A large farm in Wiltshire was the setting in mid-August for a press event
A large farm in Wiltshire was the setting in mid-August, for a press event at which updates to the Claas combine range were demonstrated. The company also announced news affecting its other product ranges, including Scorpion handlers and tractors, and discussed its recent sales and financial performance in a demanding market. David Williams reports.
Bucking the general sales trend, Claas has achieved average annual sales growth of 10 per cent over the past 10 years, with a record year in 2014 in which the company achieved sales of 3.8 billion euros, and predictions for the remainder of the current year showing just a very small decrease. Some of the company’s specialist products offer unique benefits, and the Xerion systems tractor is being launched to farmers in North America and Canada this year, with a view to expanding into this huge potential market.
Scorpion handler with new pedigree
German company Kramer currently manufactures the Scorpion handlers for Claas, and this arrangement will continue until 2018, when the next generation Scorpion will be manufactured by family-owned materials handler specialist, Liebherr. The first of the new Scorpions will be shown at Agritechnica in 2017, with full availability planned for 2018. Liebherr has 10 divisions manufacturing products including large loading shovels and smaller pivot-steer machines, and it also manufactures its own engines. Claas UK CEO Trevor Tyrell explained that part of the attraction of the Liebherr link up is to expand the Claas range into new areas, where products can be tailored to the agricultural market and are at the right price. The new Scorpion will use Claas-owned designs from the current range, but with new model updates. In the meantime, the latest specification versions, complete with updated Tier 4 final emissions systems, will be manufactured by Kramer and will enter the market during 2016 and 2017.
Claas remains prominent in the UK combine harvester market, the latest 2014 statistics showing that the company sold 353 machines out of a total market of 826, representing 42.7 per cent market share. Estimates for 2015 reveal a declining market, down to 630 units from a 10-year average of 820 machines, a drop of 23 per cent.
“We are expecting a further decline for 2016,” explained Trevor, “with a total market of 580 units representing a 47 per cent drop over three years but, for the future, we expect sales to stabilise at approximately 600 machines on average.” Trevor said the declining sales are partly the result of a difficult market due to reducing farm margins but, he said, the main reason is that a growing number of larger machines are being sold, as many small and medium sized combines were replaced in the buoyant 2012 and 2013 seasons, and these tend to work comparatively few hours each year so are updated less frequently, with replacements not expected for at least another five years.
Forage harvester sales have been particularly buoyant in recent years, with 2015 predicted to finish with record sales. In 2014, the total UK market was 186 machines, of which Claas supplied 111, or 59.7 per cent, and the estimate for the sales year ending September 2015 is for a total market of 205 units. However, with increased pressure on dairy farm margins, the prediction is for reduced sales in the future, with the 2015-16 sales year ending up at 175 units.
Claas remains a relatively new player in the tractor market, but its product range is fighting its corner effectively against competition. Out of total sales of 14,820 units in the year ending 2014, Claas sold 497 tractors, representing 6.8 per cent of the total.
2016 Combine updates
The 700 series combines have significant updates to their engines, threshing and separation systems for 2016.
Tier 4 final-compliant engines will be fitted, all but one of which are manufactured by Mercedes Benz; the engine of the 760 now supplied by Perkins. Extra power and torque provides increased threshing capacity across the range and all have straight-six power units, whereas previously the two largest models had V-8 engines, manufactured by Mercedes Benz.
Model numbers remain as before and the range includes Lexion 740 and 750 both with 10.7-litre power units, producing 405 and 435hp respectively. The 760 has a 503hp 12.5-litre engine, and the 770 and 780 models both have 15.6-litre power units producing 585 and 625hp respectively.
All the new models use SCR (Adblue) to meet the required exhaust standards, and tank capacity is adequate for in excess of two days’ operation.
Dynamic cooling was introduced to the three largest Lexions last year, but the success of the design in terms of improving performance and efficiency has meant it is now standard across the Lexion range.
The system uses a large horizontally-mounted fan and radiator above and directly behind the engine to draw clean air in from above, and the air is directed downwards and to the sides of the combine, creating a ‘curtain’ of clean air around the rear of the machine.
The main advantage though is that the fan’s operation is variable, using a hydraulic drive to produce cooling on demand, so when anything less than full cooling power is needed, there can be a power saving of up to 20hp and fuel use is reduced as a result.
Improved threshing and cleaning performance
The Claas Hybrid threshing system is standard on all five Lexion 700 models and uses the APS (Accelerated Pre Separation) primary separator to remove easily threshed grains while the Roto Plus rotary separators remove the remainder. Smaller 740-770 machines all have 5-rotor concaves while the 780 has six, and they all feature adjustable hydraulic-operated cover plates over the first two concave sections to alter the separation area, allowing it to be reduced for higher throughput, when not needed.
Further improvements to the separation performance are available from a new optional upgrade – 4d cleaning, which complements the previous 3d system. Where previously the upper sieves adjusted to compensate for slopes, the 4d system includes an additional rotor cover plate, which alters position automatically on slopes, and automatic fan control. The extra cover plate is additional to those fitted to the rotors as standard, but is divided in two, and the relative angles of the flaps adjust laterally and longitudinally to achieve optimal use of available sieve area. When travelling directly up or down-hill, the Jetstream fan’s speed is regulated to compensate, speeding up when travelling down-hill and reducing when travelling up-hill, and the lower sieve opening is automatically adjusted at the same time.
Claas explained that the new 4d system will help reduce losses when operating on slopes, provide increased cleaning capacity and help avoid returns from overloading, but the operator can shut-off the system using the Cebis terminal if required.
