Few things can be more frustrating when putting up hay than having great weather to bale, but a baler that won’t work properly. Often round baler problems are directly related to poor roller belt condition. Ensuring belts are field-ready is key to, well, making hay while the sun shines.
Grainews spoke with Chad Haugen, senior engineer of product development at WCCO Belting Inc., a belting supplier to several OEMs, about how to keep belts in working order. And with the growing sophistication of modern round balers, there’s much more to consider than there used to be on very early baler designs. For one thing, there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all belt.
“There are so many different types of (belt) surfaces,” says Haugen. “A lot of those were all determined by OEMs. They would match the belt surface to the baler (requirements). The biggest thing is that pattern. You have so many different types of patterns and designs.”
That means not all belt patterns will work well on all balers, even if everything else is the same.
“We recommend the OEM design,” he adds. “Because sometimes you may have clearance issues from the (belt) thickness. So (the bale) won’t start, because it just pushes hay away. That’s a big thing. We have different thicknesses in our offerings. It might only be 50 thousandths (of an inch), but it might make a difference on that specific (baler) design.”
And different belt types need specific lacing connectors.
“Different balers are designed differently for that lacing as well,” Haugen notes. “How it goes over the rollers. There’s multiple lacing styles that match up to the fabric construction of the belt and the pattern design.”
Haugen says temporary field repairs made to a belt during the season should be re-evaluated when time permits.
“Typically, on a baler, it’s similar to tires,” he says. “There may be one that’s bad. Before it was common to just replace one. But now we replace all four (tires). That can happen on balers.
“Usually, it’s damage to one or two of the belts, and then you have to put a temporary splice in there. At the end of the season, just say, ‘Well, I need to replace the whole set of belts.’ We recommend in any baler replacement, replacing all of them, because if you have a belt with 15,000 bales on it, when you put a new one on, it’s just going to act differently, it’s going to stretch.
“A belt with 15,000 bales on it is much different than a belt with zero bales. That will affect your tension. You basically have to match their lengths.”
But matching the length of older belts will be difficult, because they stretch over time.
“Let’s say on a Case baler the length is 420 inches,” he continues. “You might cut it to that length but the existing belts might actually be 422 or 423 inches. If you don’t replace all the others, you’re putting all the tension on that new belt. And that lacing will fail. Because that one belt is taking a lot of the load. You’re going to get an uneven bale.”
Stretching isn’t the only consideration on older belts. Pattern wear can affect baler performance too.
“Over time, it’s just like your tires,” he says. “As they wear, performance goes down. A similar thing happens on farm equipment. If you lose that pattern or aggressiveness, the bale might not pack as well. You’re not rolling it as tight as you want, because it’s slipping on the surface.
“There’s specific belting to a make and model of baler. You need to do your homework (before buying new ones).”
And that is true for combine draper headers as well. Gone are the days when generic draper belts would work on nearly any machine.
“Belt replacement and lacing is a big issue on balers, but it also is on draper headers,” he adds. “Everybody’s specializing those designs to their headers. You can’t transfer one to another.”
And the different fabric used in modern belts has different maintenance requirements.
“When (baler belts) first came out in the ’70s or late ’60s, the fabric itself was a cotton,” Haugen says. Now belts are made from polyester, so they have different characteristics.
“The old swathers were cotton canvas (too). At the end of the day, with humidity, you’d have to release the tension so you could actually run them the next day. Then you’d tension them back up to run. But the modern drapers are polyester fabric, and specifically to our Raptor design, you don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t need to un-tension drapers at the end of the day.”
Haugen recommends combine operators keep a close eye on the draper tube connectors, which shouldn’t have more than one-quarter to half an inch of bow in them when under tension.
“That’s what we see a lot of (draper) failures from,” Haugen says.
“At the end of the season you’re going to be looking at the overall machine. You need to check the rollers — do they need to be replaced? And general cleaning. Loosening the drapers up and storing them not under tension is optimal. It’s not needed, but it’s optimal. Storing it inside is ideal.”
Belt maintenance checks
Chad Haugen, senior engineer of product development at WCCO Belting Inc., offers these basic preventive maintenance tips to help eliminate field breakdowns from belt failure.
“First off, the visual appearance,” he says. “How do they look? Run the baler and look at the whole length of the belts — the inside and outside. Are there chunks of rubber missing from rocks, stumps or whatever? Are there tears or edge wear? A lot of tears begin at the edge, and many of the failures we see begin at the splice. Look at the (lacing) pin. Is the lacing worn down?
“Look at how (belts) are tensioned. Are they tensioned evenly? Do you have one that’s really sagging?”
And always replace the entire belt set to ensure proper baler performance. Storing a machine inside in the off-season is always a best practice.
“Our product has UV protectant in it,” he says. “But it’s just like anything else. If you have it sitting out all year, it (sunlight) does have an effect on it. It’s something you’d see after five or 10 years, it might show some degradation.
It might show cracks, like tires from direct sunlight. It’s best if it’s stored inside.”