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Reducing Harvest Risk With the ‘Static Buster’

Thursday, March 25, 2021
filed under: Equipment

static buster
Photo credit: Paul Galle
        It’s common for humidity and seed moisture to plunge during sunflower harvest on a hot September or October day in the High Plains.  Moistures of 11-12% in the morning may drop to 7-8% by early afternoon.  That translates into more fines collecting on the combine and a significantly increased risk of fire.  Blowing off combine shields and other components, along with washing down the machine at least daily, are common defenses.  Some growers even cease the harvesting on hot, dry afternoons.
        A Kansas State University civil engineering and operations management graduate, Paul Galle farms with his father and brother near Moundridge, Kan.  As a farmer and engineer, he was well aware of the problem. 
        His answer was to develop a way to reduce static by grounding the combine and minimizing the sparks that start fires and electrical charge that can affect onboard electronic systems. 
        Galle collaborated with Dave Thiessen, a 20-year grain harvesting specialist based at McPherson, Kan.  “Dave had seen the static problems with combines and was thinking about how to ground them,” Galle says.  “I’d been thinking about it, too.” 
        Galle owned a Veris cart, used for sampling and mapping soil electrical conductivity.  “I looked at that and thought, ‘Hey, they’re doing the same thing: connecting a machine to the ground.’
        “So I took the same apparatus and mounted it beneath the feeder house of a John Deere S670 and then tied it into the battery ground of the combine — which then connected the rest of the machine.”  That alleviated the need to connect other machine components.
        “The typical items to connect everything together are the ground on a battery and the hydraulic system,” Galle points out.  “I’ve had good luck with grounding the hydraulics before, because there you are ground to the fluid inside.”
        A common solution to eliminate static on combines is to drag a chain, Galle notes.  “But in no-till conditions, the chain will ride on top of the residue and not make contact with the ground.  The rolling blade utilized in our approach fixes this issue by slicing through the residue and contacting the ground.”
        The biggest challenge with the grounding unit’s design, Galle says, “was to get it so I didn’t need a separate cylinder to lift it — a separate control system.  What we came up with is pretty passive: it just rolls along the ground.”
static buster rendering
Credit: Paul Galle

        The unit’s blade is spring loaded to run along the ground and is running 0.5-1.5 inches deep.  “There are two settings for travel limitations,” Galle explains. “There’s what I call a corn/soybean setting and a sunflower setting.  This only limits down travel; and since the feeder house is lower when harvesting corn and soybeans, it will be off the ground with less lift of the feeder house.”
        The initial prototype of the static reducer was installed on a combine at Buhler, Kan.  They then built 12 more units.  The first of those went to a custom operator based who has several combines dedicated to sunflower.  Galle drove to southwestern Kansas — where two of those combines were on their way to harvest sunflower in eastern Colorado — to install one of the units. 
        Galle says that during the 2019 Colorado sunflower harvest, this particular custom crew typically “would start combining early in the morning; run until they had smoldering on the combine — which would usually be right around early afternoon — and then park the combines.”
Paul Galle
Paul Galle

Galle installed one of his static-prevention units and left them another “so if it worked, they could put it on the other machine,” he recounts.  “After two days of running, the guy who was operating the first combine said his windshield was cleaner — another ‘byproduct’ — and that he wasn’t getting shocked as much while climbing on and off the ladder.
        “So after two days, they put that second one on.”
        The next stops were to a custom harvester at Murdo, S.D., with a Deere S790 combine, and to another nearby custom crew operating two S680s and one S670.  “We pulled up to the 670 and the guys pops out of the combine and starts to panic,” Galle recalls.  “He has smoldering dust on his combine.  He gets his fire extinguisher and puts it out.  They have a 1,000-gallon nurse trailer parked at the edge of the field, and they pulled that in and hosed it down.
        “We install the static dissipaters — and the problem goes away.”
        Galle is quick to note that the unit does not ‘fix’ the combine fire problem.  There will still be plenty of preventive maintenance for dust and fines.  “But the symptoms go away after we install these static dissipaters.”
        Looking toward the 2021 sunflower harvest season, Dave Thiessen is working with LanKota, Inc., of Huron, S.D., builders of after-market combine parts.  And, Galle says, they’re not just exploring the sunflower market.  Soybean, milo, cotton, lentil and wheat harvesters likewise have shown interest in utilizing the system.
        “We’re looking at non-Deere combines as well,” he adds. — Don Lilleboe
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