Following hot on the heals of test driving Agco’s Ideal combine harvester (see Farmers Guide, September), machinery editor David Williams provides an in-depth report on what the company describes as the first “all-new” combine designed for the European market in 40 years.
When all that was required of a combine harvester was to cut, thresh and clean grain, and leave straw in swaths ready for conventional baling, combine design remained relatively unchanged for many years. The 1980s saw a step change in rear end design as effective straw choppers were required to cope with the burning ban and as farm sizes increased and higher outputs were required, larger harvesters with rotary separation were introduced.
Straw, previously thought of by many arable farmers as a hindrance, has gained value and in recent years a challenge was created by the need for rapid, thorough separation of grain with minimal straw damage.
For its new Ideal models, Agco started with a clean sheet designing the first all-new combines for the European market in 40 years. “Check for losses and unthreshed heads,” Fendt harvester specialist Ant Risdon invited farmers attending a southern England demonstration. “Then check the swath – grain loss is minimal and almost every straw stem is intact and full length. Then check harvested grain in the trailer for damage and admixture. The Ideal’s design allows high work-rates, low losses, best grain quality and unbeatable straw quality, and it’s so efficient that fuel consumption is also incredibly low.”
To assess what was needed Agco purchased three main competitor combines and fed them crops from around the world, including damp barley sourced from Scotland sent in containers to the factory. Strengths and weaknesses were identified and Agco engineers pitched their own test machines against the other brands.
All Ideals, except Paralevel hillside versions, are available with tyres or tracks and standard 800/70R38 tyres provide a transport width under 3.5m. Tracks are available in 26 and 30in widths, the narrower options producing a 3.3m transport width and the wider tracks extend this to 3.5m, and 40kph is standard. Paralevel versions provide full machine levelling to 14 degrees, and a further 15 degrees of sectional cleaning.
Targeted demonstration campaigns this year by Fendt and Massey Ferguson dealers resulted in immediate demand for the new models, with verbal orders placed before the price is confirmed. Production has started, but very limited numbers will be available for next year and, until final allocations are confirmed, dealers remain cautious of accepting many orders.
Designed to perform
Three models are available, in 7, 8 and 9 size classes. Combine class relates purely to engine horsepower rather than work-rate and physical size, but Massey Ferguson sales manager for harvesters Joe Ford said he would happily pitch the Ideal 9 against any other harvester currently available.
The Ideal 7 has a single 4.85m Helix rotor while the Ideal 8 has two counter-rotating rotors, and the Ideal 9 has the same arrangement, with a larger cleaning area, and a larger capacity grain tank and unloading auger as standard, available as an option for 7 and 8 models.
The rotor design was tested rigorously during development in all crops. Crop is fed to the rotor by feeder drum, driven from the rotor drive and running at 70 per cent of rotor speed. This ensures crop enters the rotor in an even flow avoiding peaks and dips, and never overfeeds the rotors.
The rotor has a large 600mm diameter and the first 1,228mm section is where threshing and up to 80 per cent of separation occurs. A dedicated separation zone accounts for the next 2,460mm, and is where 20–30 per cent of the total crop is separated. The large diameter helix design provides high centrifugal forces at low rotor speeds and crop remains in it for longer for gentle but thorough separation, protecting the straw and needing significantly less power than alternative systems.
Ideal 8 and 9 models with their dual rotor arrangement boast the largest threshing concave area of any combine on the market by 31 per cent, claims Agco, at 1.66m2.
Idealbalance is the new combines’ system for dealing with separated crop, comprising two large oscillating plastic trays under the rotors. The front pan accepts material dropped from the threshing section of the rotor, with channels maintaining an even spread of grain across the full width for even distribution across the sieves, even on slopes up to 15 degrees. The rear plastic pan catches material from the higher separation area of the rotors, also with deep channels directing grain for an even flow across the sieve width.
Traditional fans couldn’t produce adequate air for the large cleaning area and extremely long grain pans, so a new cyclone air system was developed, with three lightweight fans creating high volume and low pressure air flows. High volume, low pressure blows material upward from the sieve and a secondary high pressure flow blows material above the sieves and with the system designed to handle any crop and grain size, even the dirtiest UK crops won’t require full blower capacity.
Blockages should be rare due to the technology installed, but a hydraulic-driven motor can be engaged from the cab to reverse the entire processing and separation system and, with shaft drive, the header can also be reversed clearing the blockage wherever it has occurred.
IdealHarvest is an innovative app which allows performance monitoring and automatic optimisation. An integral wi-fi network connects an iPad to the combine systems and threshing and separation information derived from 52 acoustic mass sensors (MADs) provides real time visualisation of the crop flow on the screen.
