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September 2009 Archive for In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

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.

Smokey The Bear Would Approve

Sep 27, 2009
 Those 3 gallon plastic "pump-up" garden sprayers--the kind that come with a wand with an adjustable spray tip--make useful fire "preventers" during harvest and are handy in the shop the rest of the year.

The adjustable tip allows the user to mist an area of equipment prior to welding or torching to prevent crop debris from catching fire during repairs. Turning the tip to "jet" gets water deep into the nooks and crannies where sparks always seem to land. Unlike traditional "dry" fire extinguishers, the volume is controllable so you use only as much water as necessary. Refilling is easy the next time you're near a water hydrant. If you keep a small bottle of hand cleaner, the little sprayers are also handy to provide water to wash your hands after messy repairs.

After harvest, a water-filled garden sprayer is handy in the shop. Rather than drag a garden hose across the shop, use the controlled spray from the sprayer to dampen areas where welding or cutting on equipment could ignite fires; to cool metal made hot by grinding, cutting or welding; and to do pinpoint wash-jobs that need only a little water. Some farmers keep in their shop a 3-gallon sprayer filled with concentrated soap solution so they don't have to mess with the built-in soap dispensing system on their power washer. After wetting equipment or trucks with a garden hose they mist the vehicle with concentrated soap from the hand sprayer, let it soak, then rinse with a power washer. 

The small 3-gallon sprayers have limitations. They won't handle a full-flame conflagration. Filled with water, they are not safe to use on electrical fires and may compound problems from petroleum -fueled fires. If harvest runs into winter, or your shop is unheated, they will freeze and their plastic components will crack due to expansion of the ice. But if used judiciously in the correct situations, they're handy additions to service trucks and shops.

And, if you're not sure about the reference to "Smokey The Bear" in the title to this blog entry, ask your grandpa.


Smokey The Bear Would Approve

Sep 27, 2009
 Those 3 gallon plastic "pump-up" garden sprayers--the kind that come with a wand with an adjustable spray tip--make useful fire "preventers" during harvest and are handy in the shop the rest of the year.

The adjustable tip allows the user to mist an area of equipment prior to welding or torching to prevent crop debris from catching fire during repairs. Turning the tip to "jet" gets water deep into the nooks and crannies where sparks always seem to land. Unlike traditional "dry" fire extinguishers, the volume is controllable so you use only as much water as necessary. Refilling is easy the next time you're near a water hydrant. If you keep a small bottle of hand cleaner, the little sprayers are also handy to provide water to wash your hands after messy repairs.

After harvest, a water-filled garden sprayer is handy in the shop. Rather than drag a garden hose across the shop, use the controlled spray from the sprayer to dampen areas where welding or cutting on equipment could ignite fires; to cool metal made hot by grinding, cutting or welding; and to do pinpoint wash-jobs that need only a little water. Some farmers keep in their shop a 3-gallon sprayer filled with concentrated soap solution so they don't have to mess with the built-in soap dispensing system on their power washer. After wetting equipment or trucks with a garden hose they mist the vehicle with concentrated soap from the hand sprayer, let it soak, then rinse with a power washer. 

The small 3-gallon sprayers have limitations. They won't handle a full-flame conflagration. Filled with water, they are not safe to use on electrical fires and may compound problems from petroleum -fueled fires. If harvest runs into winter, or your shop is unheated, they will freeze and their plastic components will crack due to expansion of the ice. But if used judiciously in the correct situations, they're handy additions to service trucks and shops.

And, if you're not sure about the reference to "Smokey The Bear" in the title to this blog entry, ask your grandpa.


What I Learned This Week

Sep 19, 2009
 This week I learned:

-That mice can stymie a computer. Computerized, low-voltage, negative-switched electronic systems on modern farm equipment often defy seat-of-the-pants, common-sense diagnosis. So we mechanics use computers to diagnose computers. We type in the warning code, trouble code or description of the problem, and our laptop computers lead us through rigorous step-by-step diagnostic procedures. Usually it works very well. Sometimes it doesn't. Twice this week I allowed the laptop to lead me by the nose through that diagnostic process. Twice it told me to replace expensive computer boards or high-priced electronic components. Twice the laptop's diagnostic procedures were wrong. Long story short, mice had chewed through wires causing short circuits and weird electric signals that apparently were not part of the logic process when the engineers were writing the diagnostic procedure. It's kind of frustrating that a couple bored or hungry mice could bring a $200,000 machine to its knees. But it happens.

-That biotechnology is going to create problems for the next generation of harvest and primary tillage equipment. We've know for a decade that Bt cornstalks are tougher than young trees, accelerate wear to corn heads, and are tough to chew up with disk rippers. Gene-splicing is taking soybeans and other small grains rapidly in the same direction. Equipment manufacturers are having a tough time with high-wear components in combines wearing out in a single season simply because crop materials are not only tougher, but often in higher volume due to higher plant-per-acre populations. 

