Manufacturers of agricultural and construction machinery face the challenge of implementing intelligent (semi)autonomous machine functions quickly and maintaining them long term. The cost of developing such solutions in-house are prohibitively high, however. A technology partner with a comprehensive automation system is therefore a perfect fit for small and mid-sized mobile equipment builders.
Today's agricultural and construction machinery is equipped with advanced functionality that is very similar to what is found in industrial manufacturing. State-of-the-art technology like intelligently networked machines, cloud connectivity, digital process chains and integrated safety and security are growing increasingly important for mobile equipment as well. "Big-name manufacturers are driving these new functions forward in the area of agricultural and construction machinery," says B&R's product manager for mobile automation, Stefan Taxer.
To remain competitive, small and mid-sized manufacturers must follow suit. The question is: how? Establishing an in-house engineering department from the ground up to perform the necessary R&D is an enormous investment. The much easier alternative is to work side-by-side with an experienced technology partner to complete automation tasks.
"The situation faced by agricultural and construction machinery builders has prompted us to apply our automation expertise to mobile machinery," Taxer explains. "A great deal of the technology we've developed over the past 35 years for industrial use translates very well to agricultural, construction and municipal applications." Essentially, all that remained for B&R was to make its controllers and HMI units suitable for mobile use.
The result is B&R's rugged X90 control and I/O system. It can withstand temperatures from -40 to 85°C as well as shocks and vibrations vibrations and is resistant to salt, UV light and oil. The modular control solution is also fully interoperable with the rest of B&R's technology platform. As a result, it is programmed – like all other B&R products – using the Automation Studio engineering tool. It is also capable of hard real-time communication via the POWERLINK industrial Ethernet protocol.
B&R develops all of its hardware platforms to be exceptionally modular and scalable. For the X90 system, modular means that the machine manufacturer can select from a variety of option boards to implement the functions they need, including additional I/Os and interfaces. Scalable means they are able to choose from a range of performance classes – ensuring consistent solutions for basic to high-end machines.
"There is more to B&R's solution than the hardware alone," emphasizes Taxer. "With our mapp Technology toolkit, we provide more than 200 preprogrammed software functions in Automation Studio." mapp Technology provides solutions for web-based HMI, control, service, data monitoring and more. It also makes it remarkably easy to implement serial kinematic systems like those found in an excavator arm.
Application engineers simply drag and drop the desired functions into the application and enter the corresponding parameters. There's no need for the programming work that would traditionally be necessary. All mapp functions are linked to one another and exchange data automatically. "This significantly reduces the development overhead for a new application," Taxer notes.
B&R has also designed its product platform so that once application software has been written, it can run on any hardware. This makes it easy to switch from a basic to a high-end machine. "For our customers, that means future-proof return on investment," says Taxer.
Safety technology plays a key role in automation and should not be underestimated. Manufacturers can find helpful information on the topic in the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, which also applies to mobile machinery in the European Economic Area, Switzerland and Turkey. It also contains harmonized standards that apply internationally.
Developing integrated safety solutions in-house is costly and complex, however. "We can relieve mobile machine manufacturers of this burden," says Taxer. With the integrated safety solution developed by B&R, safety applications can be created from pre-certified software blocks. "The user simply links the blocks together in our Automation Studio development environment, considerably reducing the programming overhead."
The X90 control system enables mobile machines to be equipped with functions that make them compatible with the Industrial IoT. "Our X90 system can collect data, analyze it locally and send it to an edge server or directly to the cloud via OPC UA," says Taxer. Condition monitoring and remote maintenance can also be implemented. This allows both builders and operators to track the health and performance of tractors, excavators and other vehicles at all times. "As a technology partner, we help agricultural and construction machine builders of all sizes stay competitive," Taxer is confident. "With us at their side, they have all the benefits of state-of-the-art automation – including safety technology and cloud connectivity – easily within reach."