Sensors located along the processor and cleaning systems ‘listen’ to the crop passing through. These determine where along the rotor most separation is occurring and, by monitoring the rotor, shaker shoe and grain position, losses can be predicted and prevented before they occur.
Moisture levels are measured by conductivity and yield is calculated through an infra-red beam across the grain elevator, and claimed accuracy is within 120kg per full grain tank.
A grain quality camera monitors crop delivered to the tank for damage such as cracked or broken grains, as well as chaff and foreign objects and information regarding sample quality is fed back to the screen with the image refreshed every 20 seconds. An easy to use menu system allows the operator to set priorities for performance and the combine will constantly try to achieve the optimum result. A triangle on the screen is labelled in each corner; grain damage, foreign bodies and losses, and the operator can ‘move’ the indicator within the triangle closer to any corner to set a performance priority. Leaving the indicator central allows the machine to provide general optimisation as a compromise between all three.
HarvestPlus is independent of IdealHarvest and automatically adjusts the operating speed to maintain the maximum load set by the user. Loss monitoring can be included as a factor, so that speed is reduced if pre-set limits are exceeded. The system can also be linked to IdealHarvest, so that operating parameters from travel speed to rotor speed and sieve settings are all optimised to meet the chosen performance priority.
A wi-fi range of approximately 200m provides an additional benefit as the iPad is not restricted to use in the cab. For less experienced operators a supervisor can check the swath and make adjustments as required, while the driver continues harvesting in the seat.
Further possibilities include the ability to automatically set up a second machine to match a lead combine using information transmitted between the Ideal’s main terminals.
The Vision cab is brand new and the same as latest Rogator self-propelled sprayers with plenty of space, a panoramic view across the whole header and on the Ideal, controls have a distinctly Fendt ‘feel’ including a VarioTerminal and multi-function joystick. The main switch-gear is similar to Fendt too, with large stubby switches to engage and disengage the main functions. The VarioTerminal touchscreen provides information on settings and machine performance as well as GPS steering and a simpler display beneath provides live performance information including forward speed, rotor and sieve losses, fuel and Adblue consumption, tank contents and grain moisture at a glance.
A sensible but innovative feature is the sun-blind, which can be attached magnetically to any of the cab pillars to avoid dazzle from any direction.
A test drive by Farmers Guide demonstrated the simple control and after just a few bouts all the main controls were familiar and the automation ensured low losses and optimum grain quality. A handy safety feature, carried to the Ideal from previous Massey Ferguson harvesters, is that if the joystick is pulled back rapidly during harvesting the table immediately lifts as the combine reverses. Pushing the joystick forward again resumes forward travel and returns the table to its previous position.
Working at full capacity noise levels in the cab are low at just 73dB.
Standard grain tank size on Ideal 7 and 8 models is 12,500 litres, more than almost any other combine currently available while the Ideal 9 has a 17,100-litre tank, available as an option on 7 and 8 machines.
Emptying the tank quickly was a priority for the new combines, minimising time and distance for trailers travelling along-side and the smaller tank is emptied by a 140-litre/sec auger while the larger tanks have a 210-litres/sec emptying system. Three auger lengths are currently available including an extra-long folding version compatible with 12m CTF systems. The auger can operate in any position as soon as it leaves the cradle and be swung forwards and backwards while unloading to assist the trailer driver. Shutters at the base of the grain tank close when unloading is stopped, reducing restarting loads, and these can also be set to adjust the grain delivery rate, at any time. A single cross auger feeds the unloading auger on the smaller 12,500-litre tank and the larger tank has two. An impressive statistic is that the full 17,100-litre tank can be emptied in just 80 seconds.
For straw incorporation the Ideal’s ShortCut chopper has 112 knives in 14 rows, with an adjustable stationary knife which can be adjusted to 5 levels of intensity without tools, and allows the heaviest crops to be chopped to the highest standards for improved incorporation.
The chaff spreader can be set from the cab to spread in three different directions; within the straw for baling, mixed with straw in the chopper or to the side of the machine. Air intake ducts in the chopper side panels create a smooth flow of material from the shaker shoe into the spreader, combining straw and chaff.
The new Ideal combines are designed to work with the same 7.7m (25ft) PowerFlow header used on previous Massey Ferguson and Fendt combines, but 9.2, 10.7 and 12.2m versions are all upgraded to SuperFlow specification with a larger 760mm diameter auger for improved handling of heavy crops.
For farms where frequent table removal is required between fields, a new AutoDock fixing system allows the operator to drive up to the table, pick it up and connect all the electrics, hydraulics and PTO drive within just five seconds, without leaving the cab.
