Machinery Chatter

Ag Techie Paradise

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
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In the AgriTechnica 2013 Fendt booth the X-Concept tractor at its world premier. It is a prototype that generates 138 kw to power electric implements, using 700 DC volts. It is several years from introduction. It may eventually have electrical outlets for electric hand tools. (DTN photo by Jim Patrico)

HANOVER, Germany (DTN) -- If you're looking for a glimpse into the future of ag equipment technology, stop into AgriTechnica, the world's largest farm equipment show. It only happens every other year, and it ends on November 15, so you might want to hurry to Hanover.

This year's show features 103 acres of exhibits, 2,900 exhibitors from 47 countries and an expected attendance of more than 400,000 over six days. They are coming to see the kind of stuff that gives machinery engineers geek dreams.

There is a diesel/electric concept tractor by Fendt that uses a diesel engine to both power the vehicle and to produce enough electrical energy to work an implement like a sprayer or fertilizer spreader. Amazonen, a German company with enough imagination to write fantasy novels, is displaying a four-wheeled robot named BoniRob, which one day could do soil tests, selectively kill weeds and run automated checks on crop health. Then there is tire manufacturer Mitas, which exhibits a possible product with the catch phrase "Tire or Track?" because it stretches into a shape that is definitely not round in order to produce more tread-to-soil contact.

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It's all great fun, providing you take the futuristic stuff with a dose of skepticism. As if to provide a reality base, AgriTechnica started off Monday with a press conference panel of credentialed Germans, including Till Meinel of the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, who said diesel efficiency was due for a burst of creativity because engineers for the last two decades have been consumed by research to reduce pollutants. Having met goals imposed by both the Europeans Union and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, engineers are now free to work on ways to maximize every drop of diesel fuel, Meinel said.

A prime example, in his view, is the diesel/electric hybrid concept exemplified by Fendt's X Concept prototype tractor. Diesel engines can both power vehicles and generate electricity to charge other components or implements. To further illustrate his point, Meinel singled out the Merlo, an Italiancompany which won a gold medal for innovation at AgriTechnica for a telehandler that reduces its diesel consumption by 30% while generating electricity to perform some of its workload.

Another speaker suggested future ag machinery innovations would rely on brains, not brawn. Bern Scherer, Managing Director of VDMA, an organization that represents more than 90% of German ag machinery manufacturers, said machinery manufacturers would develop products that improve performance without getting larger. "We have reached a point that we cannot move them [larger machines] on the road anymore."

In part, this innovation is possible because farm equipment companies have had a bit of a golden age of late, said Reinhard Grandke, CEO of the DLG (Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaff), the founding organization of AgriTechnica. Farm equipment sales boomed for the last few years and, while the boom might be ending, future projections are for stable sales. About 75% of CEOs of Germany's ag equipment manufacturers are optimistic that sales will be satisfactory to very good next year, Grandke said.

That's saying a lot, since Germany currently exports 75% of the ag equipment it manufactures. French farmers buy 1.7 billion Euros worth and Americans pay about 800 million Euros. Times are good.

That optimism seems endemic at AgriTechnica. So if you want to see geeks and farmers in techno heaven, come to Hanover.

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