-That there is a difference in the seed coats of different soybean and corn varieties. I've talked to seeds salesmen and they're very aware of which hybrids have "harder" seed coats than others. But they don't seem to think it's a big deal. It is a big deal if a farmer is harvesting and drying high moisture corn, and the type of seed coat is easily damaged by aggressive combine settings and high drying temperatures. It is a big deal if soybeans, once dried below 12 percent moisture, become hard and brittle and shatter like glass beads. And wouldn't you know--in many cases the varieties that tend to be harder to handle without damage during harvest and storage are the same varieties that tend to be the highest yielders and therefore popular with farmers.

-I also learned that I can't slide down combine cab ladders anymore. I now have to turn, face the combine and methodically step on each step as I back down the ladder. After this harvest season's first day of fixing broken combines in the field and sliding down ladders as I've always done when I'm in a hurry...my shoulders warned me the next morning that I've finally reached an age where it's time to forego speed and accept a slower pace.

That was the same morning I learned why the veteran mechanics who taught me my trade kept big bottles of aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen in their toolboxes.

Shine A Light On Night Repairs

Sep 14, 2009
 Most of you have some kind of flashlight in your combine cab during harvest to provide illumination for maintenance and repairs after dark. The latest generation of battery-powered LED worklights provide another option for illumination.

These worklights look like the conventional "trouble light" found in every farm shop, but they don't require a power cord and they don't use incandescent or even florescent light bulbs. Their light comes from anywhere from three to more than a dozen white LED lights mounted in special reflectors. Rechargeable batteries make them handy for use in the middle of a crop field. Their LED lamps are extremely resistant to impacts or getting dropped from the top of a grain tank. Hooks integral to the reflector and/or handle make them more useful during repairs than traditional flashlights that have to be held and pointed. I added a magnetic clip bought at Sears to the handle of my LED worklight so I can stick it to nearby metal surfaces and aim it exactly on the area where I'm working. Heck, I use my LED worklight even when I'm in the shop and 115-volt outlets are available to plug in a conventional trouble light--I like not having to drag a cord along when I'm working in awkward locations.

Not everyone will like battery-powered, LED-type worklights. The produce an odd, white light that is extremely--and I mean extremely--directional. If you aim a conventional worklight in the general direction of what you want to see, you'll get a fair amount of illumination. If you aim an LED worklight slightly out of its field of focus, things get dark. And their run-time isn't as long as a traditional battery-powered flashlight or lantern---after about 2 hours illumination begins to weaken, and any claims of run-times longer than 4 hours have to include the final period when the light isn't much brighter than a small candle.

If you haven't been around battery-powered LED worklights it would be best to ask to test one in a dark restroom at your local auto parts store or hardware store before you invest. As long as you understand their limitations and don't expect floodlight-quality illumination, they're a handy tool. Especially if you get an adapter so you can keep them charged via a cigarette lighter socket.

However, if I'm making extended repairs after sunset it's still better to fire up the gas-powered generator and set up my 115-volt floodlights. One of my co-workers took that strategy to an extreme and mounted on his service truck some of those arc-lamp type lights you see on new combines. The kind of that make a combine after dark look like the alien spacecraft from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." He can definitely see what he's doing when he sparks off those lights, with the added advantage that he keeps a deep suntan throughout harvest and well into winter. 




Prepping Yield Monitors

Sep 07, 2009
Nearly 3/4  of all combines that pass through our shop now have some form of yield monitor in them. To ensure yield monitors work correctly from the get-go, be sure to check or maintain these components:

-When the combine's key switch is turned to "on", most moisture meters should be heard cycling their electric motors. If plungers aren't "plunging", paddles aren't "paddling" or mini-augers aren't "augering", determine why not. Most common culprit is debris from last year's harvest clogging the moisture meter.

-Mass flow sensors are mounted in the front side at the top of clean grain elevator housings. Their impact plates--curved pieces of flat plastic--can wear over time due to grain flow. If there are waves in the plastic, and especially if there are holes in the plastic, replace the strike plate. Grain must flow smoothly over that surface for accurate yield calculation.

-Update software in the cab's display console. Maybe. If you're happy with the way the monitor ran last year you can use "old" software. But if you have problems during harvest and contact your dealer, the first thing they'll probably do is want the software updated to the latest, greatest version. The theory is that software updates address "bugs" and glitches known to cause problems, so the first step in fixing problems is to ensure it's not software related. If you're computer-competent you can go to the website of the yield monitor manufacturer and download your own software updates. Otherwise, contact your local dealer for a brief service call.

-Test the system. It takes crop flow through the machine to test all functions of a yield monitor, but simply turning on the combine and driving it around with the separator and feederhouse running may identify potential problems. Ground speed (miles per hour) should read accurately, acres should accumulate as the machine moves around your farmyard. Mass flow sensor readings shouldn't fluctuate wildly. Temperature readings from the moisture meter should be relatively close to ambient air temperature. If any of the aforementioned readings are out of range, the immediate suspect is mouse damage to wiring harnesses and cables, or water damage/corrosion to pins in wiring harness connectors. Identify the harness related to the aberrant reading and check it for damage.

Yield monitors have become incredibly reliable in recent years. Accuracy--well, some folks are very satisfied with yield-per-acre accuracy, while others tear their hair out trying to tune their yield monitor's precision. Pre-season maintenance helps improve the chances for accuracy, but...in-the-field tips for yield monitor precision will have to wait for another blog once harvest has begun and everybody is in the field.
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