Tractor replacement threat comes with highly credible backing

The time when a farmer might switch across to another badge has been replaced with a power source that wasn’t previously available

The Krone-Lemken VTE driverless power platform is shown here in Lemken livery combined with a planter

Once upon a time, it was the dealer down the road with another badge that tempted farmers to make a switch, but that is no longer the case with the temptation to change coming from a power source that costs a lot less and is in many cases much easier to manage.

The quickly moving introduction of several combined power platform/implement models has many specialist farm operations taking notice and daresay they will make the switch as soon as models become more readily available in their region.

And while high-powered broadacre tractors are safe for now following the CNH takeover of their greatest threat, the autonomous farm platform OMNiPOWER for US$2.1 billion, see this link, it’s not the same for medium-powered tractors sporting an implement, their role is now under threat of extinction.

For years, shortline implement makers have seen their market share dissolve before their very eyes as the major tractor companies started adding more tillage and haymaking models to their own model line-up.

It simply makes much more sense and offers big savings to combine the Krone and Lemken autonomous power platforms with implements to achieve a more efficient operation

And while implement makers worked together with tractor companies for over a century it has been the quick uptake over the past decade where the parity has begun to dissolve as tractor makers filled yards with their own branded models.

But now, for the first time, implement makers have begun a paradigm change as they take a stance to retain, and recoup lost sales. Leading that charge is a combination of well-known badges, Krone and Lemken, KUHN, as well as Amazone and Claas.

In simple terms, when you buy an implement from Krone and Lemken, you no longer need a tractor, instead, the power source is provided by these two badges to run every implement they offer.

This more autonomous commanded process turns out to offer much more control over specialist tillage or seeding for instance with the operator being more hands-on with a full visual and in control to make any quick changes as required.

Medium farm operations that specialise in a certain produce category will gain the most benefit at the start, but unfortunately for the majors, many more operations will follow quickly once cost savings and increased production benefits are realised.

Krone and Lemken have advanced their Combined Powers project to develop a 169kW (230hp) autonomous wheel platform with built-in sensors to detect any implement malfunctions

Krone and Lemken

Two of the best-known quality implement manufacturers, Krone and Lemken, have the most to gain from this unstoppable paradigm shift to an autonomous power source linked to their product arsenals.

The combined muscle of Krone and Lemken has resulted in the diesel-electric VTE autonomous platform with ample engine power of 169kW (230hp) running on a solid platform of four equal size 965mm (38-in) tyres.

The ground drive of the VTE is through an electric motor and the designers have added conventional axles for a top speed of 12kph. Design stability has been foremost with motors and most electrical components sourced from Bosch Rexroth eLion.

When the final design package of components and systems is added for practical terms, we have an autonomous VTE power platform with a length of 5.5m and a width of 2.7m. The weigh-in comes up with 7.5 to 8 tonnes depending on add-ons chosen.

This design has culminated into a success-assured power platform that will drive and manage all current implements made by the duo through the electric pto and most current hydraulics.

As the Krone and Lemken autonomous power platform has progressed, so too have any operational procedures such as managing the tractor/implement in-paddock and moving the machine around roads and paddocks.

A simple remote control manages the VTE platform with joysticks and switches. With a dashboard display on a mobile device or a desktop for remote monitoring that also incorporates a camera feed direct from the platform.

As part of the autonomous operation, the implements are equipped with sensors to detect and report malfunctions and also report back on the working depths. Depth tested and proven at this stage are seed drills, power harrows and cultivators.

An interface connects the sensing systems on the VTE and the implement to enable real-time data exchange, and with ISOBUS TIM enabling, any adjustments on the implement is triggered by a signal to the VTE’s hydraulics control system.

While for mower-conditioner type of implements, sensing picks up on torque levels in the drivetrain and is able to detect variations in crop volume and any drag that can readily be corrected with an automatic adjustment.

The overall design is so thorough the system is able to detect and locate any broken parts such as a rake tine and remove them from the path of other implements or a harvester.

Work schedules for the VTE are prepared and transferred wirelessly to the machine’s control system and headland turns are completed hands-free using satellite-based guidance.

KUHN’s autonomous power platform KARL is shown here undergoing trials with an electric-power rotary harrow combination

KUHN driverless KARL

When you stir up the world’s biggest implement maker by taking over their opposition and then include and sell those implements under a mainstream tractor badge, expect repercussions.

Tractor makers are now facing payback from KUHN as the company launches a new generation driverless power platform called KARL.

The diesel engine sits between two rubber tracks that allow the combination to work with any farm implement and it doesn’t need an on-board operator.

There is a choice of 340 or 450mm wide tracks that allow KARL to reach a top speed of 15kph.

For the off-site operator is everything they need including the remote-control unit for initial manoeuvres and setting up

The diesel engine is combined with a dynamo supplying power for the electric propulsion of the tracks and power for the electric-driven implements on the front and rear hitches. There is no need for a pto.

Experienced operators can immediately employ a dual implement combination of a front packer and rotary harrow at the rear, or a front mower and rake at the rear. KARL has the potential to save big money for farm operations.

KUHN engineers estimate the KARL power platform armed with a 129kW (175hp) diesel engine is the tractor alternative farmers will buy moving forward.

