America’s agriculture industry is facing a labor crisis. In California, the country’s top agriculture state, more than 40% of farmers in the past five years have been unable to find enough workers to support production.
Technology, however, may be coming to the rescue. Many farmers across the country and globe are increasingly relying on precision agriculture practices to help them produce more with fewer resources. They’re also turning to autonomous farming robots to keep their farms producing.
This might have been unthinkable even at the dawn of the 21st century, but recent advances in a variety of autonomous farming technologies, including robots, tractors, and machine learning, have made this possible.
Download our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery, and learn what influences the advances in mobile heavy machinery.
Understanding autonomous farming robots
The use of autonomous robots and drones has emerged as a major trend in agriculture. They are used for applications ranging from nursery farming and seeding, fertilizing, irrigation, weeding, pruning, picking, harvesting, sorting, and packing. One robot offering can even handle crop monitoring and phenotyping, providing data that agronomists can use to breed even better crops.
Drones, meanwhile, can be outfitted with special cameras that help monitor crop stress, plant growth, and predict yields. Others can be outfitted to carry and deliver herbicides, fertilizer, and water.
Beyond simply helping farmers deal with their industry’s labor shortage, these robots offer a variety of advantages. They can reduce a farm’s use of pesticides, for instance. They can operate 24 hours a day, and protect humans from engaging in dull, repetitive, and sometimes dangerous tasks.
As the world’s population approaches 10 billion people by 2050, according to United Nations estimates, autonomous farming will play a vital role in helping farmers improve their production yields.
Autonomous farming engineering challenges
While the tasks robots complete are often dull and repetitive, they are not without engineering challenges. Take harvesting and picking, for instance. As explained in a 2017 article in Control Engineering, a harvesting robot must overcome many obstacles. For example, the vision system that determines the location and ripeness of produce sometimes operates in dusty, low-light conditions. In addition, the robotic arm must navigate obstacles, being both flexible enough and accurate enough so it does not damage the product as it is being picked.
Autonomous farming vehicles
Related, emerging technology is autonomous farming vehicles. These are engineered to operate with full autonomy, that is, without a driver or any form of direct human control. Such equipment is becoming available for mowing, plowing, planting, weeding, spraying, and harvesting crops. Machines use sensors based on LiDAR, radar, and digital video.
The Canadian start-up DOT has introduced its Power Platform, a diesel-powered, 20-foot-long chassis that is fully autonomous, relying on GPS coordinates to navigate an operator’s pre-programmed routes. The platform can be easily and quickly fitted with commercially available implements, currently including a 30-foot SeedMaster drill, a 120-foot Pattison Connect sprayer, or a SeedMaster grain cart. The company promotes a 20% savings on-farm fuel, labor, and equipment capital costs, and predicts more than 100 farm implements eventually will be compatible with the platform.
Meanwhile, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) John Deere recently introduced a concept for its newest, electric, zero-emissions autonomous tractor, with an electric power output of 500 kilowatts (approximately 670 horsepower). The company bills it as the “future of farming.”
Autonomous technology seems to make the most sense in the U.S., where 41% of farmland is larger than 19 acres, and 25% is larger than 3,000 acres. However, the trend is growing worldwide. A September 2020 report by Research and Markets projects the global market for autonomous farming equipment will reach $128 billion (USD) by 2025, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.
The autonomous revolution
The growing demand for food across the world comes at a time when farmers are challenged to find labor. And that is helping prompt an autonomous farming revolution, as robots and automated machines are increasingly being put to work in fields and nurseries, freeing farmers to focus on improving yields.
To learn more about how Parker is helping agriculture manufacturers evolve to sustainability trends, read our Off-Road Trends White Paper.
This article was contributed by Pneumatics Team.
Related, helpful content for you:
25 Jan 2021
Innovations in rail travel are making trains faster, safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly. Of all the transportation modes, rail is leading the way in new technologies.
Electric railways are becoming more common in response to both environmental and cost concerns. High-speed rail technology is promising speeds beyond 300 mph in a matter of a few years. And, without a doubt, rail transport is more autonomous than other forms of transportation.
