A Self-Cleaning Combine

September 30, 2011 02:09 PM
A Self-Cleaning Combine

Harvesting seed beans requires innovative automation

Most farmers are happy if they can average 1,000 acres of harvested soybeans for every 100 hours they put on their combine’s hour meter. Chris Cochran is proud it took only 200 hours to harvest 250 acres of soybeans with the new 9570 STS John Deere combine equipped with a 30' small-grain platform he operated last fall for Stine Seed Company near Adel, Iowa.

That’s because Cochran harvests seed plots, 0.7 acre at a time. After each plot, he meticulously "sanitizes" the combine and platform to remove all beans and debris so there is no cross-contamination of seed.

"You can’t get a combine 100% clean without tearing it completely apart, so my goal is 99% clean,"
Cochran says. "Once I’ve done my cleanout between plots, the first 5' or 10' of the next plot is used to ‘flush’ a couple bushels of the new variety through the combine and catch any beans or crop debris I missed during the cleanout."

"Flushed" beans go into the combine’s grain tank for sale as commercial beans at a local elevator. Once the combine is flushed and sanitized, Cochran flips a control in the cab to divert the flow of soybeans from the grain tank to a 45-bu. "big bag" suspended from a forklift mast that was scavenged from a junkyard and mounted on the left side of the combine. After each plot is harvested, filled bags are sealed, tagged and lowered into the bed of a Stine pickup truck for transport to the processing plant.

Easy-clean system. During past harvests, Cochran spent a well-practiced but laborious 15 minutes manually sanitizing his plot combine between each seed plot. He used a combination of brooms, brushes and a gas-powered leaf blower to chase seed and debris from every nook and cranny.

"With the old combine, I spent most of my time crawling around the machine, cleaning it out, and was lucky to get 10 to 15 plots done per day," he says. "With the new combine’s automated cleanout system, I averaged 30 to 35 plots per day and rarely had to leave the cab."

That’s because Cochran, his brother Randy and Stine Seed Company field manager Steve Luther designed a high-pressure air cleanout system on a brand new combine before it saw a single bean. The system uses an 85 cu. ft. per minute gas-engine air compressor to direct air at up to 125 lb. per square inch through more than 500' of ¾" hose and tubing to 40-plus air nozzles in the machine.

A computer controls the timing and duration of airflow to 24 sets of nozzles. Cochran pushes a button on a console in the cab to initiate a sequence of 30-second bursts of air that eventually clean the combine from front to rear and bottom to top.

"I run the separator at half throttle so the augers and shakers are moving and the cleaning fan is blowing at a good clip, to help clear out all the stuff that gets knocked loose by the air system," he says. "The system blows off the top of the feeder house first, then the corners of the bean head, then the inside corners of the feeder house. Then it makes its way back through the shoe augers, shakers and rotor cages, and from the cleaning auger into the grain tank."

The system works so well that the Stine crew is outfitting another 9570 STS combine with a similar cleanout system. The only changes will be a diesel-powered motor on the air compressor so it can run off the combine’s fuel tank and fine-tuning the location of a few of the air nozzles.

"With two combines with 30' platforms and automatic cleaning systems, we’ll really be covering ground," Coch-ran grins. "Maybe 50 acres a day."

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