When will my combine harvester next be due for a repair? Farmers require reliable predictions to tell them how long they can still rely on a function and when the optimum time for maintenance has arrived. Currently, agricultural and forestry machines are maintained according to fixed intervals in which service technicians exchange components irrespective of their degree of internal wear or subject them to purely visual inspections. Time and again, this leads to the failure of mobile working machines in the field.
Early detection of critical conditions
This scenario is likely to soon become a thing of the past in the age of assisted farming. Technology suppliers aim to determine the available, remaining service life with data-based services that detect wear at both the component and module level – before a failure occurs
And not only that - R&D departments intend to use the data to determine the actual daily requirements in order to prevent under- or over-dimensioning during the specification of new mechanical components. The prerequisite for this is continuous monitoring of mobile machines and the analysis of collected data either directly on the machine (edge) or in the cloud connected to the service - in short, condition monitoring – a topic that SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS will be addressing from different perspectives.
Due to the application area, the sensor systems that are used are subject to high requirements. Despite the enormous choice available on the market, sensors that meet all of the criteria for the off-highway market are not easy to find. To withstand extreme harsh environmental conditions, sensors must also be extremely robust. Reliability and availability are absolutely crucial and characterise the solutions that will be on display in Hanover. Whether inductive, capacitive, magnetic, opto-electronic or using ultrasound technology, developers, engineers and manufacturers of agricultural or construction machines will find the equipment suitable for virtually every task in the exhibitors' portfolio. One clearly recognisable trend is the shift towards the contactless operating principle. These sensors, which operate without wear, guarantee long service lives and increase the availability of implements and machines.
Smart components for mobile automation
The increase of software functions also creates an increased demand for the accuracy of data. Analogue sensors are of little help here and can, at best, only shut off the machine to avoid the worst case if a set limit value is exceeded. The technology suppliers are therefore continually extending their control systems with new modules to connect decentralised sensors and actuators. The control systems are designed in modular form and can be extended with additional I/Os or interfaces as required. This goes together with the gradual shift towards modern real-time bus systems to cope with the data volumes that are incurred.
Smart sensors, which combine complete signal processing and the actual measurement variable in one location, register parameters such as temperature, pressure, expansion, inclination and angular velocity. They are able to transfer the values digitally and securely without being subject to electromagnetic influences from interference sources, unlike analogue interfaces. Equipped with corresponding sensors, the internal temperature of the rubber caterpillar tracks on heavy-duty tractors can be measured, for instance, and a warning transferred to the driver's cab if critical values are determined. Even minor deviations from the norm are detected in real time, and the vehicle can be stopped before damage occurs. Fault detection by means of vibration measurement is playing an increasing role for rotating machine parts. Further data can be obtained by analysing hydraulics and engine oil as well as coolant.
Repairing to prevent the likelihood of standstill
There are few standard solutions for condition monitoring; the system usually has to be adapted individually to each particular case. Integration of transmitters, actuators and controllers into communication in mobile machines ensures the consistency of the information flow. However, only the intelligent combination of modern sensor systems and real-time data analysis, which uses current and historic data to predict the progression of damage by means of algorithms and big data methods, enables the detection of irregularities and gradually developing defects. This therefore enables the users and operators of construction machines, self-propelled agricultural machines or tractors to read out the engine data and the engine's fault memory during ongoing operation via a Bluetooth link and to transfer them to the responsible service partner at the click of a button. Fleet operators can also manage their engines in the app and specify their maintenance windows.
What will change in after-sales service as a result of predictive maintenance? Spare parts must be supplied immediately prior to exchange, necessitating high availability. Here, new alternatives are offered by additive manufacturing. Agricultural machinery and component manufacturers are currently examining the option of using 3D printing for production of spare parts. Printing replacement parts on demand not only guarantees delivery with virtually no time or geographical constraints, but also offers new after-sales services. Experts are assuming that the linking of digital and physical services will continue to grow as a major factor for success in the off-highway markets.
Maintenance for the future
The key advantage of predictive maintenance can be boiled down to one key word: profitability. At the trade fair grounds in Hanover, visitors to this year's SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS will be able to see for themselves how condition monitoring and predictive maintenance can be used to reduce maintenance costs and avoid damage – without the preventive operating time-based maintenance intervals that are commonplace today. To achieve this, the exhibitors will be combining enhanced-efficiency components with cutting-edge sensor systems and software packages. But this is just the beginning: experts can foresee great potential for new business models in linking assisted farming with predictive maintenance. On November 14th and 15th 2019, the specialist presentations and discussion panels at the "Future Lounge" in Hall 17 will discuss these innovations with firsthand experience.