Farmers are one step closer to growing their own tractor parts.
Buhler Versatile has begun field testing tractors with a number of resin-infused hemp and agave biofibre composite parts manufactured by the Eastside Group of Companies in Winnipeg.
So far, the results from field tests in Canada and the United States have been positive. Now the products will move on to a second round of testing.
“We do a series of tests,” explained Paul Manaigre, director of engineering at Buhler Versatile. “Our Phase 1 test is performance and functionality — making sure that the panels meet existing requirements — then we do a durability test in Arizona where we test them for 2,000 hours, rip them apart and then see how well they fare, because product quality is absolutely critical to us.”
The goal is to eventually replace all plastic components with fibre-based alternatives, but so far only tractor hoods, fan shrouds, crossover panels and fenders have been developed and tested.
“We see the opportunity to not only improve our product, but to reduce our costs as well, while also improving the local economy,” Manaigre said. “If we can get a 10 per cent cost reduction into our current supply chain, that would be a win, win, win for everyone.”
The fibre-based equipment parts were developed through a public-private partnership between the Composite Innovation Centre (CIC), Buhler Industries, the Eastside Group of Companies and the federal and provincial governments. More than $150,000 in public funds went into the development of the novel fibreglass replacement product.
“Many of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers globally are moving towards greater sustainability in their products and, as part of this strategy, are developing natural fibre-filled biocomposites and bioplastic-advanced materials,” said Simon Potter, product innovation manager at CIC. “These materials not only have reduced weight, they also assist in cost reduction and in replacing non-renewable petroleum-based synthetic components with materials grown on the farm itself.”
But it will still be some time before tractors featuring hemp-based panels hit the market.
“It all depends on when we are done our testing in Arizona,” Manaigre said, adding the new products would then be phased in over time.
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And although the technology behind the new product has proven sound, the engineer said reliability still needs to be built into the supply chain when it comes to obtaining the raw components needed to manufacture the parts. But all in all he sees the development as a real boon to Versatile.
“Hemp in the agricultural industry has been tried by all the major producers and manufacturers, it’s the application of the technology and repeatability that is new. So in terms of the rest of the industry, I don’t think they’ve got the technology quite there yet, but it’s always on the horizon.”
Potter adds that the success of the project also highlights what can be accomplished when businesses and government work together.
“The whole thing is quite exciting,” he said.