A Showcase of Iron

March 17, 2009 09:28 AM


Written by Martin Rickatson

Vying with Germany's Agritechnica – which is held in alternate Novembers – for the title of Europe's biggest farm machinery show, France's SIMA is held every other February on the outskirts of Paris, and this year hosted the launch of a number of new ag products from the major international manufacturers. Spanning seven covered halls and playing host to more than 1,320 exhibitors from across the globe, it's very much more than a French show, with a big proportion of companies exhibiting machinery targeted at the large-scale farms of the rapidly-growing ag sectors of eastern Europe, Russia and the former Russian states. But there was also plenty grab the interest of all of the 135,000 attendees, from the unveiling of New Holland's hydrogen-powered tractor prototype to the launch of new ‘economy tractors in the 80-120hp bracket from Eastern manufacturers such as YTO (China), LS (South Korea) and Armatrac (Turkey). The likes of Claas, Case IH, John Deere and AGCO's Fendt, Valtra and Massey Ferguson brands had a relatively quiet show, suggesting they may be saving their major 2009 product launches for Agritechnica. On the implement front, though, Kuhn's new baler range caused plenty of farmer interest, perhaps the biggest question around the latter introduction being over how dealers will handle the product, given that many Kuhn dealers already selling competitive baler makes. 
Hydrogen-Powered Tractor
New Holland isn't the first farm machinery firm to develop a fuel cell tractor, as many Allis Chalmers aficionados will know. But the firm's hydrogen-powered prototype, codenamed NH2, is the first to use this particular fuel, and New Holland believes its technology could be in production within as little as 10-15 years.
The machine attracted a lot of interest at the SIMA show, with many farmers curious to know just how it works. Under the tractor's hood, in place of the diesel engine there's a 100-liter tank which stores compressed hydrogen at 5075 psi. That's enough for only two hours average work on this particular machine, but development tractors will have greater capacity. In the fuel cell, the hydrogen reacts with oxygen drawn in from an air intake, producing electrons and water. The latter is expelled as the tractor's only emissions, while the electrons create an electric current to power the two key electric motors, one of which replaces the transmission, the other being used for external power such as the pto. New Holland believes that farmers could create their own electricity on farm through systems such as wind turbines, storing the resulting power in the form of hydrogen to power their tractors, resulting in substantial environmental and financial benefits. The question many want to ask, though, is when can we see the NH2 demoed in the field?
The NH2 is a working prototype with 106 hp, and engineers are hopeful the next generation will have an increased work capacity of 8 to 9 hours before refueling. The project carries over knowledge from New Holland's parent company Fiat and its automotive division.
Faster Speeds, More Power
With its 7000 series of Fastrac high-speed tractors having only recently been launched, JCB has wasted no time adding a further model at the head of the line. The 7270 sits above the 7170, 7200 and 7230 to create a range of unequal-wheeled tractors with rear-mounted cabs – unlike the original Fastrac machines – that now spans 173-260 gross engine hp at rated speed. All use the same 6.7-liter Cummins six-cyl engine. As with the existing 7000 series Fastracs, the new tractor uses JCB's 24-speed P-Tronic semi-powershift transmission, with a max travel speed of almost 45 mph.
Upgraded Spec Level
Known for producing low-cost tractors of the type often favoured by livestock farmers, Zetor has boosted its Proxima tractors' appeal to this buyer group by introducing a new spec level, labeled Proxima Power, which comes fitted with a column-change electro-hydraulic powershuttle, making operations such as loader work clutchless. At the same time, the company is now fitting a three-speed powershift to offer three clutchless speed changes in each transmission gear, giving a total of 24F/24R speeds. The new specification is now available on Proxima 85, 95 and 105 models in Europe, while a 110hp 115 model is in the pipeline.
Entrant Into Rotary Combine Sector
In an unexpected move, Germany's Deutz-Fahr, part of the Italian Same Deutz-Fahr group, announced late last year that it was getting into the rotary combine sector via a deal with Vassalli Fabril, of Argentina. The firm has been in the European straw walker combine business for decades, transferring production back in 2005 from Germany to a revamped factory in Croatia – formerly Yugoslavia – which had been making Deutz-Fahr combines under licence. That plant now builds a full range of five- and six-walker machines, and will also be making two rotaries under licence from Vassalli Fabril, fitted with single 10ft rotors that are 2½ft in diameter. Deutz engines produce 450 hp, with 30 hp unloading boost.
Better View Inside
Previewed at last year's Agritechnica show in Germany, where blacking-out of its cab windows suggested clearly that there was more development work to be done, Manitou's Manitrac is now ready for production. Targeted primarily, but not exclusively, at livestock farms, the machine is reckoned to combine the dedicated loading abilities of a telescopic handler – for stacking bales, loading feedstuffs, shifting muck – with the versatility of a tractor and its associated three-point linkage, drawbar and pto. Production spec includes a 144hp Tier III Perkins engine and 23ft-lift boom. While a hydrostatic transmission is currently fitted, Manitou is also looking at the possibility of fitting a new hydraulic-drive CVT-type transmission from Sauer-Bibus.
Hay and Forage Acquisition on Display
The biggest surprise in the European machinery industry in recent months has been the deal between implement giants Kuhn (France) and Kverneland (Norway) for the former to buy the latter's baler business. Both are known as acquisitive firms and have strong tillage and forage machinery offerings, and the two companies' product lines mirror each other in many respects. Kverneland was making round and big square balers and wrappers at the Dutch factory it acquired when it bought Vicon some years ago, and though it says it was not looking to sell, was made an attractive offer by Kuhn, who will continue to supply balers to Kverneland for the next two years.

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