Both Claas and CaseIH have developed GPS-based systems that should make combine harvesting more productive and perhaps easier for the operator.
Claas's latest Telematics system will become widely available across their products this year, while CaseIH's V2V system is just in the concept stage but has already won the firm a gold medal at the upcoming SIMA Show in Paris, France.
Claas launched its Telematics system in 2005 and initially it was only available on its top-of-the-range Lexion and Tucano 480 combines. Telematics uses and integrates GPS, mobile phone technology and much more into the combine's control and management system to aid steering, monitoring and all manner of combine functions.
Claas uses both GPS satellite and GPRS cellular technology to create a two-way link between the machine and a dedicated website which the company has created. The combine owner can then access this website from a computer or a smart phone, such as an iPhone. The company says that this helps the owner manage machinery better and identify areas where machinery efficiency can be improved and costs saved.
Ultimately, the aim of Telematics is to help increase the productivity of both the machine and the operator.
While the Claas Telematics system was initially only available on top-end combine harvesters, throughout this year the German manufacturer will make the technology available on many more of its combines, silage harvesters and even some of its tractors. Developing the Telematics concept even further, the firm has just introduced its next level of 'space-age monitoring' to create field maps of the combine's performance displayed in a Google Earth map. This is in addition to the yield-mapping option already available.
In operation, the combine takes a record of its location, settings and output rate every 15 seconds. This information is then stored on the combine's computer and, then, every 15 minutes, the combine will automatically phone the web server and upload the latest packet of information. If a phone signal is not available in a certain location, then the information will be stored and uploaded when the next connection is made.
The uploaded data can be analysed and the 'performance monitoring' function of the website can provide an overview of the current state of the combine, including output and location through to all the machine settings and throughput. According to the firm, one of the most useful performance categories that can be selected is the graphical performance analysis.
The company says that up to six parameters can be selected, such as engine speed, combine output and rear grain losses. This information can be used to establish if the combine is working at peak capacity or, if further pushed, what effect this would have on losses. Claas says this data can be viewed in graphical form, such as a pie chart, and the system allows specific periods of time to be selected and analysed.
Another feature of the web facility, the 'work hour analysis' function, produces another graph which compares the amount of time the combine is actually harvesting, standing idle, turning on the headland or on the road and so on. In addition to analysing this data graphically, it is also possible to display this data in a Google Earth map, which gives an actual picture of where the combine was stopped, turned, unloaded on the move or unloaded when stopped. This gives an instant and recognisable representation of actual combine operation in the field.
Claas says that even analysing turning time on the headlands from the data could help plot a more efficient and productive harvesting route with less or faster headland turning. Plus, you can see where the combine was stopped waiting for a trailer, and how often, helping manage trailer or grain cart support or positioning.
The potential of the system is enormous, in particular where a firm might be running more than one combine. In that case data could be compared from each machine, including an overview of machine settings, and help identify any possible inefficiencies.
Using Google Earth, you can see exactly where the combine is and, according to Claas, the combine's location can be 'ring-fenced', beyond which it won't move in order to avoid theft or illegal use, which the firm says is a problem in some parts of the world.
Claas's self-propelled silage harvesters will -- in addition to storing and being able to view all current machine settings and its location -- be able to create and view a range of maps showing either crop yield, dry matter, fuel consumption, engine load or chop length.
Claas also says that an additional feature available on Jaguar self-propelled harvesters and Lexion 620-770 combines is a new task management function.
Each task (a farm or individual fields) is allocated a number and, having pulled up the task management folder, clicking on the number -- either the current or historical job data, such as duration, area, etc -- will see the details viewed on screen.
Taking Bluetooth device pairing to a new level, CaseIH has won a gold medal for its Vehicle-to-Vehicle Control (V2V) ahead of February's SIMA show in Paris. This is an automatic vehicle-to-vehicle synchronisation system, which, like a beam from sci-fi series Star Trek, the 'master' vehicle locks on to the 'slave' vehicle, bringing it along with it and taking control of its forward speed and steering.
Unlike Star Trek, this is not a sinister Borg-versus-the-rest-of-the-universe scenario, but a practical application of this sci-fi-based technology. Still only in the concept stage, CaseIH uses its V2V system for synchronising two vehicles at work, namely to aid the smooth and accurate transfer of cereals from a combine harvester to a tractor and trailer.
"Both combine and tractor need to be on GPS, any level will do," said CaseIH product specialist Pat Kenny. "A link is made between the two vehicles via a Bluetooth [wi-fi] connection. The combine is the master to the tractor and when in Bluetooth range [active zone] and ready for unloading, the combine driver instigates the connection from his control screen. The connection between the vehicles is not made until the tractor driver accepts the request from the combine driver's system."
Once the connection is made, Pat says the V2V "allows the two vehicles to maintain the exact same course, whether in a straight line or around bends, with the combine harvester's chute in the centre of the trailer".
According to CaseIH, this takes the guess work out of trailer or cart filling, particularly with a driver who is not experienced in on-the-go unloading. To facilitate filling the entire trailer Pat says: "The operator of the combine can slow down or speed up the tractor to fill another section of the trailer.
"This is controlled from the combine driver's screen and, ideally, control would be from the combine's joystick, though there are a lot of health and safety criteria to meet before this could happen.
"While the V2V system does use existing CaseIH GPS hardware and components [supplied by Trimble], it has been developed completely in-house at CaseIH.
"The system is still in the early stages and still a concept. The hardware is there and there are a lot of possibilities of what you could do."
Clearly though, from a safety perspective, there would be a large number of issues to consider, particularly in this scenario where one machine takes over some control of another via a Bluetooth wireless system. These would include which security measures would be required to make the signal safe, in addtion to what safety features, over rides and fail-safes would be needed for the tractor driver.