Innovation: Tru Count Automates Planter Clutch

Combine years of hard work with having the right product at the right time, and what do you get? An American success story. And in this case, it also happens to be in agriculture.

The company, Tru Count, introduced the first GPS-driven planter clutch in the fall of 2006, and in less than a year received the attention of virtually every precision equipment, tractor, and implement maker in the U.S., and several abroad. But it was a long road to “overnight success.”

Based in Ames, IA, Tru Count was started in 1982 by father-son team Glen and Tom Dillman, who set out to make a mechanical acre counter for a planter. A successful but short lived business was born, as radar and electronic technology ultimately displaced mechanics.

This led to a new project in 1988. Tom and his brother Jeff set out to develop a technology that would provide some measure of planter control to the family’s 12-row unit to reduce overlaps in point rows. The Conser Clutch was developed and as a commercial product enjoys success to this day.

By 2001, Jeff could see that the holy grail would be tying the clutch to a GPS system. However, the accuracy was not yet available at a cost that most growers could afford. In 2005, when automatic spray boom control started rolling out, the Dillmans knew the time was right.

The biggest development hurdle was the issue of power. The traditional clutch system would prove too severe of an electrical draw to be practical, so Jeff developed a clutch that’s air-actuated. “An air valve takes a miniscule amount of juice, about a half an amp, to open the valve and push the piston to engage the clutch,” says Jeff Dillman.

Using valves to control the clutches, the system makes it possible to control individual rows, or groups of rows in virtually any configuration desired by the grower. Due to the small electrical draw, it’s possible to pack as many or few valves as needed without any compromise to the system, says Dillman.

At this point, the system is more limited by the accuracy of the GPS signal than anything else. “Most manufacturers don’t want to go less than 2 rows per valve,” says Jeff. “The system is ready to handle single row when manufacturers feel confident enough in the GPS.”

Says Iowa grower Clay Mitchell, a first generation user this year and Tru Count true believer, the company’s rise is nothing short of astonishing.

People recognize that it’s a big deal,” says Mitchell. “In meetings I have had with OEMs Tru Count has become iconic as a company that snuck up on them. It’s as if we woke up one day and found this really obvious functionality they’ve missed for years.”

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