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Tour of technology

Get on the bus for a tour of Case's new products for 1999.

A tractor drawbar pin?

Seemed like an odd teaser to what Case Corporation was calling its 1998 Technology Tour, a traveling bus tour designed to give journalists a sneak peak at some of its products for 1999-among them, the new MX Series Magnum tractors and 1200 Series Advanced Seed Meter (ASM) planters. Wrapped in the tour were stops at Case's Farm One research facility, Technology Center and tractor plant. The drawbar pin arrived in a box with this invitation: "You know how tractors and implements connect at their simplest level. Now, Case is introducing new methods of linking tractors with implements with more power and new technologies. Interested?"

Come along on this tour and find out what Case is up to.

First stop: Farm One. The tour bus boarded in Chicago at 7:30 in the morning. The first stop is Farm One, Case's on-farm research facility covering 6,300 acres3,700 near Shabbona, IL, and an additional 2,600 near Quincy.

I step off the bus. "Any questions?" asks Mike Green, Farm One program manager. He explains that Farm One is a testing ground for everything from seed corn and mapping software to sprayers and harvesters. And not just Case stuff. Competitors' products, too.

Partners include major seed and chemical companies and universities.

He gives me a quick tour of some equipment being tested. There is a pull-type sprayer made by Europe-based Gem, now owned by Case. "Gem is known for its boom technology," he says.

We walk past a Patriot self-propelled sprayer, a former Tyler product, soon to be painted red to show it is now part of Case's crop care line.

Next, the new Case IH 1200 Series ASM planter. "You'll notice that Case went to individual hopper boxes on this planter," Green says. That's a switch from the central-fill concept it introduced more than a decade ago in its Early Riser planters. Green explains that the separate boxes allow independent control of seeding and fertilizer application.

It is time to head in to the machine shed. Jim Stoddart, vice president of Case's Advanced Farming Systems (AFS), is there to present the new generation of AFS, which includes Case's site-specific farming line.

"The new AFS systems will be simpler, more reliable and have more capabilities," Stoddart says.

In the past, for an implement to perform complex functions like varying seed rate, you would have needed an array of display monitors, wiring harnesses, switches and control boxes because everything had to be hard-wired, he explains. Now, all functions can be carried out with one touch-screen display. A single cord attaches the display to your tractor. "It's like plugging a phone into a jack," Stoddart says.

The technology behind it is called Controller Area Network (CAN). It's a network that allows different electronic devices to exchange information.

CAN was originally developed during the late 1980s for the automotive industry. Now it will be part of all Case IH equipment, starting with the AFS planters and air seeders.

Farmers will have two display options: Universal Display, which controls all base monitoring and implement functions, or Universal Display Plus, which ties in Global Positioning System (GPS) for variable-rate application of inputs.

The display can be removed and installed in other equipment, and it will automatically configure itself to that application. "It will transform what used to be a piece of iron into a data connection computer that is equivalent to a desktop PC mounted in the cab," Stoddart explains.

And, it will be easy to use, he says. "I could teach you how to run the planter in five minutes."

Case is already writing orders for the spring of 1999.

The new line of electronics will be tested on Farm One with the help of Midwest Consulting Service, an agronomic service Case purchased in 1996 to gain a better understanding of variability in yields.

Next stop: Technology Center. Located in Burr Ridge, IL, the Technology Center is where Case develops and tests product concepts.

Case has been using virtual reality in its design process since 1991. Engineers use computer simulations to refine concepts and designs on-screen, prior to building. It saves millions of dollars in development costs each year, according to Duane Tiede, vice president of functional engineering. "We can make a better tractor, faster."

Engineers used more than 200 such simulations to design and evaluate the new MX Series Magnum tractors.

Next, we tour the center's development labs and test cells. Among them: *A simulation lab, where a tractor was put on a rack and bounced to simulate bumpy field conditions. It tests what parts will crack, come loose or otherwise fail after 10,000 hrs. of field time. The test takes only 52 days because it runs continuously. *A heat test lab that simulates Arizona-type weather of 110F to test the cooling system. *A drivetrain test cell, in which a drivetrain is subjected to a test cycle that duplicates tractor speed and load in actual field conditions. "In the field, the tractor does true damage to drivetrain only 15 to 20 percent of the time," says Case technician Ken Nelson. "So in a test cell like this we can duplicate the life of a tractor in 3 to 4 months."

*A rapid prototyping lab that makes 3-D representations of complex prototype parts using layers of paper cut by lasers.

Case has more than 30 such labs, in which it has tested numerous products.

Next stop: Tractor plant. The next morning we tour the tractor plant in Racine, WI, where Maxxum and the new Magnum tractors are being built.

Case recently spent more than $100 million to renovate the facility from a single family to a mixed model production line to improve production. Common assemblies are built on line, and anything unique is built off line. Lines are sequenced so that the right parts meet up with the right tractor.

Tractors travel more than 1.5 miles of conveyor in total, and each one takes a day to build.

Last stop: Training Center. At 9:30, we transfer to Case's Training Center to see and hear about the new tractors, planters and sprayers to be introduced this fall. It seems like a lot to squeeze into the few hours remaining, which shows that Case is putting the focus on the technology leading up to these products.

Of the new products, the tractors harnessed the most attention. The new MX Series Magnum tractors are billed as the most technologically advanced yet user-friendly row-crop tractors in the world. Five models range in horsepower from 145 to 235. The largest, the MX270, is the largest MFD tractor in the industry.

"The application of technology and electronics control let us take these tractors to new levels. That's the story," says Les Pagel, product development director for large tractors.

He explains that the same CAN technology that was built into the new planters is also part of the new MX Series Magnum tractors. It centralizes multiple tractor functions so that they can be monitored and controlled from one touch-screen display in the cabthe same display used to control the planter.

"The AFS ties everything together so the tractor functions talk to each implement function," Pagel says. "The payoff comes in the form of more efficient planting, seeding or tilling." A single connector to the tractor plugs into diagnostic equipment to simplify repairs.

Suddenly, Case's drawbar pin analogy is making sense.

"Case is revolutionizing how tractors and implements work together," says John Garrison, general manager of Case Ag Systems. "It's no longer simply a drawbar pin and hydraulics that connect the two."

He says the MX Series Magnum tractor is the base power unit or host computer that will eventually hook up to all your implements to maximize productivity and lower input costs.

The tour ends with static displays of all the equipment and a chance to drive the tractors.

If you'd like to see the products for yourself or take a tour of the technology, the first public showing in the United States is September 12 through 20 at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, IA.

Contact Case Corporation, Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 414/636-6011.

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