Headlines in the ag equipment world are routinely filled with flashy new products sporting larger capacities, faster field speeds, more accurate application rates and efforts at cleaner, more efficient farming. What isn’t readily apparent amidst the fanfare of new products and shiny paint is the increasing relationship between hydraulics and digital technology — the blood and brains of today’s farm pullers, planters, sprayers, harvesters and loaders.
In late December we introduced you to MultiAxis-Steer from Danfoss Power Solutions, a software-driven electro-hydraulic valve that allows on-the-go independent control of a vehicle’s front and rear axles.
The system results in significant improvements in machine maneuverability which saves time, fuel and operator fatigue in operations requiring tight turns and repetitive motions.
At first glance, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find it looking at equipment using the system, the Danfoss valve looks like many other bolt-on equipment components. Its function, however, plays directly to the bottom line of end-users of MultiAxis-Steer-equipped machinery.
As you read about the Danfoss system from Denmark, American engineers at HydraForce’s headquarters near Chicago were working on a not-for-sale test-mule skid-loader equipped with electro-hydraulic technology that easily could be finding its way into major OEM equipment over the next several years.
HydraForce specializes in hydraulic cartridge valves and manifolds, and recently has taken major steps blending telematics with its motion-control products for off-road fleet management.
Working with Spanish hydraulic-valve maker Roquet, HydraForce engineers installed their electo-hydraulic valving into a single mono-block spool valve controller to test a variety of functions destined to improve operator comfort and efficiency.
First off was an innovative switchable auto-level system using angle monitors on the bucket and boom. When engaged the bucket or tines remain level up and down throughout the boom lift, preventing backward spillage at the top of the arc. The system also can control the load throughout transit, both in forward and reverse.
In addition to maintaining a level load, a “soft ride” function allows the boom to bounce independently from the machine in rough terrain, reducing “bucking” during transit.
And, when the operator wants to unload, the HydraForce machine has a soft joystick function to shake the bucket with jackhammer frequency – without requiring the operator to manually wiggle the joystick to unlodge balky loads.
“The system is designed to reduce operator fatigue during routine, repetitive material handling chores…”
Another feature HydraForce engineers were demonstrating was what they call “Return to Dig” — a joystick capability which allows the operator to set a predetermined position for the bucket or tines and once an operation is complete, returns the boom and attachment to that position with the touch of a button.
The system is designed to reduce operator fatigue during routine, repetitive material handling chores, eliminating the need to manually reset the bucket to ground level for digging, or truckbed-height for loading. Provisions are also available on the test machine to disengage the ride control feature automatically when digging or loading and reengage it when transit begins.
The test loader was also equipped with a “float mode” which provides automatic bucket positioning through angle sensors for back-dragging operations — again, further reducing the need for numerous operator eye-to-hand corrections.
An on-board telematics box allows cell-phone access to the HydraForce machine allowing system pre-sets or outright disabling of certain systems. In addition to collecting fleet management data, the remote access would allow owners to adjust the system’s control and operational speeds to tailor the “feel” of the machine according to operator experience.
A slower system speed might be used for training purposes, or for rental operators providing machines to inexperienced operators. Faster joystick commands would be used for experienced operators.
While many functions of the HydraForce prototype are available as stand-alone systems or functions added to traditional hydraulic controllers, the test-bed machine is one of the first of its kind to combine all of the electro-hydraulic valving functions in one system — which points the way to obvious design efficiency for engineers adopting the features to new equipment.
For a look at the machine and its capabilities, watch this video from Messick’s Equipment at youtube/pfrcJYqbTdY