The Fendt IDEAL combine has been gathering crops only since 2019, but it has earned a good deal of recognition for innovation. In 2019, the IDEAL combine won its first AE50 Award. In 2021, it won again for its IDEALdrive joystick steering system. The same combine also won this year the prestigious 2021 Davidson Prize for innovation, for its 9350 DynaFlex draper header with the AutoDock header docking system.
Both AE50 and the Davidson Prizes are given by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering for best innovations in engineering and technology for agricultural, food, and biological systems.
AutoDock particularly is a novel and time-saving innovation. With it, operators connect or disconnect headers within five seconds without leaving the cab. The operator simply maneuvers the combine to the header, lifts it from the ground (or off the trailer), then pushes the attach icon on the touch screen control panel.
AGCO described the mechanical processes that occur. "AutoDock uses guide pins and hydraulic actuators to automatically connect the drives on both sides of the header, connecting all mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems with a single-point coupler while mechanically latching the header in place ... Pushing the detach icon reverses the process when it's time to remove the header."
The $10,000 AutoDock option "makes life for the farmer easier and of course, more productive," Barry O'Shea, AGCO vice president and Product Line Leader, Global Gold Harvesting told DTN/Progressive Farmer. More, AutoDock is an important step for AGCO as the manufacturer moves to completely automate the harvest.
AutoDock grew out of Project OPUS, AGCO's $200 million effort to build the industry's first, clean sheet combine in 30 years -- a machine that came to be called IDEAL.
OPUS was informed by farmers from the start. In 2012, AGCO sent engineers and product managers out into the field to see how farmers interacted with their combines, to understand better their specific needs. The teams wanted to see what worked, what didn't, how the work of combining might be made more efficient and then, more profitable.
AGCO teams took note of the time operators spent connecting and disconnecting headers. They saw the same investment of time everywhere they went, whether to Canada, Australia, to Europe or in travel across United States. The single exception seemed to be South America where headers are changed less often.
AGCO followed up its field trips with 4,000 surveys asking farmer managers for guidance on the dozens of details that would shape the IDEAL combine. One result led AGCO to set out to automate header management.
"This was an idea that just stuck to the wall," O'Shea said. "(Farmers) didn't tell us that's what they wanted, but when you watched them doing the job you could see (how difficult that was.) In the Midwest Corn Belt, we could see that (farmers) were taking headers on and off quite a bit."
There were engineering challenges in bringing AutoDock to market -- two in particular.
The first was keeping connection ports free of the clouds of dust and debris kicked up by harvest. Doors were the answer. "There is a door on both sides, the male and female sides of the connection," said O'Shea. "As the (halves of the system) separate, a mechanism closes those doors to keep the interfaces clean. That covers both the (electronics) and the hydraulics on the header side and on the combine side," O'Shea explained.
During header connect, the process is the opposite. Doors open as the connection is about to happen.
A second challenge was confirming the lock between header and combine. The driver has to be confident the header is completely connected before heading out into the field.
AutoDock performs a self-check.
"When you (manually) go out there and you put on a PTO for example, you stick it on and give it a little pull to make sure it's on. But all those little steps you would do (normally on the ground), you won't be there to do it. We had to come up with a way that would double check that (AutoDock) was connected," from the cab, O'Shea explained. "When AutoDock does connect, the header turns very slowly to confirm everything is connected, it self-checks the electronics and the logics."
O'Shea said AutoDock technology has additional applications. "It is something you can use for hydraulic couplings on tractors, forage harvesters -- where there are links, even PTO links," he noted. A compact version could work with compact tractors. Homeowners in particular struggle with PTOs.
AutoDock may be ordered as an option on all Fendt IDEAL combines beginning with the 2021 model year. It is available for the DynaFlex 9300 Series draper head and 3300 Command Series corn heads equipped with AutoDock drivelines and adapters for the multi-coupler attachment.
Although the AutoDock system is currently available only for AGCO headers, AGCO intends to build kits for third-party headers.
AGCO Fendt offers an animation showing how AutoDock works. You can see it at:
More information on AutoDock go to: www.fendt.com/us/combines/ideal-highlights
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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