Samart Kaset-Yon (SMKY) Intelligent System – A Process at the Cutting Edge
Much has been said in recent months about the need for Thailand’s sugar producers to reduce cost in the face of a falling world price for sugar. As sugar becomes increasingly a world commodity, pricing, or rather cost of production is already an issue for many producers. Lack of willing manual labour has pushed many towards one or other form of mechanisation from simple powered implement to full line cane harvesters taking the worker out of the cutting process and transferring him to machine support. And whilst most farmers pride themselves on knowing the land on which they farm the simple fact that the pace of harvesting is becoming so great robs them of the knowledge that they would previously have gained by talking with their cutters after a day in the fields. With machines cutting 2-300 tonnes a shift there is little time to assess the overall cane density on any given field let alone be able to know exactly what the productivity per Rai (ไร่), is for a day’s cutting. By taking the estimated area of a field versus the tonnage that is recorded at the mill an average cane density can be calculated. But it could be that 60% of the total cane weight is generated on barely 30% of the field’s area. Bringing that other 60% of the field into full potential could be the difference for many between breaking even on future harvests or (hopefully) making a profit.
The thing is that farmers rely on this sort of information together with their experience to make decisions on field preparation. How much fertilizer, what level of coverage and how and where it should be applied? Then there is irrigation, healthy cane may be thriving at the field edge yet cane in the body of the field may be way under the expected cane weight due to a simple lack of water. How can the farmer know this from an average cane density estimate? Well, the short answer is he cannot.
Effectively, to fully understand the dynamics of any field being used for arable production the product yield will need to be mapped. Some say that by looking at a field, by taking into account the height, the stalk diameter, the amount of leaf the plant has produced and looking at an approximate total area under cultivation cane density can be accurately estimated. Unfortunately, the sugar mills work in weight of cane delivered and at least in the Kingdom of Thailand, our banking system doesn’t accept “estimated profit”.
Whether such detailed information has been irrelevant in the past is not clear, but as cost reduction or at least cost effectiveness becomes more critical in the industry it is becoming essential to be able to access accurate data on field and crop management.
Samart Kaset Yont Ltd. Part located near to Chainat is Thailand’s foremost producer of sugar cane harvesting machinery. Their machinery has developed from the firm’s original designs over a period of probably 15 years to bring it to the highly effective SM 200 range of harvesters that we see today. Samart (SMKY) has long been a company that puts customer needs on their priority list, but they address those needs only when they know that effective solutions can be integrated into their machinery.
In other facets of farming, for example grain production, there has been a move towards providing more information on productivity to the farmers. Some sugar cane harvester manufacturers for example have tried to integrate the process known as “yield mapping” based on a modified version of the grain harvester design. Yield mapping has been offered as optional equipment on many grain combine harvester machines for several years. Although on the face of it, it would seem a small step to integrate such a system into a sugar cane machine the practicality is that sensor based yield mapping relies on optical or mechanical sensors to “assess” the flow of grain kernels or cane billets as they progress through the machine’s processing equipment. So, by any measure, the yield mapping that we see in current grain or sugar harvesters with sensor based systems is no more than an assessed count of grain kernels or cane billets passing through the processers versus a theoretical weight for a given product being harvested, so we are already very much back to “estimates”. Whilst this system has been offered as an option with limited acceptance in the sugar harvesting market, conceptually, it is a compromise.
When SMKY looked into yield mapping they knew that to be meaningful, the system would have to be based on true weight. Cane harvesters produce cane “billets”, which are sold by weight. To prove effective and to offer new benefits to customers the system must therefore be capable of weighing the product accurately as a basis for the calculation system. This basic concept, once established became the benchmark for a whole range of accurate report information that could either augment field preparation or provide accounting information relating to the machine’s usage, its performance and its effectiveness versus fuel usage.
The majority of harvesters currently on the market rely upon the “follow” concept to unload the product from the harvester machine, with a suitable truck having to run alongside the harvester when it is in operation. The SM-200 machines however, are self-unloading with the prepared cane being shot from the unloading conveyor directly into a hopper on the rear of the machine. This meant that a weighing process could be introduced as the prepared cane billets are loaded into the hopper. This ensured that the weighing process only took into account prepared cane after leaf and chaff had been discarded, in other words in a condition that it would arrive at the mill. Only in this condition does the information become meaningful simply because it is what the mills actually pay for. Taking this weight signal and running it through the Samart Intelligent System (SIS) maps the variances in weight versus the machines’ forward motion on GPS and builds up an image as the machine undertakes the cutting of a field. Variances in the yield are shown on the image as differing shades of colour which intensify/diminish as the yield increases/decreases and the completed picture of the field then gives a clear indication of areas which are generating the most, or the least cane weight per area harvested.
Thus the farmer can use the map to plan fertilizers or chemical applications or provide irrigation to improve or balance the field performance. Potentially this could result in substantial savings in agricultural chemicals and improved cane density over the areas affected. It will also be possible using the data within the machines’ computer to actually assess the viability of any given cane producing area in relation to operating cost and productivity, in other words simply by operating the machine an entire study is effected each time a crop is harvested giving records and comparisons that have never previously been available to cane farmers.
Whilst the SIS system alone will provide immediate benefits it is probably in the potential for expansion of machine capability that will be most felt by the operators in the future as the electronics capability is fully utilised. Certainly, within the year the SIS will become integrated into the engine management system of the new 6 cylinder JCB engine that Samart is in the process of fitting to all models. JCB produce engines for their range of industrial and agricultural machines at a “state of the art” manufacturing facility near to Derby in the very centre of England. The engine is part of a very young range of engines developed less than a decade ago by a team of JCB specialist engineers drawn from many parts of European manufacturing. The design has proved so successful as a 4 cylinder variant that JCB has developed the engine into a 6 cylinder unit which is now in a wide range of applications throughout of the world. The big advantage of any recently developed engine is that using “up to date” design and manufacturing processes the reliability of the engine and the cost of ownership, (in other words, fuel and maintenance costs) have been optimised. Common rail technology, precise engine control and the 6 cylinder configuration ensures that Samart have selected a smooth reliable power plant on which to base a business process for their customers.
Although the primary goal for this engine was to widen the choice of engine horsepower available within the range ( now offering 160-235 hp), the electronic engine management system will be integrated with SIS to provide even more engine related information. It is planned to give drivers and owners the possibility to know, among other things, the actual fuel consumption per tonne on a real time basis. As the ability to generate this information from a production harvester becomes real it will also bring tremendous benefits to contractors and sugar mills. From the word go, it will be possible to generate work sheets detailing the machine use on a daily basis, measure and map the area of a field. The ability to record the tonnage passing through the machine in a given period can also make the invoicing process more precise. Machine productivity in terms of run time versus actual cutting time will also be more accessible giving management direct insight into operator effectiveness. Maybe because this type of information has never before been available to machine operators, the impact of such information will take time to be fully appreciate. But the system will develop alongside customers’ infrastructure to fully integrate machine operation and productivity into their “on line” process management. Already, all SIS reports will arrive in a downloadable format which can be retrieved at any time via the integral USB portal, but as the program expands remote access via modem can be added and once the customer is ready, full harmonisation of output versus requirements via the “Cloud” connection will be available to machine operators, farmers and sugar mill managers.
The SIS system will be available on SM-200 Giant sugarcane harvesters as from mid-point 2019. Samart specialists are available to discuss the process and advise those interested as to how the system can benefit their operation and the best course to starts to integrate the process into their business model.
Samart also produce a range of tractor based cane lifters, cane cutters, leaf strippers and will consult with customers in developing specific customised equipment related to sugar production.