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Equipment Hub: Inspecting new gadgets

Andy Overbay for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 October 2018

Farm show season is here, signaling a glorious time to be dreaming of new equipment for your operation. As fun as looking at new machinery and gadgets can be, it is also a stressful time due to the decision-making process.

“Free lunches” in farming are nonexistent, and equipment costs are high, so your choice of a new purchase can have a tremendous effect on your bottom line, both positively and negatively.

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While my equipment dreams have slowed slightly over the years as I age, with the experience of decades of machinery shopping I have some definite processes I go through when I am thinking about dropping any amount of cash on a new gadget.

One of the first points I look at is serviceability. The easier it is to service a piece of equipment, the more likely you are to do it and do it regularly. An example of this comes from my wife’s old vehicle. My wife purchased a new SUV in 2004. It was an excellent fit for her as a mom, teacher and coach, and she was not very happy to learn it needed to be traded last year due to impending engine implosion.

While she was sad to see her little steed go, I was elated. I hated to service that thing because you had to be a magician to get to the oil filter, much less replace it. As an SUV, it had a skid plate on the bottom of the engine compartment to protect the oil pan, and the plate had an access panel that allowed maintenance of the oil filter … well, it was supposed to, anyway.

For starters, it was off-center of the filter, so removing the panel only allowed you to see the filter and touch the filter. However, remove the filter? Not so much. It was so cramped, I eventually gravitated to using oil filters designed to be removed using only a 1-inch wrench, as there was no way to get to the filter with any other filter tool I owned. Even with the use of a single wrench, I had to “create” a stubby version by sacrificing a wrench into the chop saw.

So the first thing I do when I look at a new machine that has a power unit is locate the filter and think about how I am going to be able to change it. Of course, that also applies to air filters, fuel filters, hydraulic filters and any other filter that may be used. I am happy to report I believe some engineers have listened to FR&D (farmer research and development) departments and have simplified servicing machinery.

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My favorites are ones that place drain plugs and filters close enough the same pan can catch them. I am also a fan of the cartridge oil filters that are on top of the engine and do not retain oil that can spill on your shop floor.

My second point may also be considered serviceability, but it is a bit more detailed than a simple oil change. I like to tour factories and watch machinery be assembled. There is just something very handy about understanding how equipment was assembled when you are looking at taking it apart.

Of course, being able to tour a facility depends on your ability to travel and the facility’s willingness to let you see the process due to safety and protection of proprietary information. Many companies do host tours, so I encourage you to ask about the possibility of taking one. It will definitely be an eye-opening experience.

Third, I think about how long I expect a particular purchase to be in service on my farm. I really like bells and whistles – but only to a point. It is funny how fast an option that seemed like a luxury for a first purchase can readily become a necessity in subsequent purchases. My example of this is a backup camera. I never owned a vehicle with a backup camera prior to February 2015.

Now, I not only think I need one, I need it to be large enough for me to see well without breaking out my reading glasses. As one of my favorite college professors would say, “It’s hard to take the cat off cream and put him on skim milk.”

That said, I do acknowledge sophisticated electronic equipment and options can have shorter service lives on the farm, depending on their application and exposure to the elements. Keeping moisture and dust out of some equipment is tough but also needed.

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I have mentioned this in the past, but my dad would always say the first thing you needed before spending the money on a new tractor was “the cash to buy it and the money to build a shed to put it in.” Even though he worked hard, that was a bit easier to do when a 125-HP tractor was $11,000.

Which brings me around to a closing point or two. What is the primary role of this new purchase? I purchased a new tractor in 2012. It almost has 300 hours on it. Even though I do use it in some specific tasks for which it is suited, it wouldn’t make much sense to have a tricked-out model that sat in the shed six days a week – if not a full seven some weeks.

Who is going to operate this machine, and what are their needs or skill levels? There are times when smaller and simpler (and cheaper) are better. At other times, larger pieces allow a skilled worker to do more.

Further, some more sophisticated “smart” machinery allows inexperienced operators to be competent in no time. The cost associated with these can be limiting; however, the expense of repairing damages from misuse or abuse may more than offset the initial purchase price.

Finally, when you are deciding on a new purchase, talk to the person who owns one. Their experience may be invaluable to you as a new owner. After you get some good advice, make a decision that works for you. As I say time and time again, you are the one paying for it.  end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

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