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An Engineering Dream

MacDon’s engineers get their way with the company’s next generation of Headers and Windrowers

In the ongoing manufacturing battle between design freedom and cost control, MacDon’s engineers have always had an unfair advantage. Because MacDon’s success depends on producing harvesting equipment that are hands down the best at what they do - harvesting equipment that are so demonstrably better that they can lure farmers away from the mainlines - its engineers enjoy a certain amount of leverage over the company’s accountants.

Take for instance the approach MacDon’s engineers took in designing the all new M1 Series Windrowers. While most manufacturers would be content with making a few modifications and upgrades to an existing design and then labeling the product “next-gen,” the engineers at MacDon were given license to rip up the blueprints altogether and start afresh.

“MacDon has never been one to limit its engineers” said Ben Foster, Product Manager for MacDon’s windrower product line. “Our culture is so product and performance driven that if there is a better way to do something we typically don’t say no. As such, our engineers have a really hard time not going into redesign mode if they have an idea on how to do something better on one of our products.”

Foster says that as MacDon’s engineers got into the M1 program they found that even though they had an excellent swather platform to begin with, it wouldn’t be up to the task of what farmers will need in the years ahead to handle the larger volume crops they are already starting to grow.

“Once we knew we wanted to push a bigger header out front, we had to strengthen a number of different subsystems in order to handle it.”

“On a technical side, the deep deck, higher capacity headers our header team were designing really put a lot of extra stress on the windrower. Once we knew we wanted to push a bigger header out front, we had to strengthen a number of different subsystems in order to handle it. All of a sudden the Windrowers needed more power, more float capacity, bigger tires, new final drives and a taller, stronger frame.”

In other words, MacDon needed a new Windrower platform altogether. The resulting M1 Series is stronger, taller, faster, smarter, and more comfortable than anything MacDon has produced before.

Anyone familiar with the previous M Series Windrowers will immediately notice a number of significant changes when they view the new M1 Series for the first time. Perhaps most noticeable is the sleek new hood design with the air intake vents placed forward, rather than at the rear of the tractor.

“The new air intake system is the result of customers who asked for a lot more cooling capacity. It features a new dual radiator design that draws air from the cleanest location, right behind the cab. We’ve also added a hydraulic-drive reversing fan to blow out dust and debris and keep everything running cool and efficiently.”

Looking at the rear wheels, customers will notice MacDon’s completely new and patented CrossFlex™ suspension.

“Our CrossFlex suspension really improves ride comfort, removing a lot of the road shock and bumps, especially when you are traveling with one set of tires on the shoulder. Operators will also like the M1’s higher road speed which has been increased from 23 mph (37 km/h) to 27.5 mph (44 km/h); something that was driven by our customers who have larger farms or who do a lot of custom cutting.”

Less immediately noticeable is the M1 Series’ three inch higher frame and other changes designed to improve serviceability for the operator.

“The nice thing about a ground up redesign is that you can now incorporate a lot of the small things that would be complicated changes if you were just revamping an existing product. We’ve been able to add a larger fuel tank that can now be accessed from the ground. There are also more check level gauges that allow you to check oil and other fluid levels without opening the hood. Changes like that really aren’t feasible when you’re not starting from scratch.”

“The M1 has also benefited from the fact that MacDon’s only piece of self-propelled equipment is the windrower. That’s allowed us to be pretty uncompromising with the design of its cab. Everything from how the windows are positioned for optimal sight lines to the design and placement of the seat, console and controls has been specifically designed for windrowing applications. Feedback from customers that have used the product has been really positive. The two comments that always come up are the cab’s comfort and how quiet the machine is.”

Of particular note is the M1 Series’ new harvest monitor which uses software written from the ground up by MacDon to give operators full control of header settings, operating speeds and pressures, and incorporates new features such as a new onboard maintenance tracker.

“Technology has been evolving more and more quickly, and can definitely improve the operator experience and awareness. When we started this program we had one engineer in our electrical department who was responsible for the whole M Series. Now we have more than a dozen people in that department working on electrical and software. They have been very focused on reducing the reliability risks that inevitably come with electronics systems. There are few things as frustrating as a sensor failure that puts a machine down, so we designed the M1 Series to work around those types of failures wherever possible. The priority was to keep the machine running no matter what.”

