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The Next Phase for Our Farm

 
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It has taken a lot of thought, and a lot of research, but I think we are going to transition the farm from raising sheep, to growing small grains: wheat, oats, rye etc.

This has been a very difficult transition for us because we have raised sheep since just after arriving on the Mayflower in 1621, and on this very farm in some capacity, since 1746; 273 years. There are some reasons for transitioning based on our religious beliefs that I will not go into here, but also because a few recent thoughts have convinced me we can take this farm forward, without getting into debt. As people know, we have a little debt now, (9%) but with the sale of our home, we will be debt free. At age 40 for my wife, and 45 for me, I did not want to start a new farming venture where we had to go deep into debt in order to make the transition.

I have chartered out a rough plan that will enable us to increase our farm income, and farm output, with investment in our farm being incrmental so that we can do it as we go.

Due to previous farm practices by my Grandfather, we have much of the equipment to grow small grains, but lacked a combine...or thresher. After a lot of thought, I have come up with what I feel is a new way to thresh grain that will be effective, yet more economical. I cannot get into that much, because if my prototype works well enough, I think I will patent it. Mostly this will enable homesteaders to have a low cost thresher for small homesteads.

We have concluded that due to my poor health (cancer), staying on the farm is best for the family, and small grains will enable me to do that, without the physical labor that sheep required.

Over the next few weeks I am going to chart out a new farm plan, both financial and operationally; probably plotting out the next 10 years. We did this for our sheep, and it worked well, so I want to replicate that success.
 
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Small grains sound like a cool crop for you.  If I remember correctly you have a possible customer already lined up that can use more than you can grow.  Plus grain should allow some more day to day freedom (they don't need to be fed and watered quite as often as sheep).

Good luck on the combine invention, I'm guessing it will be very cool.
 
Travis Johnson
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Yeah the combine is shaping up to be a pretty interesting project.

It started two years ago when we planted 10 acres of oats, and then had no way to harvest them. In that case the oats were sown as a way to reduce weeds in a newly planted hat field, so they had served their purpose, but it seemed like such a waste to bushog a crop that could have provided quite a bit of grain.

I have looked into a way to combine or thresh rains since, and I was not impressed at what I was seeing. I really wanted something in the Class One Combine Size, and what the Chinese build is not very efficient. It is basically a micro-sized combine with all the mechanical parts of a bigger machine making it expensive and prone to breakdowns. And goodness, one acre of harvest in 6 hours is not going to cut it.

To me, it is almost like no one has really looked at a combine and tried to change it. Its been basically the same since the 1830's. I looked at it with a critical eye, and got my version reduced down to three moving parts. That does not sound impressive until you realize a modern combine has four moving parts just in cutting the grain, it has tons more moving parts in threshing and cleaning it. I could have got mine down to two moving parts, but I wanted a way I could bag the grain, or dump it in bulk which took a separate motor. To me it was worth it.

But I also say "motor" because my machine will be an all electric drive unit. To keep things simple, everything will powered by direct-drive electric motors so I will not have the expense of shafting, angle drives, gears, belts pulleys, sprockets, chains, etc. In short, keep it simple.
 
Mike Jay
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Simple is good, tons of little moving parts is bad.  As long as it works  

What acreage range are you aiming this machine towards?  
 
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I am very interested to follow along with your combine project   please keep sharing as the build progresses.
 
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I hope the thresher works out well and your farm flourishes under it's new direction!
 
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That sounds very interesting. I am trying to look at the long term on our farm knowing that my wife and I are going to be purchasing at least part from my parents and inheriting another from hers some day. I am looking into pastured poultry, and to make the feed organic and cost effective for what I think I can market whole birds for I think I am going to need to grow my own grains for feed. Harvesting them is the greatest challenge I've looked at thus far and your idea is really intriguing.
 
Travis Johnson
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Mike Jay wrote:Simple is good, tons of little moving parts is bad.  As long as it works  

What acreage range are you aiming this machine towards?  



I was thinking about doing 107 acres of grains on my own farm (at least to start out with), but also do custom harvesting for others. That is why I was hoping to keep the machine small, that way if some homesteader has 3 acres, too much to thresh by hand, but too small to do with a real combine, I could do it for them for x amount per hour. It would not be worth it for them to have their own machine, but I would want a small machine to get around in what I assume would be some pretty crappy fields. But for bigger fields, I could just put additional machines into the field to get it done.

But it has to thresh good to do any of that. The problem with the Chinese machines is, they require additional cleaning of the grain. People would not want to pay you to thresh their grain, only to have to do more work to it...they want clean grain!
 
