at the amazing things the medical science world has today because of technology. It is somewhat amazing to see the precision that a "working" gps system can bring to the planting, maintainence, and harvesting area of farming.

However, with the corner cutting in manufacture for corporate profit comes the reliability issues. I cant use those unreliable electronics. If the manufacture were to change things up and make a more robust product that can take the abusive treatment of an agricultural machine, then the price would be so high, it would be unattainable to me.

In that reguard, my situation is not unique. I think if the manufacturers ever did a realistic market evaluation, they may learn just how big the gap is that someone needs to fill. For us in that gap, it is a matter of economics.
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post #56 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-29-2010, 05:41 PM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

OK! My Old Man (MOM) (ROM's, one and only son! ) Will put his 2 cents in! (can we afford that at the moment ROM??? )

We've bit though a bit of a tough patch (13 years+) farming wise, and I can see no light at the end of the tunnel.
So the thinking about all this fantastic electronic stuff that helps us (whens its working!!) to be waaaay more productive (When it rains! )
We currently have to "hang on" to this "Old Gear" much longer than any of us would like!
And that's the main point here!

If and when the world has a food shortage and I mean a real shortage!!! Then we farmers will get a proper price for our produce.
Then theses farm machinery electronic advancements will be much more easily afforded by us the grower to help with production, when the world is in a food shortage situation! And will be very much needed to produce food at alarming rates!!!! (World will fight over water first, then food next!) ( and we will need this old eletroninc gear to be very reliable for "us" busted a** cockys to get some food production happening!)

They keep telling us our time will come, But! Only then, will we be regarded in this country (Australia/world) as a MUST HAVE INDUSTRY!

But, Ive been told this all my life and still carn't see if we will be ever be rewarded for our contribution to the world's standard of living. (regarded as peasants)

Fighting weather, biological system (grain production) and government/society views on us. "whinging farmers" as one of these things has to change very quickly.

Otherwise it wont be me buying any new electro controlled equipment (As much as I Loooove my gadgets! )

To you guys that have plenty of water and sub soil moisture, Live it up! Consolidate and reduce your exposure!

As 13 years of scraping by year to year, has us at this point to most likely, never seeing a new machine on the place again!
As I believe us Ozzie farmers are subsidizing our society and export markets food requirements at current levels of production and price!
Will primary producers be respected in my life time? I'm beginning to doubt it!
Could a big MN company run my current farm any better than me! May be a little bit!( Due to my lack of motivation currently!) But they carn't do anymore than me, with out water!

Sorry MOM to high jack your thread, But regardless of what big manufacturers do, we don't have that much influence to their direction, unless the world get a nasty shock one day, and discovers that there's nobody producing enough food anymore!

Rolf, (ROM's son)
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post #57 of 114 (permalink) Old 01-29-2010, 09:04 PM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

Years ago the science fiction movies and tv shows would indicate that in the future a daily meal would be in the form of a wafer or pill.

Seems anymore that a great percentage of old science "fiction" has in fact turned out to be just what happened. Currently, meal preparation and even the act of eating the meal seems to be seen as an inconvienience and somewhat of a pita. Where it used to be that the majority of people would shun the idea of a food wafer or pill, now the majority, or close to it, would prefer the wafer for work days at least. Few people anymore enjoy a fine meal and take the time to sit a spell and maybe visit with someone for a few minutes while the meal sits in. Nowdays, its go, go, go. In a family situation, both spouses work full time plus drive great distances to their place of work.

For many years allready millions of dollars have been spent making the basic nutritional needs of a meal into a carton shake or drink. Millions more are being spent now to further that concept.

Obesity is targeted heavily now and the idea of reduced food intake and a more active lifestyle is being marketed quite heavily. Some of the methods used to combat the obese is the use of looking at food as an evil, or a meal as a waste of time that one could spend doing something else.

Personally I dont see the farmers "day" coming anytime soon. Way too much science fiction techology entering the picture. Hydroponics and similar methods of growing bulk foods are being expanded.
Granted, it will be a long time yet before the meal wafer is a true reality. And agriculture has a future of sorts. However as the years go by without a food shortage, the technology to insure against said food shortage advances.

