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rom 01-21-2010 05:43 AM

The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
[ A long, long post so I hope it arouses your interest.]

"The push button Combine" or in my home country of Australia, "The push button Header".

A term I first heard used over 30 years ago in the latter half of the 1970's when we took an L2 contract harvesting up into central New South Wales on the then fringes of the Outback.
The locals of that area were some very phlegmatic and very tough guys. They had to be to make a go of it in that area and they did their farming and grain growing in some very harsh country.

Completely different now with a lot of money and a lot of very sophisticated irrigation from underground water which was only just starting to be exploited when we first went up there.
In those days of old, they were still driving 711 Inters and MF 585's when we arrived with the L2 which blew everybody away and promptly got dubbed the The Push Button Header.
In fact they claimed that the old Inter 711's and MF 585's lasted about 4 or 5 years out there in that abrasive red soil and then they drove them into the nearest creek.
After a couple of decades they claimed they could use the stack of old combines as a bridge when it got wet and the creeks flooded.

[ We drove the L2 some 600 kms up there with a the front [ header ] on it's trailer hitched on the back and a fuel tank trailing along at the tail end.
Some 17 and half hours of near non stop driving in one day usually on one's own.
One polizia moved us right along out of his town.
We discovered later that he owned two combines for contract harvesting and no contractor was going to get a foothold on his patch!]

The generations of Gleaners that followed all used the same type of "electronics" or more accurately they used automotive industry based electrical monitoring systems which had been long sorted out by the automotive and heavy vechile industry over many decades.
As a result the Gleaner electrical control and monitoring systems are quite trouble free, ie; these systems have proven to be very robust and trouble free right through the life of the combine.

I have touched on [ and gone completely off topic ] the current trend towards electronically controlled combine operating systems in the Two Rotors thread.
So to bring this subject on the future electronic operating and control systems that will be a critical component of every machine that we will purchase and operate within the next decade, I have started this thread to allow discussion on this fundamental change in the way that our machines of the future will be operated.

Perhaps my age is showing but I am deeply sceptical about the long term reliability and the survivability in the dusty and vibration ridden conditions, typical of agriculture, of the consumer type electronics that the manufacturers are using in their newest range of combines and tractors.
There is no doubt that electronics can be made very reliable and can be made to stand up to some very tough conditions.
To have this type of electronic systems the manufacturers would have to move to the specialised military hardened electronic systems and that would make combines and tractors equipped with these hardened systems just about unaffordable to all except to the the most avaricious big bank CEO's and their incompetent minions.
The other options for the manufacturers are to provide fan and AC cooled, filtered air in sealed, pressurised, vibration isolated boxes or units with all the electronic control boards combined to just one easily accessible location.
A couple of manufacturers are moving in this direction but as anybody who has messed with the now rather primitive automotive based alarm and monitoring systems in a combine or tractor will know, even the best sealing still seems to allow a buildup of dust, fluff, moisture and general detritus on the circuit boards.
This buildup is a function of the electric fields that surround any circuit board and IC's and is usually he cause of or leads to faulty operation.

Electronics can be a truly marvelous means of creating great flexibility and extremely good performance from engines and complex machines such as the modern tractors and combines and the ability of the electronic systems to contribute to even better performance in the future is almost unlimited.
But the achilles heel of all current combine and tractor electronic systems is that just one single, tiny component on that circuit board needs to fail or even only partially or intermittently fail, the worst scenario, and the entire operations of that machine will grind to a stuttering halt.

Software from the manufacturers are another real problem which will get a lot worse as more and more electronically controlled systems are incorporated into the new combines and tractors.
By electronic standards the production run of a particular circuit board and the IC components that are specific to one make and even more likely, one model with variations of that model, are absolutely miniscule and wouldn't even match the preproduction, verification run numbers in consumer electronics.
Every time a board configuration is changed or the engineers change the specifications for some obscure reason, the software writers, the coders have to revamp the soft ware program for that board and the operation/s it controls.
There simply is not enough time or experience to thoroughly debug each and every circuit board operating program each time the circuit is reconfigured or the operation it controls is changed in some way, all due to the very low production numbers of that circuit and that soft ware program so bugs and some big bugs at that will happen on a very regular basis.
So now we have a consumer based , somewhat brittle in operation circuit board, an extremely low production run of circuit boards, a very small and generally short production run software /program which may be full of bugs and in all probability a growing shortage of competent software engineers who are familiar with the needs and nuances of the agricultural industries.
Now toss in some dozen or so models of combines plus an equal number of tractor models from each manufacturer and multiply this lot by the number of major agricultural machinery manufacturers and then the number of circuit boards and the necessary software in each combine / tractor [ 14 such circuit boards in one model of one make of tractor. Make shall remain nameless except it is painted green and yellow! ]
In this case, the number of circuit boards AND the accompanying entrails of the loom were changed three times in the one model and the only way of identifying the changes was by the serial numbers.