Power is from Agco Power and MAN engines from 451–647hp and a brand new DriveCenter power distribution manifold was developed to ensure efficient power delivery to the combine systems with minimal power losses. Wet clutch drive engagement is smooth and progressive and allows all the belts to remain tensioned, saving wear.
The high capacity cooling pack has an automatic reversing fan, using swivelling blades to alter airflow direction at regular intervals; with a maximum interval of 15 minutes and automatic activation each time road mode is selected or the rotor drive is engaged. In dry conditions advantages of the design are obvious as clouds of dust burst upwards when the blades reverse during work.
Air for the engine passes through a pre-cleaner before entering the finer filtration cartridge. The demonstration combines had operated for more than 100 hours in very dusty conditions at the time of Farmers Guide’s visit, but no filter cleaning had so far been required.
The transmission is hydrostatic with two main drive ranges which can be changed on the move from the armrest. Road mode selection provides the higher travel gear and automatically configures the machine for transport.
As an option, 4wd is selected automatically when needed, whereas differential locks are standard on all models.
This harvest provided little opportunity for non-stop harvesting as all the UK combines were engaged in structured demonstration programmes but spot rates in heavy wheat for the Ideal 9 were 98–102t/hr, but averaged 65–75t/hr due to frequent stopping and starting to swap drivers. Average fuel use in these conditions was 65–75 litres/hr.
Eastern dealer view
Lincolnshire Agco dealer Peacock & Binnington ran a very successful demonstration programme for the new combine. “The Ideal offers us a big opportunity and opens up a whole new potential market,” explained harvesting products manager Andrew Whiteley. “The Massey Ferguson Delta was our largest combine previously whereas many larger farms needed higher output so used other brands. However the Ideal 9 offers productivity more than a match for anything else, with threshing and cleaning ability which is not only far superior, but simpler too.”
The dealer had two Ideal 9T models with rubber tracks to demonstrate this harvest, and Andrew said feedback from those who tried them was extremely positive. “We arranged 30 individual demonstrations to potential customers who expressed particular interest and they enjoyed a guided tour of the machine, then an opportunity to drive it,” he explained. “We finished the harvest season with a general demonstration day that anyone could attend which was popular.”
The trading area is mostly arable farms including some of the largest in the UK and Andrew explained that the company already deals with many of them. “We offer some of the largest wheeled and tracked tractors and sprayers favoured by professional farming businesses and our customers trust us to support these with superb after-sales back-up. The Ideal design is simple and reliable but if anything does go wrong our parts and service teams have already had training to get them going again as quickly as possible. Previously, we were rarely asked to quote to supply combines to the biggest farms but this has changed already since the Ideal was announced. The level of interest with requests for demonstrations next year is incredible.”
Andrew said Peacock & Binnington has always been passionate about harvesting equipment and the sales and service teams are looking forward to the Ideal being available. “It’s exciting and completely new and operator aids such as IdealHarvest make it very flexible. Experienced operators will enjoy obtaining maximum performance and grain quality while those with less experience will gain confidence and operating skills quickly with the help of the new technology.”
Agco dealer Lister Wilder has depots covering the south and south-west and Fendt brand manager Alistair Reekie was speaking at a demonstration organised for his customers in Oxfordshire. “The Ideal re-introduces Agco in a major way,” he explained. “We have some of the most powerful tractors available in the Fendt brand, but have lacked high capacity combines until now.
“Customer feedback from those who have tried them has been very positive and compliments have been for the striking design and the simple, practical solutions which have been developed. It’s easy to see the benefits and as soon as you get in the seat you can feel them too. We are looking forward to having it fully available and judging from feedback at the demonstration days, there will be considerable interest. What has particularly pleased us is that much of the early interest has been from farmers using our tractors, but currently using other combine brands so we expect many conquest sales. We take great pride in the back-up we offer customers and know Agco will ensure full parts availability from the start. The new combines strengthen our proposition and we are pleased with what we have seen in terms of reliability, performance and fuel consumption so far,” he added.
“We are delighted with the feedback from those who have tried the Ideal this year,” confirmed Massey Ferguson national sales manager for harvesting products Joe Ford. “It’s very responsive to settings and for experienced operators keen to optimise performance and results, it’s rewarding to drive, but has features making it ideal for less experienced users too.”
Prices haven’t been confirmed, but Joe said the Ideal 9 is likely to be available on-farm at a similar cost to other class 9 machines. The Ideal replaces Massey Ferguson Delta and Centora combines, as well as Fendt equivalents although a limited number of the previous models are available for purchase currently.