An accurate and advanced pneumatic mechanism installed on farm seeders lets farmers control seed handling, seed placement and down/up-force control. In the early part of the systems’ development, they were built from standard components for industrial applications. But stubbly agriculture fields proved too harsh for the compressor and other equipment. Vibration caused fittings to leak. These leaks sometimes continued for long times and caused the compressor to fail. What’s more, contamination from dirt and dust almost always harmed the pneumatic down force system. The devices couldn’t withstand the abuse they encountered when a piece of farm equipment was being dragged through unplowed fields.
A newer design then moved the compressor and intake filter into the cab. But excessive noise from the units irritated the driver and passengers, while maintenance and downtime from vibration upped operating costs.
Our initial solution specifically targeted agricultural applications. It consisted of a tank to store air and high-flow valves along with a range of safety reliefs and shut-offs integrated into a compact Pneumatic Down Force Module that’s ready for an OEM to install. Because of the module’s durability, some in industry liken the unit to a “military grade” device designed to withstand unusually extreme environments.
Basically, installed on a seeder, the Pneumatic Down Force Module ensures the equipment places the seed at the proper depth and moisture level. This is critical because planting the seed too deeply, typically over 2 1/2 inches, puts too much stress on the plant’s growth while it is trying to sprout. When the seed is too shallow, the plant’s roots will not be stable enough for a strong sprout.
The initial solution solved 80% of the problems but a more flexible design was still needed. This came from using a hydraulic air compressor that was driven off of the tractor’s hydraulic system. The configuration made the cubic feet per minute compressor air output four times greater than before, letting larger planters react and adjust more quickly. Planters could thus more efficiently handle both single rows and split rows.
Also, adjustability, the number of adjustments for a given air source, was improved by adding more valves in the module to fill and exhaust the rear row independently from the front. This feature is important for planters using a front and a rear row placement for seed because it ensured that both rows insert seeds at the same depth. For example, a planter with a fertilizer tank over the front row requires less force to place the seed at the correct depth than the rear row which lacks a tank.
Fig 1. This Pneumatic Down Force Module handles the complexity of a dual row system with both front and rear row independent control.
Last, gage wheels on the seeder let the equipment detect the ground hardness in real time, providing an “active” or closed-loop down force system as opposed to a traditional “reactive” system. The new system “thinks” on its own, so to speak, and makes seed-depth adjustments automatically. The technology continues to evolve. New systems make adjustments automatically, but they must make the adjustments across the entire vehicle. Future technology is leading to “smart” row controls where each row is independently and automatically controlled.
Although it’s unlikely that a perfect system for the placement of seed will ever be developed, modern machinery can place seed exactly 2 1/2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. In general, technology improvements made over the past five years in fertilizing and harvesting as well as in seeding have made farmers more productive. In fact, the yield per acre is at higher levels than anyone could have imagined even 20 years ago.
For more information, on Pneumatic Innovation at Parker, download this brochure
This is Part 2 of a two Part series shared by Richard McDonnell, Business Development Manager, Parker Hannifin, Pneumatic Division