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 As we embark on an era where technology has seemingly evolved every aspect of our lives, the agriculture industry as well is undergoing an evolution. 

New technologies, including drones, robots, GPS, artificial intelligence, big data, IoT technologies and more, are helping farmers use “precision agriculture.” This is farming that optimizes the use of land, uses fewer resources, creates less waste and helps ensure we meet the world’s food demand. 


Industrial IoT Solutions are Revolutionizing Material Handling Equipment - WP Cover Image - Parker HannifinDownload our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery, and learn what influences the advances in mobile heavy machinery.






What is precision agriculture? 

The precision agriculture trend is said to have begun in the 1980s when GPS technology was first made available to the U.S. public. Smart farming tools were developed to help farmers more effectively apply fertilizers and pesticides. By 2015, according to a survey by Purdue University and CropLife magazine, nearly 90% of U.S. farmers were using GPS for chemical applications. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced it would focus on supporting the development of precision ag technologies and committed $1 billion to the effort. 

Today, precision agriculture encompasses a variety of technologies and farm management applications, including: 

  • Robots that use vision, guidance and machine learning technology to handle tasks such as identifying and spraying individual weeds. The ability to target an individual weed frees farmers from having to spray entire fields, greatly decreasing their use of pesticides. 

  • Drones that can monitor fields in real-time, gathering a variety of data for farmers to analyze and improve their practices. Advanced drones can selectively apply pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. 

  • Satellite imagery and Geographic Information Survey (GIS) mapping to help farmers monitor fields, detect threats and gather a variety of data for analysis. 

  • Software that helps farmers make more informed, data-driven decisions regarding field conditions and needs, weather implications, record keeping and more.  

Other precision agriculture applications leverage smart farming machinery; machines using either machine-to-machine communications or artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize farming practices. These technologies and applications include: 

  • Irrigation systems using smart controllers and sensors to deliver water only where it’s needed and only in the amount needed. 

  • GPS-guided autosteer systems for tractors, combines, sprayers and other large equipment. These systems can help keep crop rows straight and prevent overlaps. 

  • Satellite-guided, precision seeders and fertilizer systems. These can be accurate to an inch or less, helping maximize yield. 

  • Sensors integrated into farm equipment that can help monitor data such as seed counts, nutrient levels and fertilizer flow. 

Challenges to the adoption of precision agriculture 

The benefits of using precision agriculture to help feed a growing population seem clear. And while precision agriculture is likely to grow — the market has an expected CAGR of 12.7% between 2020 and 2025, according to Markets and Markets — the technology does present some challenges.  

One challenge is related to big data in agriculture, and to making sure farmers have the tools they need to make maximum use of the information returned to them. This might be another job for AI. Quoted in Inside Unmanned Systems

“Using AI and deep learning makes it possible to harvest the data and make sense of it. The data is more manageable when algorithms automatically search and sift through it, pulling out the analytics growers need most.” 
Jeff Williams of Empire Unmanned

Another challenge, cited in the same article, is that of speed. Farmers need tools to process sensor-collected data by themselves, without having it send it off for processing. This speed allows farmers to use big data to make more actionable, meaningful decisions. 


A new era of smart farming 

Perhaps no other human activity has been as important throughout our history as farming. It will continue to be critical as our global population swells to nearly 10 billion people by 2050. 

Precision agriculture is poised to help farmers step up to the daunting challenge of meeting this growing population’s food demand. Employing a variety of technologies, including GPS, satellite imagery, drones, big data and AI, precision agriculture gives farmers much more sophisticated control of their farm management practices, helping them improve yields while reducing their use of resources and production of waste.  


Precision Agriculture Poised to Help Farmers Feed Billions - download white paper button - Parker HannifinTo learn more about the trend of precision agriculture and how Parker plays a key role, read our Off-Road Trends White Paper. 


This article was contributed by the Hydraulic Team


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 As industry supply chains become more global and more complex, it behooves stakeholders to seek out ways to work with greater efficiency, reduce errors, increase equipment lifetime, and simply do more with fewer resources. Thus, a revolution is happening in many industries — including materials handling — as they align supply chain management and material handling practices with Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.  


