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Automatic Fire Extinguisher System for Combines

Monday, September 1, 2008
filed under: Harvest/Storage

Roger Holen’s misfortune may well be a godsend for other sunflower producers.

Back in 2003, the Upham, N.D., grower was coming to the end of the sunflower field he was harvesting. As he turned his John Deere 9600 around to head back down the field, the engine quit — followed by a loud roar and intense heat. The combine was on fire.

The oil tank blew even before Holen was able to jump from the combine. He made it out safely, other than a sore hip from the leap. But the combine was a total loss.

Holen had just cleaned the combine of chaff a round and a half prior to the incident. He later surmised that a cinder probably went through a hydraulic line, "and with the pressure, it was like a big blow torch."

Coincidentally, Holen’s cousin, Shelby Holen of Superior, Wis., had recently partnered with fellow aircraft mechanic Neal Hall to invent an automatic fire extinguishing system for clothes dryers. Hall, a volunteer fireman, was aware of clothes dryer fires that had actually killed people; so he and Shelby set out to devise a system that could protect dryer users.

The result, which received a patent in 2006, consists of a pressurized tank of dry chemical fire extinguishing agent that is attached to the appliance. Copper tubing runs from the extinguisher to the motor area. Soldered at the end of the tubing is a low-temperature cap that melts off in the event of fire, automatically releasing the pressurized extinguisher agent.

Hall and the Holens merged their experiences by applying the concept to the JD 9650 combine that Roger had purchased following his fire experience. Roger educated Shelby and Neal on the combine sites where fires were likely to start. With the combine running, they measured the temperature of those spots to determine the level of heat sensitivity needed for the end caps of a fire extinguisher system fitted to the combine.

The pressurized 25-lb tank with dry fire extinguishing agent is mounted behind the engine compartment. It’s connected to copper tubing that extends to the exhaust, the manifold, in front of the engine next to the fuel tank, and by the driveline that runs through the hopper where chaff can build up.

The good news is that Roger Holen has not had a combine fire since installing the automatic extinguishing system. But while the system has not yet been tested “under fire” on a combine, he and its inventors are confident it would perform as intended. It is suitable for use on any model of combine, they add.

In the meantime, Shelby Holen and Neal Hall are exploring marketing opportunities for their system. UL approval is the next big hurdle, according to Shelby. “This system can be adapted to almost anything,” he adds. For example, a homeowner could connect a single pressurized tank, via various lines, to the clothes dryer, the furnace , the hot water heater and any other heat-generating appliances in the utility room area.

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