Tires and tracks converge as technology evolves

It’s been more than 30 years since Caterpillar launched the first tracked tractor for farming.

A lot has changed since those first basic tracks and under carriages rolled into farm fields. Most of those early tractors were in the 200 to 400 horsepower range. In the past decade however, many of those smaller tractors are disappearing from track offering, says Nicolas Dubuc, agriculture solutions specialist for track manufacturer Soucy International.

Today, tracks are finding a fit on high horsepower tractors, up to 600 hp, says Dubuc who shared a number of track trends in his presentation during the recent Ontario Agricultural Conference.

Another development has been growing applications for tracks in row crops, especially twin track machines. It’s not uncommon to see 400 hp or 500 hp articulated tractors running on 18- or 24-inch tracks to navigate row crops. The track industry has also been busy improving under carriages and adding suspensions. Dubuc points to the Claas Terra Trac as the first widely successful suspension with John Deere and other manufacturers quickly following.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Dubuc discusses the continuing convergence of track and tire technologies. “Quite simply, tires are trying to be more like tracks and tracks are trying to be more like tires,” he says. Tires have always had deflation limits but with the introduction of increased flexion (IF) and very high flexion (VF) technology, lower inflation levels have allowed tires to perform more like tracks, delivering increased footprint, more traction and more flotation.

On the flip side, track makers have worked to offset the traditional advantages of tires by making tracks faster for reducing road travel limitations; improving comfort and ride for operators; and reducing wear and maintenance. (Story continues after the interview.)

Dubuc also notes the growing popularity of track use on implements, including how planter manufacturers are adapting their technology to optimize seed placement for tracked units.

Dubuc believes tracks will continue to make gains as the technology evolves. More tracks are now seen throughout the production cycle — from planters to grain carts — and tracks are a good fit for heavier implements such side-dress toolbars and pull-type sprayers with limited tire options.

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