Let’s start by taking a look at what is happening with regard to railway electrification.
Most high-speed trains today get their electricity from overhead wires or catenaries using a pantograph. That’s because, given current designs and technologies, batteries can’t be sized to supply the necessary power and still fit on the train. Diesel engines turning generators don’t meet new environmental mandates. Plus, the weight, storage demands and costs of diesel fuel, along with fire safety concerns, create added challenges. Another option has been to use a shoe to take electricity from a third rail (similar to light rail), but this has proven to create too much friction between the shoe and rail at high speeds.
A major challenge when using pantographs to take power from the catenary is maintaining consistent contact between the two without creating too much friction. Most pantograph systems work on compressed air. An auxiliary compressor can deliver the needed air supply, but this method has proven costly and the compressor takes up valuable space that could be put to better use in optimizing capacity for freight or passengers.
Several companies have invested in alternatives. Parker eliminated the need for an auxiliary compressor by designing a compact, fully integrated “plug and play” control system, which contains all the pneumatic functions along with a reservoir. The redesigned main control module system is linked to the reservoir, from which the pantograph system draws compressed air. This solution is attractive since it’s lightweight, space-efficient, less expensive and requires fewer components that need to be maintained and replaced.
Another issue that crops up with catenaries is ice on the overhead wires. To combat this problem, some trains are deploying two pantographs so that the first one knocks off the ice. To handle travel in either direction, train makers often package a pair of pantographs in the same overhead fairing, mounting them face-to-face.
Along with the desire to convert more diesel locomotives to electricity is an interest in minimizing or reusing electric energy. Beyond the obvious environmental benefits are cost advantages, since energy (fuel) represents the largest cost component in total transport costs. This has led to an increased interest in many energy-saving technologies like regenerative braking that converts the kinetic energy from the braking motion into electric energy for purposes of energy reuse. Electricity is then fed back through the overhead lines so it can power an accelerating train on another track or be stored for future use.
Challenges remain, however, to find sufficient space for storing electricity. When there is no place to store or use the electricity, it gets burned off in roof-mounted braking resistors (rheostatic braking) or the train switches to friction braking.
Energy storage systems are currently available in multiple forms. Some of the more common include flywheels, electric double-layer capacitors, batteries, fuel cells and superconducting magnetic energy storage devices. In evaluating the various options, attention is paid to their high energy density and power density, as well as their total cost, environmental impact, space efficiency and weight.
In general, battery-based energy storage systems have higher energy densities but their capital costs are often higher, and they have more limited lifespans. The market is looking for technology breakthroughs that will lower the cost of the storage systems. By 2030, for example, it is expected that the cost of lithium-ion batteries will drop considerably due to technology advances regarding their design and production. There are, however, environmental drawbacks of batteries since they use toxic materials. Flywheels offer the greatest environmental appeal, but the future ideal solution is seen as one that will combine the advantages of different energy-storage technologies.
Regenerative braking is preferred because, in addition to its obvious energy efficiency, it minimizes wear and tear. Another option, however, is the use of linear eddy-current brakes which consist of electrical coils positioned along the rails. The coils serve as magnets with continually switched north and south poles. When the magnets move along the rail, their changing magnetic field creates another field in the metal rail, which creates electrical tension and eddy currents to provide enough resistance to slow the train.
Improving train aerodynamics is yet another way to significantly affect energy usage, since up to 60% of the tractive force can be lost due to drag and friction. Covering roof-mounted equipment with streamlined fairings also reduces drag and limits the booming sound trains make when traveling through a tunnel.
Solar rail is a relatively new concept for producing clean energy for railways.
Australia has been effectively using solar panels on the roofs of its electric rail cars since 2017.
Hydrogen power is also being explored for greater sustainability. With this technology, fuel cells would consist of an anode, cathode and electrolyte membrane. Hydrogen would pass through the anode where it splits into electrons and protons. As the electrons are pushed through a circuit, they would generate an electric charge that is stored in lithium batteries or directly used by a train’s electric motor.
As is the case with some other technologies designed to conserve energy, the hydrogen concept needs to be perfected to ensure cost competitiveness and safety.
