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Electric Steering Options Get Amped Up

Back in 2009, John Deere debuted its Active Command Steering (ACS) system at the Agritechnica machinery show in Germany. That new steering system, which uses electrical circuitry rather than a direct mechanical linkage, won the company a gold medal for innovation at the show. This year it will finally see production for the first time on the 8R tractor line. The company made that announcement at Ag Connect Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, in January, showing one of the new 8R tractors at its display.

ACS offers a combination of extra features that make controlling the tractor much easier for the operator than standard mechanical steering.

To start with, it improves handling during road transport and allows for a higher maximum speeds, up to 31 m.p.h. “There’s a gyroscope underneath the cab that measures yaw,” says Matt Arnold, senior marketing manager for the 8R line. “What it does is help you keep from overcorrecting.” Using readings from the gyroscope, the system measures cab movement and acts to prevent oversteer, particularly from sudden steering corrections made to avoid a hazard.

Aside from preventing oversteer, the tractor can automatically make minor steering corrections to keep the tractor following a straight-line path, which can be especially helpful on rougher roads.

To further help with high-speed control, the system offers variable ratio steering. During normal headland turns in a field, the wheel requires only 3-1/2 turns to go from lock to lock. That makes for quick and easy maneuvering. But on the road at high speeds, a lock-to- lock movement requires five full turns, so small corrections can be made without causing oversteer.

“It’s variable ratio and variable effort steering,” adds Arnold. The effort required to turn the wheel changes between road and field. The wheel can be spun with only a light touch at slower ground speeds, but the system automatically increases the torque required as travel speed increases. That easier control also allows for a smaller diameter steering wheel.

With the fail-safe features built into ACS, Deere has actually made the steering system more reliable than conventional mechanical linkage-hydraulic assist designs. If the engine stalls, a back-up electric pump takes over and provides hydraulic pressure to maintain steering control. There is also a second system controller capable of taking over if the primary one fails.


And although electric GPS auto-steer systems aren’t new, AGCO has introduced an electric steering kit that adds a fresh wrinkle to the technology. In February it announced the introduction of the Topcon AES-25 Accurate Electric Steering kits for high-horsepower MF and Challenger tractors, along with Gleaner combines and application equipment.

“We call it a hydraulic-steering alternative,” says Tom McCann, a business development specialist at AGCO. “A lot of the other kits on the market are less expensive, but you don’t get the same performance. It (the AES-25) is a high-end machine. You can go right to RTK with it.”

The kit is a complete replacement for the existing steering wheel inside a cab. To install it, simply remove a machine’s existing steering wheel and put the AES-25 in its place. The drive motor and all components are fully enclosed inside the new steering column housing. So, it does not intrude into the operator’s working area like scrubber-style kits that can interfere with manual steering.

The kit can also be installed on some equipment from other equipment brands. AGGO provides a wide range of steering-shaft spline adapters to match most competing product lines. A customer simply needs to know what makes and models of equipment the kit will be installed on and order the correct spline adapters when purchasing the kit.

This type of installation makes the system portable, so it can easily be transfered between machines in only a few minutes, unlike dedicated hydraulic steering systems. The original steering wheel can be reinstalled once the kit is removed.

And according to McCann, the AES-25 is the only system capable of automatically steering a machine in reverse.


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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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