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Equipment Hub: Belt tracking on round balers

Mike Seckinger for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 December 2017

Belt-tracking issues have several causes. The most common belt-tracking problem I have seen stems from poor operating habits. During core formation, it is important to get hay under all the belts as soon as possible.

I instruct users to do a quick weave, when starting a bale, being sure they get all the way to the left side of the baler. The left side is where I see most belt-tracking problems. The quick weave puts hay under all the belts, which applies tension to the belts. Tensioned belts seldom walk and twist.

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Four-foot-wide balers are less likely to have belt-tracking problems than 5-foot-wide balers. Operators have a hard time filling the left side of the bale because they are looking over their right shoulders. Operators also rely on the front tractor tire as a driving guide.

If the wheels are spread far enough apart, this can work quite well, but on hillsides the side drift of the baler will put the baler out of alignment with the tractor, and the end of the bale will not be filled out. With a narrower baler, this problem is easier to deal with.

Some belts mis-track

Belts of different lengths can also affect belt tracking. This goes back to the issue of loose belts walking. New Holland recommends belts should be within 1 to 1½ inches in length when compared to each other. Belts not cut square can cause the belt to mis-track, but in my experience the belt would have to be seriously out of square. I have not encountered any customer-laced belts that have caused a problem.

If a belt broke and got wrapped around a roll, it is likely the belt got kinked. Lay the belt out, and it should lay flat and straight. A kinked belt will not track properly. Most of the belt will track, but when the kink comes around, the belt will track poorly.

New belt break-in is critical for future belt tracking. If your driving habits cause a new belt to mis-track, that belt will continue to mis-track. Some cheap aftermarket belts do not have the strength to track properly. There are good aftermarket belts, but I have seen some from reputable aftermarket suppliers that will not track properly.

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The belts are soft and not as heavy as original equipment belts. They may be three-ply belts but look more like two-ply belts.

Crop wrapping on rolls can cause some issues, but I cannot say I have seen a mis-tracking issue solved by cleaning the rolls.

For the most part, belts do not stretch, but I have seen a few that did. If belts are overly long, they will be loose when the tailgate is closed with no hay in the chamber. Loose belts will walk.

If the bale core breaks down while baling, belts will get loose and can flip. This usually happens in dry short hay conditions. Slow your engine speed down and shift up in gears.

If all belts mis-track

If all the belts suddenly track to one side while baling, the cause could be the tailgate was not latched on one side. Another cause would be the sledge-roll slip clutch is slipping. This will cause all the belts to run to one side.

If all the belts mis-track when opening the tailgate, there could be a twist in the tailgate.

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If the belts track OK until the tailgate cylinders reach the end of their stroke, then there might be a problem with the tailgate latches not moving the same from one side to the other.

How I correct mis-tracking

To correct mis-tracking, if I have the belts out, I will check their length and cut them to the same length. I always number the belts so I can place them back in the baler in the same spot they were running in before removal.

On New Holland balers, the belts are not tight when the tailgate is closed with no hay in the baler. If you push against the belt at the back of the baler, you can probably push the belt in 2 to 3 inches. If the belts go any farther than that, you could have some belts longer than others.

Also check the pressure gauge at the front of the baler. The gauge should read zero. It is common for the gauge to show several hundred pounds of pressure after the baler has set for some time. Open and close the tailgate one time. If the pressure does not go to zero, then the tensioning system is overfilled. An over-filled tensioning system will cause belts to be very loose.

Hook the tractor to the baler and run the power take-off. To adjust the tracking properly, there must be tension on the belts. To get tension on the belts, open the tailgate about 3 or 4 feet. You need to stop raising the tailgate before the balers with declutch stop the belts.

Stand well clear of the baler since the parts are rotating. Look at the tailgate belt guide and see how the belts are tracking against the belt guide. You do not want the belts to curl on the belt guide. New Holland says a half-inch curl is OK. I try for no curl.

You will find some belts tracking right, some left and some in the center. The center tailgate roll is adjustable. Note the belts that are tracking hard against the belt guide. Close the tailgate, shut off both the power take-off and the tractor engine. If you need the belts to move to the right, then loosen the middle roll-mounting bolt slightly on the right side and tap the bolt to raise the roll.

Tighten the bolt. Restart the tractor and power take-off. Open the tailgate and, standing well clear of the baler, check the tracking. Repeat as necessary to get the majority of the belts tracking properly. To determine which way to move the center roll, remember the belts will move to the high side of the roll.

Most of the time, this is all you need to do to correct belt tracking. If you still have individual belts tracking hard against the belt guide, then you will need to move them elsewhere. I like to have the belts on each end run as close to the baler side as possible.

If I have a belt somewhere in the middle running hard to the left, I will switch this belt with the left end belt. If you have one belt running hard to the left and another running hard to the right, then switch these two belts. After all this, if you still have a belt tracking hard to the side, then remove the belt and install the belt so it is running in the opposite direction.

On a 5X6 baler, you can add a front belt guide if it does not have one. This will help with belts crossing, but it will not fully correct bad driving habits.

On the later BR-model balers, New Holland started putting a different top rear tailgate roll. This roll has rubber strips molded onto it. Belts will center themselves on a high spot that the strips provide.

It is not noticeable, but the front rubber drive roll is not flat but slightly crowned at each belt location so the belts center on the drive roll.

I cannot emphasize enough how improper driving techniques affect belt tracking. If you are going to flip a belt, it will happen on core formation when a belt can get loose. I have heard of belts flipping on larger-diameter bales but only because the windrow was next to the woods and the operator was not able to move the baler to feed the opposite side. It all comes back to loose belts.  end mark

Mike Seckinger has over 44 years experience as a farm equipment mechanic in southern Indiana, and says, “What I write is not intended to represent the only way to solve a problem, and it may not always be complete. If you choose to follow some of my procedures, remember to always practice safety first. Wear the correct clothing and safety equipment and use the equipment’s safety devices.”

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