So now, IMO, what is needed is some sort of advancement in making a traditional meal, or close to it, easier to and faster to make and/or consume. It was said a few years ago that coca cola was considering a blueberry soda pop. One that actually had real blueberry juices in the ingredients. However it did not come about at that time as it would have taken more than every blue berry produced in the USA and Canada to make a go if it. In other words, as I see it, people will spend their money on a soda pop, because it is marketed so well and avaiable at any minute and contained in such a way to make it easy to transport and consume. If only we could do something like that with grains......?? ?? ?? ??. Wheat beer?
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post #58 of 114 (permalink) Old 02-04-2010, 09:55 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

As a current example of how possible software bugs may seriously affect the performance of a vehicle just google or Bing for information on Toyota's current problems with their drive by wire electronically controlled accelerators and the Prius braking system which is also a drive by wire system.
If a similar situation to that where a software bug which is suspected as being behind Toyota's accelerator problems and another software bug possibly behind the Prius braking problems occurred in the increasingly complex electronics in a combine or tractor, it could well prove to be deadly to the operator or even bystanders particularly if he / she went looking for the problem and the machine kicked into action in one way or another.
Automotive manufacturers do an enormous amount of checking of software before vehicles are ever allowed onto the roads and then millions of those vehicles using that carefully calibrated and checked software and electronics are produced.
The level of software checking in the ag industry manufacturing together with the frequent changes in models and software on the relatively low production run numbers, compared to the automotive industry, allows the possibility of the creation of some potential and seriously dangerous software bugs in the codes and programs in the new generations of the increasingly electronically controlled and drive by wire combines and tractors.
The production run numbers of combines and tractors simply do not compare to those of the automotive industry and that consequently leads to a far less experienced technical background in fault finding an software bug elimination in combines and tractors even at the manufacturing level.

I state again that I am in favour of using electronics to increase performance and reliability and to ease operator work loads and fatigue but the headlong rush to electronics as the main combine and tractor control systems is already raising some serious reliability problems and potentially very serious software bugs and problems some of which as we see above with the Toyota experience may be lead to potentially death dealing faults due to largely unproven software.
The combine and tractor manufacturers will have to be very careful where they are going with the electronic revolution as there are still so many serious and potentially serious problems that will have to be solved before drive by wire electronic controlled combines and tractors reach the reliability and safety and longetivity of the older less sophisticated mechanically controlled machines.
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post #59 of 114 (permalink) Old 02-05-2010, 07:48 AM
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

Control by wire when it comes to throttle, and especially steering and braking should be regulated worldwide by ISO and should prohibit the use of electro servo and motorized controls to actuate brakes and steering and should only allow electronic throttle control with at least one redundant system to prevent uncontrolled power plant responses. We all know that 'economy' electronic position controls using potentiometers with variable voltages are prone to wear and wiring harness and connection problems that can give false position readings. This can be disastrous. The use of digital absolute encoders is too expensive for average civilian use. Leave complete control by wire to the aero industry where cost is not such a factor and safety is an absolute priority. Even if when new, automotive and agricultural equipment that is control by wire is reliable, imagine with time and use and dirt and wear how dangerous this equipment could become.
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post #60 of 114 (permalink) Old 02-15-2010, 03:19 AM Thread Starter
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

A very long and boring post
You have been warned!

In the latter half of last year, 2009, a farming friend of mine, being a good customer of the green line, unexpectedly found himself [ plus wife ] invited to go to Europe in an expenses paid trip to assess and pass judgement on a new cab design.
Which got me thinking about the "human engineering" aspect of combine and tractor design.
I first heard the term "Human Engineering" some 45 years ago when soon after taking up gliding or soaring as a sport and with some power flying experience in Tiger Moths under my belt I was tapped as an instructor for our newly formed local gliding club.
At the gliding instructors course we had a lecturer who was amongst the early post WW2 pioneers in researching the way in which the human mind and human body react to various stimuli and inputs.
At that time the second generation of advanced jet fighters were becoming operational in the various airforces around the world and there was a desperate need to find out just how the pilots interacted with the increasingly complex systems in the new jets so my lecturer was one of those at the forefront of this research.
[ The original "Human Engineering" term is now called "Human Factors" or where it refers to the human / machine interface, "Human Factors Integration" which is a whole field in itself and very, very relevant to the way in which we, as farmers and operators integrate and work with and operate farm machinery.
Both the above disciplines can be found by googling and / or in Wkipedia under those headings ]