Travis Johnson
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The biggest issue I have now with my thresher design is slowing down some of the motors. To have variable speed control would be ideal, as I could fine tune everything on the go for various field conditions. This would ensure quality threshing, again, a homesteader paying me to harvest their grain wants all of it, as they might have limited amounts and do not want to leave hardly any in the field after they are done paying me to harvest it.

But how to do that?

Slowing down a single phase alternating current electric motor is not exactly easy. In doing research on it, I could not find a decent way to do so without compromising motor longevity.

Slowing down a 3 phase electric motor is easy, and they do make 3 phase generators, but their cost was twice as high as that of single phase generators, and required a lot bigger engines driving them then what I really wanted to use. That is, I want to keep the thresher fairly small due to anticipating working in a lot of small fields.

Direct current electric motors would work well because they can be slowed down easily, but that would require a direct current generator, and I could not find any the size I would need.

At this point, since only one motor really needs to be slowed down, I think I could just get a gear motor, or inline speed reducer, and it would be less expensive then any of the other options.

I could go with hydraulics instead of electric, but of the two moving points; one has to be high speed, and the other low, so it is a challenging situation. It is hard to get hydraulics to spin really fast, so it is either get hydraulics to spin really fast, or get one electric motor slowed down. It would be possible to do a electric/hydraulic hybred though, and split the two reqirements unto what best fits their forte: hydraulic for slow speed, high torque, and electric for the high speed function. That might be the best way.

 
Mike Jay
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I'm struggling to find a cheap, low speed electric motor for a project I'm working on too.  I'm aiming for 200rpm and continuous duty.  

V belts can do a fair bit of speed reduction but I'm afraid of slip with such a huge speed reduction (from 1750).  Chain drives should be able to do it but that's a bit more complex.  So I'm hoping to find an off the shelf gear motor that can do the job.  Haven't found one yet.  I've wondered if a garage door opener would be able to run continuously because that has a slower speed chain drive that I believe matches a bike chain pitch...

If money's no object, I think a gear motor could do the trick for you.  What speed are you looking for?  If you're just going to build a prototype, they have overstock gear motors on Surplus Center.  But as a farmer, you probably have access to all kinds of motors and equipment...
 
Caleb Mayfield
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Travis Johnson wrote:The biggest issue I have now with my thresher design is slowing down some of the motors. To have variable speed control would be ideal, as I could fine tune everything on the go for various field conditions...

Direct current electric motors would work well because they can be slowed down easily, but that would require a direct current generator, and I could not find any the size I would need.



What kind of RPM's and power are you talking? Do you think you would be able to build your own generator as a proof of concept using an engine and one or more high amp alternators with a small battery bank to provide sufficient choochification? It would be a way to use off the shelf parts that would get a system running, and potentially lead to so custom produced parts if needed.
 
Travis Johnson
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Mike Jay wrote:If you're just going to build a prototype, they have overstock gear motors on Surplus Center.  But as a farmer, you probably have access to all kinds of motors and equipment...



Yes, but I stare at the Surplus Center Catalog like most men stare at pornography! That might be a bit overstated, but I like that catalog A LOT.

To answer you and Caleb's question, The high speed is for the cutterhead, so I am sure 3600 rpm or so would be fine. I do have a whole new mowerhead design I thought I could build that might work, but I cannot really see where it's unique design would help in my grain thresher any, so I might just go with a disc cutter. They are cheap and easy to make, so why reinvent the wheel? I thought of a flail cutter too, again that type of mower being cheap and easy to make, but I am afraid the knives would crack too many grain berries.

The other function is slower, and I would say around 75 rpm. Torque would be higher as well, but I do not think it would be super high in resistance. I would think a geared down 3 HP electric motor would work, that would be a 10 hp engine equivalent, so it could do a fair amount of work I would think.
 
Travis Johnson
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Caleb Mayfield wrote:Do you think you would be able to build your own generator as a proof of concept using an engine and one or more high amp alternators with a small battery bank to provide sufficient choochification? It would be a way to use off the shelf parts that would get a system running, and potentially lead to so custom produced parts if needed.



I have a generator I can use now. It is a 20,000 kw, 83 amp, ac, pto generator, so I planned to use that for a test. But it is single phase...

I can buy a 10,000 kw, 40 amp, PTO generator for $1400, but again it is single phase. That will power anything I need it too for my thresher, but it is only single phase so I cannot slow down the motors. The smallest 3 phase pto generator I can find is 31,000 kw, and would take a MUCH bigger tractor to power, and costs $3100 too. So it makes speed control a breeze, but costs over twice as much more, and is three times bigger than I need.

I do have a 30 gallon per minute PTO hydraulic pump that i could use, along with the pto powering a 10.000 kw generator, and power some functions ith that, and my feederhouse with hydraulics to get the slower speed that is reqired.
 