There is much, much more to discuss on the good and bad points of the electronic revolution that is just now starting to hit the actual operating regimes of the ag machinery.

I have mentioned the wrecking of a mechanically sound European combine as it's $30,000 critical circuit board blew up twice in quick succession.
Today I was told of a combine where it took ten days to just get it out of the shed to start this year's harvest.
The owner drove it into the shed at he end of last harvest and it was a late model in excellent mechanical condition when he did so.
Nothing he or the agents did or could find out could get that combine engine started when it was required for this year's harvest.
Ten days and a new circuit board [ none available in Australia. Availability of the huge multiples of circuit boards and even more software programs being one of main points I am making when looking into the future a decade or two ahead.] ] flown in from the USA and they got it out of the shed.
Now this can and will happen to any combine or tractor make so no names but the colour was that grassy green colour with the ripe grass colour to accompany it.

I have posted comments in the Two Rotor thread and judging from the number of views , many of you must have read some of that thread but at the risk of boring you, I will take the liberty of reposting my comments from that thread into here as the comments are more appropriate here in this thread.

Reposted from the Two Rotor Thread ;

One of the what I believe will be the really big problems downstream for the present and future generations of combines and will impact on their long term reliability, usability and resale value is that the current generation of games kiddy designers are incorporating more and more computer controlled functions into the combines, tractors and other complex machinery.
Without these boards, the machine or some part of it becomes inoperable and everything grinds to halt.
Nor have these computers and boards shown themselves to be particularly robust or reliable in Ag use plus software issues often arise as well.
Changes in electronics and software are moving at a continuing and quite phenomenal rate and the games kiddy designers are constantly changing both the computers boards, the number of computer boards in a machine and the software, always claiming to be supposedly "improving" the performance of the machine.

In say 15 years time a lot of computers and boards in the current generation combines and tractors will simply no longer be available and the electronics in 15 years may be unrecognisable in any case compared to the current generation of electronics.

For the most popular brands and some of the most popular models in those brands, the small companies and backyarders will still possibly make up custom boards to keep the machines running but for most of the late generation, small production run models of computer reliant combines and tractors when a vital computer board, just one of a number in the machine, blows up, the only real alternative will be the wrecker's yard.
The cost of this will be horrendous to the farming community but we won't see this cost until years down the track and by then it will be far too late.
The machinery manufacturers are getting their money now.
We will pay much later as machines still in excellent mechanical condition will be regarded as scrap as the boards and software are obsolescent and if a critical board blows up, cannot be replaced and is no longer available and without those all essential computers the machines simply won't operate.

As an example, I believe that in one particular late generation model of a very popular brand of tractor there are three different versions using different computers and a different number of computer boards but the only way you can tell which version is which is from the serial numbers.

In combines, my info comes from one of the best Gleaner hotrodders here in Oz,
He was in a wrecker's yard and there was a very late model and very large capacity european manufactured combine still in very good mechanical condition being wrecked, to his astonishment.
The wrecker told him that a computer board had blown up in the combine and a replacement was some $30,000 AUD [ US $28,000 ].
The board was replaced and blew up again in a couple of weeks so the combine owner said thats it and the combine went to the wreckers.