Now I have no doubt that most of the readers here have seen the manufacturer's fancy brochures showing the incredibly sophisticated layout of the seating and the controls and the instruments of the latest and most advanced combine or tractor.
At least that is what the brochure claims.
Those claims have about the same veracity as my grandmother's story when I was very small boy, that if I put a bit of salt on a small bird's tail feathers, I could then catch that bird!

Some of those fancy publications show the photos of the manufacturer's research departments with all sorts of dummies sitting in all sorts of seats which are supposed to show just how much emphasis they put on comfort.
They rarely show or indicate if their cab design engineers ever assessed just how the operators interacted from a Human Engineering aspect with both the controls and the instrumentation.
As you may have gathered by now, I am somewhat sceptical of many claims and advances as claimed by the combine and tractor manufacturers.
In the Two Rotors thread below, I referred to a conversation with a CAT engineer at our local machinery field days.
To repeat that part of the previous post with a bit of extra info that I excluded due to space and length of the original post.

"I will give an example of the later generation designer's lack of knowledge of farmer psychology from my experience with the Cat tracked tractors from a few years ago.
Cat's small second generation tracked machines had a very large number of very small warning icons in an arc around the instrument console.
Good idea ?
I walked up to an American Cat guy, a designer it turned out, at our local machinery field days here in SE Australia.
I asked him straight out; How old are your designers? He was taken aback to say the least and thought I was a nut case [ maybe he was right!!]
He eventually said that they were in their thirties and one or two were over forty.
I then asked him; How many of those designers wear glasses?
More confusion until I assured him the question was genuine.
He thought for a bit and then, I think there are two or three that wear glasses.
In my mid fifties at that stage, I pulled out my reading glasses and said, See these, I am one of the older generation of farmers and I have to put these on to read what your tiny bloody icons are saying when one comes on and by then it may be too late and damage may have been done.
He just stood there with his mouth open and then "We never ever thought of that!"
And then as I walked away, "What do you prefer, digital or analogue instruments?"
"Analogue! If its in the green, lets go!"

And that conversation really convinced me that even the largest manufacturer of heavy earth moving machinery really had given very little thought to the actual psychological interactions, the Human Engineering aspect of the interaction between the human operator and the instruments and controls in a combine or tractor.

Just to look at a couple of aspects of this human / machine interface.
Why do we have flashing lights to attract attention and why do those same flashing lights actually attract attention.
The human eye is geared to see very small movements right out near the periphery of our vision.
This is a very ancient, million's of years old automatic survival reflex from way back in mankind's past when our ancestors were often more likely to be hunted rather than to be the hunters.
The ability to see and instantly react to that tiny movement in the corner of the eye often meant that the hunter's family and clan could eat that day or it meant a better chance of survival if he met something bigger, uglier and nastier than himself.

Today the engineers still use that reflex reaction via flashing lights as a warning to the human mind and that is one interaction that works but can be corrupted and negated by bad design as in the Cat example above.

