Machinery

Background

Digital tech helps combine operators be more productive

Could the steady advance of digital technologies on combines result in fully autonomous operation? Maybe in the future, but for now they are making operator’s lives easier and their machines more productive.

Automated speed control, automated steering, remote setting-up advice and automated adjustment of threshing, grain separation and cleaning systems. Soon there will be little for the operator to do than read the newspaper and periodically fill up the diesel tank!

But with such complex processes involved in cutting, transporting, threshing, separating, cleaning and off-loading combinable crops, operators need all the help they can get to make the most of their modern machines’ considerable capacity.

Text continues underneath image

Auto steering and speed control relieve the combine operator - aboard a New Holland CR10.90 Revelation in this instance - of basic tasks that allow more time to be spent perfecting settings for output and sample quality. - Photo: New Holland
Auto steering and speed control relieve the combine operator - aboard a New Holland CR10.90 Revelation in this instance - of basic tasks that allow more time to be spent perfecting settings for output and sample quality. - Photo: New Holland

Multitude of settings

Operating a combine harvester is a highly complex task with up to 50 settings from the reel to the residue chopper influencing performance and sample quality, and a dozen or so process variables for the operator to continually monitor. Little wonder, then, that manufacturers are making it easier to monitor key processes, provide on-board advice for settings, and turning to automation to relieve the operator’s workload.

Help tackle growing shortfall in skilled operators

John Deere highlights independent tests in Germany showing an operator’s ability to fully utilise available combine capacity can vary by up to 20% depending upon conditions, experience and operator fatigue. Monitoring and control assistance can help in such situations; and they can also help tackle the growing shortfall in skilled operators capable of making the most of today’s highly advanced harvesting machinery.

Text continues underneath image

The Claas Lexion 780 is among high-performance combines that can operate with automated separation and cleaning systems to meet operator or manager set performance targets. - Photo: Peter Hill
The Claas Lexion 780 is among high-performance combines that can operate with automated separation and cleaning systems to meet operator or manager set performance targets. - Photo: Peter Hill

Claas also believes that on-board monitoring and settings advice can help less experienced drivers by giving them the tools and confidence to go beyond their comfort zone. But also that experienced operators can get more out of their machines, with guidance and automation being especially helpful when moving from a straw walker machine to a rotary or between different types of rotary combine.

Systems like John Deere’s Integrated Combine Adjust (ICA), Claas CEMOS and the Ideal Harvest monitoring system on AGCO’s newest combine, do a better than ever job of keeping the operator informed. At their most advanced, these support systems can make adjustments automatically within parameters set by the operator or their supervising manager.

Remote assistance

For personal advice and support, telematics systems that give remote access to the combine terminal display – such as Case IH Connect, Claas Telematics, JDLink Connect with Remote Display Access, and New Holland IntelliView Connect – provide the means to do so from beyond the combine cab.

Text continues underneath images


  • Mass acoustic sensors throughout the AGCO Ideal combine monitor the threshing, separation and cleaning systems to make auto adjustments…

    Mass acoustic sensors throughout the AGCO Ideal combine monitor the threshing, separation and cleaning systems to make auto adjustments…

  • …and provide the operator with a real-time visualisation of crop flow through the different processing stages within the machine. - Photo - Agco

    …and provide the operator with a real-time visualisation of crop flow through the different processing stages within the machine. - Photo - Agco

For example, an experienced Case IH Axial-Flow combine operator can use the AFS Connect dashboard on a tablet computer web browser to monitor other combines working in the same crop and use two-way messaging between AFS Pro 700 terminals to provide settings guidance.

For individual assistance, Claas Lexion drivers can turn to the dialogue-based CEMOS Dialog package, which guides operators through a number of steps, suggesting solutions to requests for ways to improve grain separation and cleaning performance.

It highlights the likely consequences of making changes and requires the operator to confirm the suggested settings, which are then applied manually by the control system.