Industrial IoT solutions defined

In Industrial IoT applications (sometimes referred to as IIoT applications), physical objects have been made “smart” with the addition of sensors and other technologies. These sensors can collect data, which is then transmitted, wirelessly, and automatically, to cloud-based computer networks. Data can then be analyzed by software to help human operators make more informed decisions about those objects. Increasingly, it’s the objects themselves that are making the decisions.

These technologies are quickly pervading many aspects of our daily lives: Most Americans already interact regularly with smart technologies when they work, shop, travel, or relax at home.


Industrial IoT Solutions are Revolutionizing Material Handling Equipment - WP Cover Image - Parker HannifinDownload our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery, and learn what influences the advances in mobile heavy machinery.

        Applications of IoT in industrial automation

Those working in materials handling are increasingly interacting with Industrial IoT solutions while on the job. The impact of and potential for the technology are significant. As stated in a 2018 article in Wired Magazine:

The IIoT can transform traditional, linear manufacturing supply chains into dynamic, interconnected systems — a digital supply network (DSN) — that can more readily incorporate ecosystem partners. As key enablers of DSNs, IIoT technologies help to change the way that products are made and delivered, making factories more efficient, ensuring better safety for human operators, and, in some cases, saving millions of dollars.


Specifically, the Industrial IoT offers a range of advantages in material handling.

Equipment uptime and maintenance

If a machine fails, sensors can pinpoint the problem and make a service request. Better yet, data from sensors on materials handling machinery — which detect things such as vibrations, sound, and temperature — can drive predictive analytics that can help operators understand the maintenance needs to schedule service more effectively in advance.

The Wired article explains how one company used predictive maintenance to improve its production equipment uptime. The outcome? It avoided a $25 million expense to build another line to keep up with demand.

Workflow efficiency

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) in manufacturer stockrooms, warehouses, and distribution centers can collaborate with human workers to make workflows more efficient. One manufacturer’s AMR, for example, guides workers through a series of material picks in a way that minimizes travel and makes optimal use of the robot’s carrying capacity. The AMR then takes the material to a station for pack out. Over time, the cloud software to which the AMR is connected may recommend ways to reorganize product inventory for further efficiency gains.

Insight into fleet usage and availability

One forklift OEM offers telematics data that gives operators insights into how the vehicles are being used — how much are they driven, where they are driven, how much time they spend loading or unloading docked trucks, how often are they driven loaded or unloaded, etc. With this data in hand, operators and managers can make more informed decisions about fleet deployment and size.

Worker safety

IoT-enabled, self-driving forklifts, and pallet jacks can handle tasks that might be difficult or dangerous for humans. Predictive maintenance (see above) can help avoid breakdowns that often lead to worker injury.

Product status and shipping coordination

Sensors placed on pallets, in a product container, or on products themselves can track factors such as temperature, impact, and vibration. Any of this information may be critical, depending on the product. Those sensors can then transmit this information to the cloud to be accessed by stakeholders along the value chain.

Sensors can also be used to track the location and predict arrival times of shipments, to better coordinate and plan last-mile delivery.

New business models and opportunities

Some industry observers believe that the proliferation of Industrial IoT solutions will lead to an increase in the leasing of high-value equipment. Such equipment will be outfitted with sensors and networked. The manufacturer can then monitor remotely, to automatically (and efficiently) deliver maintenance and service. This allows the lessee to focus on its core business, rather than worry about equipment maintenance.


Technological hurdles to the IIoT

A webinar presented by the Materials Handling Industry of America pointed to the key challenges related to Industrial IoT applications. The primary ones relate to uncontrolled access to and misuse of IoT data—not necessarily for malicious intent, but misuse that can cause damage or injury nevertheless — along with true cyber threats.

These and other challenges reveal what’s referred to in the webinar as a root need for collaboration between IT and operations. The aim should be not only developing better security systems but a long-term management approach that ensures software is updated and maintained regularly.