Research is ongoing to make trains even faster and more energy efficient in the future.
In the area of high-speed rail technology, superfast maglev trains are gaining momentum. Key to their ability to reach unmatched record speeds is the use of magnets that float carriages above the ground without wheels. The technology already is being used in Europe with a second-generation technology being promised to hit the market by 2027 offering speeds in the 300+ mph range.
Elon Musk is additionally touting a hyperloop that would hit speeds up to 700 mph. The hyperloop consists of a vacuum-sealed tube that reduces air resistance and carries “pods” using passive maglev technology.
These examples represent just a few of the many innovations being explored to accelerate the speed and energy efficiency of today’s railways.
With the higher speeds, however, come greater concerns regarding safety and the added burden on various components, including increased vibration and heat.
Fire safety was a focus of Europe’s EN 45545 initiative which outlined new safety requirements for railways, especially regarding fire concerns. Parker was the first hose manufacturer in Europe to develop rail hoses using a new rubber compound that meets the requirements of EN 45545, while also offering cost savings and easy installation with its improved bend radius.
This article contributed to by Dave Walker, market development manager, Rail, Motion Systems Group, Parker Hannifin.
5 Jan 2021
Looking ahead to the future of industry, with all the advancements in technology that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) holds in store, one might rightly wonder if pneumatics will still have pride of place on the production line. After all, it’s basically just gas or air passing through tubes! Surely all the innovation that’s happening with digitalisation will mean that IIoT components will become much more important than the pneumatics?
Pneumatics and IIoT inseparable
In actual fact, the real answer is that the two technologies will most likely become inseparable because they perform equally important functions that are increasingly becoming interdependent. Parker’s recent ‘Factory of the Future’ market research has revealed that pneumatic technology will indeed remain a critical component in the digital manufacturing field for the foreseeable future. Although pneumatic equipment indeed functions through pressurised gas or air moving through tubes, these tubes remain the ‘veins’ of the factory, delivering fast, precise and efficient movement on complex automation lines and facilitating quick and easy assembly, cleaning and a host of other functions on the production floor.
Pneumatic designs compliment approach of Industry 4.0
Since pneumatics have been around for quite some time, they already offer high reliability and efficiency, and their designs naturally complement the modular approach of Industry 4.0. In the increasingly digital manufacturing sphere, pneumatic systems are being adapted to answer the need for real-time process data through the incorporation of IIoT enabled nodes and sensors.
Although some pneumatics manufacturers have been slow off the mark to follow the digitalisation trend, Parker recognised the opportunity to serve customers with industry-leading connectivity and safety solutions well in advance. For instance, our entire product development cycle is now focused on making devices ‘smart’ by ensuring that they are able to communicate their status to the rest of the network. OEMs can now easily use these smart pneumatics equipped with cost-efficient sensors to intelligently monitor the real-time status, positioning, velocity, condition and efficiency of the various components that make up the modern automation line.
Although there is still a long road to travel in order to realise the ultimate vision of Industry 4.0, the intermediate period will see the gradual introduction of these smart products that offer both traditional control functions and actionable intelligence. The evolution of manufacturing is contingent upon the development and continuous improvement of this actionable intelligence, giving users the ability to track the uptime and availability of the machines in their plant. The analytics from this data will enable significant operational cost savings, for instance by performing predictive maintenance and achieving optimised operations using continuous position sensing.
Choices ahead to future-proof designs
While the technology is still in a state of flux, machine builders and their component suppliers will now need to make careful choices in order to future-proof their designs. Parker believes that open-source, low-cost Industrial Ethernet (IE)-based components and subsystems is the answer to this challenge, and so our recent product development efforts have been based on IO-Link enabled connectivity and network solutions.
IO-Link enabled products are just one example of how Parker, leading with purpose, is providing customers with cutting edge technologies for use in globalised manufacturing operations. Regardless of location, the use of IE and IO-Link network nodes make the control, safety and maintenance of a range of different devices, machines, systems and users simple and cost-effective.
Ensuring that key automation components such as pneumatic valves are IIoT-enabled is an excellent way of creating white space opportunities for innovation in the factory of the future.
