Professor Till Meinel is a professor for agricultural machinery technology and design engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. He is also an honorary member of the board of the German Agricultural Society (DLG), and has been chairman of the DLG Test Center Technology and Farm Inputs in Groß-Umstadt since 2018.
He was involved in developing the SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS Trophy Award and played an active role in its introduction in 2019. In the interview, he talks about the potential of the B2B platform for the supplier industry in the context of AGRITECHNICA.
What are the particular strengths of SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS?
Prof. Till Meinel: As part of AGRITECHNICA, SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS is fully integrated into the world’s leading trade fair for agricultural machinery. This offers AGRITECHNICA exhibitors an outstanding opportunity to obtain information on the latest trends and developments in systems and components for agricultural machinery and mobile working machines.
Which themes will the trade fair particularly be focussing on?
Meinel: Firstly, focus is increasingly shifting to the networking and automation of the human-machine interface. Machines are becoming increasingly complex and the human-machine interface plays a crucial role in this context. We will be seeing a lot of new developments in this area.
The trade fair will also be focussing on diverse forms of digital services, from 3D printing and predictive maintenance up to and including big-data and AI applications as well as the new, innovative drive systems. This will be concerned with electrification, hydrogen and modern e-fuels.
Networking and automation in preparation for autonomous driving and innovative sensor and camera systems are also an important topic. Environmental protection and safety will remain important focuses of SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS. In terms of environmental protection, high priority is being given to technologies and components for reducing emissions and soil pressure, such as intelligent suspension systems, for instance.
This year’s guiding theme is ‘Green Productivity’. What contribution can the trade fair make to that?
Meinel: There is a great deal of debate surrounding this theme at the moment. It involves striking a balance between the increasing need to supply the global population with high-quality foods and the environmental impacts that this food production unavoidably has. If this large framework is broken down to agricultural machinery and then down again to intelligent and efficient components, we arrive at SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS.
The agricultural machinery manufacturers exhibiting at AGRITECHNICA very rarely have 100 percent vertical integration. They purchase core components for their machines from suppliers. Perfectly developed components make a significant contribution to increasing agricultural efficiency and reducing the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production. In this respect, SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS is an intelligent and growing part of the overall AGRITECHNICA trade fair.
Which segments will be presenting themselves as exhibitors at the trade fair?
Meinel: Segments such as the agricultural electronics, hydraulics, engine, replacement and wear parts, cab, power lift, drive technology and vehicle electronics segments.
Which new technologies and ideas can visitors anticipate this year?
Meinel: I’ll only pick out a few of the themes here. In the theme of networking and automation, the human-machine interface is being further perfected. Camera and radar systems are providing drivers with better all-round vision and are increasing safety. We will also be seeing modern display and control units in the cockpit. These are ergonomically designed and offer perfect connectivity to the machine components at the same time, but also between multiple machines that are working on the field or the construction site.
Another new technology that is making its way into the agricultural machinery industry is rapid prototyping for manufacturing replacement and series production parts using the 3D printing method. This is particularly concerned with the issue of how such 3D printing technologies can be intelligently integrated into the business model – for the 3D printing of replacement parts or for extending after-sales services.
Predictive maintenance has long since become state-of-the-art in the construction machine industry, because each hour of unscheduled machine downtime is problematic and costly. This theme is also becoming increasingly topical in cost-intensive agricultural machinery. Above all, contractors that operate large machinery chains want to be warned in good time when components fail and downtime is looming so that they can carry out maintenance and service work beforehand. We will also be seeing big data-based analysis instruments that can be integrated into proprietary software in order to recognise anomalies in the technology in advance.
Hydrogen-based technologies are still a long way off from series production maturity. Thanks to recent political developments and the Ukraine war, the industry is once again increasingly shifting its focus to this topic, and new developments will be on show.
Sensors and camera systems are a long-running theme at SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS; these still require further optimisation for numerous applications in construction and agricultural machinery. Unlike in the automotive and commercial vehicle industry, the new sensors to be developed for agricultural machinery are focussed more extensively on the analysis of process data, such as the determination of contents during harvesting, for instance, or the soil structure, so as to be able to regulate the intensity of tillage. There will almost certainly be further developments, up to and including complex systems and IoT- or cloud-based solutions.
Autonomous driving is concerned with intelligent, inexpensive, redundant systems for replicating safety-critical functions if electronic components fail or in the event of accidents. These are still in their infancy. The first autonomous robots are already underway on fields. This is a development that will only really make its way onto farms in the coming years and decades. The components required for it will be on display at SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS.
That's quite a lot to be going on with. What else do you think deserves a mention?
Meinel: Another point is technologies for the avoidance of emissions in drive technology. I am convinced that developments in this area will shift towards fuel flexibility. This means that various fuels, no matter whether we’re talking about classic fossil-based diesel, fuels based on renewable raw materials or synthetically produced fuels, function with one and the same engine without the user having to make changes to his or her machine. Solutions for this will also be on show at the trade fair.
There will almost certainly be a lot to see as regards AI and big data applications. Numerous research projects are dealing with plant recognition or spot spraying so that crops can be distinguished from weeds during the application of crop protection agents and chemicals can be applied only where they are needed. The big data and AI applications required for this are being constantly evolved by the agricultural machinery industry, and new application areas for these technologies are being added.
