I'm frequently asked, "How long should this (farm machinery component) last?" Today it was asked about a GPS satellite receiver that went bad and needed to be replaced. Yesterday morning it was asked about the fountain auger in a combine. Yesterday afternoon a farmer wanted to know how many acres or hours he should expect from the front sprockets on his cornhead gathering chains.
I'm very cautious with my answers to questions about how long components--or entire machines--should last. In the long, agonizing seconds between question-asked and question-answered dozens of considerations swirl through my head, including:
-How many acres does this customer do per year, compared to his neighbor/brother/friend who he always compares repairs and costs with? A customer who does 1000 acres per year with a 6 row combine is going to feel shorted if his equipment wears out faster than his neighbor who only does 500 acres per year, but he shouldn't.
-What, where and how is the equipment used? Field cultivator sweeps used in sandy bottom ground will wear out faster than similar sweeps used only on loamy higher ground. To promise that every sweep will do "x" number of acres is impossible.
-What does the customer expect, and what does the manufacturer expect? One customer was outraged that his GPS receiver failed after three years. Off the record, a mid-level rep for the manufacturer said that the life expectancy of those receivers was 3 to 5 years. That sounds short, but with technology advancing so rapidly, a 5-year-old GPS receiver probably needs to be updated or replaced simply to keep its technology in line with changes to GPS/auto steering/ row guidance/etc. How often do you replace TVs or computers in your home...? The same technological and durability lifespan applies to high-tech gizmos on farm equipment.
-How will the machinery be maintained and driven in the field? Normally I expect that bottom gathering chain sprockets, if lubed per specifications, will last one or more seasons. This year, with local cornfields suffering considerable lodging, farmers are running cornheads on the ground and lower sprockets are taking a lot of abuse. It's wrong to fault the sprockets' durability when operating conditions are the cause of "premature" failures.
-What are you comparing to? Older farmers often wax nostalgic about their old 4-row combines that went for years and years without wearing out an auger housing or needing major repairs. They grouse about having to replace components in their new combines after only a few years, but....if questioned, they are often farming 1500 acres with the new combine while the old combine was lucky to cover 500 acres per year. If the grumbling customer is a friend of mine and will accept teasing, I offer to find them an old 4-row combine similar to what they ran 20 years ago so they can do their 1500 acres, "just like in the good old days." So far, nobody has taken me up on the offer.
So, bottom line, there's no single answer to, "How long should this (auger, sprocket, chain, GPS receiver, etc.) last?" Maybe the best answer is another, somewhat smart-aleck question: "How long can you make it last?"