Heading in the right direction

Automated steering not only relieves operators of one of the most demanding and tiring in-cab tasks. It also optimises output, helps yield mapping accuracy by ensuring a consistent cut width in grain and oilseed crops, and boosts overall combining efficiency by minimising ‘short work’ when lands or blocks of crop are opened up. Being able to make sweeping turns in a block harvesting sequence rather than sharp turns for up-and-down working also saves valuable time and eases the operator workload.

Row crop headers with whisker feelers between two of the crop guides automate steering in grain maize and other row crops, and all manufacturers offer GPS auto steering up to RTK level for grain, oilseeds and similar crops.

Automated headlands

Claas GPS Pilot can be used with two headland automation systems. Turn In, which steers the combine on to the next guidance path, and Auto Turn, which handles the entire sweep turn sequence.

John Deere’s Machine Sync gives the combine driver steering and speed control of a tractor running alongside – which makes sense when the harvester operator usually has the best view into the trailer taking a tankful of grain on board. As an add-on feature, grain trailer operators can see the grain tank fill levels of one or more combines on their in-cab display.

Text continues underneath image

John Deere Machine Syn gives the combine operator speed and steering control of a tractor running alongside while unloading the grain tank. - Photo: John Deere
John Deere Machine Syn gives the combine operator speed and steering control of a tractor running alongside while unloading the grain tank. - Photo: John Deere

Where GNSS correction signal reception is consistently poor, alternative guidance options such as Claas Laser Pilot can be used. This employs pulses of light and electro-optical sensors mounted on either or both ends of the cutting table to scan between the crop and stubble, and supply data to the steering system to automatically keep the combine’s cutterbar running right up to the edge.

Laser scan

Cruise Cut from Case IH and New Holland’s SmartSteer use laser scanning from a unit mounted centrally on the front of the cab roof to detect the difference in height between crop and stubble. They maintain that a laser beam operates perfectly in dusty conditions and at night – both of which can be challenging for optical systems.

Next step: Automated control

CEMOS Automatic is the next step up. It configures key systems as the combine gets to work to quickly establish the optimal set-up, which is then repeatedly checked and continuously adjusted as harvesting progresses to take account of any changes in harvesting conditions. On Lexion 600 walker separation combines, CEMOS Automatic adjusts fan speed and openings for the upper and lower sieves, while on Lexion 700 rotor separation machines it also adjusts the rotor speed and the rotor flap position.

Text continues underneath video

At the same time, CEMOS Dialog works in the background, handling the entire machine monitoring activity and providing on-screen advice for adjustments for other combine systems. Operators get to choose from optimisation strategies that (depending upon the combine type) prioritise maximum throughput, best straw quality, minimum fuel consumption, grain sample quality and an optimum balance between performance, sample quality and losses. A grain camera provides live imaging of sample quality to help inform the operator make cleaning system settings decisions.

Text continues underneath image

A seasoned operator on a Case IH Axial-Flow harvester can view the monitoring displays of other combines via AFS Connect to advise less experienced drivers on settings adjustments. - Photo: Case IH
A seasoned operator on a Case IH Axial-Flow harvester can view the monitoring displays of other combines via AFS Connect to advise less experienced drivers on settings adjustments. - Photo: Case IH

This feature is also part of the automated elements of John Deere’s Integrated Combine Adjustment (ICA2) introduced on S700 Series rotary threshing and separation combines. Complementing the existing passive system that gives settings advice, Deere says ICA2 is designed to optimise performance and sample quality while relieving the operator of constant settings decision-making. The operator can set parameters and then leave the electronics to make appropriate adjustments to the threshing and cleaning systems to maintain preselected output at a consistent level.

