Krone Swadro 1400 rake
As the horsepower and output of forage harvesters increase, the need for swathers that cover more ground in less time has become essential. Brent Lilley tests one such swather that’s doing just that.
Having spent a few years driving a chopper, I (like most drivers) am guilty of chasing the rake driver all day to hurry him up. But to give your rake driver a fighting chance, the order of the day in most situations is a four-rotor rake to pull in over 12 metres of grass and keep the whole operation running smoothly.
In the past, the high-capacity four-rotor rake market has been largely dominated by one manufacturer, but now, with a few others offering swathers with four rotors and a working width over 12 metres, I thought it was time I checked out the alternatives.
The Krone Swadro 1400 was a pretty good place to start as Krone has an excellent reputation for building high quality and high-output machines for all forage harvesting situations.
Normally it's a near impossible task to test a swather over the winter months in time for this feature, but this year I had the perfect solution. While on holiday in the UK a few months back, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and head out with the team from Shorts Agriculture to chop some grass for the day and try out the Krone rake.
Shorts Agriculture is a contracting business operating in the south of England, covering four counties and offering all contracting services required by farmers. The silage team was hard at work on Maple Durham Estate near Reading, which is over a 1000 hectares and run as a dairy and arable operation. The dairy unit, which is reasonably large for the UK, milks around 500 cows that are housed indoors all year round. The arable operation grows a variety of cash crops as well grass, whole crop and maize silage for the dairy unit.
The swather was hard at work behind a New Holland T7040 which, at around 180hp, was probably an overkill for the job, though there was little time for messing around as it was tasked with keeping in front of a New Holland FR9060 forage harvester. The grass was 'first cut' silage, which had been mowed the previous day and was quite heavy and green in some places — more than an adequate situation to test any rake.
A hefty length of box section steel over eight metres long forms the backbone of the swather to which everything is mounted. At the front, an A-shaped headstock is robust, well built and mounts on a solid greaseable pin, allowing the headstock to pivot. As standard, the rake mounts to the lower link arms and there is plenty of clearance for the PTO shaft.
The front two rotors are mounted on arms that telescope out hydraulically when unfolded, becoming the outside rotors and giving the rake its maximum working width of 13.5 metres. I was quite intrigued by how these arms mount to the main chassis and I'll do my best to explain it. Basically, a steel box section frame drops down and out from the main frame, which is parallel with the ground, creating a ledge. An A-shaped mount on the end of the rotor arms is then mounted to this ledge with two pins about a metre apart to give stability. When the arms are folded up, they hinge back on themselves so the A-frame rests on the ledge (leaving it stable and secure for transport), keeping the width less than three metres and the height less than four meters. Hydraulic rams are used for folding and unfolding, while two tension springs are also used to transfer the weight of the arms and rotors back to the main frame. This takes the weight off the rotors, preventing them sinking into soft ground and ensuring the rake follows on hillsides.
Further back is the main axle that carries most of the weight of the rake. This is fixed solid to the frame, however the Plus version is like other makes where the rake can be raised and lowered hydraulically to lower the transport height. There are two 560/45 — 22.5 flotation tyres as standard and it was good to see the hubs featuring hydraulic drum brakes. Behind the axle, the arms for the two rear rotors are mounted in much the same way as on most other rakes — directly to the main frame — with hydraulic rams to raise and lower them. At the back is a bar for the road lights and safety panels.
The Swadro 1400, like all Krone swathers, features the company's Dura Max cam track, built out of double-hardened cast steel for longevity and completely maintenance free. Krone has put its money where its mouth is and backed this up with a three-year warranty on the cam track. Interestingly, the tine arm mountings are made of aluminium to cut the weight down while still maintaining a high load capacity. A standout feature for me was the rotors. Completely enclosed with the bevel gear drives and lubricated with liquid grease, no greasing is required on the cam track, gear drives or tine arm holders, thus cutting down time spent on maintenance.
There are 13 tine arms on each of the rotors, with four double tines on each arm, four dolly wheels under each rotor and the cardanic rotor linkage ensures the tines follow very closely to the contours of the ground to pick up all of the material. A longstanding feature of Krone rakes present here is the individual electronic height adjustments on each rotor, allowing you to adjust the heights from inside the cab while on the move. This is an excellent feature in variable conditions.
One thing I found a bit annoying about this rake is the folding tine arm system. Each rotor has four tine arms in a row, each with a folding hinge and a locking pin which enables the arms to be folded back on themselves, lowering the overall height of the machine when the rotors are folded up. Now, while on paper this system reads well, in practice I find it a bit too tedious for my liking, as the rotors need to be turned by hand to get the folding arms in the correct position. Then, when they are folded, the tines tend to get tangled up, making it difficult when unfolding. However, some will argue that because the tines are not removed or stored elsewhere, it does save time and wear.
The swather runs at 540 rpm and has a power requirement of only 80hp, although I would recommend this as an absolute minimum. A PTO shaft runs down the length of the machine to three gearboxes in line with the axle, where it is split to the two front rotors and to a gearbox for the two at the rear. Further PTO shafts from these gearboxes deliver the power out to the rotor heads — all the gearboxes are oil-filled. A clever innovation from Krone is the front rotors running at a higher speed than the rear rotors, leading to a more even, loosely-formed box-shape windrow, increasing the forward speed of the forage harvester following.
The hydraulic system controlling the swather is run through a power-beyond coupler on the tractor and a ISOBUS compatible computer in the control box uses electronic valves to control the oil flow to the rams. With this setup there are three different in-cab control box terminals available — Alpha, Gamma or CCI ISOBUS — each allowing for a different level of control. The machine I tested was equipped with the mid-range Gamma terminal featuring a large black and white backlit digital display that is programmable and gives an excellent overview of all the machine's functions.
There are eight buttons down one side of this control box, along with four buttons and a dial knob across the bottom. The buttons are unlabelled but control the function displayed in the corresponding box on the screen, allowing full control of all functions. These buttons are used to lift the rotors in a sequence at the headland, or control each individually, to lift over obstacles. Other functions, such as the width of the rake and the width of the row, can also be controlled. The individual height of the rotors can be controlled and also pre-programmed, so that if they are changed, they can be returned to a set height easily.
Initially I found the controls slightly confusing and difficult to master, as the buttons are not directly labelled and are multi-functional, adding to the risk of a mistake. I'm not alone on this — a couple of the operators in the UK who'd been driving this swather also believe the controls could be simplified.
As with most of Krone's range of equipment, the Swadro 1400 rake has been built to a very high standard and incorporates some innovative ideas, such as tension springs to transfer weight from the rotors to the main frame and the front rotors that run at a higher speed than the rear rotors. This is definitely a strong contender in the four-rotor, high-output swather market.
For many of you out there, this machine may be a little big for your operation, but since Krone builds a multitude of swathers ranging from the 3.5m single rotor through to its massive 20m wide, six-rotor model, there is bound to be one to suit your situation. Most of these rakes will have sealed and permanently grease-lubricated rotor heads and all will have the electronic tine height adjustment.
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