Progress with non-stop round baling continues steadily, with Vicon testing its FastBale concept in UK conditions. Jane Carley caught up with the baler as it tackled some Cheshire grass.
As part of an ongoing development programme, Vicon is currently evaluating its FastBale non-stop round baler wrapper combination in the UK this season.
Seen in the metal for the first time on these shores, FastBale has no set date for launch as yet.
Vicon sales manager David Furber explains; “It’s essential to get a product like this exactly right so that it is as easy for the average operator to use as for the expert.”
Product manager Tim Baker adds; “This is a completely clean sheet design and there is no rush to market. While we are now able to evaluate FastBale in the field, we are still working on software developments to ensure that any error codes can easily be responded to by the operator and that the range of crop densities that will be encountered can be accommodated.
“While Vicon now offers the traditional combi –wrapper, we were keen to produce something completely different.”
With two chambers arranged in series, this allows a number of rollers to be shared.
FastBale integrates a pre-chamber with a main chamber and eliminates the halt in proceedings which occurs while the traditional round baler design stops to apply the netwrap before either unloading the bale or transferring it to a wrapping table.
The pre-chamber is two-thirds of the size of the main chamber, and begins the bale’s formation, compressing the crop as it rotates. Once this chamber is full, a flap above the drop floor opens to direct the crop flow into the main chamber where the bale continues to be formed until it reaches its final 1.25m diameter.
When the required density is achieved, crop flow switches back to the pre-chamber and the next bale is started while net is applied to the first, giving a non-stop operation.
As the pre-chamber reaches its preset density, crop flow is diverted into the main bale chamber allowing baling to continue non-stop.
The wrapping table then lowers to accept the bale and then raises to wrap it, and once wrapped, the rear roller lifts to gently place it on the floor. In a flat field, bale drop is automatic, but the operator can also control the process manually to prevent bales rolling on slopes.
When finishing off a field, the baler is switched to ‘main chamber mode’, pausing the non-stop operation to allow a ‘last bale’ to be made and ejected.
Control is via Vicon’s IsoMatch Tellus split screen terminal which also incorporates a camera, and the baler icon shows the process at every stage.
To keep bale transfer simple and reliable, the engineering team devised a wrapper frame mounted on a parallel linkage.
“We have aimed to make the design simple throughout, eliminating the use of separate loading arms or satellite wrapping rings used on competitor machines, and thus increasing reliability and cutting horsepower requirement,” explains Tim Baker, who works closely with the development team at Kverneland Group’s baler competence centre at Ravenna, Italy.
Mindful of the narrow lanes and gateways found in the grassland areas of the UK, compactness has also been a design priority, David Furber points out, with the wrapping ring folding neatly behind the baler for transport and an overall width of 2.8m.
“There is an established baler-wrapper market in the UK, which represents some 170 units a year, and we would expect most of the demand for FastBale to come from this sector, although interest in combi-wrapping is still growing. Farmers appreciate the labour savings and economies on offer.”
Operating as a pre-chamber, the first section of FastBale produces two-thirds of the bale.
Mr Furber is confident of the fixed chamber design’s appeal over its competitors: “Most purchasers would be looking to bale and wrap large quantities of grass if making this sort of investment in a baler. It’s a large market which seems to have an appetite for innovation.”
Mr Baker adds: “Competition is positive – it suggests that there will be a genuine demand for non-stop baling, and that such a development is going to happen.”
Outputs could be up to 100 bales per hour, and given that most balers pause for 15-20 sec to apply the netwrap, non-stop baling could offer time savings of 200 minutes over a 10 hour working day. Another advantage is the reduction in fatigue from eliminating the need to declutch and stop the baler as the net wrap is applied.
Vicon points out that FastBale represents two world firsts: it is currently the World’s only non-stop fixed chamber baler and secondly, it is the World’s only non-stop fixed chamber baler wrapper combination.
Lely announced a continuous baling system last autumn featuring a transport system which moves the bale within a belt to the extended back of the baler, creating room for a new bale to start in the front.
After the first bale is tied by the net wrap system, the tailgate opens and drops the bale on the go. The baler then returns to its compact position, ready again to finish the bale which is being made in the front.
Krone’s Ultima CF155XC, introduced at Agritechnica 2011, is a variable chamber chopping baler with integrated wrapper.
This baler uses a pair of long belts to pre-compact the incoming crop as the formed bale in the main chamber is wrapped and ejected onto the wrapping table.
Claas also had a bash at making a non-stop round baler in the 1980s, the Rollant Rapid, introduced at Agritechnica 1985.
However, due to cost of production, lack of machine automation and the development of the firm’s Quadrant square baler, which turned out to be more cost effective and attractive to the market, production soon came to a halt.