Those are the sort of problems we are facing in the long term with the current and future generations of combines and tractors as they start to accumulate hours and time and as the games kiddy designers put more and more computer type controllers into Ag machinery.

ausfarmer 01-21-2010 07:36 AM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
rom I got out of the contract harvest game just at the right time as I was seeing more and more of the problems on new machines that you were talking about. Brand new combine sitting as the sensors said the rotors were not turning ( they were) so the machine would shut down, combines that would not lift engine revs above idle every now and then. Every brand has had these silly electrical problems although some seem worse than others, combines that were in perfect mechanical condition but the computer said nope. I know that life has good a lot more comfortable but maybe we have gone a little too far ahead at the expense of reliability.
The farm has two newer tractors of one colour, one has all the bells and whistles and the other is the chore tractor that is considered basic, no push button transmission or super dooper programable hydraulics. We know which one will be still earning it's keep in 20 years time already.

sumner 01-21-2010 07:57 AM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
As a collector of antique farm machinery, some of which can still perform it original duties being over 100 years old. I find myself saying quite frequently "how will this thing be able to still run when it's 30 years old". Or on cars with all the plastic now how will anyone ever restore one of these. I went from a 1972 G hydro Gleaner to a A-75 in 2008. Still have the G and use her some every year. But I don't think you'll get the hours out of these new combines that the 72 G has on her.

When the L came out with the electric over hydraulics I couldn't understand why the need for a switch-wire-solenoid-hydraulic valve in place of lever-rod-valve setup. Does the same job and the older is also easier to work on. I now look into the fuse panel of the new combine and the thoughts of what could go wrong makes you ill. Some improvements are not improvements at all just bigger problems to come around the corner.

monse75 01-21-2010 10:48 AM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
I agree with your post. What was wrong with the lever and belt system on old machines. How many hours have been wasted trying to track a broken wire chewed off by a mouse. Just because the engineers can invent something new does not mean it is has place on a piece of machinery. How much money does this add to the price of equipement. Think about the hours invested in inventing and testing some of these electronics. Take for example the self leveling sieves in some machines. I live in an area with rolling hills and understand the concept of overloading the sieves on one side when on a side hill. How many bushels are actually lost here though, it surely can't be enough to justify the cost of electronic self leveling sieves. I know there are places were self leveling sieves are a practical application, but it seems more and more dealers are simplying ordering new machines with all the bells and whistles whether people want them or not. I unfortunately am not one of these guys as I still run an R7 and 760 Massey. But what machinery will be available to someone like me 20 years down the road? Automobiles are already going down the road of getting 10 years out of them and then you just throw them away because its cheaper than fixing the electronic problems it has accumulated. I can't help but think if a company would build machines similar to the L gleaner and 8820 john deeres and simply make them bigger and more reliable at a much lower cost they would be onto something great. I know there is guys out there that can trade every couple years and they enjoy most of the new features there new machine comes with. Anything that goes wrong is covered by warrenty. But there is a whole lot more guys however who rely on running used equipement and doing there own mechanicing.

Don Boles 01-21-2010 11:25 AM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Doesn't necessarily take 10 years.
I have a GM pickup with quadrasteer.
The electronic controller for the quadrasteer failed, no part available less than
2 years after the last truck rolled off the line with quadrasteer.
Good points made here, makes one wonder about future electronic issues.


combiness 01-21-2010 11:59 AM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Monse, I've been saying this for at least 20 years now; we simply need the option of "stripped-down, bare-bones" basic combines, regardless of size. While I do embrace technology, and even want to see the pinnacle of ag engineering, such as a "self-running" combine, I wholeheartedly admonish the call to build just basic, mechanically-controlled combines and tractors.

No one on here, could be more correct as to the sheer longevity of such machines. I can restore any old model from the late 1960's on back, along with some of the 1970's ones that were made without all the "push-button" controls. The 1970's was only a transitional decade, with the 1980's seeing more of the movement toward total EM controls. By 1989, there simply was no other options. All combine models had converted over to this, period.

The option for an all-mechanical, lever and linkage actuated system is a must.
Demand it.

frantbk 01-21-2010 01:48 PM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Mechanical linkage, like electrical can only go so far. The size of the new machines in height and length probably means that linkage would jam (just like on the older smaller machines), vibration was a problem with linkage wearing out/breaking. One reason for changing from push/pull rods was rust, water, foreign material jamming the linkage. Another is you can only have so many levers in a cab - you can have twice, three times the number of buttons to lever ratio in a cab.

