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User story: Remapping offers clear path to efficiency gains

Modern tractor performance can sometimes be strangled by emissions regulations, but a growing number of operators are seeking out engine remapping to extract a better level of performance and efficiency from their power units. Geoff Ashcroft reports.

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High-hour reliability has not been compromised at Alvis Contracting as a result of engine remapping.

Tuning engines has been practised ever since the internal combustion engine was created.

 

For tractors, the process was once achieved on the injector pump where a turn of the screw simply increased the fueling, often accompanied with a generous puff of black smoke.

 

But the advent of electronic fuel and air management with the arrival of common rail diesels has made engine tuning a much more precise process. Done sensitively, an increase in power no longer needs to be accompanied by a cloud of black smoke.

 

There are two schools of thought. One is to adopt a tuning box which in its crudest form simply increases fuel pressure and this can create a corresponding increase in turbocharger boost pressure.

Dyno testing before and after gives customers peace of mind with power output.

A tuning box offers appeal through its ability to be quickly fitted and removed. And vanishing without a trace allows the tractor to revert to OEM factory settings offering appeal for those concerned about warranty-related claims on newer metal.

 

The second process is to modify the original air and fuel ‘maps’ which the engine’s electronic control unit refers to for injector opening, timing, fuel quantities, air volumes and exhaust gas temperatures.

 

This process is more commonly achieved by plugging a laptop into the on-board diagnostics port and accessing map files.

 

It is this latter process which Nick Heyes of Wigton-based Ecopower Group, has employed for numerous years, making subtle alterations to provide more power and efficiency without over-stretching and perhaps jeopardising long-term reliability.

 

He is one of many modern-day tuners working on tractors, cars and trucks, where a tweak of the maps can give impressive results.

 

“A lot of operators complain newer tractors just do not pull like their previous model,” he says. “Two identical tractors fresh off the production line can give different levels of performance.

Remapping results

Five minutes on the dyno show off a remap's work, note rpm quoted is pto speed. Figures left are pre-mapping (see graph, darker curves) and right post-mapping (lighter curves).

  • This New Holland T7060 gains about 40hp at top end
  • More power at lower revs - should help reduce fuel consumption
  • Peak torque moved to middle of rev-range

“We operate our own dyno and test every customer’s tractor before any work is carried out and again after the work is completed, giving them piece of mind with how the performance is altered.”

 

Using a dyno, Mr Heyes removes any guesswork customers have, as they try and convince themselves the tractor must be better given the money they have just spent.

 

“A properly adjusted map can alter the power and torque delivery in many ways. In addition to increasing performance, the power and torque can be subtly tweaked so both arrive at different points in the rpm range. This way, they can see exactly what they get.

 

“We work in safety parameters from in-built exhaust gas temperature monitoring and torque sensors to avoid creating engine hot-spots. If you just cram in more fuel and jack up the boost you will get more smoke and the back of the engine will run hotter as it is the point which is furthest away from the water pump.

 

“We do much more than just adding fuel. A properly remapped tractor will not reveal itself through smoke.

 

“And of course, we have the ability to exercise discretion when adjusting a map to provide a modest power gain, rather than a headline grabbing power figure,” he says. “Experience tells you just how far you should go and engines generally run smoother and deliver better fuel efficiency as a result.”

Daniel Harding of Alvis Contracting says remapping has restored power and put it higher up the rpm range, where it should be.

“We operate our own dyno and test every customer’s tractor before any work is carried out and again after the work is completed, giving them piece of mind with how the performance is altered.”

 

Using a dyno, Mr Heyes removes any guesswork customers have, as they try and convince themselves the tractor must be better given the money they have just spent.

 

“A properly adjusted map can alter the power and torque delivery in many ways. In addition to increasing performance, the power and torque can be subtly tweaked so both arrive at different points in the rpm range. This way, they can see exactly what they get.

 

“We work in safety parameters from in-built exhaust gas temperature monitoring and torque sensors to avoid creating engine hot-spots. If you just cram in more fuel and jack up the boost you will get more smoke and the back of the engine will run hotter as it is the point which is furthest away from the water pump.

 

“We do much more than just adding fuel. A properly remapped tractor will not reveal itself through smoke.

