Training and technology for a modern machinery dealership

Left to right: Terence Chambers, Harry Barr, Mark Wilson, David Graham and James Boyle
Left to right: Terence Chambers, Harry Barr, Mark Wilson, David Graham and James Boyle

The I Agr E Northern Ireland Branch’s November technical meeting was a visit to Erwin Agri-Care, Antrim to learn about how technicians are trained to maintain and service CLAAS products and the diagnostic tools they now use in the job.

Erwin Agri-Care are CLAAS dealers in Northern Ireland and Donegal with bases at both Antrim and Limavady. Claas is a well-known worldwide long-established brand of harvest and other agricultural machinery.

Claas origins

The CLAAS brothers started, in Germany, back in 1913 manufacturing and repairing straw binders. By 1921 they added an in-house knotter to the binder and by 1923 patented a knotter with a floating jaw (the image of which was their company logo for many years). They built their first, tractor mounted, combine in 1930 and a straw press in 1931. A combined mower/thresher/ binder was introduced in 1936 and a trailed combine by 1946. The Columbus self-propelled combine was introduced in 1958 and the now familiar names such as Matador, Dominator and Lexion have followed since. CLAAS is still a family owned company and their extensive product range now includes self-propelled combines and forage harvesters, tractors, systems tractors, telehandlers, balers, loader wagons, mowers, other grassland machinery and related equipment such as automatic steering guidance systems for precision farming.

Diagnostics demonstration

This presentation was given by Mark Wilson, CLAAS Regional After Sales Manager. In his introduction he described his own start in his agricultural engineering career, as a student at Ballymena Training Centre and Ballymena Technical College during the 1990s before joining the service department of R Kennedy and Co in Ballymena (CLAAS agents around this time). He attained City and Guilds Levels 1 and 2 during his continuing combined studies and went on to join Harvest Machinery (CLAAS importer in Ireland) as a service engineer and then CLAAS Ireland. He is now a CLAAS Regional After Sales Manager supporting dealerships throughout the northern half of Ireland.

The presentation described how technician skills have developed along with the evolution of machine design and service requirements. Technicians in the 1950s worked on basic hydraulic and electrical systems. By 1996, when the Lexion combines were introduced, the traditional lever operated spool valves were replaced by electro-hydraulic controls giving push button operation and on-board electronics (ECU’s) were in place to monitor and control machine functions. The latest machines now have closed centre constant 210 bar pressure hydraulic systems with electronic controls and sensors. Electronic diagnostics now have a vital role in checking performance of components and tracing faults.

The new tools of the job

A digital laptop installed with the CLAAS Diagnostic System (CDS) can be connected by plug in cable to the CAN bus system. This is a specialised twisted 2-wire based low interference internal communication network in a vehicle to allow communication between components (ECU’s). Not only can it be used to view the operation of each electrical component but also to provide technical information in combination with the CLAAS Technical Information Centre (TIC) displaying function descriptions plus schematic diagrams along with a complete numbered list of all the machines’ electrical/hydraulic components and their locations. The latest version of CDS can be connected to the machine via wireless connection either by Wi-Fi or remote telemetry where the same information can be transmitted without the cable connection. CLAAS telematics has the ability for remote diagnostic service via the internet for use by the dealership (or an appropriate specialist anywhere in the world) to solve problems.

This means that, given adequate reception, the information can be read remotely and the information can now be read and analysed by the appropriate specialist with internet connection anywhere in the world.

Information transmitted during machine operation can be stored electronically for close analysis at any time. The memory can retrieve a lot of performance history information for these machines which can be used to improve machine/operational efficiency which could reduce costs in the long term in a well-managed fleet operation.

Whilst an experienced fitter may recognise some diagnostic repairs from previous involvement with a specific machine, the ability to view the performance of individual components is a great time saver compared with the old alternative of swopping individual parts. An actual CLAAS Jaguar 960 self-propelled forage harvester was used (with the help of Master Technician James Boyle) to demonstrate electronic scrutiny of the raise and lower control solenoids (controlling the PU300 grass pick-up unit) in both fast and slow operating modes. The CLAAS CDS system was connected along with an alternative diagnostic tool called a PICO scope (oscilloscope). The screen display showed pulse width modulation duty cycles with the option of alternative power settings.