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> 3-phase

Converting 1 to 3-phase needs, IIRC, a 3-phase motor which is powered by the 1-phase and puts out 3-phase. Roughly speaking. Been 10 years since I considered adding 3-phase to my shop and I never got around to it; the details have gone and slipped. I think I was looking a 10hp motor for the converter to run 3-5hp 3-phase in the shop. Not pocket sized but maybe you'e dealing with a chassis large enough to take it in stride. Again, IIRC, you get 70% () efficiency out of it. There's a connection between the size of the motors and the efficiency. I think I recall the going bigger was more efficient. There's lots of good info out there on the calculations and the practicalities for a home brew. If you want to get into that. Must be commercial offerings, but I don't know what the price on those might be. Maybe in the end be better to get a 3-phase genset. The info is out there but there's lots of electrical magic needed as well as mechanical fabrication.


Rufus
 
Travis Johnson
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I have some strange stuff kicking around my farm, and one thing I have is a strange generator. It is an old Army surplus generator made in 1942 for world war two. It is a great big thing, about the size of a big dog house, and is liquid cooled, and runs on gasoline or propane. But here is the kicker; it is only 3000 watts. This great big massive 3 cylinder liquid cooled generator, and it puts out a whopping 3000 watts. BUT it puts out 3000 watts in either single, or 3 phase power. I am not sure how it does it, but all the wiring is there. Kind of a strange generator to say the least. maybe I could rob parts for it or something???
 
Rufus Laggren
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> weird generator

Might test it, see what it actually does. Assuming it will run. Sometimes the specs can be a little conservative...  And/or, hook the generator and electrics up to another drive source and see what you can get out of it before things start to go south (eg. overheat). 3k watts isn't much so you have even a 5hp electric motor around that you can connect (easily) it might serve as a test - up to a point.

Probably a better idea: Scrape some numbers off the hulk and google it. There may be separate numbers for the motor and the generator. Might find out what people are using it for. Maybe it'll put out an honest 5k watts?

Oh well. I think they call stuff like that "artifacts"...


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Travis Johnson
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I always thought that "Generator Artifact" would make for a good biogas generator. It was not that big in size, yet was liquid cooled, and was designed to run on propane or natural gas. It really would be great as a biogas generator, because the liquid cool aspect

I just wish there was an easy way to slow down single phase motors as that would make things very easy. I do not necessarily have to have adjustable speed drives, it is just that you could do a lot of fine tuning as conditions in the field changed, that is all.

I would think an all electric drive thresher would be more reliable, and be easier to work on as well. Not so many bearings, gears, belts, chains, sprockets, etc. It would also save having to buy all that plumbing stuff for a hydraulic system like tank, valves, fitting, hydraulic hose, coolers, accumulators, etc.

I started doodling up the design last night, and I am really impressed with myself. Almost everything about it s unconventional, but I cannot see why this would not thresh grain, but actually do it very well. If nothing else, it will work as good as the Chinese machines because they all state that "grain will need additional cleaning", So if what I make is cheaper than those machines, and threshes as good, or if not even better, than it will have been worth building.

The good thing about this is, I can test each section of the design pretty easily to see if it works. If it does, then I can build almost all of it out of wood to test the prototype, then build the first real thresher later out of steel. I am just guessing, but right now it looks like the price will be around $5000. It is still pretty high, but for the person with a few acres of grain, it would probably be worth it if they wanted to harvest their own grain.
 
Rufus Laggren
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> test each section...

That is golden. Find the _conceptual_ (ie. design) show stoppers, where the blade meets the grain, early on. Adjust and proceed.

Use an old/extra trailer as a test bed, big enough to mount just about anything you need and can kludge together on it? Just to get the threshing parts right. Problem there might be axle width - guess they don't make trailers to run in furrows these days. Or just a frame to carry w/a 3-pt hitch - get the pto for "free" that way... Good fun.

You might consider finding another farmer to run your design by - somebody understands exactly what threshers do. And can understand what your plan. Least I would. I _know_ I have blind spots and I go back and just stare wondering How the Heck I didn't see that coming... <G>

Creation is so great.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Travis Johnson
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It kind of sucks; it is an entirely new threshing process that I have not been able to find online anywhere, but it also means I have to do all the research and development to see if it will actually work. I really think it will.

It would be nice if John Deere of Claass bought my patent and made it work, but it does not seem like they would be too interested. I think my threshing system could work for any machine, not just smaller machines, but even big ones, but it seems like a combine should look like...well a combine...as they have not been changed since they were invented back in 1830.

Myself, when I want something, and cannot afford it, I try and see how I can eliminate all the possible extra parts and still have it work so I can build it myself. I have done that for the past year on this Thresher Idea. I just kept refining and refining until I found a method that moves grain, and separates it as it does so, so that there is no separate parts.