To discover more about Parker’s I/O Link IIoT solution, please download our brochure IO-Link Solutions here.
Article contributed by Richard McDonnell, marketing development manager (IoT & Smart Products) Pneumatic Division, Parker Hannifin Corporation.
4 Jun 2020
Linear actuators are used in many applications around industry. Pneumatic, hydraulic and electromechanical technologies are the primary options for providing linear actuation but the selection and use of these technologies depends greatly on technical knowledge, budgets, available energy sources and careful consideration of the performance trade-offs of different approaches.
For example, pneumatic actuators don’t deliver high force output but are practical when a cost-effective, easy start-up is required. Conversely, hydraulic linear actuators are suited to high force applications but generate a lot of noise. And, while electromechanical actuators are quieter, they are much more difficult to install and maintain.
So, what are the considerations and trade-offs when selecting linear actuators for a linear motion application?
There have been several recent improvements in pneumatic design, including positional feedback capabilities from proximity and linear position sensors. Better sealing has also allowed pneumatic linear actuators to be used more often in challenging environments or applications requiring wash down.
However, pressure losses and the compressibility of air can make pneumatics less efficient than other linear technologies. While the speed ranges from a couple of centimetres per second to 150cm/s, force output is dependent on the maximum pressure rating and related bore size. Typically, however, pneumatic actuators have a maximum pressure rating of 10bar with bore sizes ranging from 12 to 320mm for approximately 80N to 80kN.
Hydraulic systems therefore have a much higher possible force output, with typical pressure ratings up to 210bar with bore sizes ranging from approximately 12 to 355mm translating to about 220 to 171,000N of force. Hydraulic actuation also generates a significant amount of noise and, without proper maintenance, can leak.
When driven by a rotary motor, electromechanical linear motion systems employ one of four rotary-to-linear conversion systems: ballscrew, roller screw, Acme (lead) screw or belt drive. In addition, a linear motor can be used to provide motion.
A linear motor is similar to a rotary motor, but the motor coils make up the forcer. Depending on the design, one or two rows of magnets comprise the magnet track. In a rotary motor, the rotor spins while the stator is fixed, but in a linear motor, either the forcer or the magnet track can be the moving component, which is then integrated with an appropriate linear bearing. By sending electrical current to the forcer, the resulting magnetic field interacts with the magnet track and drives the linear motor carriage back and forth.
Linear motors have high dynamic performance, with acceleration of greater than 20G at velocities of 10m/s or higher. Due to the direct drive nature of linear motors, there are no mechanical components to add backlash, torsional wind-up, or other positioning errors. Sub-micron resolution and repeatability are achievable and as the motor is directly coupled to the load, there are fewer components to fail, which adds long-term reliability.
Making a measured choice
Pneumatic, hydraulic and electric actuators are an integral part of automated systems, and there is no better actuator than another as the choice depends on the peculiarities and application needs. Today, the three technologies appear to be well developed and with a good level of maturity that guarantees long life and good reliability although with different operating characteristics. Placing a priority on one type of application parameter could mean that performance in another area might be sacrificed, but nevertheless all the decision making categories should be carefully weighed up before making the final choice of actuator equipment.
This article was contributed by Franck Roussilon, product manager, Pneumatic Division Europe, Parker Hannifin Corporation.
12 Feb 2020
IO-Link is a point-to-point communication technology that can be implemented into most PLC configurations or integrated into most existing industrial Ethernet networks via a device called IO-Link master. It is the first standardized IO technology worldwide (IEC 61131-9) for point-to-point communication between sensors, actuators and control devices – comparable to an “industrial USB” and is the perfect local extension of a superior industrial Ethernet network. Thanks to its simple installation, better control and enhanced diagnostics capabilities, IO-Link has already secured a large user base.
There are multiple advantages for engineers when designing an IO-link architecture for their latest equipment. For example: when applying a Parker IO-Link connected Moduflex valve island, in addition to simplified and standardized wiring, they can also realize the benefits of remote configuration, monitoring, and increased data availability, leading to enhanced diagnostics. Utilizing IO-Link can also be especially beneficial for machine applications where there are frequent changeovers or reconfiguration as this time can be reduced, as can unplanned downtime.
