The government’s zoning policy encourages rice farmers in areas that do not lend themselves to rice cultivation to grow industrial cane instead. In response, sugar mills are also ready to expand their capacity to accommodate any increase in cane production. In Thailand, approximately 10 million rai is currently dedicated to cane cultivation, with nine million rai devoted to industrial cane.
The Thai inventor said that there are only about 3,000 harvesters currently in use across Thailand, a meager number compared to the demand that is only sufficient for 30% of the country’s entire cane cultivation area. In addition, most of them are imported, which means that they have not been designed specifically for Thailand’s plantation terrain.
Mr. Bhunyarit Suwanasarn, 59, a former underwater pipeline engineer, successfully designed and created a driverless cane harvester. He also open a cane harvester assembly and maintenance center at House No. 157/1 Moo2, Nai Muang Sub-district, Sawankhalok District, Sukhothai, in the hope of teaching others to repair their own harvesters and
give them access to a new model with additional functions when their existing ones are no longer usable.
As cane plantations abroad are flattened before the cultivation, cane harvesters can operate smoothly. However, in Thailand, the plantations are not prepared in the same manner, and the resulting ridges and trenches often cause cane harvesters to jerk up and down, which eventually warps or cracks the chassis. More importantly, this invented model costs only a little under six million baht, compared to the whopping 13 million baht for an imported cane harvester.
This machine has been tested in actual harvesting of over 11,000 tons of cane both during the day and at night. The test has shown that the new model is not only cheaper but also more efficient than imported counterparts. In addition, it is much easier to acquire one if the existing machine breaks down.
“An imported cane harvester usually costs around 13 million baht, while this Thai invention costs only six million baht. Also, an imported one packs unnecessary coils of wires inside that would sell for 30,000-40,000 baht, but there are barely any wires in this model because it uses a wireless system. Our ECU is also wireless and costs only 5,000 baht, as opposed to 200,000-300,000 baht. Similarly, the input unit is only 800 baht, and machine owners can replace it by themselves,” said Bhunyarit.
The former engineer revealed that he decided to come up with this invention after seeing a jumble of wires inside a cane harvester, which contained a sensitive and fuzzy hydraulic system and was difficult to repair. Opting for a wireless system, which offered a clear processing ability and easy control, it took him and his team of 10 mechanics in Sukhothai six months to find suitable parts and eventually gave birth to ‘Sabai Thai,’ (Convenience for Thais) a name he said was inspired by his wish to use this knowledge to improve the quality of life of Thai cane farmers and enhance their cane productivity.
‘Sabai Thai’ might be just the best-designed cane harvester in the world. It operates perfectly with a driver or via a remote control system and saves as much as 200 liters of fuel compared to foreign models. Also, the blades do not leave bruises, which helps reduce loss of cane juices and improve cane weight.
The second machine is being assembled and is 90% completed at the moment. Bringing together the strengths of the American and Australian cane harvesters, this model will be more durable and have a simple system, with parts that can be easily acquired and replaced for farmers. In addition, the blade gear will remain above the ground when the harvester drives into a ditch, preventing the blades from accidentally running into the planted ratoons and saving the time needed to replant them.
Bhunyarit added that the harvester will be developed to be completely driverless. The ECU will contain a drone system that receives satellite coordinates and operates independently, with users supervising from afar to prevent the machine from toppling over when it makes a U-turn at the end of a trench and to ensure that harvested cane does not fall off.
He also expressed his wish to see governmental support, such as in the form of low interest, so that he could develop a 2.4G driverless cane harvester that can be controlled remotely with microwave radar from a control box on a pickup truck located as far as three kilometers away.