ApplicationsJuly 27, 2019

Mobile automation solutions for intelligent machinery

Builders of agricultural and construction machinery can leverage all the benefits of state-ofthe-art automation including safety technology and cloud connectivity.

The challenge for manufacturers of agricultural and construction machinery is how to implement intelligent semi autonomous machine functions quickly and maintain them long term. Working with a control system partner provides automation technology solutions similar to what is found in industrial manufacturing.

Manufacturers of agricultural and construction machinery face the challenge of implementing intelligent (semi)autonomous machine functions quickly and maintaining them long term. The costs 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 such as 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.

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 for manufactureres is to work side-by-side with an experienced technology partner to complete automation tasks.

Rugged control and HMI

The situation faced by agricultural and construction machinery builders has prompted B&R to apply its automation technology to mobile machinery. A great deal of the technology 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. Rugged X90 control and I/O control system technology can withstand temperatures from -40 to 85°C as well as shocks and vibrations while it is also resistant to salt, UV light and oil. The modular control solution is fully interoperable with the rest of B&R’s technology platform. As a result, it is programmed using the Automation Studio engineering tool and is also capable of hard real-time communication via the POWERLINK industrial Ethernet protocol.

The X90 control system technology enables mobile machines to be equipped with functions that make them compatible with the Industrial IoT.

The X90 control system technology enables mobile machines to be equipped with functions that make them compatible with the Industrial IoT.

Scalable hardware platform

The hardware platforms have been designed to be 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 needed, including additional I/Os and interfaces. Scalable means users are able to choose from a range of performance classes – ensuring consistent solutions for basic to high-end machines.

Ready-made software components

There is more to the solution than the hardware alone. The mapp Technology toolkit provides more than 200 preprogrammed software functions in Automation Studio. The use of mapp technology provides solutions for web-based HMI, control, service, data monitoring and more.

It also makes it 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 new applications.

The product platform has also been designed 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 customers, that means future-proof return on investment.

Integrated safety

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. The technology relieves mobile machine manufacturers of this burden. With the integrated safety solution, safety applications can be created from pre-certified software blocks. The user simply links the blocks together in the Automation Studio development environment, considerably reducing the programming overhead.

Smart machines

The X90 control system enables mobile machines to be equipped with functions that make them compatible with the Industrial IoT. The X90 system can collect data, analyze it locally and send it to an edge server or directly to the cloud via OPC UA. 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. The goal is to help agricultural and construction machine builders of all sizes stay competitive. The benefits of safety technology and cloud connectivity are all easily within reach.

Stefan Taxer, Product Manager – Mobile Automation, B&R Industrial Automation