R1 Explained

MacDon's Richard Kirkby discusses the new disc pull-type mower.

The first quarter of 2016 will see the all new R1 Pull-Type Disc Mower start production at MacDon’s manufacturing facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It is the result of more than three years of intensive research and design, and will replace MacDon’s current Pull-Type Disc Mower, the R85. In creating the R1, MacDon® engineers were given a free hand in its design which has resulted in a number of impressive features including an all-new cutterbar, conditioner and float system, plus a patented Road Friendly Transport™ option that will allow the operator to switch from cutting to transport mode in about 30 seconds without leaving the cab. In anticipation of the new product launch, Performance Magazine (PM) was able to sit down with MacDon’s ever busy Product Manager for Hay Equipment, Richard Kirkby (RK), to get an inside look at some of the key features of the new machine.

PM  The R85 has proven to be a very successful and reliable disc mower for MacDon®; so, why the R1?

RK  The Pull-Type version of the R85 has been a very good product for us in our traditional hay markets of the Western US and Canada where alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mixes are the norm. But when we were looking to expand our footprint into the eastern Canada and US–in states like Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky and Tennessee–we knew that we needed a cutting and conditioning system that could also handle the finer grass stemmed hay crops found in these markets. Essentially, we wanted a disc mower that could give owners a reliably clean cut and high quality conditioning regardless of the crop or conditions they were in. 

PM  Let’s start with the new cutterbar; what prompted the design team to go to something different?

RK  With disc mowers it’s always been a trade-off between capacity and cleanness of cut. Capacity is achieved by having as many crop streams as possible feeding crop back to the conditioner rolls. On a typical 16’ mower you will have 10 discs working in pairs, with each set rotating towards each other, to create five crop streams. That gives you maximum capacity, and it was the way we had the R85 set-up. In moderate to heavy crops, where it’s easy to get a good wall of crop in front of the blades, that configuration works well. The challenge comes when you are cutting lighter or finer stemmed crops. The strong pulling action caused by inward rotation of each set of discs means that there is a corresponding pushing of air towards the front of the machine as the weak side of each disc rotates forward. That airflow can blow light or fine crops forward causing the blades to contact higher in the stem. That usually results in a shaggy or uneven cut. So in lighter crops you want to have the ability to reduce the amount of crop streams, and therefore the amount of air blowing forward. This we have done on the R1 by making provisions to orientate the disc rotation in several rotational patterns.

PM  What crop stream configurations are possible on the R1?

RK  The R1 Series cutterbar can be configured in any one of four crop streams from a single stream configuration with all discs rotating towards the centre for the cleanest cut to four crop streams which provide optimum capacity. The R1 will leave the factory set up for three streams, which delivers good all around performance for the majority of crop conditions, but the farmer or dealer can easily change the configuration without any additional parts.

 

PM  We understand the R1’s cutterbar drive system is also different.

RK  If you look at the R85 and pretty much all pull-type disc mowers, drive power enters at one end of the cutterbar via either an idler gear or a disc and is then transferred along the cutterbar, alternating between idler gears and cutting discs. The challenge with that method is that each disc, which usually has smaller gears, carries the drive load for all other (cutting) discs down stream on the cutterbar. This can cause extra wear on the spindles (discs) because spindles one and two would also be driving spindles three through eight. But with the R1, each disc is independently driven by its own idler gear, so they all receive the same amount of power. We’ve also made these idler gears larger, with bigger teeth, so they not only turn slower but can handle a lot of load.  Plus, larger gears have allowed us to move the centre of the (cutting) discs further forward in relation to the cutterbar, so the discs can cut closer to the ground without the need to tip the blades, which can cause scalping of the crop. This too promotes a cleaner cut.

PM  Is there anything else about the cutterbar that’s notable?

RK  Yes. We’ve built into each spindle a sheer pin type protection mechanism that, when the sheer pin breaks, the connected disc rotates upwards out of the path of the adjacent disc, protecting it from damage. That is quite a unique feature. 

PM  That should help reduce damage from field debris and obstacles… 

RK  Definitely. Wear and tear on the machine will also be reduced thanks to its light footprint, something we’ve achieved both by reducing the machine’s weight and by adding a responsive float system that’s unique to MacDon®. With any disc mower it’s important to stay in close contact with the ground, because as soon as the discs start to rise up, even a little bit, you are getting into a weaker part of the plant stem. The plant is then more likely to get pushed away and you don’t get that clean cut that everyone is looking for. With this system, when an obstacle is encountered, the machine not only moves up, but also back a little, allowing it to return to cut height much faster than traditional float systems. As such you are always maintaining a good, constant stubble height. But more than a clean cut, a float system this responsive is also reducing wear on the machine.

PM  What about conditioning; does the R1 offer any advantages there?

RK  We’ve improved conditioning two ways. First, we’ve widened the conditioner rolls to 129” (327.7 cm) over the 118” (299.7 cm) rolls on the R85, dramatically increasing the percentage of roll width to cut width. Wider rolls thin out the mat of material which results in a more even conditioning of the plant material. Second, we're providing farmers with more options on the type of conditioning they can have. Of course we’re still offering our steel on steel intermeshing rolls that have been our "go to" conditioner. But now we’ve also added a new finger conditioner as well as a poly-roll conditioner option with wider lugs for better crush action on the plant stem. Finally, we’re offering a fourth option of having no conditioner at all installed on the machine, saving farmers the added expense and weight in areas like Florida where the grass is very dry and doesn’t need to be conditioned when cut. You can order the machine with any one of those four options, or the rolls can also be swapped out or removed by the dealer after purchase.

PM  That brings us to one of the most exciting features on the R1, its new Road Friendly Transport option.

RK  Machine safety has always been important at MacDon®, so when we knew we were designing a new machine, one of the first places we looked at was improving the ability to move the mower from field to field. Farming areas are becoming more built up with more traffic on the roads. Many of these drivers are not familiar with the size of the equipment coming down the road and how quick it is moving. It’s a safety issue for both producers and the drivers. So we looked long and hard at that to see if we could find a better way; if we could make the transport system easy and convenient to operate, then the operator is more likely to use that feature, especially when they only have to go a few miles down the road. 

PM  So what did you come up with?

RK  Our solution is the Road Friendly Transport option that allows the operator to reduce the width of the machine from 13’ (4 m) or 16’ (4.9 m) wide down to 9’ (2.7 m) wide in only about 30 seconds. Essentially, the farmer gets the transportation advantages of a smaller machine, and the capacity and efficiency advantages of a larger one with this transport package. When engaged, the system lifts the whole mower up and rotates it ninety degrees so that it travels directly in line with the hitch behind the tractor. When you’re going down the road and look back you will notice the wheels of the carrier are tracking pretty closely to the wheels of the tractor. Also the transport mechanism ties in directly with the carrier frame of the mower and the hitch. As such, it is not placing any additional load onto the mower, which further enhances the durability of the machine. Farmers who have trialled the system say they not only appreciate it for its road travel, but also for things like moving it in and out of their sheds or taking it back to the dealer for servicing. We think that it is an option most farmers will want.

PM  Speaking of field trials, how has the R1 performed?

RK  Very well. I think now that we have seen it succeed in a wide range of crops and conditions, we can truly appreciate the quality of the work of the machine’s design crew. The ability to reconfigure things like crop streams and conditioning to different situations on the R1 is proving to be a real benefit, something we know that farmers, and dealers, will like. It’s a win-win product from many perspectives.