D1 & FD1 Series Headers

Upfront, MacDon’s engineers took an equally uncompromising approach in the imagining of the next generation of its very successful rigid and FlexDraper® headers. Here the focus was increasing capacity for both combining and windrowing applications.

“Around the world, new strains of crops are constantly pushing yields higher and higher,” said Mike Flintoft, MacDon Product Manager for its draper headers. “While MacDon headers have always been high capacity machines, we’re starting to see crop conditions where the header is being pushed to the limits of its capacity. Right here in Canada our Canola Council is striving to get our average yield up over 10 bushels an acre from where it is, and with that will come more volume and tougher harvesting conditions. Our new headers had to keep pace with these higher demands for years to come.”

For windrowing applications, MacDon’s all new D1XL Series drapers help farmers meet their growing capacity needs by getting much bigger where it counts; at the swath mouth opening and on the deck itself where the drapers have been widened to a full 50 inches (127 cm). That’s eight inches (20.3 cm) wider than regular D Series headers, which translates into a capacity increase of up to 30%.

“Most people that have tested the new headers in the field have been really impressed by the increased capacity, especially if they have run a D1XL Series side by side with our current product,” said Flintoft. “We like to think that we already have the best product in the field, but these farmers saw a significant leap forward with the new D1XL Series. We even had one guy who wouldn’t let us leave the farm until we finished.

“While the D1XL’s impressive size is likely the biggest change for the windrower customer, farmers should also like the many other improvements we’ve made to all D1 Series drapers including a new hydraulic attachment or hose management system, which makes it a lot easier and faster to attach and detach the header.”

“Customers who’ve been able to test the D1XL side by side with our previous model have told us that when they went to pick up the swaths they could tell exactly where the new header had been. The D1XL’s swaths were so well formed, more consistent and less lumpy than the swaths by other headers, that they reported being able to increase their combine’s field speed by ½ to 1 mph (0.8 to 1.6 km/h) because feeding was so smooth. Reports like that are exciting because not only is the windrowing operation faster it can speed up the next combining operation, saving time in the field and hours on the combine.”

For combining applications, Flintoft says the improvements incorporated in the FD1 and D1 Series headers are less immediately noticeable than those on the D1XL, but every bit as significant for productivity. Most important of these improvements was the introduction of MacDon’s patented FeedMacX™ system, which custom tunes the header to the exact performance characteristics of the combine.

“Our FeedMacX system ensures that crop flows into the combine at the correct width and speed to maximize capacity. Depending on the model of the combine feeder house openings can range from less than 40"(102 cm) to over 60"(152 cm). Trying to feed a high volume crop into the wide variety of openings requires significantly different feeding widths and speeds.

Flintoft says that tailoring the crop flow precisely for the needs of the combine lets the operator be more aggressive in almost all crop conditions.

“These headers are perfect for those with class 8 or higher combines in conditions where the header has been holding you back. Your ground speed could now be 20% faster with that change alone.”

MacDon’s engineers also worked hard to improve overall reliability with these new headers by applying some of the lessons learned on the previous series.

“We listened to what customers were having issues with, and talked to our dealers about what they have seen coming back. As a result we’ve made a number of changes including beefing up some of the drives as well as the retracting tine drum with a lot heavier duty components. We also added an additional pump for the draper circuit to allow us to have individual split circuits that are fully filtered for the hydraulics. It all adds up to less downtime, less overall time spent on maintenance.”

While most of these performance upgrades may be hard to discern for the untrained eye, Flintoft says that there is one improvement that anyone familiar with MacDon headers should be able to see immediately.

“We have increased finger density on the FD1 reel, going from 6” to 4” spacing between the tines. That’s 50% more fingers than before, giving the header significantly better performance in lighter crops. One farmer in Australia cutting cereal crops with the new reel remarked that the extra fingers allowed him to cut two inches higher on the stem, because it did that much better a job picking up the crop. The result was increased capacity for his combine because he was not taking in as much straw.”

One more important change that’s hard to miss, but only for MacDon windrower customers, is that for the first time ever they can equip their windrower with a 45’ (13.7m) header thanks to the D1XL being made available in that size. Of course MacDon’s combine customers have enjoyed the added productivity a 45’ (13.7m) header can provide for years now.

“With this new generation of headers our engineers were particularly proud of being able to improve both capacity and reliability without having to increase complexity, or make the compromises you normally have to when designing equipment. That’s a pretty good win-win which helps both in the field and when it comes time to trade.”