At the recent Bauma show in Munich, Caterpillar executives unveiled “The Age of Smart Iron,” the company’s strategy to meld machine and digital technology to make construction equipment more productive, efficient, safe, sustainable and, ultimately, more profitable for its customers.
“This is not technology for technology’s sake. It is technology that’s focused on solving, and even anticipating, customer problems,” said Caterpillar Group President, Rob Charter. Cat is building hardware and software into components and engines to make equipment “smarter,” he explained, for example by capturing vital performance and product-health data and making that information available to customers via the web. Armed with such data, users can make more-informed decisions on how to move material faster while using less fuel, resulting in higher efficiency and lower cost per ton, he said.
Caterpillar already has approximately 400,000 connected machines and engines at work around the world, and the aim is that job sites and entire fleets will eventually share data on one common technology platform. Other equipment manufacturers have a similar vision.
That brings a heightened focus on what’s being called the “electronification” of hydraulics in construction machinery. Electrohydraulics certainly isn’t new. But digital capabilities and connectivity are becoming essential for integrated systems in mobile equipment. It lets hydraulic actuators and travel drives communicate with engines to run more efficiently and lower fuel consumption and emissions. And it’s key to next-generation vehicle maintenance programs, where “intelligent” components with built-in sensors transmit operating data to machine controllers and enable functional diagnostics.
Fluid-power manufacturers are stepping up their game in light of the new demands. For example, Stage V emissions regulations slated for 2019 will likely mean that engines run hotter. Bosch Rexroth’s new hydrostatic fan drive networks with BODAS controllers and temperature sensors via a CAN bus to provide cooling on demand independent of engine speed, so engines run cleaner with less fuel.
Danfoss MP1 axial-piston pumps permit connectivity and data capture through a telematics platform for mobile equipment that aids predictive maintenance, remote service, software updates, efficiency management and operator safety.
Eaton Pro-FX products interact with machine controls and adapt to changing operating conditions. For instance, CMA mobile valves with embedded electronics and sophisticated software access real-time data like oil temperature and flow, and sense load demand to ensure precise control with low parasitic losses.
Parker Hannifin’s IQAN software and hardware provide hydraulic control and data communication. A new
Bluetooth device connects the system to a machine CAN bus so technicians can access machine parameters via smartphones and tablets. Or it can serve as a gateway to the cloud for remote support.
These offerings merely scratch the surface when it comes to digital-capable hydraulics, and the potential certainly looks unlimited. Curiously, though, few mention cybersecurity. One hopes that IoT professionals and control engineers understand the threats and are well-aware how networked devices and machines will
impact security. All the benefits will be for naught if hackers and malware exploit machine control systems
and million-dollar machines grind to a halt.