Dry weight is estimated at 8.5-tonne, then add whatever is being carried on the 3.5-tonne front and 5-tonne rear linkages.

The KARL power platform from leading implement maker KUHN is simple to transport a long distance if necessary and is armed with a 129kW (175hp) diesel engine to handle all work situations

There is an onboard generator to power the implements backed up with electric actuators to automatically control working depth and other settings.

A remote control can be used to get KARL into a working position and even be operated manually at the start to check all implement settings before letting it loose to operate autonomously through a preordained GPS setting.

With the jobbing file already uploaded, KARL can then set off to do the work and will only stop when the task is complete, or a refuel is required.

For more distant work locations KARL has been designed to slip onto a trailer for transport to save time between jobbing.

Cultivations of all sorts, sowing, planting and residue management are all seen as potential tasks for the machine, which has been built to a size and weight that makes it readily transportable as well as kind to soil structures.

KUHN engineers already have KARL at a point where this power platform implement combination can attend to minor malfunctions itself and rectify them or alert a remote operator for immediate attention.

KARL will embellish multiple operations into a single pass, and fill the need for lighter equipment to conserve soil quality and fulfil the challenges posed by labour.

KARL is much more than an autonomous power/implement platform, it is a comprehensive solution designed for all farm implement work moving forward.

AgXeed’s two-wheel drive AgBot 2.055W4 driverless power platform is well suited as a versatile autonomous solution for all general farming operations with engine power of 55kW (75hp)

Amazone and Claas join AgXeed

Amazone and Claas have also been smitten enough to plough money into a partnership with the Dutch manufacturer AgXeed to develop the Agbot driverless power platform.

Teaming up with AgXeed gives Amazone and Claas a certain level of attainment as the automation software and sensor systems to enable a power/implement platform to work as an autonomous unit is already in place.

The Amazone, Claas and AgXeed combination is even more daunting for current big tractor makers as the trio has extended an invitation to all implement makers to join their quest to remove medium powered tractors from the market.

Already onboard is German-based manufacturer Müthing with a full line of mulchers that have already completed tests with their implements combined with the AgXeed autonomous power/implement combination.

As far as advanced pressure on medium tractor sales being replaced by an autonomous power platform in the short term, it is AgXeed that may lead the charge with its three driverless power platforms in its AgBot range already in commercial use in various world markets.

The AgBot 5.115T2 118kW (156hp) twin-track model can operate with front- and rear-mounted equipment and work in either direction

The AgBot range covers several power selections comprehensively by introducing power platforms to replace small tractors with their 55kW (75hp) two-wheel drive and 55kW (75hp) narrow trike design variants.

While moving into the medium tractor power category there is the proven 118kW (156hp) twin-track model. Overall, the AgBot power platform offering covers a very wide range of applications.

Power for all AgBot models comes in the form of a Deutz diesel-electric power with the engine driving an integrated generator that supplies power to the electric motors.

There is also the option to add a 55kW (75hp) electrically driven pto at the rear that can rotate either clockwise or anti-clockwise.

The AgBot 5.115T2 118kW (156hp) twin-track model has 350-litres of fuel onboard and up to four double-acting proportional spool valves, along with an 85-litre/min hydraulic pump.

Implements carrying capacity is complemented by 8-tonne on the rear with a three-point linkage assembly and 3-tonne up front to ensure a formidable combination for single-pass operations.

For Amazone Claas and AgXeed this is their vision of monitored remotely driverless power platforms combined with implements that will replace small and medium tractors

The tracks can be fitted with belt width combinations measuring from 300 to 910mm with adjustable track spacings to handle all types of cropping systems.

Meanwhile, a more unique power platform is the AgBot 2.055W3 trike at 55kW (75hp) that has been designed to replace smaller tractors in orchards and vineyards. While it can also handle any applications it has the advantage of being configured as little as 1.38m wide.

More versatile in the small tractor replacement category is the traditional four wheeler two-wheel drive AgBot 2.055W4. Well suited as a versatile autonomous solution for all general farming operations with engine power of 55kW (75hp).

With front-end steering the AgBot 2.055W4 and sporting a 85-litre/min hydraulic pump this model can handle implement linkage capacities of 1.5-tonne up front and 4-tonne on the rear.

When combined with an Amazone AutoTill like the Cenia heavy tine and Ceus disc and tine units the system can automatically detect when there is a risk of clogging and sends instructions to the power platform to adjust the working depth and or speed.

German manufacturer Müthing is getting on the power platform bandwagon by trialling a sensor-laden stubble mulcher on an AgBot driverless platform

Claas Autonomy Connect provides the interface for the implement’s monitoring inputs and handles the task plan in the Claas FMIS, or in the AgXeed portal when the Amazone cultivators are used with an AgBot.

Meanwhile, German contender Müthing is trialling a mulcher loaded with sensors to monitor the output and temperature of its electric drive. It can pick up any slip and speed fluctuations of the rotor belt drive and vibration levels.

Everything has moved ahead nicely for AgBot over the past year, and now equipped with a data recording control unit and using 3A principles for communication between the implement and driverless power platform, its future role to replace small and medium tractor power looks assured.