I do not think my idea is all that profound, just using unconventional means to do an old task. I am sure if John Deere engineers ever saw it they would think, "How come we never thought of that?"
 
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Rufus Laggren wrote:> 3-phase

Converting 1 to 3-phase needs, IIRC, a 3-phase motor which is powered by the 1-phase and puts out 3-phase. Roughly speaking. Been 10 years since I considered adding 3-phase to my shop and I never got around to it; the details have gone and slipped. I think I was looking a 10hp motor for the converter to run 3-5hp 3-phase in the shop. Not pocket sized but maybe you'e dealing with a chassis large enough to take it in stride. Again, IIRC, you get 70% () efficiency out of it. There's a connection between the size of the motors and the efficiency. I think I recall the going bigger was more efficient. There's lots of good info out there on the calculations and the practicalities for a home brew. If you want to get into that. Must be commercial offerings, but I don't know what the price on those might be. Maybe in the end be better to get a 3-phase genset. The info is out there but there's lots of electrical magic needed as well as mechanical fabrication.


Rufus



I'm doing something a little different...using a 10HP 3-phase motor wired to my single phase supply to generate enough to run 2-5HP equpiment. It's not perfect but good enough. I use a start capacitor to get it going and then it just idles on the windings driven by the single phase input, with the other windings happily providing the other two legs. Efficiency is decent, maybe 90% downhill with a tailwind.
 
Travis Johnson
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I could do that same thing I suppose, just run a single phase pto generator, and use as many single phase motors as possible for the parts that do not need to be reduced in speed, then use a single phase motor to power a 3 phase motor for the motors I need variable speed on. 90% efficiency would be good enough.

If that worked, and threshing proved to be good enough, I could later just use that 31 KW 3 phase generator. It would cost an additional $1500, but would be simple in design.
 
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If you are wanting a smaller acreage combine, you might look at the test plot combines some of the land grant colleges have used for their research plots.  I have no idea if there are many around but I don't think they'd bring much at a surplus auction.
 
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I guess the important question about the slow speed drive is HOW slow, and HOW much you'd need to adjust it. Is this an adjust on-the-fly?(as in changing conditions within a field) or choose a speed and run with it? And does it require an exact speed or choose from high, medium, or low?

At work, I built a polishing lathe for large tubes (spin the tube, and hold sandpaper against it) and it's driven by a 1725rpm motor and a 20:1 right angle gear reducer. There's one reduction/increase (a high and low range) between the motor and the gear reducer, and a 3-groove cone pulley set on the output of the reducer and lathe spindle. For it's initial purpose polishing tubes (3", 4", and 8" diameters) it ran in high range, but a more recent project was to polish 22" diameter rings, and I was able to make it work by switching to the low range, and the highest reduction on the step pulleys (it still runs a bit fast, but it worked). It was all stuff we had in the shop, so it didn't cost much, however if I had to do it again today (we've been using this thing for 15 years) I might get a Variable Frequency Drive and a 3-phase motor, to be able to adjust to ANY speed I want.

Here's a couple of blog posts from an industrial automation company (I have no affiliation with, just a google search...) to convert or not convert? and phase converters vs. variable frequency drive controllers

You also mention directly using the motors, but what about overload protection? Shear pins, slip clutches, and to some extent belts and pulleys offer protection against damage to more expensive components. Stopping to replace a shear pin is a nuisance, but not a debilitating failure like a bent motor shaft.
 
Rufus Laggren
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> 3-phase motor wired to my single phase supply...

Phil, that's it. That what I meant, just didn't say it very well. From what I read back then, it works pretty good and fills the bill when you don't have the bucks to bring in 3-phase power.  Although, maybe physically driving a 3-phase motor would work even better, at least for mobile power... I think it might be easier to run any output through a semiconductor power converter, though. Avoid trying to regulate the voltage/frequency mechanically. But again, maybe the electric motors Travis talks about wouldn't too much care about maintaining the exact power frequency, long as the phase relationships were close enough...

Travis, I don't recall if you said you had patented your ideas. If it's not too much cost, maybe it would be good to do that now rather that later, even though you're not near finalizing the plans. I'm not sure, but I think "derivative" technology may also be covered, so improvement you made could be added to the patent as you go along. That way it might not be so much of a question whether to talk to people about the possibilities. I'm thinking if there is any ag research anywhere near you, some profit sharing deal might get a few young hot-shots, maybe even somebody in the know, interested and willing to spend some time and money on it.  Just a thought. That stuff all seems pretty much a crap-shoot, real murky, to me.

Cheers,
Rufus
 
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