How to install IO-Link
IO-Link doesn’t require any special or complicated wiring, which is a major benefit for adopting it as a communication method. Instead, IO-Link devices can be connected using standard 3 or 5-wire M12 cables, the same you would use to connect a standard proximity switch.
If previously you were using 25-pin wiring for a pneumatic valve manifold, then an upgrade to IO-Link would offer similar diagnostics and performance as with an industrial network (e.g. Profinet) but at a significantly lower cost and with a less complex system:
• Highly cost-effective solution - It replaces an analog I/O and its 4-20mA/0-10V signal with the IO-Link digital information from an analog sensor, or to an analog device such as pressure regulator, saving on inventory costs
• Enables possibilities for customer to de-centralize devices - On small- to medium-sized machines, many of the available IO-Link masters are IP67 and can be placed on the machine near the I/O points instead of in a centralized cabinet
• Suitable for SAFE power source - Some IO-Link devices, such as the Parker’s IO-Link valve islands solution, are even suitable for use with a SAFE power source which is becoming an important requirement on many markets due to machine directives
Data availability and maintenance
IO-Link offers an increase in availability of data to the PLC, which helps to reduce time and money spent on troubleshooting analysis. There are three data types available:
• Process data – Cyclic information that is transferred between device and the master automatically on a regular basis, used as I/O for the machine controls
• Service data – information about the device itself, such as model and serial number, or error messages and maintenance warnings (e.g. device overheating, maximal current is exceeded, coil short circuit)
• Parameter data – information that can be written in, or read from the device on request such as voltage level or counting cycles to support preventive maintenance needs
With IO-Link, you can read and change device parameters through the control system software which enables faster configuration and commissioning, plus changes can be made dynamically from the control system as needed. IO-Link also offers the ability to monitor device outputs, receive real-time status alerts, and adjust settings from virtually anywhere. Users can identify and resolve problems that arise in a timely manner and make decisions based on real-time data from the machine components themselves.
With visibility into errors and health status from each device, users can see not only what the device is doing but also how well it is performing. These extended diagnostics allow users to easily identify when a device is malfunctioning and diagnose the problem without shutting down the line or machine. The combination of real-time and historical data available via IO-Link helps to ensure smooth operation of system components, simplifies device replacement and enables the operator to optimize machine maintenance schedules – saving cost and reducing the risk of machine downtime.
Many general pneumatic control applications can benefit from such modules, including packaging machines, automotive systems and factory automation. In fact, if you happen to visit any automotive or packaging facility, the ‘elephant in the room’ will be clear to see: the big controller cabinet housing the PLCs and contactors. These cabinets consume valuable floor space, but now they are set to shrink in size. Safety relays are increasingly moving out of the cabinet, and trends indicate that PLCs are soon to follow. This ‘do more with less’ business model should encourage any of you who typically still hard-wire valve manifolds, to make that leap towards industrial networks such as IO-Link.
Use our configurator on Parker.com to discover how you can utilize IO-Link for your application.
Article contributed by Patrick Berdal, EMEA product manager for control devices, Pneumatic Division Europe, Parker Hannifin Corporation.
29 Jan 2020
Parker's Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) offers improved mobility when operating vehicles in severe off-road or soft soil conditions. Ideally suited for the agriculture and military markets, this automatic tire pressure adjustment system allows the driver to optimize tire inflation pressure from the cab while operating on varying terrains with the simple push of a button. Reducing tire pressure results in a bigger tire footprint, providing increased flotation and traction when operating in soft soil terrain. Although often used in conjunction with all-wheel drive, non-all-wheel drive vehicles with CTIS can actually outperform all-wheel drive in many soft soil conditions.
Operating vehicles with reduced tire inflation pressure is approved by tire manufacturers when operating at reduced vehicle speeds. Contrary to common perception, operating at reduced tire inflation pressure can extend tire life due to reduced susceptibility to tire punctures and tread chunking. CTIS also results in increased fuel economy due to the improved rolling resistance as the tire floats on the surface rather than creating ruts in soft soil or sand.What's included in Parker's CTIS?
