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August 2014

Equipment

DESIGNING THE FUTURE

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The seed treatment equipment industry isn't usually thought of as a hotbed of innovation, but when you talk to the engineers and inventors on Bayer's SeedGrowth equipment team, you realize it is. After all, they are designing the future of application technology.
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“In seed treatment, active ingredients and product formulations are only part of the equation,” says Peter Herold, International Marketing & Team Leader Global Engineering Services at Bayer CropScience. “We could invent the best product in the world, but there'd be little point to it if we couldn't get it on the seed. For a product to be of maximum value to a farmer, it needs to be perfectly applied to each seed. That's where our equipment team comes into play.” With manufacturing hubs in North America and Europe and arms reaching into the far corners of the globe, Bayer’s creative team works around the clock to deliver innovative – and often tailor-made – solutions into this high-value, dynamic marketplace.

Customer-focused approach

“Seed treatment has typically been part art, part science, with the quality of the end product entirely dependent on the skill of the operator,” says Peter Herold. “Bayer's goal is to increase the ‘science’ component of the seed treatment process – make it more precise, less susceptible to error, more consistent, and less reliant on the applicator. At the end of the day, this means consistently better seed quality, and thus better results for the farmer.” When it comes to innovation, emerging customer needs are primary drivers behind Bayer's equipment solutions. “From the beginning, we've worked closely with seed companies to identify what jobs they need to accomplish, where the gaps are, and ways we can help them do their jobs better. That perspective forms the basis for all our innovations,” says Mark Belden, Site Manager at Bayer's Shakopee, Minnesota (U.S.) equipment manufacturing plant and a veteran in this business.
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Smart solutions in Asia, USA and UK

Examples of solutions to real-time problems faced by customers and farmers abound. In Asia, for example, seed treatments have traditionally been a challenge for the rice industry due to the practice of soaking seed prior to sowing. Peter Herold and his team are working to modify existing application equipment so that wet rice seed can be treated, and developing a new coating designed to keep seed treatments from coming off during soaking. Through these innovations Bayer is bringing an efficient new production mode to the Asian market that will allow smallholder farmers to reap the significant yield and plant health benefits delivered by seed treatments. In the U.S., bee health and exposure to crop protection products are areas of interest all the way from the farm to the halls of government. Mark Belden's equipment team in Shakopee, which perfected the cutting-edge On Demand system, is working with the “Target Zero Dust” project team on equipment designs to reduce dust and improve control of the product in the application and planting process. And in the UK, in response to new regulations and a voluntary quality scheme set by the seed industry, the Bayer SeedGrowth equipment team is prioritizing the provision of high-quality equipment combined with hands-on customer service and support.
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Wake-up call for the industry

“The situation in the EU has been a wake-up call for the industry,” notes Martin Oldham, a UK SeedGrowth Engineer. “Processors realize that they must improve their quality and really focus on doing the job in the right way. We are helping them to do that – from developing and installing new systems to training them in best practices, helping them monitor and benchmarking their results.”

Close cooperation with the customer

As Paul Chinn, Production Supervisor at Frontier Agriculture Ltd, the UK's largest crop input and marketing company, points out, “We're continually looking for ways to improve our processing systems. This year we will be installing a number of Bayer Flowmetering systems, and we're working closely with the Bayer SeedGrowth Engineering team to ensure that their equipment integrates seamlessly with our control system. This is typical of Bayer's approach – they don't just sell us a piece of equipment and walk away. They use their experience to work with us to ensure it is installed and commissioned correctly, that it produces treated seed of the highest quality, and then offer ongoing maintenance and support as required. This gives me support I can truly rely on.”

“The future in SeedGrowth is very exciting because of all the new things seed treatments have the potential to do.”

Martin Oldham, UK SeedGrowth Engineer


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Designing tomorrow’s equipment

Without a doubt, Peter, Mark, Martin and their teams are proud of what Bayer offers its customers today. But it's when you get them talking about future products and the equipment of tomorrow that the passion for their work becomes palpable. “The future in SeedGrowth is very exciting because of all the new things seed treatments have the potential to do: new coatings, chemical active ingredients, micronutrients, biologicals,” Martin says. “Our equipment today is very versatile. Once researchers have identified specifications for optimum application of a new product, we can design the perfect tool to deliver that product onto the seed and ultimately to the customer.”

The potential of 3D printing

To fuel these design solutions, the team is tapping new frontiers in technology. For example, Martin and others are working with Bayer Technology Services in Leverkusen, Germany, using computer modeling to explore minute modifications in component design – such as blade shape, angles or mixer size – that could potentially deliver higher quality applications or process improvements. An exciting field of opportunity for Mark Belden is 3D printing. “I believe it’s going to change the face of manufacturing,” he says. “This technology is amazing, and it's really exciting to see and start thinking about possibilities.” Today's 3D technology allows for rapid prototype production and testing, enabling engineers to adapt equipment and deliver solutions faster and at reduced cost. Mark Belden predicts that, not too far into the future, customers will have the ability to download data files and produce equipment or parts, all at their own desktops. “Imagine a piece of equipment that has 27 parts, all of which are manufactured separately and assembled by hand today. Now imagine being able to print the whole thing in one piece with a 3D printer. The potential impacts of that on manufacturing are huge!” he exclaims. “With this technology, we'll have great opportunities to enhance efficiencies, quality and customer service, and reduce costs – all of which will ultimately benefit our customers.”
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Enthusiastic about seed treatment equipment

This enthusiasm for the future is infectious. “We're doing a good job of energizing folks to imagine the possibilities,” says Mark. “It's exciting that equipment has become a critical strategic component of our Bayer SeedGrowth offering. Our customers know that we're behind a lot of the innovations that they see in the field. We're one company driving those – from their beginnings in the lab to the manufacturing line, to the seed plant and all the way to the field. They have one source for solutions – Bayer SeedGrowth.”
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