20 October 2001

Combines vie for attention

As fewer – but bigger – combines are sold, so manufacturers and dealers are becoming keener to turn sales leads into deals. Peter Hill reviews the new hardware they have on offer for next years harvest

COMBINE harvester manufacturers are keener than ever to win your business. And little wonder, given that every deal struck today is effectively worth more than twice what it was just a few years ago.

Through the 1990s, sales of new combines in Britain hovered just above 1,000 units annually, apart from a three-year period towards the end of the decade when demand soared to more than 1,500 machines.

Since then, sales have fallen back dramatically to the point where, for this years harvest, they dropped below 600 units for the first time. With farming continuing to re-structure into larger enterprises, no one expects any substantial increase on that figure in future.

Every combine sold is, of course, a lot bigger, costs more and represents a bigger profit margin for dealers and manufacturers. So losing a sale is all the more painful.

It has longer term impact too. Because as the national combine population gets smaller with farmers and contractors switching to larger, more productive harvesters, so profitable parts and service business declines.

Some East Anglian dealers have already seen a third or more of their parts business disappear. So it is all the more important for dealers and manufacturers to maintain – better still gain – market share.

Claas has enjoyed some success in this respect. It claims some 38% of last years combine sales in the UK, with its share of the national population, which is estimated to have fallen from 25,000 machines in the mid-1990s to 16,000 units last year, growing from 22% to 25%.

Like arch rival New Holland, the German manufacturer offers a full range of harvesters from modest to massive. But it is at the top end that sales have polarised. Last year, for example, two-thirds of Claas combines sold were Lexion 460 or 480 – the two biggest capacity machines in the range.

Claas hopes to capitalise on that by slotting in a new model between these two – the rotary-separation Lexion 470 – while enhancing the performance of some of its lower-order models.

Competitors are hardly resting on their laurels. New Holland has launched a big offensive with its shapely CX range, claiming a lift in performance of more than 15% over the TX models on which it is based.

John Deere reckons on a 20% seasonal increase in capacity from its all-new 9000 WTS Series combines compared with the outgoing 2200 Series, while AGCO is slotting in another eight-walker combine to fill out the top end of its Massey Ferguson Cerea line-up.

There is a touch more competition, too. While Deutz-Fahr continues to plug away with the improved models introduced last year, the Case-IH range is set to grow beyond Axial-Flow rotaries with a straw walker line based on the New Holland TX. And Italian maker Laverda is back on the scene under the McCormick banner with a five-model range of straw walker combines.

For combine users, there are golden opportunities to strike advantageous deals within this highly competitive market, while gaining the operating and ownership cost efficiencies that modern, high-tech and ever-better performing combines have to offer.

New Holland

ALTHOUGH much of the focus of changes that transform New Hollands TX into the CX range falls on the bigger and heavier threshing drum (Crops, 4 August), a host of other significant changes are evident beneath the shapely exterior.

A stronger, faster running crop elevator, a longer grain pan, and 35% increase in clean grain elevating capacity contribute to the increased performance potential of these machines. Also an increase in engine power and the addition of electronic engine management (on CX840 upwards) helps to deliver deliver better power and torque characteristics.

Rated power outputs climb by between 4% and 6% on five-walker models and by a more generous 10% to 16% on the top three machines.

Variable output load-sensing hydraulics should cope with increasing demand for fluid power while reducing noise, heat generation and general wear and tear, while clutch instead of belt tensioning engagement of the threshing system and grain tank unloading auger are further advances.

All of which adds up to a substantial redesign aimed at lifting overall performance – New Holland claims at least 15% over equivalent TX models – and the ability to better cope with modern higher-yielding and often greener grain crops.

Much of that improvement, nonetheless, comes from the threshing system where drum diameter goes up almost 24% from 606mm to a massive 750mm. Apart from creating a larger concave area (in conjunction with wrap angle extended from 101í to 110í), the bigger and heavier cylinder clearly possesses more inertia to help maintain threshing capacity under varying and challenging crop load.

On the five-walker CX720 to CX780 models, concave area goes up 36% to 0.98sq m and on six-walker CX820 to CX880 models by almost 37% to 1.18sq m.

The overall concept is unchanged, however. After the threshing drum comes a beater that helps convey crop into the peg-type separator designed to remove more grain by centrifugal force ahead of the straw walkers.

Claas

EASIER adjustment of Roto Plus separator rotor speed, a more compact rotary separation model, and increased walker separation performance thanks to more aggressive straw agitation are highlights of the Claas package of changes for next years harvest (Crops, 8 Sept)

By changing from belt to variator drive, operators of the Lexion 480 and new Lexion 470 are more likely to tune separation rotor speed to conditions. On current models, there is a choice of three speeds selected by slackening the belt and moving it to another pulley. Now, it involves nothing more than adjusting the speed setting from inside the cab.

There is a wider range of speeds, too, so operators can slow the rotors in dry, brittle conditions or speed them up to improve extraction of loose grain from damp, green straw.

The Lexion 470 provides a performance gain over the biggest straw walker model but in the compact chassis of a five-straw walker combine. Contractors and farms that need to frequently shift their machines along modest highways should find that an appealing combination.

The straw walker machines themselves gain extra separation capacity from a tined drum that replaces the traditional "walking finger" straw agitator. Fitted to the biggest five-walker and six-walker combines (identified as "Evolution" models), the Multi Separator System deploys as many as 44 tines on a fast rotating drum to scrabble the straw and release loose grain more effectively.