Each wheel end is equipped with a CTIS wheel valve. The wheel valve connects the tire to the CTIS control system whenever it is actively measuring or changing tire pressure. Otherwise, the wheel valve is closed, isolating the tire from the system, thus ensuring that the tire will not leak down. This eliminates the need for manually operated shut off valves when the vehicle is inactive for extended periods of time. This feature also provides extended air seal life when the vehicle is in motion and tire pressure adjustment is not occurring. Parker offers wheel valves in a variety of sizes and configurations including valves with hose connections as well as flush-mount hose-less versions for use with wheels that have integral air passages. Located on the vehicle chassis or undercarriage, Parker’s CTIS pneumatic control unit consists of electro-pneumatic valves and pressure sensors required to monitor and control the pneumatic system.
CTIS provides independent wheel-end control ensuring fail-safe operation in the event of damage to the vehicle or wheel end. The CTIS wheel valve is completely sealed to the atmosphere at the wheel end ensuring reliable deepwater forwarding capability. Tire venting while deflating is routed back through the pneumatic control unit rather than at the wheel end. The CTIS electronic control unit provides decision making and logic execution. The electronic circuitry is completely sealed in an aluminum enclosure resulting in a rugged environmentally robust package.How does the CTIS work in certain operating conditions such as extremely soft soil for vehicle mobility?
Vehicle mobility is improved by reducing tire inflation pressure resulting in a larger tire footprint. This bigger footprint improves traction, reduces wheel slip and allows the vehicle to float across the soft terrain instead of compacting the soil and causing rutting. When returning to improved terrain conditions, a simple push of a button on the driver interface automatically inflates the tires to the appropriate pressure utilizing the onboard air compressor.
Its unique wheel valve design provides the best in class deflate performance while incorporating the non piloted remote venting control strategy preferred by most vehicle manufacturers. CTIS can deflate tire pressures significantly lower than the competition while operating reliably over a wide range of temperatures and altitudes. The CTIS is insensitive to vehicle installation variables such as wheel-end, the back pressure and air seal flow. This results in enhanced fault tolerance as wheel valve shutoff is assured even with kinked, contaminated or restricted airlines. This is a patented wheel valve design that gets the job done faster, resulting in industry precedent-setting deflation rates. The operator interface provides the ability to select four terrain modes:
Pressing any of the terrain buttons results in the system checking all tire pressures and then automatically adjusting them to pressure targets. A green light on the driver interface will flash while pressure changes are being made and then turn solid indicating that target tire pressures have been reached. The operator can also select from three load levels: no load, partial load and full load optimizing tire pressure for load improves fuel economy, vehicle stability and ride comfort.
The CTIS monitors tire pressure at regular intervals and offers a run-flat mode which reduces this interval to almost continuously monitor pressure. This is useful when an increased threat for puncture exists. CTIS will return to normal pressure check intervals after a predetermined time has expired.
The system also monitors vehicle speed and provides both an over-speed warning and an automatic terrain mode bumper to ensure safe operation operators can run in an overspeed condition for a short period of time, for example, to preselect for an impending terrain change continue to over-speed will result in the amber warning led on the selected terrain button beginning to flash. If the vehicle speed is not reduced within an additional time, CTIS will automatically bump up the terrain mode to a more appropriate setting and inflate the tires to the new target pressure. This staged approach allows the operator to pre-select terrains as needed while protecting tires from damage.
Watch the video to learn more and see a vehicle in action:
Are you headed to IFPE 2020 in March?
Parker off-highway and mobile solutions will be showcased at IFPE/CONEXPO-Con/AGG in Las Vegas March 10 – 14. The Parker CTIS system will be on display. The CTIS offers best in class performance, including tire pressure control range and deflate rates with robust full tolerance. Parker is the global leader in motion and control technologies. For more information regarding Parker's central tire inflation systems, contact us.
Article contributed by Ryan Mills, project engineer, Parker Hannifin's Pneumatics Division.
Related blogs to learn more about pneumatic technology:
23 Jan 2020