Brains & brawn
Claas Axion 870 tractor with new Claas S10 terminal
The 2016 spring season was a frustrating one for most of Victoria and New South Wales. Rain continued to fall, and any hint that temperatures were starting to warm up were quickly quashed by another blast of wintery conditions.
Hay production was near impossible, with many farmers taking the safer option and choosing to use the short windows of opportunity to produce silage.
These were the sort of weather conditions that I was faced with over the two days I spent testing Claas and Amazone products with distributor Landpower towards the end of November.
On the first day I had the privilege of getting behind the wheel of the new 295hp Claas Axion 870 tractor sowing barley into dry soil with an Amazone Cirrus 6003-2C pneumatic seed drill.
The conditions were so dry that at times we disappeared into a cloud of dust, and, had it not been for the new S10 terminal providing us with pinpoint-accurate guidance, we would have strayed way off our line.
Predictably, the weather turned sour overnight and dumped about 30mm of rain. While the rain is always a welcome event, it did cause a few headaches to event organisers – and none bigger than the job of having to pull a fully loaded Amazone Pantera self-propelled boom sprayer out of the bog that the downpour had created. Ah well, just another day on the farm.
You can read my review of the Amazone Cirrus 6003-2C on page 30, so for now I want to focus on the Claas Axion 870, a very impressive piece of automotive engineering with the new and advanced S10 terminal that virtually takes the responsibility of driving out of our hands.
Nestled under a high-lifting one-piece bonnet is – yes, you guessed it – a Fiat Powertrain Technologies (FPT) diesel engine.
It seems that these FPT engines are appearing under tractor bonnets with regularity, which must say something about their quality and reliability.
Up until now, the Claas 800 Series tractors consisted of six models with power ranging from 205hp to 264hp. With the aid of Claas Power Management (CPM), the new 870 takes that up to 295hp.
The 6.7-litre, 6-cylinder engine meets Stage IV and Tier 4 emissions standards using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology.
For those who don’t already know, SCR is the process where nitrogen oxides, or exhaust gasses, are converted into water and pure nitrogen.
It is achieved by injecting AdBlue liquid urea into the exhaust system before it passes though the SCR catalytic converter.
The resulting chemical reaction converts harmful fumes into the more friendly form of nitrogen and water.
This happens after the combustion process, so the engine is left to function at its optimum level.
A variable geometry turbo (VGT) automatically adjusts charge air pressure to suit load and speed. As a result, more torque is available at lower revs, which in turn results in lower fuel usage.
The engine control unit (ECU) continually monitors the engine’s temperature then adjusts the rotation speed of the Visctronic electronic cooling fan to keep the engine at its optimum operating temperature. Reducing unnecessary fan usage leaves you with more power when you need it, and decreases fuel consumption.
Apart from using the CPM system to generate more horsepower, the engine is identical to the rest in the 800 series.
Engine oil service intervals are set at 600 hours, and a 455-litre fuel tank should keep you going all day under normal conditions.
Manual stick shift transmissions have largely become a thing of the past, with most tractors – especially those in the higher-horsepower bracket – opting for the more efficient continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).
The Axion 870’s CMATIC ZF Terramatic CVT effectively sends power to the axles via four mechanical ranges that are automatically selected by multi-disc clutches.
All the tractors in the 800 series, including the 870, have a speed range from 0.05 to 50km/h, allowing for pinpoint accuracy at superlow speeds in the paddock while still providing an excellent top speed for road transport.
Three different modes of operation provide you with the choice of using the accelerator pedal or the CMOTION multifunction control lever, which automatically adjusts engine speed and transmission ratio to achieve maximum efficiency and fuel economy.
At any time you can switch between using the accelerator pedal and CMOTION mode by pressing the mode button on the armrest. The third option is manual mode.
The CMOTION multifunction control lever is the Class version of transmission control levers. It is well placed on the armrest and fits comfortably into my hand. Function buttons for the tractor’s direction, linkage, hydraulic, autosteer, headland management, and transmission are built into the control lever.
All good so far, but an area I am not completely comfortable with is how the CMOTION controller works when the tractor is in reverse. Common sense and intuition say to me that, to increase speed in reverse, I should pull back on the control lever. Instead, with the Claas CMATIC transmission, if I want to go faster backwards I have to push the lever further forwards. It just seems to defy logic and could bring some newcomers to the world of CVT transmissions unstuck when under pressure.
To help maintain a safe working environment, the Axion’s forward/ reverse shuttle shift lever has a built-in park-lock function. The lever can be manually placed in the park position or left to engage automatically in four circumstances: when the engine is switched off; when the engine is switched on; if the accelerator or CMOTION have not been used for a few seconds when the tractor is stationary; or when the driver leaves the seat when the tractor is stationary.
The Claas S10 terminal can be integrated into Axion, Arion, Lexion, Xerion, and Jaguar machines. It offers precise guidance that can be scaled from a standard accuracy of 30cm up to RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) accuracies of 2.5cm. In addition to operating steering systems and cameras, the S10 is also capable of operating ISOBUS implements – including section control and task management.
Unwanted overlapping is prevented by automatic section control switch-off, regardless of whether a crop protection sprayer, fertiliser spreader, or seed drill is being used.
Task management allows detailed recording of job data and will provide accurate information of the work that was carried out (such as chemical applied, application area, time taken, bale count, and yield).
This allows fertilisers, pesticides and seed to be applied, measured in relation to yield, resulting in cost reductions and improvements in environmental pollution levels.
Despite the added functionality, the S10 terminal has remained a simple and intuitive system to operate. The system can be easily retrofitted to Claas steer-ready equipment, with installation and calibration taking less than one hour.