After saying all of this, do I think the electrical/electronic combine is a good thing? The ones in 1970 were a good thing. If the manufactures had stayed with that concept of electric/electronic where it was need and no more the combine of today would be a different bred of animal.

Ergonomics was the buzz word of cab design in the late '60's & '70's. Today's cab is about fashion, not true function. Spending 300K, or more, is forcing manufactures to add more useless fashion designing to justify the cost of the machine. Everyone of use expect that cab to be better then the last, but there isn't a cab on a combine today that's worth 300K, or more, so the technology and justification for that 300K, or more, has to be in the machine itself - ergo, the electronic combine and all the computers that can be stuffed onto the machine.

Nobody voted with their check book to stop the electronic combine. All of the really big farmers have so much pride in their new electronic combine and heads that this entire forum has post after post of the new combine. Except for the one person posting about their 8820 up and running every combine post is about an electronic combine. As long as everyone keeps paying for the electronic combine, companies will keep building electronic combines. Vote with your check book - most of you will not because you know you have a business to run and you can't take a chance on old equipment.

Can the electronic combine be sustained? How big will they become before they are too big to be economically useful? Nobody knows the answer. The engineers and manufactures are willing to spend your money to find out. Vote with your check book, demand more from the company by expecting less electronics and longevity of older systems. Everyone of you that owns a electronic combine are part of the problem, and you are part of the cure. It is up to you with the money to buy new that will give this industry direction, if you start using your money to demand more, and less.

combiness 01-21-2010 02:19 PM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Frankb, the idea for the basic, mechanical combines, IS for them to be rather small. We don't need tiny, plot-sized ones, but I'm thinking just in the sizes equivalent to the 4400, 6600 or even an L2-sized machine. Offer three sizes, made to order.

Of course, those who need a really big combine, have the acreage to support such, and don't mind paying for all the "bells and whistles" to go with it.

bigboy 01-21-2010 04:58 PM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Rom that was an excellent post and it brings up a problem that I have been concerned about for several years. My combine is a 95 model R 62 which has been very reliable for over 3000 hours now but it is 15 years old and I would like to upgrade but I am very hesitant to do so because of the very problem you have described. Any high school kid with a basic understanding of mechanics can fix any problem I have ever had with my combine but that is not the case with the new machines ! I can match the new machines capacity Bu for Bu and do it on less fuel per acre so where is the incentive to trade up ?

frantbk 01-21-2010 05:25 PM

Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]
Who the heck is Frankb? My handle is frantbk!

What you are thinking and what the originator of this post is writing about seems to be two different subjects. The L2 was the second generation of the 1st electrical combines by Gleaner. Gleaner was one of the 1st to move away from the linkage system because the size of the combines were reaching a point of problem for the linkage system.

What the originator of this post seems to be talking about (in my view) is that the electronic combine is unsustainable. good equipment is being junk in Australia because of the electronics. Because Australia is a point farthest from the manufacture they are really on the cusp of a problem coming to all of Agriculture. The current business model for combine design is the trickle-down pyramid.

The trickle-down pyramid simply put is: The big farmer buys the machine new. They run it for 2-to-4 years. The big farmer trade it in for a new machine.
The trade machine is then moved down the pyramid to the next farmer who runs the machine for 2--to-4 years then trades it in. The machine is then sold to the next person in the pyramid who then runs the machine for 2-to-10 years. at this point the is somewhere around 18-20 years old.
At this point the people buying the machine are at the lowest point in the pyramid and run the combine until it is scraped, or they retire from farming.
This system has been in place since the mid-'90's when manufactures stopped building machines in the Gleaner L/8820-class.

What the originator is staying about the electronic combine is that because of the current disinterest from the manufacture these combines will not, and are not making it to the third and fourth level of the pyramid system. Basically due to the high usage of computer/electronic equipment needed to run them.

Because of this it is just a matter of time when their investment has no trade in value because only big farmers can afford the new combine, and once used, and aged from work. The combine's need for electric and electronic replacement exceeds the value of the trade in value of the combine. Simply put. NO ONE wants them because they CAN'T AFFORD TO FIX THE d**n THING BECAUSE OF REPLACEMENT COST.

Have I missed anything? I surely don't want to be the dumb guy in the room.

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