A new option from Claas is a grain quality camera, which continuously monitors the sample as grain is delivered to the tank. This will immediately warn of damage to the harvested grain allowing settings to be adjusted to improve the sample immediately damage occurs. The system is currently capable of monitoring crops including wheat, barley and oilseed rape, with more being added to the menu.
Upgrade increases confidence
Auto crop flow control is a new option, available on all 700 models. Designed to provide extra confidence, the system allows operators to achieve greater throughput as sensors constantly monitor key parameters of the crop-flow system, and will automatically stop the feed if blockages are in danger of occurring. The sensors are on the APS drum, impeller drum, rotor and straw chopper and communicate with an engine speed monitor to determine if the system is becoming overloaded.
If a blockage is suspected, the intake elevator and table mechanisms are immediately stopped and an alarm sounds, while a warning message appears on the Cebis screen. “It also stops the unloading auger, so that as much power as possible is directed to the rotor to clear the obstruction,” explained Claas combine product specialist, Adam Hayward.
“Farmers and contractors purchasing these machines are professional users, and buy them with the intention of optimising their harvesting operation. Auto crop flow control will enable users to achieve maximum performance safe in the knowledge that the combine’s own systems are also monitoring the operation and will act in the event of an overload, possibly preventing an expensive and time-consuming blockage.
The price is under #2,000, approximately equivalent to three sets of drive belts, so when downtime and labour to clear a blockage are also taken into account, just one saved blockage could pay for the upgrade. We expect most users to opt for the upgrade.”
The unloading auger of the 780 is capable of unloading a full tank in less than two minutes with its 130 litres/sec discharge rate.
Improved chopping performance and capacity
Achieving an even spread of chopped straw and chaff across the full width of the combine has become more important, particularly when wider headers are used, due to the volume of material which has to be dealt with. An even spread allows easier incorporation and breakdown of the material in the soil and Claas has developed a new chopper offering better performance to meet this requirement.
Drum width is increased by 5cm, providing better flow of the crop into and through the chopper, and the wider diameter of the shaft also improves acceleration of the crop, which means it is spread wider. The spreader, previously hydraulic-driven, is now powered through a mechanical transmission which means an even speed is more easily maintained and fuel consumption is reduced.
The main attraction for most operators though, is greater convenience of use. The latest version can be fully controlled from the operator’s seat, and at a press of a button the chopper can be adjusted for transport, chopping or swathing. Through the Cebis screen it is also possible to adjust the chop performance through hydraulic adjustment of the concave plate and counter knives.
Improved availability of versatile tables
For farmers frequently changing crops during harvest, the Vario and Cerio cutterbars have proved popular, enabling table characteristics to be altered to suit the conditions.
The Cerio header can be extended manually for long-strawed crops such as oilseed rape and rye, by adding floor sections to increase the distance between the knife and the table auger, whereas the Vario header is adjusted from the cab at the touch of a button, with infinite adjustment possible.
Previously only available in cutting widths of 7.7 and 9.3m, and suitable only for use with Lexion and larger Tucano models, four new versions are available for 2016 extending their compatibility to include smaller Tucano and Avero machines.
“This is a situation where farmers with smaller acreages had seen the benefits of these tables, and were keen to have the same flexibility of operation to improve the efficiency of their harvesting operations, and we have responded to this demand by providing four new Vario headers – 5.0, 5.6, 6.2 and 6.8m, and three new Cerio headers in 5.6, 6.2 and 6.8m working widths,” said Adam.
“As on the wider versions available previously, the Vario headers provide a wide range of bed lengths from -10 to +60cm, with the knife independently adjustable by 20cm when the header is at full extension, and the Cerio headers have a smaller range of movement from -10 to +10cm, and we expect both types to be popular.”
The Vario allows side-knife fitting, for oilseed rape, without any tools and, once connected, the hydraulic pump drive is automatically engaged. The knife and reel-end positions are automatically transmitted to the Cebis terminal in the combine for easy reference.
Upgrades to both header types include wider 660mm diameter intake augers for increased crop flow.
Ten pre-series Lexion 700 combines have been operating in the UK during the 2015 harvest, and users have been very impressed with the extra performance over previous models, said Adam. “The difference in performance of the new larger 6-cylinder power units of the two largest models compared with the current 8-cylinder engine-powered machines has been especially noticeable and the extra power and torque has made a significant difference to their harvesting capabilities. On some farms we have had the current and new models working side by side, and this has clearly demonstrated the improved performance possible though the updates,” he said.
Claas UK electronic systems product specialist, Edward Miller, explained that the company is seeing increasing interest from users in precision farming systems, and that take-up in terms of services available is growing. “Telematics is standard on many of our combines including all Hybrid and 670 Lexions as well as Tucano models and is also supplied on forage harvesters and our larger tractors,” he said. “Of the machines supplied with the system fitted, almost all of the owners have chosen to make use of the system and are seeing considerable advantages. Automatic documentation is seen as an area of particular benefit as users can produce instant reports and monitor progress without the need for manual transfer of any information.”
Edward demonstrated the system, using data from one of the combines which had been operating at the launch event. Fields were identified from a Google maps image and ‘drawn around’ on the computer screen, and were then labelled automatically with their size, and a name or reference could be applied. The work reports from a combine were then downloaded onto the screen, and the yield and moisture content as well as combine operating settings could then be looked at for any location within the field. Where more than one combine was operating, the results from both could be imported to the same report, making it easy to see which combine had cut which area, and allowing comparisons to be made between the machines and operators. A summary report for the field was easily produced, which could be retained for future reference or e-mailed.
“This helps timeliness and efficiency, and means contractors can improve cash-flow by charging for work carried out sooner, and it provides full traceability of operations. Over half of the owners of telematics-enabled machines are using the system to produce automatic documentation, and that is significant,” he added.