The promise of Industrial IoT applications

Industrial IoT solutions hold tremendous promise to transform manufacturing and logistics. A key part of this transformation will be the widespread adoption of “smart” material handling equipment and systems that provide data to help operators create more efficiency, better use resources, improve worker safety, ensure product quality, and improve shipping.


Industrial IoT Solutions are Revolutionizing Material Handling Equipment - download button - Parker HannfinTo learn more about the key role of Parker 's Mobile IoT solutions and the trends revolutionalizing material handling equipment read our  White Paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery.


This article was contributed by the Fluid and Gas Handling Team


Related, helpful content for you:

Defining Our Unique Contribution to the World

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Industrial IoT Solutions are Revolutionizing Material Handling Equipment

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 Difficulty and danger have always been inherent in the mining profession. Miners typically face risks ranging from flying debris to mine collapse, to vehicular incidents.

But as mining operations move toward the future, many offer a new vision. It’s one of partially and fully autonomous mining equipment, programmed to handle some of those difficult and dangerous tasks traditionally handled by people.

Mining automation is a key component of many companies’ digital transformation strategies. It promises improvements to safety, productivity, and reduced labor costs. In a 2020 survey of global mining leaders, 75% said they view this kind of technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat, while 36% identified innovation and technological transformation as one of their company’s top two growth strategies.

The former CEO of Australian mining firm BHP, Andrew Mackenzie, has stated that automation could save the industry billions.


Industrial IoT Solutions are Revolutionizing Material Handling Equipment - WP Cover Image - Parker HannifinDownload our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery, and learn what influences the advances in mobile heavy machinery.

      Use of autonomous vehicles in mining is expanding

The use of automated equipment in mines is still small. One estimate stated that less than 3% of current mobile mining equipment is autonomous. However, it’s expanding rapidly. Multiple OEMs now offer autonomous equipment, such as hauling trucks, load/haul/dump (LHD) machines, and drillers. According to an article published in Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration in July 2020:

  • As of February 2020, 459 autonomous trucks were accounted for and active in mines around the world.

  • Caterpillar® has provided more than 239 autonomous trucks to mining operations in several countries globally, including the United States.

  • Komatsu® has distributed 141 autonomous trucks to mines in several countries, including the U.S. At one mine in Chile, the use of these trucks over 10 years has significantly reduced the frequency of collision, while raising productivity and tire performance.

  • The industry expected a 32% growth in the use of automated vehicles in 2019-2020, and higher rates are expected for future years.

Other key emerging technologies include:

  • Auto-tunable robotic loading (ARTL) technology, which uses non-visual sensors to allow an LHD to judge the size and configuration of a rock pile and adjust for excavation. This technology promises to help automated LHDs better operate in low light/dusty conditions.

  • Automated power crushers that provide greater crush down capacity between primary and secondary crushers.

  • Automated, electric light rail systems. These may combine features from conveyors, trucks, and heavy rail in a single system for hauling bulk materials out of a mine.


Challenges to widespread adoption of automated mining equipment

Despite the great promise for automated equipment to transform mine operational efficiency, productivity, and safety, challenges do remain.

As pointed out in a 2018 report by McKinsey & Co., investing in technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Mines also need to adapt management and operational systems to realize automation’s potential, while shifting company culture to being one that embraces a more agile organization that can get value from the technology.


The future of mining automation

Mining has traditionally been difficult and often dangerous work. But new technologies are poised to remove some of the most challenging mining tasks from human hands, creating jobsites that are safer and more productive. Leading OEMs now offer automated mining equipment, including trucks, LHD machines, and drillers. While industrywide adoption has been somewhat slow, it’s difficult to imagine a future of mining without these technologies — and others such as artificial intelligence — playing a key role.


Mining Automation Promises Improvements to Safety Productivity - download button- Parker HannifinTo learn more about the trends in mining automaton and how Parker plays a key role, read our Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery White Paper. 


This article was contributed by the Hydraulics Team


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