TractorsFrom work­horse to Oper­a­tions Centre

In early 2023, the two-millionth tractor came off the produc­tion line at the John Deere factory in Mannheim. In his guest article, Hans-Chris­tian Quick, archivist at John Deere, reveals what has changed in perfor­mance, connec­tivity, and sustain­ability since the millionth tractor.

The millionth tractor we produced in our Mannheim factory some 30 years ago was a 6400. This tractor is no longer in produc­tion, but it would have been compa­rable in size to our 6120M. They both have the same wheel­base. However, the maximum power of the 6400 was 104 hp, while the 6120M with Intel­li­gent Power Manage­ment (IPM) offers 145 hp. If we compare the 6400 with our two-millionth tractor – a 6R 250 – we can still see a few constants. However, great leaps in tech­nical devel­op­ment have been made.

The cut away view of the John Deere clearly shows the frame, the engine, and the trans­mis­sion.

Unique frame design

Our frame construc­tion design has stood the test of time over the past 30 years and is a unique selling point of John Deere trac­tors. We use a sturdy frame, which makes the tractor lighter but also more robust and stable than other construc­tion concepts. The frame carries compo­nents like the engine and gearbox, reducing the load on them when a front loader is attached.

The frame design also offers advan­tages in produc­tion, allowing us to inte­grate different types of trans­mis­sions and engines. This means we can respond flex­ibly to indi­vidual require­ments while also manu­fac­turing trac­tors in Mannheim in six million different equip­ment vari­ants.

The millionth John Deere tractor at the Mannheim factory.

Intel­li­gent power

Mechan­i­cally speaking, the proven PowrQuad trans­mis­sion of the millionth tractor is similar to our current Quad trans­mis­sions, although the trans­mis­sions of today come with more comfort and automa­tion features. The AutoPowr trans­mis­sion of the 6R 250 offers contin­uous adjust­ment of the gear ratio. The driver can also now conve­niently operate all impor­tant tractor and attach­ment func­tions via the ergonomic CommandPro drive lever.

And in perfor­mance terms, a lot has changed over the past 30 years. For example, John Deere intro­duced IPM with the 6010 models. This uses intel­li­gent soft­ware to adjust the tractor’s engine power auto­mat­i­cally and dynam­i­cally to different oper­ating situ­a­tions to improve fuel effi­ciency and produc­tivity. If the tractor is working in a field with a wrap­ping baler combi­na­tion, it can use this system to deliver more power to the hydraulic pump during the wrap­ping cycle, which is where it is needed at that time. During power take off (PTO) work, the tractor delivers more power to the PTO shaft. This makes our trac­tors more effi­cient and powerful for different purposes.

John Deere 6400 in action in front of a round baler.

Connected, commu­nica­tive and sustain­able

The intel­li­gence in our trac­tors today goes far beyond IPM. Advances in digi­tal­i­sa­tion have made it possible for trac­tors to make their oper­a­tors’ work much easier thanks to a whole range of features, also allowing them to work sustain­ably over long working days. The 1-Click-Go-AutoSetup feature offers the possi­bility to easily create work tasks on the computer and send them to the tractor. Once in the field, the driver only needs to confirm the job on the screen for the tractor to execute it within the field bound­aries. Of course, the 6400 couldn’t do that, the equip­ment and the tech­nology was not sophis­ti­cated enough. Func­tions like the Auto­Trac guid­ance or the Section Control, as well as other options for auto­mated preci­sion farming, make work on the tractor much easier today.

Another impor­tant step on the journey to the modern tractor was the inte­gra­tion and certi­fi­ca­tion of ISOBUS in 2002. With the ‘USB of agri­cul­ture’, farmers could suddenly connect imple­ments from any manu­fac­turer to the tractor easily and control them via a single monitor. Before that, there were already partially elec­tri­fied imple­ments, but these were quite awkward to connect and drivers would have a jumble of screens fitted in the cab. They also needed to recon­figure their entire setup every time they wanted to use a new imple­ment.

With a slurry tanker equipped with the NIR sensor, the John Deere 6250R can inde­pen­dently adjust the travel speed to dispense a pre-set amount of nutri­ents.

When used with a wrapper baler, the IPM of the John Deere 6250R provides addi­tional power for the hydraulic drive during wrap­ping.

Nowa­days, the driver can connect a slurry tanker equipped with a near infrared (NIR) sensor and depending on the nutrient content of the slurry and desired appli­ca­tion rate, the travel speed of the tractor is auto­mat­i­cally controlled. This means the nutrient supply can be adapted to the corre­sponding yield and soil condi­tions contributing to ground­water protec­tion and ensuring high crop yields.

Our trac­tors of today are among the most econom­ical on the market, both on the road and in the field. The tech­nical devel­op­ments were mainly driven by legally prescribed emis­sion stan­dards. Our trac­tors for the Western Euro­pean market, as well as for many other regions, now meet Tier 5 emis­sions stan­dards, making them almost as clean as cars. To achieve this, we needed to make some design changes, so our trac­tors are now equipped with an AdBlue system and a catalytic converter, and we have intro­duced cooled exhaust gas recir­cu­la­tion. This system reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx) emis­sions from the engine by redi­recting some of the exhaust gases back into the engine’s intake pipe, allowing higher pres­sure in the engine without allowing further oxygen and nitrogen from the air to react to form NOx.

Steering systems on the John Deere 6250R with a mower-condi­tioner combi­na­tion, enable highly precise and effi­cient work.

The future of the tractor

Whether the three millionth John Deere tractor from Mannheim will be elec­tric, I couldn’t say. But what is certain is that we are constantly working on the trac­tors of the future and are already seeing results. At the begin­ning of the year, we presented our multi-fuel tractor, which can run on a mix of fossil and renew­able fuels, at Green Week in Berlin.

We know that the three millionth tractor will set new stan­dards in terms of perfor­mance and bene­fits for farmers, because it will be the result of a combi­na­tion of proven tech­nolo­gies and constant inno­va­tion.