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Agritechnica 2019

Increased autonomy for mobile machines

Almost 3000 exhibitors showed at the Agritechnica 2019 in Hanover (Germany). Besides Isobus-connectivity, robotics and swarm technology were the trends.

Complex implements use often embedded CAN-based networks (Source: DLG, S. Pfoertner)

Organized by DLG (German Agriculture Society), the Agritechnica tradeshow was participated by 1750 exhibitors from abroad. German participants (1069) were still the largest group followed by Italians (370), Chinese (163), Dutch (113), and Turkish (112) exhibitors. Regarding electronic device suppliers, there was still a trend to provide CAN-based Isobus interfaces. CAN networks were already introduced in 2001, but it took some time to be accepted. Isobus internationally standardized in the ISO 11783 series is a 250 kbit/s network connecting tractors and implements. Implements include tractor add-on devices such as sprayers and independent harvesting machines, for example. The Tier1 suppliers showed at Agritechnica many new Isobus-connectable devices. Actia presented for example its SPU40-26 safety power unit with a ISO 11783 compliant interface, which has been certified and proved in so-called Isobus plugfests organized by the AEF association. B-Plus showed a range of its CAN- and Isobus-capable development tools, measurement technology, as well as several controllers.

In Hanover, CiA members such as Bernecker + Reiner, Epec, ifm electronic, Intercontrol, and STW presented host controllers with Isobus-connectivity. They are linked via the CAN interface with the operator displays. Some of them support the virtual terminal function (VT) as specified in the ISO 11783 series. CC-Isobus a joint development activity of several implement manufacturers exhibited in Hanover its broad portfolio of VT products. Established in 2009, this competence center has designed the CC-I 1200 terminal, for example, which has been installed more than 50 000 times. Crosscontrol presented a terminal with a CAN FD interface, which provides a higher throughput than the current Isobus or proprietary Classical CAN interfaces. But some farmers would prefer traditional tablet computers as user interface. Reichardt showed such a solution on its Agritechnica stand.

Electronics are increasingly becoming a decisive factor in agriculture. At the fair, TTControl officially introduced its latest member of the HY-TTC 500 controller family with three CAN interfaces, as already reported in the CNLO. The controller meets safety standards up to EN ISO25119 Ag PLd, IEC 61508 SIL2, and ISO 13849 PLd. With the further development of the round baler Impress 185 VCPRO, which incorporates the Isobus-based HY-TTC 508 controller from Spring 2020 onwards, Poettinger has once again expanded its product line.

The Isobus-compliant job controllers are based on hardware and software platforms that are optimized with regards to scalability and connectivity. A typical hardware platform is the mobile PC by Bernecker + Reiner: The APC mobile 3100 based on the Core i7 processor comes with one CAN, two Ethernet, and two USB ports. The IP69K-rated product runs Windows or Linux operating systems. The Austrian company also exhibited its X90 controller featuring a CANopen Safety interface. This safety-related network can be used for implement-internal control purposes.

Nowadays, most implements provide an Isobus interface to be connected to the tractor (Source: DLG, S. Pfoertner)

Although Isobus functionality is at the final stages of pre-developed by the non-profit AEF association, first TIM (tractor implement management) implementation was shown in Hanover. TIM offers the opportunity for bidirectional Isobus communication. This is that the implement sends commands to the tractor. In this way trailed machines can control functions such as PTO shaft, lifting gear, driving speed, steering angle or hydraulic valves, and the combined machinery automatically adjusts to the current situation reducing the operator’s burden.

In sophisticated agriculture machines, there are up to ten CAN networks. In the future, also this industry will backbone such networks by means of an Ethernet network. AEF is working on an Ethernet-based high-speed Isobus. CAN FD and CAN XL may also be considered for embedded implement communication.

TTControl’s HY-TTC 508 as part of electronic machine architecture at Agritechnica 2019 (Source: TTControl)

Awarded Isobus solutions

The DLG has awarded several Isobus solutions. CAN Newsletter Online reported already about the automated vehicle and implement to be used in wine-yards as well as the Isomax concept. Additionally, the IQblue retrofit TIM solution by Lemken was awarded. The product comprises a GPS receiver and features Isobus-connectivity. It allows users to automate agriculture machines. Lemken demonstrated various use cases such as ploughing, cultivating, or tilling. Another winner was the Nevonex open Isobus platform. Like an operating system, it forms thee basis of software applications to program new and legacy machines. An integrated interface management enables optional access to the platform via the Isobus.

Robotics and swarm technology

Agriculture robots are mainly in prototype and research status. Nevertheless, automated guided vehicles are presented. Some of them used electrical motion controllers with CANopen interfaces by Maxon or Dunkermotoren. Collaborative robots (also named as Cobotics) are in research as well as robot swarms. Small automated and self-propelled units instead of a big machine are the trend. For example, the grubber is no longer a single unit with a 9-m working width. Instead several smaller units are interconnected wirelessly. Depending on the field size, it is not necessary to provide the maximum capacity in every case.

The increasing autonomy for mobile agriculture machines requires additional sensors connected to the CAN-based in-vehicle networks. Typical examples include global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). GNSS-supported steering systems are already used in daily farming work. Due to Real-Time Kinematics (RTK), intervention is no longer required when the farmer has to line up their tractor or other self-propelled machines such as sprayers, choppers, and harvesters with the next track with an accuracy of two to three centimeters. Of course, the steering wheel needs to be moved by an electric motor.

Other sensors required for automated driving include cameras. Ifm exhibited its O3M camera, which is able to detect and classify obstacles. The CANopen-connectable device can also be used for line guidance, distance monitoring, reflector tracking, and collision avoidance. The 3D sensor has been implemented, for example, in grape harvesting machines.

OSB acquires BH-Tronic

OSB (Germany) took over the majority of the BH-Tronic (Germany) shares. The acquired company is specialized in electronics for agriculture and construction machinery. This includes Isobus virtual terminals with multiple CAN interfaces and CAN-based motor control systems. In the past, the two companies had already cooperated in some Isobus projects. OSB is a provider of open-source Isobus protocol stacks. Additonally, the company offers Autosar and cybersecurity support.

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Reichardt presented in Hanover its automatic steering system using GNSS, low-wear synthetic tactile sensors, and ultrasonic sensors. It can also integrate GNSS receivers and Isobus virtual terminals from third parties. The PSR Advanced steering system comes with its own Isobus terminal and several panel:apps. It can be used also for retrofit applications.

Slowdown in business

The German nonprofit VDMA machine builder association expects a 3-percent sales decrease in 2019. “After a growth marathon, the agriculture machinery industry is experiencing a pause in growth that is already noticeable in incoming orders and sales,” said Dr. Bernd Scherer, VDMA managing director. VDMA is forecasting a sales volume from German production of 8,4 billion euros for 2019. On the world market, VDMA statisticians expect zero growth in 2019 with a total of 107 billion euros. The weakness of China, where the previous year has already seen a minus of 11 percent, has a negative impact on the industry as a whole. The US market, on the other hand, benefits from significant tax relief: 9 percent growth.

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