Build your Bounty in the Offseason with Belting Preventative Maintenance

Some may think farmers have winters off, but the reality is that as one season closes, the focus turns to prepare for the next. Conducting equipment due diligence and preventative maintenance is a must, especially with the ongoing trend of a shorter window for planting and harvesting. Belting is a critical component to the field performance of many types of equipment and checking your belts in the offseason as part of your preventative maintenance efforts can drastically improve equipment function.

Using experience from more than six decades in the belting industry, we’ve outlined a handful of tips and the benefits of belting preventative maintenance for draper headers and balers to help you be more successful in the upcoming harvest season.

Draper Headers

As one of the most important components of a combine, maintaining the functionality of the draper header is critical to maximizing harvesting productivity. Often, identifying problems with the draper belts on your header is as simple as knowing what to look for.

Gauge the belt’s general appearance.

Before putting the machine away for the season, look at the overall appearance of the draper belts. Signs of the following problems could indicate that a replacement is needed before the next harvest:

  • Are the edges frayed? Are there tears, cuts, or punctures? If there are holes in the material, there is a greater chance the crop is getting under the belt. If this happens, the crop will build up and stick to the belt, causing it to run less efficiently and potentially result in more holes down the road. If there is catastrophic damage in only one area of the belt, purchasing a draper repair kit would be an option.
  • Check the cleats, side seals, and/or v-guides (locations will vary). If they are wearing off, removed, or significantly damaged, it’s likely they aren’t moving your crop from one end to the other as well as they should, and the impairment of these features could be negatively affecting the draper’s fit, form, and function on your header.
  • What is the condition of the connector? Is the tube damaged, bent, or twisted? A slight bow (1/4” to 1/2”) when the belt is under tension is normal, but if the connector is bent or twisted, it should be replaced. Not replacing the connector at this point risks interference that will rip out the connector and tear the draper belt forcing immediate replacement.

Clean the belts and run them dry to check their performance.

In addition to a visual inspection of the equipment, we recommend running the machine without any crop to watch for potential issues. To do this, open the draper, clean out excess dust and dirt, and make sure the header is free of mud. Next, close it up, tension it, and operate it to make sure it’s running smoothly. When it’s running, make sure the belt is adjusted and tracking correctly. Look for any general operating items that might be causing issues or that are out of the ordinary that may prevent success during your next harvest. If you do have a problem, contact your dealer or the equipment manufacturer for support.

Track the belt’s usage.

To get a general idea of when you might need to replace your belt, we recommend tracking the hours the machine spends in the field. A typical replacement schedule is 500 hours on a draper header, which is about a three-to-five-year replacement schedule but is dependent on the output. Custom harvesters, for example, could warrant replacing their draper belting every season.

Balers

A baler is another piece of equipment that is heavily dependent on efficient and well-functioning belts for success. Although the specific signs of deterioration vary from those of the draper header, it’s still relatively simple to identify problems ahead of next season if you know where to look.

Check the key indicators – belt texture, pattern, and lacing.

Baler belt length, width, texture or pattern (mini rough top, rough top, diamond top, etc.), overall gauge, lacing type, and other specifications are determined by the manufacturer according to the design and function of the baler. Pay close attention to the surface of your baler belt. If the texture or pattern is wearing down, it could indicate that your belt isn’t working at its full capacity because it will pick up the crop and bale differently. With a fresh belt and pattern, the baler will roll more efficiently. Fraying or missing rubber on the cover are also indications that it’s time to consider a new belt.

Replace a full set for the most optimal for performance.

Unlike draper belting which can be replaced as needed, baler equipment functions the most optimally if the whole set of baler belts is replaced at the same time. Among other tangible benefits, this helps to ensure even tensioning. To determine if you have consistent tension across the set of baler belts, run the equipment dry to see if one of the belts is moving or flopping around more. If it is, consider replacing the set to ensure effective baling next season.

Replace a partial set or repair the splice/belt to save downtime.

It is possible to replace only one or two belts in a set. In this case, it’s critical to measure the length of the belts and order to that new length. Baler belts are made of rubber and fabric which can stretch and flex over time. You need the measurement of the belts being replaced rather than the length when installed. If the new belts are shorter than the others on the machine, it can affect output, lead to premature belt failure, and equipment malfunction.

Lacing should be aligned squarely on the belt with no evidence of tearing where it is attached to the belt construction. If there is tearing around the splice, consider replacing the splice as a part of preventative maintenance. If there is significant wear around the splice or an area on the belt with catastrophic damage, a baler belt repair kit may be an option, but during install ensure the lacing is at least 18” to 24” apart for smooth transition over the rollers.

General Belting Maintenance

Sourcing quality replacement parts and components, and following the care instructions for each, will reduce the total cost of ownership of a machine.

For example, WCCO Belting’s products are manufactured with a rubber compound designed with UV protection to withstand damage from sunlight. Over time and through exposure to the sun and other elements, the white residue you may see on a belt is its natural protectant. As the waxes in the rubber start to bloom and lose moisture, the cover will start to crack. Storing machinery with belting indoors is a good way to prevent these issues. If there isn’t a place to store equipment inside, achieving coverage with a tarp is a relatively easy way to extend the life of the belt.

While the thought of finishing a harvest season and saying goodbye to the equipment until the next season may be appealing, spending a little more time with your equipment post-harvest will save time and money in the future. Specific benefits include:

  • Taking care of your belts in the off-season will prevent in-season downtime.
  • There is a cost-benefit to assessing your machinery in the off-season and making replacement purchases at that time when you’re likely to get a lower price than in the height of the season.
  • Checking your equipment can offer peace of mind knowing your machine will run smoothly during harvest and better protect your bottom-line.

While there may not be a tried and true “test” that you can use to see if your machinery or belt is still operating at 100% capacity, using these tips and tricks after every harvest season could increase the longevity of your belt, improve the operating efficiency of your equipment, and help ensure there won’t be any surprises heading into next season.

Chad Haugen, Senior Product Development Engineer for WCCO Belting, installing WCCO’s patented RAPTOR® Draper Belt – the global gold standard – featuring a NEW patent-pending angled cleat design. Available spring 2021 as a replacement option for limited makes and models, contact your local WCCO Belting distributor.

The article was written by Chad Haugen, Senior Engineer of Product Development at WCCO Belting. Chad Haugen is a senior product development engineer at WCCO Belting.

Jaclyn Krymowski
Jaclyn Krymowski
Jaclyn is a self-made freelance agriculture, food and animal industries writer, journalist and Communication Specialist. She hybridizes real-world experience with professionalism to present challenging and thought-provoking topics to a wide variety of consumers, producers and professionals in agribusiness. She is a 2014 graduate of the Ohio State University and a proud member of the American Agricultural Editors Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and is currently serving on the state's Young Ag Professionals Committee, as volunteer. Jaclyn blogs at the-herdbook.com where she evaluates difficult and current topics through a young agriculturalist’s perspective.