The same system was used to check the electronic engine timing on a 135 hp CLAAS Arion 620 tractor. The screen picture showed separate wave patterns for both crankshaft and camshaft rotation and a very accurate method of checking that their timing was correct. This information was also used to check the accuracy of the engine speed display in the cab.

At this stage, individual manufacturers tend to use their own developed systems, but the trend is to seek more standardisation across the agricultural machinery industry.

The human factor

The technical features of modern machinery are impressive but the human factor to use and maintain them is still all important so it is vital to recruit the best people to work in the dealerships. David Graham (Service Manager at Erwin Agri-Care) described the selection, training and ongoing evaluation process for their technicians.

CLAAS supports the LTA scheme. This is administered by I AgrE (Institution of Agricultural Engineers) and complies with the training standards set by LANTRA (The National Training Association for the Land Based Industries). It is supported by the trade organisations in UK and Ireland who represent the manufacturing and supply of agricultural machinery including AEA (The Agricultural Engineers Association), BAGMA (British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association) and FTMTA (Farm Tractor and Machinery Trade Association).

The LTA scheme has four levels:

LTA 1 – Self registration for student technicians with on-line learning for students starting their studies at a recognised college or apprenticeship programme.

LTA 2 - Within these guidelines, CLAAS runs its own Agricultural Technician Apprenticeship scheme in association with Reaseheath College in Cheshire and Barony College near Dumfries as well as their own UK headquarters training facility at Saxham in Suffolk.

Selected candidates begin their training by attending 12 to 15 weeks of residential courses during the September to May period. These involve four-week study blocks on subjects including engines, hydraulics, electronics, transmissions, braking systems as well as workshop skills of welding and machine shop work.

LTA 3 - Student technicians are expected to achieve the National Diploma in Landbased Technology with LTA Tier 2 status in year 3. This is followed by specific product training with CLAAS at Harsewinkel in Germany. In LTA terms this level is classified as Advanced for a skilled and experienced product specialist technician.

LTA 4 - Apprentices with a proven track record and who undergo addition assessment to demonstrate exceptional diagnostic/technical ability in Year 4 can achieve LTA 4 and Master Technician status. This involves more training at CLAAS UK’s Saxham HQ on specific product technical topics but also people skills including first aid, health and safety requirements, mentoring and customer liaison techniques. This year, Erwin Agri-Care has five people (four based at Antrim and one at Limavady) due to complete their training.

Keeping up to date

Master Technicians are expected to keep themselves up-to-date with the wide range of CLAAS products and the latest developments like remote diagnostics. They need to be competent with the engines in CLAAS machines and this now includes Mercedes, MTU, Caterpillar, Deutz, DPS and FPT. There is a 5 year renewal process for Master Technicians in which they undergo a rigorous reassessment on all their technical knowledge and skills across the entire CLAAS range. This involves being allocated any CLAAS machine to successfully apply diagnostics and service within a limited time slot.


I Agr E visitors were able to ask questions and discuss around a range of related subjects such as the recruitment process for trainee technicians and the use of diagnostic software across components such as engines and transmissions shared with other manufacturers. The chairman thanked all at Erwin Agri-Care for providing such an informative and enjoyable evening and especially to Mark Wilson, David Graham and James Boyle for their excellent personal inputs.

More information on the range of products and services can be viewed on and the contact no. is 028 9082 5477.

The next meeting of the Northern Ireland branch of I Agr E will be at 8.00pm on Thursday, 14th January 2016 AFBI , Hillsborough when Mr John Mawhinney will address the subject of “Rural Electrification:- The success and future challenges.”

Further evening meetings in the programme will include:

A talk at CAFRE, Greenmount Campus at 8.00pm on Wednesday 17th February 2016 when the guest speaker will be Mr Justin Martin, a vehicle standards engineer with The Road Safety Authority Ireland. He was closely involved in the consultation and drawing up of the standards applied in the Farm Vehicles on the Road legislation which takes effect in Ireland from 1st January 2016.

The title of his talk will be “Changes to the legislation governing farm vehicles on the road in Ireland:- the reasons and implications”.

A talk at the Glenavon House Hotel, Cookstown at 8.00pm on Thursday 12th March 2016 on the subject of “Unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing in agriculture”,

Visitors will be welcome at all the meetings. Further details are available from branch honorary secretary Ian Duff at or Tel 028 8673 6977