Easy Rider: TrakRide on the IDEAL Combine
TrakRide brings unparalleled performance, comfort and reliability to the all-new Fendt IDEAL combine.
By Jason Jenkins
Across much of North America this past fall, producers encountered one constant. Whether they raised canola on the prairies of Saskatchewan, wheat on the plains of Kansas or corn and soybeans in the Bootheel of Missouri, wet weather wreaked havoc with the harvest on many farms. In some places, the most daunting challenge of the entire season was simply getting the crop out of the field.
Zach Stejskal encountered this on more than one occasion as he helped coordinate harvest demonstrations for AGCO’s all-new Fendt® IDEAL™ combine. Yet, while other combines were forced to sit idle, the IDEAL—equipped with the exclusive TrakRide™ track system—tackled these less-than-ideal conditions head-on.
“We had a wet fall, and that really made it tough for guys to get through the field,” says Stejskal, AGCO® marketing product specialist for hay and harvest who has spent the past three years working with engineers and producers alike on the development of the IDEAL. “There were places where we were harvesting in standing water, yet with TrakRide, we were able to keep trucking away.”
Such superior performance was what AGCO engineers had in mind in late 2013 when they approached Alan Gustafson, chief engineer for global track systems at AGCO’s manufacturing plant in Jackson, Minnesota. They asked Gustafson to design a track system for a yet-unnamed combine, one that would become the first “clean-sheet” design of an axial combine in three decades.
“Make it fit, make it work, make it last. Until a product spec could be written, this was how we proceeded,” Gustafson recalls of those initial conversations. “So, we worked very hard on simplicity and integrating proven components from our existing track systems.”
Arriving at the final design, however, required Gustafson and the team at Jackson to simultaneously embrace and reconsider everything they thought they knew about tracks. After nearly six years and four iterations, today’s positive-drive TrakRide boasts the industry’s largest footprint on a fully suspended, articulating track. This low-maintenance, high-performance undercarriage merges tested technology with unique features, providing a stable harvesting platform for Class 7, 8 and 9 IDEAL models.
When the TrakRide project was presented to Gustafson, he applied what he’d learned during more than two decades of designing tracks. In fact, he was instrumental in the design of the rubber track systems found on today’s Challenger® MT700 and MT800 series tractors. He recalls the project team’s “make it work” requirement included low rolling resistance.
“Using bigger rollers and as few as possible was known to be a sure path to low rolling resistance, so we opted for two large midrollers to support the track, instead of three or four smaller ones as might be found on competitors’ tracks,” Gustafason says. “Not coincidentally, the extra-large idler wheels at the ends of the tracks are the same ones found on the front of Challenger track tractors.”
Early in development and with a prototype design in hand, the team went about testing their new track system. Without an IDEAL combine available for initial testing, Gustafson says they retrofitted an old MT900 tractor prototype at the plant, mounting their new tracks on the front to mimic the dynamic behavior of a combine.
“We always name our prototypes, and this one we named Yeti. People ask, ‘Why did we call it Yeti?’” he says with a mischievous look in his eye. “I always give the same answer: Because I can’t spell Sasquatch.”
While Yeti’s first prototype tracks met durability objectives, the project team wanted something more: suspension. By making the frame articulate, the front idler wheels, rear idler wheels and the midrollers could now move independently.
“The way it articulates, it’s unique. We have a patent on it,” Gustafson explains, adding that the change also reduces load spikes that can shorten roller life. “So now, when we encounter an obstacle … each particular roller can go independent in its motion and envelop the contours of everything that it goes over. The difference is the combine itself goes through much less motion than the undercarriage does.”
Reducing the combine’s motion as it travels across a field has a number of advantages. First, for the operator, it means a smoother ride. Stejskal says the bumps and jolts endured during long hours over multiple days at harvest time can fatigue a combine operator. TrakRide helps to minimize that wear and tear on the operator as well as the machine itself.
“Being able to have that comfortable ride in the cab, it just helps keep you fresh,” he says. “At our harvest demos, about 75% of producers who ran both IDEAL with TrakRide and a competitor’s combine on tracks said TrakRide is the smoothest riding track that they’ve been on.”
The second benefit is improved harvesting. Gustafson says that even with automatic header height control, stability in the combine is still crucial to keeping the header at constant height from the ground. TrakRide makes this task easier.
“Every time the chassis of that combine moves, your header has got to compensate,” Stejskal says. In crops such as soybeans, for example, this is crucial. “With TrakRide, if you’re going through a rut or a washout, you just glide right over it. You get a better cut, and you’re not leaving the last little bit of soybeans out there.”
To further enhance performance, the engineering team at Jackson worked especially hard to make TrakRide the most reliable, durable and maintenance-free track system in the industry. Gustafson says one feature that achieves these goals is the tensioning system. Rather than using a “live” tensioning system—which requires hydraulic connections between the track and the combine to maintain pressure—the TrakRide system incorporates two self-contained cylinders to maintain tension and provide suspension.
“It’s a totally sealed unit, so there are no hoses to get ripped off or caught on something,” he explains. “Think of it like the gas strut that holds up the hood of your car. It’s like that on steroids. It provides the spring of the system.”
Designed with no maintenance points, the system allows operators to spend more time harvesting. All hubs use tapered roller bearings and operate in oil, while all pivot shafts that articulate the undercarriage are oil-filled and sealed as well. Sight glasses on each roller hub allow for a quick visual inspection.
“You get in a hurry during harvest, and grease fittings don’t always get hit like they should,” Stejskal adds. “TrakRide has no grease Zerks. It’s a very simple system.”
Advanced, robust components also lead to greater durability. Take, for example, the cast midrollers, which have an outer surface covered in a polyurethane compound that’s softer than previous versions. This helps protect the inner carcass of the rubber track, while a patented wear ring made of ultra-high molecular weight (UHMW) polyethylene reduces friction between the midrollers and the track’s guideblocks.
“During tests, our new midrollers have lasted more than twice as long in hot operating conditions than the previous design,” Gustafson says, noting that heat from friction can significantly reduce component life. “The replaceable wear ring is something that nobody else has. It’s exclusive to the IDEAL combine and Challenger tractors.”
TrakRide’s overall frame design is versatile enough to allow a choice among tracks in three different widths. IDEAL can be configured with 26-, 30- or 36-inch-wide rubber tracks, which allow operators to match the track to their respective operations.
A New Era In Productivity
Nearly six years after he began working on TrakRide, Gustafson is even more impressed with IDEAL and its many groundbreaking innovations. “The combine is a truly global project. We have designers in multiple countries speaking multiple languages,” he says. “My team’s portion of this whole project has been relatively small, but the cooperation has been awesome.”
Stejskal agrees that TrakRide is one of the many unique and industry-leading features that sets the Fendt IDEAL apart as the combine redefining harvest efficiency, grain-handling and all-around performance. The machine earned a 2019 AE50 award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, recognizing IDEAL as one of the year’s best new products.
“Whether we’re talking about the industry’s longest rotors, largest grain tank, fastest auger system or most nimble tracks,” he says, “top to bottom, IDEAL is built to improve productivity in the field.”
To learn more about the Fendt IDEAL, visit IDEALharvesting.com.