7 June 2002

SOPHISTICATED BALER OFFERS

QUALITY CONTROL

MARK Westaways conventional square baler is anything but conventional. With built-in weighing, remote density adjustment and automatic bale chamber pressure release, the machine is a lot more sophisticated than its standard counterparts.

Quality control is the number one priority when it comes to producing forage products for discerning customers. And few are more discerning than those buying processed forage to feed their horses, reckons Mark Westaway.

Producing HorseHage bales of consistent weight and quality is therefore the main objective of his horse feed business, based at Love Lane Farm, Marldon near Paignton, Devon.

"Our main concern is product quality, which we are always trying to improve," he says. "We must also aim to produce a consistent product – simply because that is what our customers expect."

Good quality grass, cut and then baled after wilting to a half way stage between hay and silage, is crucial to the end product. As is the HorseHage process, which largely involves compressing bales to half their normal length before sealing them in individual plastic bags to produce a high fibre, virtually dust-free feed.

Traceability

The baling operation itself is also a key element of the overall process, the approach taken being a measure of the attention paid to quality and traceability.

"Each field is divided into distinct areas for baling so the operator can make a note of anything that might have a bearing on the end product," Mr Westaway explains. "Then, every bag of HorseHage is given a corresponding number code so that if a customer contacts us with a complaint – or compliment – it is possible to track where the bale came from and, if necessary, check things out."

Mr Westaways Welger AP730 baler has been modified to give the operator greater control over the baling process and is used behind a tractor with stepless drive.

Optimum speed

With infinitely variable ground speeds and computer managed engine and transmission, the John Deere Autopowr tractor ensures that the baler can always be worked at optimum speed for the size and condition of the swath, and at a stable ram speed for bales with a consistent flake structure.

From the front, the baler itself looks pretty much standard as no modifications have been made to the pick-up and intake areas. The only give-away that things are different elsewhere is the hydraulic drive arrangement for the bale tensioning device.

For this, a belt and pulley drive, taken off the input shaft behind the flywheel, powers a hydraulic pump, with oil stored in a tank mounted on the balers front bodywork.

Changes are more obvious at the back, where technical manager, Roy Parris, has added an electric fan to the rear panel above the knotters to keep them free of debris. He has also replaced the chamber density springs with two hydraulic rams.

The latter conversion provides on-the-move manual adjustment of chamber pressure so that the operator can make any changes needed to achieve consistent bale weights. The in-cab monitoring and control system used for this purpose records average bale weights, as well as the number of bales produced.

Maintaining a consistent plunger speed is tackled in several ways. First, the tractors stepless transmission and electronic control system will automatically regulate ground speed to keep the engine and power take-off shaft spinning at the required pace.

Load monitor

Secondly, the baler has a load monitoring system which measures and compares shaft speeds either side of the slip clutch. When a pre-determined limit is exceeded, this system lights an orange LED, alerting the driver to slow down.

If this advice is ignored or a large plug of forage enters the intake, a red LED illuminates and pressure in the hydraulic density control cylinders is dumped to allow the lump to pass through.

"A good operator can achieve all of this using his own judgement to some extent," comments Roy Parris. "But the electronic system lends a helping hand and takes off some of the pressure of trying to do the job consistently throughout the day. It leaves the driver to concentrate on driving."

The next logical step is to integrate the baler control system with the computer used by the Autopowr stepless transmission. This would give automatic speed adjustment related directly to the load on the baler. It is an ambitious idea but, judging by what has already been achieved, one that should be within Roy Parris capabilities.

"The baler is one of our most important tools," says Mark Westaway. "We will have a go at anything that improves its output or performance." &#42

Mark Westaway (right) and technical manager Roy Parris.

Far right: At the front of the Welger AP730 baler, the only modification is the belt and pulley drive and a hydraulic pump and oil reservoir for the density control system.

Right: At the back, hydraulic cylinders replace springs so that bale pressure can be altered on the move. The electric fan simply keeps the knotters clear of debris.