Behind the award: Developing the FD Series

It’s not every engineer who gets to work on a machine that has the potential to change an industry.

Products mentioned in this article: FD75 FlexDraper® Headers for Combine

“The FD70 FlexDraper’s ability to switch from flex to rigid with a quick mechanical adjustment has allowed some custom cutters who used to run their combines with three headers – one for corn, one for beans and one for grains – to run with only two, saving them the purchase and transportation costs of a third header.”

If early feedback proves prophetic that is exactly what the 10 individuals who comprised the FD70’s development team will have done. As MacDon’s second incarnation of the flexible draper header concept (the 974 FlexDraper® was the first, which also won an AE50 award), the FD70 is surprising many by just how much more productive it is proving to be over conventional flex auger heads.

“For most producers out there the idea of harvesting with a draper flex head is completely new,” said Jason Strobbe, Product Manager for MacDon. “With many of them it is something that they have to see before they will believe it.”

But for MacDon’s design team back in 2001, when work was started on the FD70, there was never a doubt that a flexible draper head was the way to go.

“Back then it was easy to see that as combines continued to get bigger, there was no way that conventional flex heads could keep up. The simple fact is that flex augers are challenged as header widths get larger due to weight and poor performance resulting from a less than optimal reel to cutterbar relationship.”

According to Strobbe, MacDon knew that the long-term solution would be with drapers, so when the company set out to create the next generation of combine headers, producing a flex draper was its ultimate goal.

“With MacDon’s Harvest Headers we had already proven that [for rigid heads] draper technology was the way to go to maximize combine efficiency and productivity,” said Strobbe.

“Foot for foot, a draper will outperform an auger. It was, therefore, no great leap to see the necessity for a flexible draper.”

The challenge then for MacDon’s design team was how to make a draper flexible. If they followed the flex auger concept of having the head articulate over its entire width, they would have the same problems in maintaining the close reel to cutterbar relationship required for peak performance in challenging crop conditions. Their solution was as innovative as it was original; instead of making the entire header flexible, MacDon’s engineering team created a three-section frame where flexing only occurred at the pivot points.

“When you think about it, flex heads only became necessary when headers started getting wider than 17½ feet, because anything under that can handle most ground contours. The MacDon flex draper concept is similar to running three smaller headers together, all of them 15 feet or under.”

In practice MacDon’s three-section concept is both simple in design and effective in execution – so effective that most producers experience an immediate increase in capacity of at least 20% over their current headers, and some are even seeing productivity jumps as high as 40% or more.

“When we first started doing demos with the 974, MacDon’s first flex draper, operators were noticing a large improvement in both capacity and ground following performance over their auger headers. Now, when these same guys run the FD70s against the 974s they are operating, they are telling us that the productivity increase over the 974 is even greater than what they noticed between the 974 and their augers. Some of our soybean customers are telling us that the header will pay for itself in just one year.”

Strobbe reports that the reason for the dramatic increase is that the team was able to incorporate the many lessons learned from the development of the 974 into the FD70.

“Improvements have been incorporated just about everywhere on the header, especially at points of contact with the crop. As a result the FD70 both feeds better and follows the ground closer. The reel’s performance is also much improved and operators feel they can increase their ground speed significantly over what they were running at before; so much so that customers with Class 8 machines are telling us that they are close to maxing out their combines’ capacities, but their FD70 headers are nowhere near capacity.”