Farmers’ farewell to fatigue

Monday, November 11, 2019

Tired eyes and sore muscles. 60-year-old Giorgio Speranza used to regard that an inevitable companion during harvest. Not anymore. He recently tested the Fendt IDEAL combine equipped with IDEALdrive – a machine you steer with a joystick, not a traditional steering wheel. “Probably my most relaxed harvesting experience ever,” he says.

Sergio Copeta, Copeta

A modern combine is a moving factory consisting of roughly 7,000 components. It takes skill for the farmer to turn it around, once he gets to the edge of the field. Typically, he must turn the steering wheel lock to lock on average four times before he is back on auto-steering harvesting the next row in the other direction.

Soon, though, he will be able to perform the operation just by moving his left hand a centimeter or two. Enter: IDEALdrive.

The new Fendt flagship combine - launched during Agritechnica 2019 - has no steering wheel. Instead, the farmer performs necessary manual steering operations with a left-hand joystick. The result is better visibility, less fatigue, higher productivity.

Georgio Speranza, Machine Contractor

Goodbye to blind spots

With the steering wheel and steering column gone, there is nothing to block the farmers’ view toward the feeder house and the header cutting the crop. He can clearly see the center area where the cut crop is sucked into the feeder house and on for processing.

So, if a ditch, stone or other object appears in front of the combine, chances are that the farmer will notice – and be able to reposition before it causes any damage.

A group of six farmers and machine contractors tested the machine on a corn field in Northern Italy this fall. One of them was Giorgio Speranza, a third generation machine contractor with 40 years of professional harvesting experience. He says:

“Your view toward the header is fantastic. You feel much more on top of what happens in front of you. And turning the machine with the joystick is much faster than with a steering wheel. I believe this will help increase productivity.”

Andrea Sandrini, Farmer

Nicer for the body

He adds that steering with the joystick is also nicer for the body because you sit in a more upright and relaxed position.

“I think this will make you less tired and sore after a long day in the driver’s seat. Because the visibility is so good, your eyes will be less tired too,” he says.

The farmer Andrea Sandrini, another member of the group, was equally enthusiastic about the solution – but for other reasons. Only 24 years old, sore joints and tired eyes is not yet a concern of his.

“The visibility is very good and you sit comfortably. But I am more impressed by the speed you can now turn with at the edge of the field. With the joystick, it takes just a few seconds. So you save time at every turn. And for me as a farmer, every second counts. I never know when the weather turns bad and I have to postpone harvesting,” he says.

Machine on road, focus on joystick

Take it to the road

The new Fendt IDEALdrive joystick steering solution is supplied by Danfoss under the brand-name Flex-Steer™. The solution consists of Danfoss’ new JS1-SbW joystick and EHD electrohydraulic steering valve, including digital controller and actuator units handling communication between the joystick and valve.

The solution lives up to the EU machinery directive and its safety standards for agricultural and forestry machinery driving on the road. It will also be ISO 25119 certified. 

So, the farmer can take his Fendt IDEAL combine with IDEALdrive straight from field to field and drive back to the farm or machine storage when the work is done.

“In our view, the Danfoss solution is clearly the best on the market right now – both in terms of how it functions technically and the benefits it offers for the farmer sitting in the cab. Working with Danfoss on the project has been a very positive experience,” says Brandon Montgomery, Senior Marketing Manager, AGCO.

He adds that the solution, with its high digitalization and safety levels, marks yet another step toward a future where fully autonomous combines harvest our fields. The Fendt brand is owned by global agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO. Learn more about Fendt and AGCO.

Man steering with joystick

Backed by science. A team at Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Denmark, has tested Danfoss’ joystick steering solution. And their conclusion is clear: Compared to a traditional steering wheel, joystick steering reduces operator muscle movements by up to 65 percent and increases productivity by six percent. Fifteen male operators participated in the test performing different steering operations in a wheel loader simulator. Test results have been published in International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 72 (2019) 137-45.