DRAYTON, N.D. - If planting in muddy ground is a headache, MudRX just might be the cure.
Ted Juhl of Drayton, N.D., and Robin Weisz of Hurdsfield, N.D., developed MudRX as an aftermarket piece to help clean mud and reduce tire wear on planters and air drill gauge wheels.
They formed TR Solutions LLC, and in 2015 they hired a 3D printer to make prototypes of a plastic ring that fits inside a gauge wheel for a planter or an air drill. The inserts are made of "ultra high molecular weight plastic" and fits between the tire - which normally does the scraping from a disk - and the disk itself.
"Being it's high UHMW plastic, it does a much better job of scraping, and it has high wear characteristics that will outlast the tire by several times," Weisz says. "You increase your mud scraping and eliminate wear on the tire, so it has a two-fold purpose."
Juhl and Weisz are lifelong friends. Juhl's older brother worked for Weisz' father on the farm during the summer for many years. "I was 6 years old the first time we met," Juhl says.
Most equipment manufacturing engineers haven't spent hours digging mud out of gauge wheels. Juhl and Weisz have.
"I've been digging mud out for 37 years," Juhl says. "There have been all kinds of solutions, but some help with the symptoms but don't cure the problems." The two attended the University of North Dakota in engineering before returning to their separate farm. "We have always bounced ideas off each other and critiqued some of our hare-brained schemes," Weisz says.
John Deere released its 7000 and 7100 MaxEmerge planters in 1974. The concept has been widely adopted throughout the industry. It allows seeds to be placed at a more precise depth with a pair of angled disk blades to cut seed trenches. Juhl bought a new 7000 bin in 1979.
"Most of our farm is along the Red River here - this heavy, sticky ground," Juhl says. In those days, farmers used tillage to dry out soils and they planted slower, Weisz says. Today, farmers travel faster and use no-till equipment, which means stickier soil. Mainline manufacturers with scrapers, but the tires wear out in two or three years when farmers like Weisz and Juhl think they could last ten years.
3D printer's role
As the pair was developing the concept, they realized the complex shape was a challenge.
"How do we make a prototype? How do we test it? How do we decide if our idea even has merit?"
Weisz and Juhl found Fargo 3D Printing in Fargo, N.D., co-founded in 2012 by Jake Clark.
"They understood agriculture and had some background. We were able to have them 'print' prototypes," Weisz says. "We went through several versions before we even had one to try to test. If it wasn't for that (3D printing), the cost would have been prohibitive.
Molds are about $25,000 to make. There were other engineering costs, but every new version cost about $300 to print it with the 3D printer.
"They were able to print one off, and we could decide if the shape was right or wrong and once we reached that point were able to test the product and decide from then whether we wanted to go on and make a mold."
To manufacture the inserts, they went to PPD Group USA, which has a factory in Madison, S.D. The UHMW starts as a powder, and PPD Group uses a 235-ton press to heat and compress it into a liquid, filling the steel mold and cooling it at a certain rate and time, using a series of heating elements and cooling tubes.
The UHMW starts as a powder, and is heated and compressed to become a liquid, PPD Group currently has two molds that can produce 70 of the pieces per day, or 400 a week. TR Solutions would ask PPD Group to make more molds if that became necessary. Customers are ordering dozens to about 500 at a time.
The company prototypes were displayed at ag shows last winter, but the first time they had product to sell was during West Fargo's Big Iron in September. They display models in bright farm equipment colors to attract attention, but the commercial models are all black.
This winter, they'll be at the Northern Ag Expo, Nov. 29 to 30 in Fargo, and the South Dakota Ag Expo Jan. 18 and 19 in Sioux Falls.
Customers can acquire the product directly from the company website. The company is negotiating with dealer networks to carry them. But until demand requires it, PPD will ship some product direct from the factory.
Farmers in other countries have shown interest in the pieces. Some foreign clients have talked about putting them on equipment in December 2016, but the 2017 season will be the first for most in the region to see them.
The inserts cost roughly $2,000 to $5,000 for most drills. New planters and air drills can run $150,000 to $300,000. "We think it's a very economical investment because it's going to increase your 'up time,' and decrease labor time of having to replace tires and dig out mud," Weisz says. "With the aggravation saved, we think it's a good investment.
"Wet conditions certainly will increase the interest in this product," Weisz says. "And as we've seen the trend to no-till, which has accelerated in the Upper Midwest and elsewhere, that also means wetter soils in the spring. You can't do tillage to dry them out. This product becomes very valuable in those situations."
Simple is good
Randy Klassen, owner of RDK Enterprises in Hillsboro, N.D., says he thinks the invention has potential. Klassen's company makes precision planting parts and rebuilds planters.
"Often we go out of adjustment on the gauge-wheel arms before the tires are thoroughly shot," says Klassen, who looked at the product at Big Iron. Besides saving some money, he thinks the product can keep the openers clean.
"It's not complicated; that's one reason I think it might work," he says, speculating the idea might not have been developed by manufacturers because it is profitable to sell tires.
"Sometimes it's the simple things that help a lot," Klassen says.
Weisz says manufacturers might not be aware of the time it takes to dig mud out of gauge wheels. "That's why a lot of what you see is farmer-driven, because they had a problem and came up with a fix," he says.
For information on the product, visit The MudRX.com, or call 701-805-1860.