As machines push power thresholds, industry classifications keep pace
If you were to ask a combine specialist what size machine you need for a 35' flex draper platform, he’d probably say a Class 7 combine or larger. But how do you know what combine fits into which class?
Referring to machines by their class has become more common, but as combines surpass previous power thresholds, the classifications aren’t as applicable as they were before.
"Farmers working in tighter harvest windows, with less available skilled labor and higher-yielding crops, have challenged us to build larger and more powerful machines," says Katie Dierker, division marketing manager for John Deere Harvester Works.
Defining combine classes is an ongoing process. Working with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the classifications are discussed and made official by a committee made up of members from the combine manufacturers.
"For our purposes, combine classes allow our members to break down their sales reporting into segments," explains Charlie O’Brien, vice president of agricultural services for AEM. "But it’s also the general power ranges that people migrate to for some level of comparison across the models."
As machines have gotten larger, sales trends have followed suit for the more powerful combine classes.
"Year to date for 2011, just under 50% of all combines sold throughout North America fell into what is defined as Class 7," says Kevin Cobb, product marketing manager for Massey Ferguson combines. "Class 6 machines were in second place until this year. Now Class 8 machines and greater make up the second largest group of machines being sold."
Pure power. In the past, machines have been measured by throughput, but that was tabled in the early 2000s as power became the accepted unit of measure. In an effort to expand the scope of this classification to a more global standard, kilowatts have been used since 2003. Some have thought that grain tank capacity was part of what gave a combine its classification, but that is not correct. And although header capacities, threshing systems and cleaning systems are built to harvest more crop, combine throughput is not a factor either.
With the upward trend in power, combine classes have been added. In 2003, Class 7 machines were stratified into Class 8 at 375 hp and greater.
In marketing their machines, companies often sift machines into categories by horsepower at rated speed, because that measure is more easily accepted by farmers. Also, in their marketing
efforts, companies sometimes create a class before it’s been officially defined.
When a machine is introduced outside a specified class, manufacturers can claim a benchmark, as New Holland did with the CR9090 and Claas did with the Lexion 770 as the first Class 10 machines. It’s AEM protocol to not establish a class until three models would meet the classification.
This past fall, Case IH, John Deere and Massey Ferguson introduced machines that have some people questioning if a Class 9, or even Class 10, needs to be defined.
"Farmers are asking for reliability and serviceability, but we are also hearing loud and clear that they want horsepower," says Nate Weinkauf, Case IH combine marketing manager.
As more harvest muscle is packed into these machines, expect the way combines are classified to adjust too.
How Today's Combines Are Divided into Classes
(click on the image below to view a larger image)
The current combine models available in the U.S. are listed by class as specified by the manufacturers. The official AEM classifications are given in terms of power measured in kilowatts. The horsepower range listed is the most commonly referenced breakdown. The latest combine rollouts have introduced machines outside of the current classification grid, but the Class 9 and Class 10 segments have not been declared official by AEM.