There is always scepticism when a manufacturer comes to market with a radical new product, but could Vicon be on to something with its non-stop round baler? James Rickard finds out with a test drive.
Two chambers in series allow Vicon’s FastBale round baler to work non-stop.
Revealed in late 2014, Vicon created quite a stir when it threw its hat into the non-stop round baler ring.
Joining Krone and Lely in the race to produce a commercially viable non-stop round baler, all three took a very different approach to baler design. Take a look at some of the competitors and other concepts.
However, it is Vicon’s twin, fixed chamber layout which seems to have nosed ahead in terms of a workable machine.
Aimed squarely at making silage and haylage bales, its use of inline chambers allow it to bale, bind and wrap continuously without stopping. In theory, productivity should be substantially increased compared to conventional combi-baler designs.
So are all its industry awards deserved? To find out, we headed to the fields of Cheshire to tackle some late third cut grass.
As standard, FastBale comes with Vicon’s own Tellus touchscreen terminal. The baler can also be controlled and monitored via IsoBus using a compatible tractor terminal.
Information shown on screen includes bale count, bales per hour and a real time graphic of what the baler is doing including crop flow and when it is binding and wrapping. The latter provides a lot of comfort that the baler is doing what it is meant to be doing.
In addition, a camera feed from the rear of the baler is also shown, and net and film breakage and run out alarms are incorporated.
The terminal is good to navigate and very clear. Up to 40 jobs can also be recorded, saved and transferred.
By switching between functions via the screen, one, double acting spool can control knife engagement, drop floor and pickup. Power beyond hydraulics take care of wrapping and doors. Manual controls are also located on the baler, which helps with maintenance.
On the whole, crop flow is good, aided by a crop press roller on the pickup. A large 800mm diameter feed rotor is used to force crop into the bale chambers. It needs it too as crop has to be fed at a relatively steep angle, especially for the pre chamber, compared to conventional round baler layout.
Occasionally, during chamber switch over, crop did come back over the top of the feed rotor.
Although not a problem during our test, there is quite a gap between pickup and feed rotor, where shorter crop can momentarily ‘stall.’ Perhaps some sort of powered rotor or a reduction in gap, to keep crop moving, may help.
A bank of 25 knives affords a theoretical chop length of 50mm. All knives, 13, 12, six or none can be selected via a lever underneath the baler. Engagement/dis-engagement of knives is done hydraulically. It is a shame knife selection cannot also be done like this to go with the baler’s high-spec credentials.
Key to FastBale’s non-stop design is the use of two fixed chambers; a pre-chamber and a main chamber.
The pre-chamber is two thirds the size of the main chamber and also narrower, achieved through the use of nylon liners. This helps the small bale transfer easier into the main chamber, aided by a tipping action from the lower rollers.
At first, it is a very weird sensation to drive FastBale, especially when you see the chambers opening and closing while you are moving.
Both chambers turn the bale in the same direction, and at certain points, share rollers.
Through the use of a door, crop flow is diverted from one chamber to another – a change in engine note give this away, particularly in heavy conditions.
In theory, the smaller bale made by the pre-chamber should produce a pre-compressed dense core for the main chamber. Bale weights on the day were knocking on the door of 950kg, and this was not a wet crop by any means. Bale shape and density looked and felt good too.
For the last bale of the field or day, the baler can be switched to conventional mode, just using the main chamber.
A key part of the FastBale design is its integrated, twin satellite wrapping unit. Mounted at the rear of the baler via a parallelogram linkage, it has the ability to move up and down; a low position to receive the bale out of the chamber, and a high position to wrap.
Once wrapped, it lowers itself again and gently places the bale on the ground. For transport it folds vertically, leaving very little tail swing.
Wrapping process is completely automated, but can be interrupted at any time, as well as done manually, as can bale drop. The latter is good for placing bales where you want them, but you cannot afford to leave the bale on the table too long, because there will soon be another on the way.
If wrapping is not required, the wrapper can be lifted out of the way and switched off - ideal for straw or hay.
For baling on slopes, a bale turning kit can be fitted, which ‘tips’ the bale on its end.
As the net application system is right up on top of the baler, Vicon engineers have created a neat hydraulic lift system. Net roll is placed on a frame at ground level, then simply lifted and slid into position at the top of the baler.
So how many bales per hour can it do?
On the day, in varied conditions, spot rates of 85 bales per hour were achievable. As with any combi-baler net and film changes, awkward shaped fields and travelling will all have their part to play on productivity.
But, given that most balers pause for 15-20 seconds to apply net, then another couple to get going again, FastBale could potentially bale another 20 bales per hour.
In ideal conditions, we reckon it could be producing 90 plus bales per hour.
Winding through country lanes and tight gateways, FastBale does not feel a bulky machine. Its compact design makes it manoeuvrable in field, and its single axle avoids any scuffing.
With 170hp up front, the tractor managed it well for the most part. In heavier conditions, some more gee gees would be welcome, which should also raise baler output.
By not just producing another me too product, Vicon has firmly put itself back on the round baler map, spearheaded by the development of FastBale.
FastBale itself is a seriously clever bit of engineering. Despite its complexity and reliance on electronics to work, it is very operator friendly to use.
In addition to upping baling rates, the non-stop concept is less fatiguing to drive compared to conventional combi-balers, and large square balers to some extent.
As more of a dedicated silage baler, it is really only suited for those making serious bale numbers, especially when you consider the extra 25 to 30 per cent you will be paying over a conventional combi-baler.
There are also more developments to come for FastBale including film on film wrapping, which could again increase throughput, and make a better bale for the end user.