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.
Top Four Questions About Modern Combines
Aug 25, 2013
Modern combines have computers and sensors and diagnostic systems akin to the Space Shuttle. All those computers raise a lot of questions for operators used to old-school combines. In no particular order, here are four questions commonly asked as farmers prep for harvest this fall:
-Question: "Do I HAVE to pay you to update the software?"
Answer" Modern combines have between 5 and 15 separate computers hidden in various places on the machine. Each has its own "software package" that tells it how to operate. Combine manufacturers are CONSTANTLY tweaking software packages to "improve and enhance" performance--computer-speak for, "Oops, we found a bug or glitch that we need to fix." So the answer is, No, you don't have to pay to have the software upgraded. But there's a reason for the upgrade, and if you have problems with that combine system this fall, the first thing the mechanic will HAVE to do to diagnose the problem is...upgrade the software to possibly cure the hidden bug or glitch.
-Question: "A warning code keeps coming up on the screen every time I start the combine. I can clear it, but it's a nuisance. How do I keep it from coming back?"
Answer: If a warning code can be cleared, it means the combine thinks something is wrong somewhere in the machine, but the problem isn't currently bad enough to cause catastrophic damage. The next time the code comes up, write down the numbers and explanation, call the dealership and let them determine how quickly you need a service call and what it will entail. If a warning code CAN'T be cleared, the problem needs to be addressed immediately.
-Question: My grain yield monitor is inaccurate; or, my autosteering system wanders like a drunken snake; or, my automatic header float control hops like a bunny rabbit. What's wrong?
Answer: Any system that "automatically" does things on a combine probably has sensors that allow the machine's computers to monitor and adjust that system's performance. Those sensors must not only be calibrated before operation, but can require recalibration during the season due to wear in mechanical linkages, etc. "Automatic" systems that misbehave usually generate a warning code that tells which sensor is causing the problem. Note the warning code, use it to identify which sensor is out of range, then try to recalibrate to clear the problem. If recalibration doesn't cure the problem, it's probably time for a call to the dealership, 'cause sensor diagnostics can be tricky.
-Question: I'm tired of calibrating sensors, clearing codes and messing with all this computerized foolishness. I don't want to fly to the moon---I just want to harvest crops. Can I get a combine without all this complicated stuff on it?
Answer: I think there are foreign manufacturers who still make bare-bones combines. But you'll be operating a 4-row, low-powered combine without air conditioning, without a stero system, without a yield monitor, without an automatic header height control system, without grain loss sensing, without low shaft speed monitoring, and without rear-view cameras. You'll have to steer it yourself, the cab will be screaming loud because all the hydraulic valves and controls will be mounted in or under the cab, and you'll have to get out of the cab and turn levers and rotate cranks to adjust the concave, rotor speed, sieves, cleaning fan and other adjustments. You'll come home every night filthy dirty and dog-tired, and finish harvest sometime after Christmas because of the limited capacity of the old-school machine--and you'll be working alone, because your wife or father or father-in-law will refuse to run that bare-bones but "simple" combine.
(If, by this time you're grinning, you're a modern farmer. If you're reaching for the phone to order one of those combines, you're a tough old bird, pretty darn stubborn, and I salute you.)