Fendt takes (out) the wheel on new combines

Agco says it's first of majors to offer joystick steering

Agco has officially declared itself to be the first major farm equipment player to put joystick steering in a combine.

The ag equipment manufacturer unveiled IdealDrive on Thursday during the Commodity Classic in San Antonio, billing the new steering system for its Fendt Ideal combines as “the first joystick steering system on a combine from a major manufacturer.”

IdealDrive, which already won an award last fall in Germany when it was previewed at Agritechnica, is to be offered as a steering system option for Ideal combines starting in mid-summer this year, for delivery in 2021, Agco said.

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In Thursday’s press release, Agco’s sales pitch for the joystick system was mainly ergonomic, based on giving a combine operator “an unobstructed, end-to-end view of the combine header for less stress and fatigue during long hours harvesting.”

A combine operator would use the left hand to steer the combine by moving the joystick left or right. “Force feedback” guides how far to move the joystick for the desired effect, the company said.

The steering system’s sensitivity adjusts based on the speed of the machine, to “optimize” an operator’s control in harvest or transport mode.

The joystick, Agco said, “responds quickly and precisely to the operator’s hand movements, allowing accurate steering with less body movement, compared to turning the steering wheel lock-to-lock an average of four times.”

“The joystick turns a headland 180-degree turn into light work,” Agco product specialist Zach Stejskal said in Thursday’s release. “Compare that with spinning a steering wheel four or five times — joystick steering will definitely reduce operator fatigue.”

The joystick approach “reduces the muscle activity required for steering and is easier on the operator’s wrists, forearms, shoulders and back,” Agco said, and better visibility “also means less eye strain.”

The unit’s left armrest folds down into place and adjusts forward or back to put the steering joystick in the palm of the operator’s hand, while the right-hand hydrostat controls the machine speed.

Control buttons on the top of the joystick operate turn signals in road mode and row-finder lights in field mode; buttons on the back are for dim and high-beam lights, horn and track guidance.

With the steering wheel removed, Agco said, all that’s in front of an operator are the brake pedals and footrest pegs, giving a clear view of the entire combine head, “especially the centre of the header where the crop enters the feeder house.”

Thus, Agco said, an operator is better able to keep an eye on crop flow into the machine — and better able to see and avoid field or road obstacles.

The company cited a 2019 Danish study as showing a six per cent increase in productivity using IdealDrive over conventional steering systems, with “operator steering workload” cut by 65 per cent, based on the time it took drivers to complete a circuit on a simulated track.

The Aalborg University study, using 15 male operators on a wheel loader simulator, found a joystick steering system showed “reduced muscular activity and less awkward joint postures, suggesting a reduced risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders in the long term.”

European engineering firm Danfoss developed the joystick system and electrohydraulic steering valve, with a digital controller and actuator units handling communications between the joystick and valve.

Danfoss, in a separate release last fall, cited an Agco representative as saying the “high digitalization and safety levels” of the joystick system mark “yet another step toward a future where fully autonomous combines harvest our fields.”

Agco, whose machinery brands also include Massey Ferguson, Challenger, Valtra, Gleaner and White, bought Fendt in 1997 and brought the German brand to North America. Over 65 dealerships in Canada now carry the Fendt brand.

However, Agco didn’t put the Fendt brand on a combine for the North American market until 2018, when it unveiled the Ideal at Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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