Spotlight on the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory

NTTL
A New Holland TG 230 tractor goes through a drawbar test at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory. (Roger Hoy - NTTL)

October 19, 2016

Lincoln, Neb. — For nearly a century, tractor manufacturers from around the world have looked to the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for a seal of approval. The success of a new tractor is decided long before it sees soil at the long, oval test track on East Campus that faculty, staff, students and visitors pass by every day.

“We’re not really famous in Lincoln, but in the field of agricultural engineering we’re one of the most famous, premiere institutions in the world,” said Roger Hoy, director of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory.

In 1919 it was more common for horses to work the fields than a piece of machinery. Early tractors were often oversold and underperforming. When state legislator and farmer, Wilmot F. Crozier from Osceola, purchased a few faulty tractors himself, he worked with state senator Charles J. Warner of Waverly to draft the Nebraska Tractor Test Law. The pair received technical assistance from L.W. Chase, who at the time served as chairman of the university’s agricultural engineering department. In July of 1919 the Nebraska Tractor Test Law was passed, which stated that no new tractor could be sold in Nebraska without first being tested by the University of Nebraska’s agricultural engineering department to prove that it would perform as advertised.

The first successful tractor test was executed at the lab in April of 1920. Today, test number 2,166 is underway on the track.

Tractor performance is measured according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development tractor test codes. Twenty-nine countries adhere to the codes, but the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory is the only OECD tractor test lab in the U.S. According to Hoy, the university contributed significantly to writing the codes and is currently in the process of updating them.

“In terms of performance testing, we’re still the granddaddy of them all,” Hoy said. “We’re the only facility in the world capable of testing the largest tractors.”

The power takeoff test and drawbar test are the two most common performance tests conducted on new tractors at the lab. Manufacturers invest a significant amount of resources to ensure a successful test. It costs approximately $22,000 to test a well-prepared tractor. The lab is supported entirely by these testing fees.

As tractors have become more technologically advanced, the lab has kept up with the times. Joe Luck, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, recently conducted research at the lab to test the accuracy of tractor CAN, or computer-aided network, data. Today’s tractors are able to supply publicly available CAN data focused on tractor-developed information that is typically available to implement for optimal performance. The data includes tractor operating conditions such as speed, engine performance and accurate positioning from a Global Positioning Sensor attached to the tractor. Luck compared this data to what the lab gathers with separate instruments.

Four test engineers work in the lab full time, along with 30 part-time student workers. Most students are agricultural engineering or mechanized systems management majors. Many are also members of the UNL Quarter Scale Tractor Team, which earlier this year took top honors at the International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition in Peoria, Illinois.

“Our first priority is to conduct tractor testing, but we also focus on preparing undergraduate students for real-world jobs,” said Hoy, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

Hoy says he frequently fields calls from industry representatives seeking students for full-time introductory engineering positions. A majority of students who have worked at the lab field multiple job offers before graduating.

Official tractor testing results are available to the public at tractortestlab.unl.edu. The Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory makes no endorsement of particular tractor models or tractor manufacturers.

For more information contact Hoy, at 402-472-4224 or rhoy2@unl.edu

Roger Hoy
Director, Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory
Professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering
402-472-2442
rhoy2@unl.edu


Written by Haley Steinkuhler - IANR Media