In August, hay producers from across the U.S. gathered in Broken Bow, Neb., for a peek at Vermeer's prototype ZR5 self-propelled baler. This is the third prototype since Vermeer began designing the machine. It features zero-degree turn maneuverability with caster-like front wheels, a hydrostatic transmission in its ground drive and baling unit, and a 173-hp Tier 4 Cummins diesel engine.
With the ZR5's zero-turn capabilities, the machine can perform a "quarter turn" to release a bale. As an automated process, the baler stops when it's ready to drop a bale, and then rotates the machine to drop the bale at a pre-set angle. This way it's much easier to align all bales in the same direction to haul away, or align them in a way that keeps them from tumbling down a hill.
NEW TO INDUSTRY
Mark Core, executive vice president of Vermeer, addresses a group of producers during a preview of the ZR5 prototype self-propelled baler. Core notes the machine was born from challenges with labor shortages, as well as the need for a baler with greater maneuverability and the ability to adapt to varying field conditions. "I talk about a combine I drove in the '80s that had more ability for adjustment than what balers do today. There haven't been as big of strides [in balers] in terms of how to adjust from multiple crop conditions around the country and around the world, whether it's moisture causing the issue or heaviness of crop," Core says. "A lot of us at Vermeer are big believers of zero-turn technology. We use it at home, and we know we'd hate to go back to a garden tractor."
The cab of the ZR5 is mounted on the front of the machine and on top of the suspension, and Josh Vrieze (right), product manager of forage solutions at Vermeer, says this makes for a smooth ride. "Over a day’s time when I'm baling, even with a very nice tractor, you're making a lot of movements. You're looking at the baler, you're looking at the hay, but also you're bouncing around a lot," says Vrieze. "So the suspension was really front and center when we looked at this. We wanted to make sure people were comfortable as they baled and didn't get fatigued at the end of the day."
REAR WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION
With the cab up front and the baler in the back, much of the weight distribution on the ZR5 is centered on the rear end of the machine. "Basically it's for traction. We needed traction for a zero-turn type [baler] to work well," says Kent Thompson, R&D manager of forage solutions at Vermeer. "We worked hard to figure out what that balance was, and so far it's worked very well."
One of the most noticeable features on the self-propelled prototype is its caster-style front wheels. The idea for these wheels was taken directly from zero-turn lawn mowers, notes Mark Core, executive vice president at Vermeer. "What's the biggest change in lawn mo
The average life of a baler is 30,000 to 50,000 bales, and it's likely the machine itself will outlive the ZR5's baling unit. So, Josh Vrieze notes if the operator wants to switch out the baling mechanism, all he or she has to do is detach the baler by unhooking a series of quick-connect hoses and an electric wiring harness, and push a button in the cab. "The engineers came up with a way for this baler to come off the back in just a few minutes, unhooking all the hydraulics and electronics in less than a minute," explains Vrieze. "You could go through two, three or four balers that would possibly wear out before the actual machine would."
ONE QUICK STEP
On the ZR5, Josh Vrieze notes dropping off a bale is simple and automated. Using the "quarter-turn" feature, the baler stops automatically once the chamber is full and rotates to a pre-set angle to drop the bale. Once the tailgate closes, the baler turns parallel to the windrow once again. All operators have to do is hit the green "go" button on the joystick, and they're off and running. "Look at operator fatigue in this machine. You finish a day of baling, and you're ready to go bale again," Vrieze says.
DRIVES LIKE A TRUCK
Kent Thompson says that while the ZR5's field steer mode offers the maneuverability of zero-turn, with the flick of a switch, the operator can change to transport mode for traveling at higher speeds. "It turns those caster wheels into a steering wheel similar to a truck or a tractor," says Thompson. "It controls that front wheel so you can go at higher speeds much more controlled, but less maneuverable, but still much like a truck."
NEXT STEPS FORWARD
While the most recent version of the ZR5 is the third prototype, it's still a prototype, and a lot can change between now and when the first self-propelled baler is commercially available. Vermeer plans to work with growers in further developing the ZR5 over the course of 2018, and hopes to have the baler commercially available by sometime in 2019.