The importance of hydraulic components must not be underestimated. Hydraulics continue to play an important role in agricultural machinery, something that is unlikely to change significantly in the medium term.
How important is it for exhibitors and visitors to interact with their contacts in addition to finding out about new products?
Meinel: The trade fair grounds in Hanover are already fully booked, and we are hearing from high numbers of people that they are extremely keen to meet up with their business partners in person and face-to-face again after the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While digital communication options are a welcome addition to day-to-day operational or commercial processes, they are no substitute for personal meetings and dialogue.
The SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS sector, in particular, revolves extensively around trust and supplier relationships. As an OEM partner, you have to be absolutely certain that your supply chains are stable. German industry only recently learned the painful lesson that supply chain difficulties lead to dramatic developments. The trade fair is an important market place and meeting point for initiating and maintaining long-term supplier and customer relationships.
Which departments are the trade fair visitors from?
Meinel: The SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS visitors are primarily from the development departments, because the trade fair offers the latest information, particularly for developers who are looking for specific components for their projects. Of course, innovative systems and components also play a role for marketing and technical product management employees, who can take a look at future developments at a relatively early stage in Hanover. In many agricultural machinery companies, product managers act as the interface between customers and manufacturers and are always on the lookout for new project ideas. Sales managers, too, are interested in forthcoming generations of modern systems so that they can demonstrate to their customers that they are ahead of the curve.
How international is the trade fair?
Meinel: The trade fair has been very international from the outset. International exhibitors’ interest in AGRITECHNICA has continued to grow, and I assume that this is also true of SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS 2023.
The last SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS took place in 2019. Since then, a lot has happened in the industry, in the areas of digitalisation, automation and connectivity, for instance. Is the trade fair able to reflect this radical upheaval?
Meinel: I am optimistic that the trade fair can reflect all of the current, key developments. By no means least, my optimism is based in part on the SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS Trophy Award. This award has made the trade fair even more attractive.
Which aspects of the highly-acclaimed new drive technologies can be experienced in Hanover in November?
Meinel: The days in which one single technology such as the diesel engine represented the optimum and most efficient drive form are long gone. We will be seeing extensive diversification, because agriculture is predestined for locally producing its own fuels from renewable raw materials and also consuming them sensibly. This also applies to electrical energy. We will experience a mix of combustion technology involving both diesel and alternative fuels. Diverse options also exist for electrified drive trains. The first hydrogen-based drives will also be on show.
Which other future trends will the trade fair be focussing on?
Meinel: In recent years, focus has increasingly shifted to the automation of entire process chains. So far, developers have been working towards automating individual machines, but in the future they will be setting their sights on automating the entire process chain of agricultural production. The convergence of machine and process automation is a megatrend that will continue for a long time to come and which is only in its infancy right now.
The next long-term trend is suspension systems that protect the soil. Added to these is the reduction of CO2 emissions, which can be more readily achieved in agricultural machinery via process optimisation than by perfecting engines, exhaust gas recirculation and comparable technologies. CO2 emissions in agricultural production cannot be reduced significantly by saving an additional three percent during combustion, but by forgoing ploughing in favour of shallow soil cultivation or precision cultivation, for instance.
One topic that is not so high-profile, but which will assert itself in some areas of agriculture, is lightweight construction, i.e. the use of alternative materials and high-performance materials. We will also be seeing further developments in this area.
Another trend is technology that helps farmers to make their production processes more flexible. Due to the abolition of some chemical active substances, farmers are being compelled to develop extended, intelligent crop rotations. Regenerative farming necessitates technology that functions under very diverse conditions and can be used flexibly in many different production systems.
How important is the accompanying technical programme?
Meinel: One of the distinguishing features of AGRITECHNICA and DLG as the organiser is that visitors at the trade fair in Hanover are presented with a very good symbiosis of the latest agricultural machinery as well as current research results and technical content. The accompanying technical programme offers visitors high added value, because decisions to invest in new agricultural machinery impact on farms’ production technology in many cases. The latest research results and technical information on the possible applications of the new technology contribute to providing our trade fair visitors with comprehensive information.
What stimuli are you hoping that SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS 2023 will provide and what messages might it send?
Meinel: New technologies can help to overcome the challenges faced by agricultural production, to increase efficiency and to minimise negative impacts on the environment at the same time. Now that the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, the physical trade fair will be a very important professional and personal highlight and will act as a further boost to innovations. Numerous agricultural machinery manufacturers will gain inspiration here for new projects based on intelligent and efficient components and systems.
Technology is not the only option for increasing productivity and reducing negative environmental impacts, but it is a very important one, and that will continue to remain the case in the future. Despite all global difficulties and crises, the agricultural machinery industry has been growing at a rapid pace in recent years. Demand for high-quality food will continue to increase globally. Agricultural machinery manufacturers, especially those in Europe and Germany, will have to remain absolutely on the ball in the future so that they do not get left behind. SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS will reflect global market activities very well and, in this regard, will clearly show who will be setting the pace in the future in this exciting and innovative market.