Grain Drill Product Design Methodology

I'd like to take a few moments of your time to explain our approach to new product development (NPD) at Dryland SA.  I'll work to add bits and pieces to this as we progress, so come back often to see what's new.

The deep furrow grain drills have served the farmers extremely well over the last 50 years, but have now become the limiting factor in efforts to reduce soil wind erosion issues.  The split packer wheel deep furrow design has been frozen in time, 1965 to be exact and it is time now to look at things in a new way.

To start with we are using the new product development methods made famous by the Japanese automotive and industrial machinery industries know today as Lean Thinking.  One element of Lean Thinking was developed by Dr. Kano, a Japanese expert on “the voice of the customer”.  I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Kano back in the mid 90’s.  Using his approach to tackle this problem, we break new product development into five development categories:

  1. Style Changes: no changes in features, only appearance

  2. Improvements: existing features improved.  

  3. Line extensions: new mix of existing features

  4. Innovative: new, attractive features

  5. New-To-The-World: totally new, unfamiliar products and uses

With these categories in mind and having a very limited market size, the challenge will be to produce a cost effective new breakthrough product for the majority of the potential customers.   I believe to create the tipping point that the HZ and IH150’s did in 1965, Dryland SA will need to push to categories 4 or 5 above, not just a category 2: Improvements.  Right now I see a lot of category 2 effort put forth by all the players developing solutions in the market space to improve the existing drill – stronger frame, bigger packer wheels, some mechanically driven tine to clear straw from the path, etc….

Our survey has drawn out category 2: improvements type answers.  The farm community is clear about his/her requirements and can verbalize them or write them, based on experience with the product.  How many years have each of you sat on your tractor, staring back at your drills thinking of what could be better?  We see the survey comments as really customer complaints.  Reducing customer dissatisfaction by acting on complaints is not equivalent to raising customer satisfaction.  Customer satisfaction is increased by substantially improving useful functionality, including high performance features that respond to  latent needs.

 In categories 4 & 5 Innovative new features or totally new products, potential customers have no prior knowledge of innovative features, they cannot state a requirement directly in terms of product/service features.  What we can get from them are “unspoken” or “latent” requirements.  This drives a different approach to determining unspoken customer requirements.  By observation of the customers’ work, and by engaging customers in conversation around their work—not specific to product features, we can identify clues to latent needs.

When we look at Kano Curve below, it helps us understand where to put time and  money in on the design.  Take the lower curve, the “Must-Be-Quality” features.  These are the things that once met, putting more time and money into them won’t help.  They have to be met at a minimum, that’s it.  Hence the curve flattens out, more investment does not yield more delight from the customers.  Think of going to a restaurant, “Must-Have” features are like clean eating utensils.  Once clean it doesn’t matter how many more times we wash them or if we invest in a bigger more expensive dishwasher, it won’t matter to the customer.  The middle curve is “One Dimensional Quality”, these are categories 1-3 above, these are the “should-have” items.  Look at them as a ~1:1 return, is the customer willing to pay for each “should-have” item as it goes up the line?   Think of smart phones for the “Attractive Quality” or the “could-haves”.  People ran out in droves and purchased these products, it didn’t matter the price of the iPhone, it blew their socks off, it delighted them.


I look at the new deep furrow grain drill as needing this “could-have” or “attractive quality” to move the dryland community to buy it.  So the question in my mind is “what will make this new drill perform significantly better than the HZ technology”?  I see getting through high straw residue as a “must-have” feature, not a "could-have" feature.  It is a bare bone minimum feature requirement to be in the game.  I need to make it a reliable, low cost feature that just gets it done.   We must stay away for complex solutions with lots of pieces and parts that drive up cost and are prone to breakdown.

Increasing Deep Furrow Grain Drill Residue Handling Capabilities

Years of research and working trials have been conducted to build a strong body of knowledge around seeding in high residue field conditions.  We have been collecting and learning as much as possible about this knowledge from leading experts here in the Pacific Northwest as well from other researchers from around the world.  We have put together key points out of this body of knowledge to assist in our concept development choices to test the ability to seed in the minimal tillage chem-fallow field conditions for Eastern Oregon and Washington States. 

Stubble Condition is critical:

  1. Residue management starts at harvest.  The more disciplined the farmer is with their residue management methodologies, the easier it will be to improve seeding production and seed emergence.    The goal is to create an even, uniform spread of residue across the field with a stubble height below the 65% height mark of the effective vertical clearance of the grain drill.  As an example, if the boot & packer wheel assembly has a max operating depth of 8 inches and a vertical clearance from ground level to the packer axle of 10 inches in the max depth position, then the max stubble height should be kept below 6.5 inches.
  2. Wheat stubble residue can amount to 1.3 to 2.8 times the grain yield.  This can create 1.6 to 3.4 tons of residue on 40 bushel/acre ground.
  3. Wetter stubble increases friction and adhesion properties, plus significantly decreases the ability to cut the straw and makes it difficult to hair-pin. In affect diminishing the easy at which the residue passes through the drill.
  4. The decomposition process over time decreases stubble mass and reduces the proportion of cellulose in the internodes, which decreases the shear strength and facilitates residue cutting.
  5. The trail of residue coming off the combine chopper or spreader has high levels of chaff and is easily concentrated in turn remaining wetter for longer.  Rolled or trampled stubble is also often wetter and it also more difficult to handle then standing stubble, but over time decomposes more rapidly.
  6. Maintaining residue cover on the soil surface is a major component in helping reduce weed germination from phytotoxicity effects.

Benchmarking the Equipment Market Place for Current Grain Drill Cost

The purpose of this benchmark data collection is to look at current alternative available on the market today, understand the features they offer plus the cost.  Even though they are not deep furrow drill, they have specifications, functions, features and components that are applicable to seeding regardless to what type of crop you are growing. 

John Deere DB60 36R20 Planter - 60 foot operating width, forward swing tool bar for easy transportation and fast field changes, 36 row 20 inch row spacing, central commodity air seed distribution system with high precision metering and seed placement at the row-unit planter. ~$275,000.00 ($4,583/ft.)

High in cab precision control system:

  • field mapping
  • overlap shut off
  • seed monitoring & singulation
  • opener pneumatic down force pressure
  • residue management system down pressure and height

John Deere 1990 CCS Air Seeder with no-till openers (42 foot operating width, wing up frame, 10 inch row spacing on staggered ranks, hydraulic down pressure,  seed metering at the commodity box manifold, in cab precision metering control system) ~$175,000.00 ($4,167/ft.)

John Deere 455 Box Drill with Double Disk openers (35 foot operating width, forward swing frame for easy transportation and fast field changes, hydraulic down pressure, metering at the box, manual setting out of cab, no in cab precision controls) ~$65,000.00 ($1,857/ft.)

Case IH 1265 36R20 Planter  (60 foot operating width, forward swing tool bar for easy transportation and fast field changes, 36 row 20 inch row spacing, central commodity air seed distribution system with high precision metering and seed placement at the row-unit planter ~$284,000.00 ($4,733/ft.)

High in cab precision control system:

  • field mapping
  • overlap shut off
  • seed monitoring & singulation
  • opener hyd down pressure