Thoughtful design engineers early success for new machinery

A commercial collaboration with Southern Farming Systems.

For some inventors, the process of innovation relies on multiple prototypes to continuously refine an idea. For others, limited time and money make this impractical.

That’s where some deeper thinking early in a design project can offer a more strategic approach, says Associate Professor Colin Burvill at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Assoc Prof Burvill and Professor Chris Manzie have been working with the Victorian-based agricultural research group Southern Farming Systems (SFS) to develop a new piece of agricultural equipment capable of carrying out subsurface manuring. This involves cutting though soil to depths of 200 to 500 millimetres, inserting organic material, then closing over the slot.

There is already positive anecdotal evidence and early trials to suggest that subsurface manuring can double the yields of broadacre crops in southern Victoria. SFS sought to undertake larger-scale trials, with the goal of increasing adoption at the commercial farm level. It needed a working prototype that could demonstrate the process, and provide ‘proof of concept’ for the equipment design, while testing the technique to improve soils and, subsequently, crop yields.

Assoc Prof Burvill said the university worked closely with SFS throughout the project to ensure both partners had a shared understanding of the issues and approach. This included jointly selecting research staff assigned to the project, and focusing on organic material on site, including green manure crops, rather than importing manures or other fertilisers.

By the time the design was ready for fabrication, Assoc Prof Burvill says they were confident it would achieve SFS’s aims. After its official unveiling at the SFS annual AgriFocus field days, the new machinery was immediately put to use establishing field trials at 10 sites across southern Victoria.

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