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.