Or take swinging a cricket bat or for Americans, a baseball bat.
First the eye has to pick up the ball which is travelling at high speed so the distances are changing extremely rapidly and the brain has to almost instantaneously compute the path and speed of that ball.
The brain then has to process this eye information and then send a signal to a very specific group of muscles.
And that is a really marvelous and complicated computation for if that ball is going to say hit the batter then muscles all over the body are fired into action to duck under that ball.
But if the ball is arriving at another spot the brain calculates that only the muscles required to swing the bat will be used.
So the appropriate muscles are fired and the swing begins.
But often the swing is changed a little as the brain does new computations on the path and speed of the ball.
The changes are not smooth and continuous.
The brain instructs the muscles to move in a certain way, speed and distance and this takes time.
During this movement, the actual specifics of the movement cannot be changed until a new lot of instructions from the brain arrive to alter the muscle settings again to continue the swing but maybe in a slightly altered form to compensate for the new computed path of the ball and so the swing goes in the form of fixed steps which are changed by the stream of new instructions from the brain to the muscles giving the image and feeling of a smooth swing at the ball.
Apply the above to an emergency situation such as a PTO mishap in a tractor.
PTO's are a bit like pregnancy, they are either off or on and there is no half way situation so the emergency button that you have to hit which takes advantage of that reflex muscle action must be both in a place where you can hit it immediately without looking and it must react in the expected manner to any amount of hit force applied to it.
How does most of your tractor's emergency stop switches measure up to this requirement.
Combines are much worse than tractors as how many combines have a very prominent emergency button that almost instantaneously stops the header or platform from operating to prevent an obstruction being fed into the machine or much worse, an animal appearing out of the crop and being fed up into the machine.

Engineers should also take account of reaction times of the human mind and those reaction times are a lot slower than most of us realise particularly if you are tired, distracted or just plain bored.
The party trick to demonstrate reaction times is to take a bank note, hold it vertically by the end and get somebody to catch that banknote between their thumb and forefinger held midway down the note and without moving their hand when you drop the note.
Very few people can react in time to catch that note when it is dropped and that is an excellent example of how long it takes to react to something, for the eye to recognise the first movement of that banknote, of the brain to compute that action needed to bring those fingers together, for the chemical and electrical signals to move along the nerve channels to the finger muscles and for those muscles to fire and bring the thumb and forefinger together and that is even when you are in the most favourable situation of expecting some instant action and being fully primed to take that action.

Now take analog and digital readouts.
Again we are conditioned by very ancient reflexes to react to objects in the length and even the angles they are at.
A long branch leaning across a path means ducking under that branch and we do it without really thinking about it.
A branch or plant standing vertically alongside the path as does a branch leaning away from the path does not create any reaction in us.
Translate this into the angles of the needles on a analog scale and you can see the small number of brain computation steps needed to make a decision on the current state of the indicators and what they show.
The angle and direction those needles point at are a direct indicator on what they represent.

Now examine the way in which the digital readouts have to be processed by the brain.
The modern use of our now almost universal numbers system only goes back perhaps some 3 or 4 thousand years ago and the modern digital numbers that we all use are really foreign to the human mind having only been invented in India and Arabia some 1500 years ago.
So when we see a digital readout we must first recall and recognise just what these numbers are supposed to represent.
Then we must recall the numbers that are the benchmark for that particular sensor.
Then we must figure out if that first set of numbers is higher or lower than the benchmark number and then we must compute whether those readout numbers are a good or bad result compared to the bench mark numbers.
A long and difficult computation process and in a new and unknown machine, a process that is fraught with all sorts of possible misreadings.
And the analysis takes time that may well chew into the reaction times to an emergency situation.

There are many, many other aspects to human engineering of combine and tractor designs but perhaps these examples will give enough background for any readers, if they ever read this far, to actually think about.

Now start to combine the effects of all of the above human characteristics plus many, many more into a cab design and particularly into a large display with possible small multiple numbers of small push button switches and even touch screens.
Bouncing along, watching the crop feeding into the machine, trying to read the multiple digital numbers displayed on the screen and translate them into something meaningful or trying to remember which way you have to scroll to get the needed info and trying to hit the right button or very small switch to change a setting and then the instantaneous emergency happens.

I would suggest that there would be a much larger delay in reaction times as the operator tries to figure out what to do next compared to the wild grab at a lever that I think nearly all of us have done sometime in our harvesting experiences.

I really wonder if the combine and tractor engineers have ever employed or even done a considerable human engineering and human psychological study on the design characteristics of their cabs and machines.
Cabs that their publicity departments spend so much money on in fancy advertising.
In most cases, I seriously doubt it!
They might be very surprised and even shocked if they ever do such a research project but the rewards might be very considerable indeed.

And if any combine and / or tractor designers ever read this I would be very interested in their reactions.

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