Spotlight on China Farm Tractor Technology


The international tractor community recently gathered in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China for a two-day seminar organized by SAE and Lubrizol. The seminar was designed to showcase the latest developments in the sector and highlight potential operational improvements. Farm Tractor Powertrain Emissions, Performance, and Productivity: Challenges for Engines, Transmissions, and Axles featured many big names in the farm tractor world, including ZF, Wuzhen Group, Ricardo, John Deere, and Lubrizol. The first day was dedicated to transmissions, axles, and related components, with farm tractor powertrains on the agenda for the second day.

After a welcome by Lubrizol’s Chris Schenkenberger, Xinxin Liu from Shandong Wuzhen offered delegates an overview of the farm tractor market in China and described how it would grow in the future. A number of technologies were identified as drivers for growth in the popularity of tractors in the country. Many OEMs already enjoy success there, notably CFT and Foton Lovol, with 23 and 20 percent shares of the tractor market respectively, he said.

Hans Pilzweger, of German driveline manufacturer ZF, spoke next; he explained the technologies that will be key to meeting the demands of the market. Pilzweger highlighted the benefits of ZF’s modular product range, covering rear and front axle configurations, and outlined the choices it affords in Synchroshift, Powershift, and Stepless transmissions.

He also pointed out that, for the Chinese market, there were solutions to suit every type of application in operation, and that each of these offered a higher level of comfort, safety, productivity, and quality than had previously been seen on farm tractors in China. The benefits of four-wheel drive tractor units were also discussed, such as improved tractive efficiency, braking, maneuverability, and less tire slip.

Fluid on the Farm
Discussions then turned to tractor fluids, with James Zhang from Lubrizol explaining the importance of using the right lubricants and fluids. Zhang covered the diversity of tractor transmission fluids, including those for the clutch, transmission, differential, final drives, wet brakes, and hydraulic systems. He also stated that balanced friction properties, good antiwear, and water resistance can provide the correct brake capacity, reduce chattering, and offer protection for the gears, bearings, and hydraulic pumps.

Zhang then explained that, while global OEMs have their own oil specifications, manufacturers in China do not. This makes it hard for the Chinese industry to guarantee good performance and durability from its oil specification in modern applications. Zhang pointed out that local Chinese OEMs currently had more manual transmissions, dry clutches, and dry brakes. Nevertheless, he said, wet brakes will become more popular in the future, which means a higher requirement for advanced brake fluids.

Damien Sotty, chief engineer for the engines product group at Ricardo’s Asia technical center, started the second day of the seminar by covering emissions and fuel economy regulations and the challenges that affect the farm tractor industry. He also offered an insight into what developments the Chinese market can expect to see in the future, and explained what the arrival of Tier 4 final emissions legislation will mean for the global heavy-duty engine sector.

Tier 4 Emissions
Sotty noted that engine legislation in the BRIC nations generally followed European or US standards, with a time lag, depending on the market. China, for example, is currently adhering to an equivalent of Tier 2 legislation, and does not expect to meet Tier 4 standards until at least 2020. It is a similar story in India, and in 2020, Brazil and Russia are expected to implement Euro 3 legislation.


To meet Tier 4 legislation, he explained, would require the use of EGR and/or SCR technologies, and possibly a DPF, depending on the approach that would be taken. One additional alternative that Ricardo would offer, he said, would be upgrades of old engines. This would require a relatively small investment in order to comply.

On the fuel economy side, Sotty maintained the need to review all engine systems to reduce consumption. This could include higher pressure fuel injectors, the addition of boosting systems, high-efficiency SCR and combustion technology, as well as downsizing the engine itself.

Lubrizol’s Gabriel Ngoi then detailed how and why many Chinese cities are experiencing poor air quality levels. One of the issues is the lack of laws mandating environmental standards, as seen in the EU and North America.

Highlighting the many types of fuel systems and injection technologies available on the market, Ngoi pointed out that injection pressures can reach up to 4,000 bar in heavy-duty applications, while the number of nozzle holes available in some applications has increased to up to 10, leading to more efficient performance. He also noted that the design of the spray holes has evolved to allow a greater amount of fuel through steadily smaller holes.

Relating specifically to a farm tractor survey, Ngoi revealed how most tractor-related problems were due to deposit formation, explaining that these issues can be solved easily with deposit control additives. The audience was shown how, with the aid of these additives, a B5 commercial diesel engine can operate longer, with reduced smoke emissions and improved fuel consumption.

Returning to lubricants, this time specifically on the engine side, another Lubrizol presentation warned that not all oils handle soots equally, with different levels of viscosity altering their effectiveness in cleaning up an engine. In summary, it was stressed that engine oils are complex formulations with a lot of flexibility to customize performance requirements, and that Lubrizol is developing new [universal] products to meet the demands of customers in China and beyond.

Bringing OEM-level discussion to the table, as well as taking the seminar proceedings to a close, Danan Dou and Rich Winsor, from John Deere Power Systems, tackled the issues of diesel engine performance in heavy-duty applications. The John Deere duo explained how tractors operate for extended times at higher loads, compared to on-highway trucks. Tractors require high torque at low speed for launching, along with a rapid torque rise for difficult conditions. With combine harvesters, maximum power is an important factor. This means that, when designing engines for the tractor market, brake specific fuel consumption versus productivity must be considered, as well as the trade-off between high- and low-power output machines.

Following a session where the expert panel answered questions from members of the audience, the successful seminar closed, having fulfilled its mission of highlighting the Chinese tractor market and operating conditions in China, as well as opening a window on the more advanced engineering developments that could impact Chinese agriculture in the future. Once again, the key role of regular maintenance and advanced lubricants was highlighted as an essential element in enabling equipment to perform at its best and to maintain reliability between scheduled service.



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