These machines also get the most power and torque gains from a switch in diesel power units from Perkins and Mercedes-Benz to Caterpillar. Power is up 20hp on the Lexion 430 and 460, while the 440, 450 and 480 have between 10hp and 12hp apiece to further bolster performance.

John Deere

OUT with the old, in with the new. That is the picture at John Deere where the 2200 Series is ousted by a six-model range of all-new 9000 WTS Series machines.

In terms of components and structure, the newcomers share more with Deeres twin-rotor separation combine, the 9780 CTS than the outgoing machines. Most notably, the chassis, cab and drivetrain.

But whereas the Cylinder Tine Separation harvester has two longitudinal rotors for extracting grain aft of the threshing assembly, the Walker Tine Separation models have five or six straw walkers plus an overhead tine drum giving more aggressive agitation of the straw mat.

Although the threshing cylinder is the same 660mm diameter as before, the structure is developed, with rasp bars double bolted for extra strength, for example. The concave is longer and reprofiled, being more open at the points of crop entry and exit to smooth the flow of material.

The concave is also a more open design, lacking longitudinal bars over half its surface area to allow a greater volume of grain to pass through in appropriate conditions. This is possible partly because of the increased capacity of the cleaning shoe and straw walkers. But when crop conditions pose the risk of risk overloading these elements, a concave insert is available to tighten things up.

Behind the main drum, the "rotary beater" gets a proper concave for the first time; on the 2200 Series this is little more than a finger-bar crop guide. Adding 0.67sq m of concave area to the drums 1.25sq m concave on six-walker combines, it should make a significant contribution to threshing and initial separation capacity.

Final separation has come in for a lot of attention. The 11-step straw walkers are longer and have grids designed to increase (by 6%) the open area available for grain to fall through without increasing the amount of straw that goes with it.

Above the walkers, tines on the Power Separator drum are designed to more aggressively agitate the crop mat to more efficiently tease out loose grain.

Up front, the 9000 WTS Series machines have newly-designed cutting tables from 4.3m to 9.15m wide, with lateral tilt programmable to automatically maintain pre-set stubble height and ground pressure for different crops and conditions.

Engine power and grain tank capacity go up to match the increased performance potential of the machines which now come as standard on radial instead of crossply tyres to help spread their considerable load over the soil more effectively.

Topping the Deere range is the 9880 STS, a single separation rotor machine for which is claimed the mantle "highest capacity combine in the world". This US-built harvester, which Deere says is engineered specifically to cope with European crops and conditions, packs a 12.5 litre engine developing 465hp – but with power boost available when needed thanks to electronic management.

A serrated bar accelerator and stone trap is located at the top of the intake elevator to sweep crop into the threshing assembly cylinder and after threshing the crop flow is divided into three distinct streams as it enters the single tined separation rotor. The housing around this rotor increases in diameter in three stages, allowing the straw mat to expand and release more loose grain, which ultimately ends up in an 11,000 litre capacity grain tank. Two-speed rotor drive allows the separation system to be adjusted to conditions.

McCormick

WITH five models built by associate manufacturer, Laverda, McCormick is entering the combine market with machines that have not been available in the UK for some eight years.

However, the company believes there is still a place for combines on which the emphasis is on durability and relative simplicity rather than a host of high-tech electronic features. The combines are built on a separate chassis and more than 80% of components are produced in galvanised steel.

There are three five-walker and two six-walker models, all but the smallest in the range being equipped with Multi Crop Separator – a large diameter peg drum behind the main threshing cylinder – and having the option of combine self-levelling to maintain output and driver comfort on sloping ground.

There have been a number of improvements since the combines were last available here. A Schumacher knife is now used on the reinforced cutting table, for example, with alternate upward and downward facing knives, said to give a better cutting performance in tough-stemmed crops such as oilseed rape.

Retracting fingers are fitted along the entire width of the larger diameter auger to improve feed-in performance, and the crop elevator has been toughened up.

Drive to the table, threshing system and grain unloading auger is now engaged under electro-hydraulic control and there is electric rather than manual withdrawal of the Multi Crop Separator concave when straw quality needs to be protected in very dry, brittle conditions. However, concave adjustment and other settings are still mostly manual from inside or outside the cab.

Self-levelling is available only on the most powerful versions of the five- and six-walker McCormick LX combines that, for safety, lose 500 litres of grain tank capacity. The system compensates for 20% cross slopes, 8% up and down, by selectively rotating the front axle final drive units. A slave cylinder actively adjusts the cutting table to match.

Apart from keeping the driver more comfortable and keeping the sieves evenly loaded with grain, the system can be used under manual control to help hitch up the cutting table or to ease the combine through a gateway without having to remove the table.

Massey Ferguson

A SECOND Cerea model joins the Massey Ferguson range for next years harvest, slotting in the range beneath the MF7278. Like this model, the newcomer features eight straw walkers; there is no increase in overall straw walker area, but walker activity is reckoned to be increased by a third with a consequent improvement in grain/straw separation performance.

Powered by a 310hp (340hp gross) Sisu Diesel engine, the MF7274 Cerea offers some 10% more output than the MF40RS which was replaced a couple of years ago with the 7200 Series introduction.

That marked some subtle changes in threshing cylinder concave design to better cope with crops carrying more foliage and kept green by strobilurin fungicides, as well as a general beefing up of drive components and an improvement in clean grain handling capacity now rated at 100t/hour.

In-cab electronic adjustment of sieves is included with the MF7274, together with optional automatic matching of forward speed to threshing load. The combine also gets a new straw chopper with extra knives designed to produce a finer finish for minimum tillage cultivations.