Simplified yield mapping calibration

Two cameras – one in the clean grain elevator and another in the tailings return – provide images that are analysed on-board to continually assess the sample for quantities of cracked grains, foreign material and un-threshed grain. In addition to taking into account grain losses at the separator and cleaning shoe, ICA2 responds to the presence of cracked grains – by increasing the concave opening, reducing drum speed and increasing wind speed a touch. Any new settings used for a lengthy period become the start-up defaults. Operators are also offered simplified initial calibration of the mass flow sensor used to measure the ‘weight’ of crop being harvested for yield mapping. This normally involves taking at least one trailer load of grain over a weighbridge to provide a reference weight. But the new Active Yield system gathers reference weights using three circular plate load cells mounted in a triangular pattern in the grain tank. It then registers each 3-tonne ‘cone’ of grain accumulated beneath the discharge point of the clean grain auger and John Deere recommends taking five such weighings to get the mass flow/moisture-based system calibrated most accurately in the shortest time.

Text continues underneath images


  • Swipe screen of the John Deere GreenStar 4600 terminal displays machine settings… - Photo: Peter Hill

    Swipe screen of the John Deere GreenStar 4600 terminal displays machine settings… - Photo: Peter Hill

  • …and a performance monitor display from the Integrated Combine Adjust system. - Photo: Peter Hill

    …and a performance monitor display from the Integrated Combine Adjust system. - Photo: Peter Hill

See crop flow real-time

Automatic settings adjustment is also a feature of the IdealHarvest system on AGCO Ideal combine harvesters. It uses data collected from a grain quality camera and 52 mass acoustic detection sensors to monitor the flow of crop through the different stages of the threshing, separation and cleaning systems and to then make adjustments according to operator-set targets. IdealHarvest is operated through a display on the Tech Touch terminal or a mobile device using AGCO’s SmartConnect app, where the operator can choose a combination of quality, performance and sample cleanliness depending upon the priorities on the day.

Text continues underneath video

A unique feature is the real-time visualisation showing the distribution of crop inside the combine, which can be fine-tuned by making adjustments to rotor speed, fan speed and sieve opening to achieve the desired result.

Control the need for speed

Keeping the combine fully loaded in a variable crop is the aim of auto speed control technologies such as Constant Flow on Massey Ferguson Centora straw walker and Delta rotary separation combines. It employs two sensors to continuously measure the load on the threshing system driveline and the drum concave, and adjusts forward speed as required to maintain 100% capacity and, according to MF tests, main output gains of up to 15% over manual control across a variety of crops while also recording lower grain losses.

Crop elevator load

New Holland IntelliCruise does the same job on CX7 and CX8 straw walker and CR Revelation twin rotor combines, using a sensor on the crop elevator driveline to continually monitor cutting table loading.

Text continues underneath images


  • Constant Flow on Massey Ferguson Delta and Centora compensates for fluctuations in crop yield to keep the harvester running at peak performance. - Photo: Massey Ferguson

    Constant Flow on Massey Ferguson Delta and Centora compensates for fluctuations in crop yield to keep the harvester running at peak performance. - Photo: Massey Ferguson

  • The Automatic Crop Flow feature available on Claas Lexion combines complements Cruise Pilot speed control by avoiding time-consuming blockages in more challenging harvest conditions. - Photo: Claas

    The Automatic Crop Flow feature available on Claas Lexion combines complements Cruise Pilot speed control by avoiding time-consuming blockages in more challenging harvest conditions. - Photo: Claas

Cruise Pilot on Claas Lexion 600 walker harvesters draws information on engine load and also, depending on the travel mode selected, grain losses and crop volume in the feeder housing. Operators can select constant speed, constant throughput from variable ground speed and constant throughput but taking grain losses into account, as well as a maximum ground speed and five levels of control response. Variable ground speed mode can be disengaged automatically when unloading on the move before resuming once the tank is empty.

Avoid blockages

Auto Crop Flow for all Lexion combines adds blockage avoidance to help operators work closer to the combine’s performance limits, especially when conditions are less than ideal. It monitors loads on the engine, APS pre-threshing cylinder, straw walkers or separation rotors, and the straw chopper, and when a potential overload situation is detected it immediately applies the cutterbar brake, cuts drive to the table and feed elevator and reduces ground speed if Cruise Pilot is engaged – as well as stopping the unloading auger if necessary.

Or register to be able to comment.