Australian farmer-entrepreneur Dave Hedt wants to put a little bit of home into America’s corn and wheat fields – and his red-white-and-blue kangaroo makes a memorable calling card.
That’s the logo leaping on the sides of the Walkabout Mother Bin, a portable 110-ton grain silo that supplies on-demand surplus storage when tractor trailer trucks can’t keep up with the volume of grain being harvested by the combine. Mother bins have been used in Australia for at least two decades, enabling the combines to have minimum downtime as they shoot crops into grain carts pulled alongside by tractors. Instead of waiting for trucks to return from the grain elevator – which could be an hour’s drive plus long waits during peak harvest time – the grain carts can quickly unload into the mother bin and immediately return to service.
The average combine has a 450-bushel capacity, able to fully unload twice into the typical 1000-bushel grain cart. The 57-foot-long Walkabout Mother Bin holds 4000 bushels, the equivalent of four grain carts or four semi tractor-trailer trucks.
“Essentially, the mother bin creates a surge tank,” explains Hedt. “It gives you more time and allows the grain cart to return to the combine so the combine never has to stop. The trucks can come and load out of the mother bin and leave the field right away. They don’t have to wait for the grain cart to come back.”
“Most farms have to have four semis in the field to keep up with the combine and the grain cart. We just had one South Dakota farmer who had two combines and two grain carts going and in the first two days they used a mother bin, they reduced their truck fleet from four to two,” he adds. “With fewer trucks, you save on registration, insurance, fuel and labor. The savings add up fast.”
From Farmer to Product Designer
“Walkabout” is an Australian term for journey that is based on an Aboriginal rite of passage – a teenage boy’s long hike in the wilderness to mark the onset of adulthood. As Hedt has introduced new practices and equipment to American agriculture – working here on an E-2 business visa – he’s also embarked on a career journey of his own.
Having zero CAD experience, Hedt knew he’d need some help to make his dream of bringing mother bins to the U.S. a reality. So the former diesel mechanic and commercial real estate developer called on his childhood friend Bruce Bartlett, a product designer specializing in large farm equipment, to turn his ideas into a 3D model. Using Onshape, a fully cloud-based professional 3D CAD system, the partners were able to work together in real time – despite the 15-hour time difference and 9,000 miles between South Dakota and Australia.
“I don’t even want to tell you what time I had to wake up,” laughs Bartlett. “But Onshape was just fantastic. Within a few hours after Dave approached me, I was able to have something up on the screen and have him shared into the Document. And he was able to watch each step along the way. It meant that I didn't have to go down a track he wasn’t comfortable with. The transparency and the ability to do design reviews on the fly was just brilliant.”
Hedt and Bartlett both grew up on family wheat farms in Dimboola, Victoria (334 km northwest of Melbourne) and regularly used mother bins during the harvest. They recently analyzed more than a dozen different brands of Australian mother bins and incorporated the best features in their new design.
“As combine harvesters are getting bigger and bigger, the mother bin has become even more important,” Bartlett notes. “Once we started using one, we couldn’t imagine operating without it!”
Onshape: Real-Time Collaboration Across the World
Onshape enables multiple design team members to have simultaneous access to the same CAD data, allowing colleagues to watch each other’s changes as they happen. To Bartlett, this presents a stark difference from the traditional desktop-installed CAD he began his career with.
“Dave and I didn’t have to send CAD files back and forth. He could just log in and see what I was working on right inside his web browser or phone. He didn’t have to install anything. He instantly had full knowledge of what was happening and what still needed to get done,” says Bartlett.
“This is a much better way than having screenshots and email and other junk just piling up in your inbox. You also always have access to a full edit history where you can go back to any point in time and revert to an earlier version of your work if needed,” he adds.
For Hedt, one of the biggest advantages of full-cloud CAD came when the design process was over and it was time to go out to bid to manufacturers.
“When we sent the project out to several different companies, I was able to share a Document that only they could access, but couldn’t edit or copy,” he says. “When specific manufacturers asked for clarifications, we could send messages back and forth right within Onshape while highlighting different parts of the model. It streamlined the whole process for us.”
“I also was able to instantly pull back my design when the bidding was over. Knowing the other companies no longer could view my designs was a big deal. Even though everyone signed confidentiality agreements, Onshape’s access controls gave me a little more peace of mind,” Hedt adds.
The Mother Bin's Prospects in America's Heartland
Hedt is betting that the time and labor-saving aspects of the Walkabout will convince American farmers that their Aussie cousins are worth emulating. He speculates that bins haven’t caught on sooner because seasonal labor costs in the States have remained relatively inexpensive.
Current plans are to manufacture 10 of the bins over the next year. The Walkabout will retail for $115,000 for a base model, significantly less than the cost of a new tractor-trailer truck. Larger capacity models holding 50% and 100% more grain (6,000 and 8,000 bushels) are also in development.
Hedt says he’s been hearing rave reviews following recent farm equipment shows.
“The response we’re getting has been exceptional. I think our biggest problem is not how we are going to sell the first 10, but how quickly we are able to get the next 10,” he says.