 

“And of course, we have the ability to exercise discretion when adjusting a map to provide a modest power gain, rather than a headline grabbing power figure,” he says. “Experience tells you just how far you should go and engines generally run smoother and deliver better fuel efficiency as a result.”

Contractor's view: Route to better performance

Long-term reliability of remapped tractors has been thoroughly tested by Alvis Contracting, a business run by Daniel Harding, Lyecross Farm, Redhill, Bristol.

 

It still operates three JD6830 tractors, fettled many years ago, which are now wearing more than 10,000 clock hours.

 

Mr Harding says: “As part of John Deere ownership, I expect to have to replace a head gasket and perhaps a variable geometry turbocharger. But given we have put 10,000-14,000 hours on these tractors without having to rebuild engines, gearboxes and rear ends, it suggests we have got the level of tune about right.”

 

It also shows the kit is serviced and looked after properly, and operated with a degree of sympathy by a professional team.

This 6830 was warmed up to 200hp once the warranty period expired, and is still putting the hours in (see clock hours below).

The general contracting business operates a mixed fleet of 15 tractors comprising John Deere and Fendt, plus four Claas self-propelled foragers. And with the exception of its two combines, Mr Harding has made it a matter of course to remap almost all its power units.

 

“Modern engines are so flat and strangled by emissions paraphernalia they just do not pull,” he says. “We have found remapping simply restores the engine’s characteristics and puts power back up the rpm range, where it should be.”

 

He says the business was first eased into remapping in 2007, when the farm moved from JD6920s up to JD6830s. “They just would not pull. It was a hideous change in engine characteristics. Hauling slurry tankers out of our yard and onto the A38 for a long slog up to access fields became almost dangerous.”

This 6830 is rapidly heading towards 12,500 hours.

“You would see a gap in traffic and go, but the throttle response was so tardy you had committed to a manoeuvre which was suddenly going to take way longer than you had space for,” he adds.

 

“They would not pick up speed on the climb and they would not hang on. Nick Heyes soon fixed this for us and we have never looked back. It has given the tractors the performance they should have had.”

 

While cynics might suggest buying a more powerful tractor in the first place, Mr Harding believes relatively lightweight but punchy tractors can fulfil many roles in the business, compared to heavier more powerful brutes.

Alvis tractor fleet

  • Fendt: 939, 936, 724, 718 (x2)
  • John Deere: 6140R, 6150R, 6145R (x5), 6830 (x3)

And smaller, lighter, lower powered tractors are also considerably cheaper to buy than their bigger stablemates.

 

“We want our kit to tread lightly on the moors and the Somerset Levels, particularly when carrying out fencing and field maintenance. But we also need grunt the right places when we are hauling silage, muck and slurry tankers.

 

“We have seen how tractors have become bigger, heavier and more numb, so we have to work round a lack of torque and a largely gutless level of performance with modern engines,” he says.

Eight-year old Fendt 718 continues to perform well, despite nudging 14,000 clock hours (see below).

Alvis Contracting’s first batch of three JD6830s and a JD6930 with a front-end loader were eventually warmed up to about 180hp. Based on their success and reliability, the second batch of three JD6830 tractors, which arrived in 2011, were pushed up to 200hp, once the warranty period had expired.

 

“We are not after a carte-blanche power hike. A map allows different states of tune to be applied and we have to have reliability too so there is no point in being greedy and chasing headline figures,” he says.

 

“I am not a fan of plug-in tuning boxes. They seem to be a quick fix and do not offer the adjustability and clarity of performance which a bespoke map does. Having tractors dyno tested before and after is proof of the pudding.”

A little fettling for the 2009 Fendt 718 has not prevented it from knocking on the door of 14,000 hours.

The fleet’s three remaining JD6830s are still hard at work and long past 11,000 hours. And a 2009 model Fendt 718, which has also succumbed to some fettling, is knocking on the door of 14,000 hours.

 

“We probably have kept them a bit too long in depreciation terms, but they have been solid,” he adds.

 

“They do not blow smoke and if they are driven right, for example running empty with silage trailers, they can be more efficient on fuel. But we have got to get on and we accept if you push them hard, they will burn a bit of extra diesel. You cannot have more power without using more fuel.”

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