In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Cue the song, "Also Spake Zaruthustra"...
Aug 14, 2008
I just got back from a school for dealership mechanics, teaching us how to operate the latest generation of combines. Note that I said "operate," not "maintain" or "repair." According to the teachers of this two-day class, "We're developing a series of classes for next
year to help (mechanics) diagnose and repair the new machines."
So we've reached the point where professional mechanics benefit from special training in order to simply operate the computers and related technology in modern farm equipment? The owner's manual for those machines is about 2 inches thick, and I've read and re-read it, but I was darned glad to attend the classes. The days of jumping in a new machine, turning the key and heading to the field are history. Even if the machines don't have the latest high-end technology (auto-steer, RTK, etc.), it takes at least a half hour of calibrating, setting and adjusting to get headers and various components to communicate enough to go to the field.
Rest assured, the extra time is well worth the effort. The new combines offer performance and capacity impossible only five years ago. I'm all in favor of the technology, and eager to learn how to make it all work. It's kind of fun, actually, and I think most customers get a kick out of learning and operating the new technologies, too.
But the higher level of operator training required to run new machines raises the question, "Where is all this technology taking us?" The teachers at the class alluded to all sorts of "hidden" computerized capabilities already incorporated in new machines that is not now used--they're waiting for the next generation of attachments, or software, or updated machine components that are on the drawing boards or undergoing field tests. When I use my laptop to access the computers on new machines, there are literally hundreds of functions and systems that show up as, "not currently used."
Operating farm equipment has never been more challenging or exciting. On one hand, the new technologies allow the machines to make many of the operational decisions, so all the operator must do is sit in the seat and monitor the machine as it steers and adjusts itself through the field for optimum performance. But all those interacting computer systems also offer operators the opportunity to be more in tune with their machine's operation than ever before. Thirty years ago I ran combines "by ear," listening for the way the engine and separator sounded to know if it was running right. Today I can push a few buttons and check actual yield, grain moisture, grain loss off the sieves, etc., etc. Because of the technology, I can do a much better job today than I could back then.
But I'm wondering if sometime in the not so distant future, I won't crawl into a combine cab and hear a soft, pleasant voice ask me, "Good morning, Dan. Where would you like to combine today...?