A more advanced feature of the S10 monitor is its ability to complete headland turns automatically without any input from the driver. Before implementing the auto-turn feature, you have to calibrate the turning circle of each implement so that the system knows what the minimum turning radius is.
From there, the system will offer four turning scenarios:
• Current position – The tractor will complete a headland turn
whenever you press the GO button on the screen
• Headland line – The tractor will prompt you about 30 seconds before you reach your pre-defined headland line and, if you accept the prompt, will start its automatic turn as soon as it reaches the headland line
• Inside boundary – Similar to headland line, except the tractor will
turn within the field boundary (the fence line)
• Headland tracks – Again, the operator will be prompted to accept, and then the tractor will turn when it reaches the wheel tracks within the headland.
The new and advanced S10 terminal virtually takes the responsibility of driving out of our hands
For all scenarios, the operator can select the direction he or she wants the tractor to turn, and can also define how many passes to skip. It should be stressed that the tractor will only initiate a full driverless and sequence management turn after the prompt has been accepted by the driver.
Apart from that one piece of human intervention, the tractor virtually has a mind of its own, showing that it is more than likely we will see fully autonomous, driverless, tractors operating on farms sooner rather than later. Misjudging the distance at the end of a run and getting jammed up against the fence will be a thing of the past.
Although this is a highly sophisticated piece of equipment, I found the S10 terminal was very self-explanatory and easy to operate.
The Axion 870 has a PTO with four speeds: 540, 540E, 1000, and 1000E. On lighter jobs, the option of economy mode (E) in both PTO speeds allows for a substantial reduction in fuel usage.
A load-sensing hydraulic system delivers up to 150L/min of oil flow to the standard fitout of three electronic spool valves, or to a maximum of seven.
Maximum lifting capacity at the rear ball ends is 10,200kg.
The front linkage has a lifting capacity of 5800kg with vibration dampening and is complemented by a 1000rpm front PTO.
ON THE JOB
Driving the Claas Axion 870 tractor threw up no real surprises. Within a relatively short time I was confidently operating it – mainly due to the well-placed controls.
They were laid out nicely and labelled clearly on the armrest and adjoining console to my right.
Despite having the extra S10 monitor mounted on the right-hand side, the four-pillar cab offers exceptional visibility all-round and, with the luxury of up to four mounted cameras streaming images back to the S10 screen, nothing goes unseen.
The cabin allows an unobstructed view to the implements on both sides, and a single-piece front windscreen running right down to the floor further adds to the visibility and provides a general sense of space.
Four-point cabin suspension completely isolates the cabin from the chassis and, when combined with a heated and cooled suspension seat, front axle suspension, and vibration dampening on both the front and rear linkage, the driver is provided with complete comfort in even the roughest of conditions.
The intelligent front-axle suspension cleverly adjusts itself to keep the tractor level and eliminate front droop under braking.
I felt a sense of familiarity through Claas’s use of the same cab layout across a variety of its products. The controls and positioning of the monitor in the armrest are the same as that found in the Axion 900 and Arion 600 and 500 series. The CMOTION multifunction control lever can also be found in Claas harvesters.
According to Claas Tractors group product manager Dave Knowles, Claas has gone to great lengths to standardise the control structure so that drivers can jump from one Claas machine to the next and immediately feel at home behind the wheel.
Despite housing almost all of the operating controls, the armrest control unit didn’t feel cluttered. The PTO speed selection buttons
and rear linkage setting controls are located on the rear right cabin pillar at about shoulder height.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the current financial climate, farmers need a tractor that can be used for a variety of jobs, not just task-oriented ones.
In Europe, each implement has its designated tractor. But here in Australia, we need the tractor to be doing as many hours as possible to make them – and farming – viable.
The 295hp Claas Axion 870 is a good example of maximising efficiency and, therefore, cost saving. At the start of the year it can be the heavy hauling tractor used for cultivation and sowing duties. At a touch over nine tonnes it will be more than capable of handling a high-volume spray rig throughout the growing season.
Come hay and silage time, a set of triple mowers could be operated and, with the amount of power it’s got, it could run in PTO economy mode to save on fuel.
This is where the opportunity arises for a massive reduction in costs, because one tractor, mower and driver combination is taking the place of three separate units.
After a regulation service, it could then take over the baling duties or hauling the silage loader wagon. Dragging around one of those huge chaser bins in pursuit of today’s hungry headers would be a fitting way to finish off the year.
What I’m getting at is that I reckon this is a tractor that could virtually do it all. And, with the aid of a full auto-steer package and the new S10 guidance and headland management system, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
1. A 6m-wide Cirrus all-in-one sowing unit offered little resistance to the new Claas Axion 870 tractor
2. Claas places a lot of emphasis on having a standardised control layout so that every driver immediately feels at home in the cabin 3. Regularly used functions on the CMOTION multifunction control lever are operated using your thumb and forefingers, allowing your hand to stay in the same place for the majority of the time to minimise fatigue 4. External controls for the rear linkage, PTO
and one selectable spool valve
5. There’s a 455-litre diesel tank with integrated
42-litre AdBlue tank
6. At 295hp, the Axion 870 has the power and manoeuvrability to take on virtually any job on the farm
7. The air filter is positioned in an accessible location in the cool zone in front of the radiator panels so there are no obstacles to removing it for regular cleaning
8. It’s not hard to find a comfy position with the fully adjustable air suspension seat and steering column
9. The diesel oxidation catalytic converter (DOC) is positioned under the bonnet and immediately behind the turbocharger because it needs high exhaust temperatures to produce an optimum reaction