People Behind the Product – 504R Signature
Last year Vermeer launched the 504R Signature baler and it captured the attention of farmers and ranchers across the country. The baler designed for “the working man” is proving to be one of the most exciting 5 ft x 4 ft balers on the market. With years of experience and discovering the next greatest thing, we sat down with lead engineers of the Vermeer 504R Signature, Calvin Meinders and Alex Knee, to find out more.
It started with a passion in farming for Meinders. A native of Pella, Iowa growing up just a half mile north of the Vermeer Mile, Calvin recalls working at the plant every summer during his childhood. “The first summer we poured concrete for the parts center, built that. Then the next summer I worked in Ag Engineering and progressive summers after that.” An alumnus of Dordt College in Northwest Iowa, Calvin Meinders extended his talents through their agriculture engineering degree. He has spent 17 years on the baler team at Vermeer, just shy of the 45 his father spent at Vermeer before him. When not engineering, Calvin spends time at his family’s farm where he raises cattle and goats. He enjoys spending time makin’ hay in the summer time putting up just over 500 round bales with his Vermeer Rancher 6640 and an additional 500 small squares.
Alex Knee brings a unique perspective to the 504R Signature team. Another Iowa native, Knee enjoyed growing up spending time with family on the lake. He attended Iowa State University learning about mechanical engineering and interning with a company working with diesel engines and another in Minnesota. After some engineering experience, he joined Vermeer three years ago because of the family-like atmosphere the company has to offer. It’s Knee’s sharp eye for detail and understanding of machines helped the 504R Signature team develop some unique features.
With two different perspectives, the Meinders and Knee team were able to represent both part-time and full-time operators across the country. Of course, they were backed up and supported by the entire engineering team in the Forage Solutions group at Vermeer.
How It Happened
Alex Knee said the 504R Signature was built to be easy and convenient to run. Additionally, it needed to be easy to maintain and excel in overall durability and productivity, just like the previous balers Vermeer has produced. Alex and Calvin along with a team of engineers did just that before putting their illustrations to the test.
It all started with the rotor. Calvin was determined to design a working system that allowed large crop to feed through the pickup of the baler. He said, “The biggest early challenge was the auger feeding and getting crop to have enough room on the ends of the auger but not so much room that it would pile up.” They spent awhile testing the feeding system until it was how they wanted it.
The design board was focused around convenience features for the operators when running the baler. The camless wide pickup system reduces the moving parts making it easier to maintain, simpler to use and quieter for the operator. Alex went on to comment about how the quick attach stripper bands make removing and replacing easy and simple to do. “We spent a lot of time trying to think of improving the user experience.
They certainly put the 504R Signature though some tough testing to make sure it met Vermeer standards. When the team said they they meant it. After the first prototype baler was made, they put it to the test when having Alex operate it. Since he didn’t grow up baling hay, they taught him the basics and felt like it would be a good test of the machine to see if he was able to operate it. Calvin enjoyed laughing at the memories when Alex retold the story, “When I accidentally missed a windrow or drove over it sideways and the baler was able to handle it with no problem, I knew we were on the right track.”
After rigorous testing, the engineers invited some of the Forage Solutions team to operate the baler themselves and showed them the ease of use and convenience features on the 504R Signature. This opportunity gave the Vermeer employees a hands-on story to share with dealers and customers.
A year after the initial launch of the 504R Signature, Meinders and Knee are still excited for the future with the extension of the 504R lineup.