One of the great things about my job as machinery editor is I sometimes get a chance to go behind the usually-closed doors of research and development shops at the manufacturers. Those workshops are where all the great new features that appear on farm equipment every year are born and evolve from concept to market-ready technology.
This week I was invited into SeedMaster’s R&D shop just outside of Regina. The company had a lot to talk about at Canada’s Farm Progress show this year as it unveiled several new features, and at the brand’s display it even gave visitors a peek at what’s to come with the new metering system it expects to have ready for 2017 model year production. I had a chance to look at how all those products evolved during a walk through the R&D shop with senior executives Norbert and Cory Beaujot along with engineer Daniel Michaluk and Trent Meyer, the company’s director of sales and marketing. It was a bit like having an all-access, back stage pass.
One of the unique things about SeedMaster’s corporate approach to R&D is managers there have always been willing to discuss much of what they have on the drawing board, unlike many other manufacturers who are often reluctant to discuss any new technology until it’s ready to release into the market.
That said, I have walked through R&D facilities at most of the major brands over the years. It’s always interesting to see the process that takes place in order to turn ideas into functioning components. One thing is consistant among all those shops: it takes a lot of investment to stay on the cutting edge. Engineers and technicians spend all their days building and intentionally destroying parts in order to find weaknesses and identify areas that need improvement.
And it’s really impossible to decide where improvements need to be made if no one from the company ever operates the equipment in the field, making it do what farmers expect it to. According to Norbert Beaujot, SeedMaster considers its Langbank research farm an integral part of the R&D shop. Every year the company’s farm seeds a variety of crops and uses its own fields as a proving ground for the innovations that start out on an engineer’s computer screen.
When it comes to dry-land seeding technology, Norbert says he thinks advancing metering and seed delivery technology is the new frontier all seeding equipment manufacturers will be focusing on. So much of the activity in the SeedMaster R&D shop was centered around exactly that.
One result of that activity is the company’s new “tuneable” distribution towers that can be used to get a better and more even delivery of product to each opener on a drill. As we stood beside a group of distribution towers mounted on stands inside the R&D shop, Norbert explained that experiments done on examples of different designs of the company’s own, and those from different manufacturers, proved that there are a lot of factors that influence the flow of product through them.
Some things are beyond an engineer’s ability to control, such as when a drill is working on a sidehill. In that case more seed and fertilizer will flow through the tower to the downhill side than the uphill. But saying engineers can’t solve that problem may not be entirely accurate. Looking at the kind of technology on the market today across the full spectrum of machinery types, who would have believed all that would be possible.
One thing is certain, though. If any brand decides it wants to correct that limitation of distribution towers or advance any other technology, all that testing and evolution will take place inside an R&D shop. So whenever possible, I’m going to quickly take any brand executive up on their offer to let me walk through their engineering facility. Being around that much innovative thinking all in one place is nothing less than inspiring.