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Meeting OEM demands through innovation

04 May 2017

Key spokespeople from British Fluid Power Association member companies Parker Hannifin, Bosch Rexroth and Eaton Hydraulics, discuss some of the latest technology trends within the construction sector, and the benefits these developments afford OEMs and end users

John Taylor, product manager, Eaton Hydraulics, explains that today’s OEMs want greater flexibility in their design process, while end-users want to maximise performance and productivity while minimising operating costs and improving reliability. To this end, he explains that the construction industry is moving increasingly towards smarter, more efficient machines. “It’s no longer just about components; it’s now about how those components can connect with each other to create intelligent sub-systems that dynamically adapt and respond to machine and user requirements,” said Taylor. “Electro-hydraulics aren’t a vision of the future – they’re a requirement for today. Leading solution providers are changing the way users operate mobile and industrial machines, and are also significantly improving the way OEMs design and build them.”

You make machines smart by enabling individual elements to communicate with each other

In Eaton’s case, Taylor points out that the company is bridging the gap between hardware and software with its Pro-FX Technology Platform and portfolio of Pro-FX Ready products that together provide advantages at each phase of the machine lifecycle. “It’s not just better machine control; it’s about what we refer to as Dynamic Machine Control,” said Taylor. This concept is really Eaton’s answer to the Industry 4.0 in that it is all about connectivity. Whether it's mobile or industrial machinery, you make machines smart by enabling individual elements to communicate with each other to optimise performance.”

Fuel efficiency & reduced emissions

Continuing the theme of Dynamic Machine Control, Taylor explains that this is fundamentally about adding electronics software to the hydraulic system. “The integration of control with the engine management and the vehicle management system to fully optimise the demands on the engine can help to significantly reduce emissions and reduce fuel consumption."

Nigel Smith, technology and market development manager, Parker Hannifin, picks up the topic of fuel efficiency. In the case of ensuring machinery runs at an optimum fuel efficient level for as long as possible, he points out that hybrid drive solutions can be an effective solution. “It is true that in the instance of a machine that runs at a fairly constant duty cycle there may be no benefit in offering this type of solution,” says Smith. “However, for a manufacturer looking to manage a vehicle’s fuel efficiency and fuel emissions more effectively, one of the areas where we are seeing more take-up is in the use of electronics. A good example of this is Parker’s IQAN System, which replaces mechanical and electromechanical systems for controlling and monitoring hydraulics in mobile machines. Through the use of this system, we have seen significant fuel savings; particularly on things such as construction and forestry machinery. If you prevent an operator from running a vehicle or machine at maximum power if it doesn’t need to, major fuel savings can be achieved.”

Smith explains that this solution essentially uses fairly conventional technology, but adds that as a manufacturer Parker also needs the ability to respond to other demands; such as those for electro-hydraulic solutions. “In this regard, one of the areas where Parker has focused a lot of effort is based around permanent magnet servo-type liquid-cooled motors for use in hybrid vehicles,” said Smith. “These motors are around 90% smaller than conventional A/C induction air-cooled motors. The key here is flexibility; OEMs may be looking for conventional power where they want the most efficient hydraulics and the best electronic control. On the other hand, they may be looking for advanced electro-hydraulic hybrid systems. So, we must be able to respond to these requirements.”

Electro-mechanical development

Sean Kilgallen, marketing manager, Bosch Rexroth, points out that until the introduction in 2014 of the Tier 4 emissions mandate for engines used by off-highway vehicles, most construction and off-highway vehicles were fitted with mechanically injected engines, with barely any electrics on the engines other than the starter circuit. “Few electrical functions on the machine would be supplied via a fuse box and mechanical relays,” he said. “However, with Tier 4, the requirement for electronic fuel injection was required, so the engines began to have an electronic engine control unit (ECU). Then, more and more OEMs thought, now they had an electronic box on the engine and a CAN Bus system, they might as well make the whole vehicle electro-mechanical as well.”

Consequently, says Kilgallen, what started off as a revolution on the engine developed into electronics playing a bigger role on the rest of the vehicle. “Many of these vehicles are now becoming more like cars; where you can plug in and do diagnostics and run all sorts of functions electronically rather than just having a conventional fuse box and relay,” he pointed out.

The more energy-efficient construction machinery is, the more potential cost savings are to be had

As well as offering environmental benefits, Kilgallen comments that the more energy-efficient construction machinery is, the more potential cost savings are to be had. With this in mind, he explains that Bosch Rexroth’s 4EE programme offers expertise for engineering energy-efficient and environmentally responsible components and systems.

Improved machine controllability & safety

Taylor makes the point that conventional hydraulic systems can become unstable and unpredictable, potentially putting operator safety and productivity at risk. “Even experienced operators can over-command a machine, creating a high-pressure cycle that’s difficult to get out of,” he said. With this issue in mind, Taylor explained that Eaton’s Pro-FX Ready products use sensor technology and on-board electronics to dynamically balance power available with power consumed. They automate the many micro-decisions in each work circuit so that when the operator commands the system, the machine can respond smoothly and efficiently.

The need for effective filtration

Continuing the safety theme, but from a pneumatics/compressed air perspective, Smith homes in on the need for effective health & safety good practice on today’s construction sites. He explains that air compressors are often used for tasks such as driving large air motors and providing an air supply for pneumatic tools. “For these types of tasks, it wouldn’t normally be necessary to over-clean or over-dry the air, so there will likely be some particulate oil in the air supply and this won’t be a cause for concern,” he said. “However, if breathing air is taken off the mobile compressor to provide the workers with an air supply when they are undertaking tasks such as sand-blasting or paint spraying, this air would naturally need to meet current breathing standards. Here, it is critically important to supply effective filtration equipment. Rightly so, the health & safety requirements today are far more rigorous than they were in the past.”

Working together

Like many of its member companies, the BFPA also recognises there is less of a designated difference between fluid power and other power-based technologies. “The Association has forged closer ties with other related trade bodies,” said Smith, “and I believe this is a very positive move; reflecting that it recognises that many of its members are active not just in the pure fluid power camp. Certainly, Parker is a good example of this; covering hydraulics, pneumatics, electromechanical hybrid solutions and more.”

Key Points

  • Dynamic Machine Control is fundamentally about adding electronics software to the hydraulic system
  • In ensuring machinery runs at an optimum fuel efficient level for as long as possible, hybrid drive solutions can be an effective solution
  • Conventional hydraulic systems can become unstable and unpredictable, potentially putting operator safety and productivity at risk