Hydraulic engineers who know a lot about fluid pressure and other topics may not understand the intricacies of the software that is transforming hydraulic systems, but they'll still be able to create programs using a range of new tools coming from vendors.
Hydraulic system designers who developed first-generation electrohydraulic systems often worked closely with electronic engineers and programmers. But today, many companies can't afford to have large teams. They are rolling programming into the hydraulic system teams.
"The hydraulic guys have the tribal knowledge to make things work, so they're doing more things with electronics rather than have the electronic guys learn about hydraulics," said Tony Welter, Mobile Valves Product Manager at Eaton.
Many of the companies that supply controllers and other electrohydraulic equipment are providing sophisticated programming tools that let engineers drag icons and modules for pumps and other components. These icons have the necessary support software for the functions the need.
"Our new software suite lets engineers create software without typing code in C or Fortran. They can drag and drop icons to build programs," said Kirk Lola, North American Mobile Electronics Marketing Manager at Parker-Hannifin.
In many ways, software is becoming a differentiator for many suppliers. As in other areas of electronics, more man-hours are expended on software than on hardware development. That scenario is prompting many companies to continuously upgrade their software to enhance performance. "We roll out evolutionary upgrades around every six months," said Dan Ricklefs, Product Portfolio Manager at Sauer-Danfoss.
These tools also make it easy to check out both the software and the mechanical elements by simulating the system using desktop computers, allowing engineers to try more options and make sure that their designs work as expected before they get prototype machines.
"Now people can simulate at the desktop instead of putting untested code on a machine, which can be dangerous," said Lola. "If there is a problem with new software, you might have a hydraulic arm swing wildly and damage human, building, or itself."
Many of these tools are designed for proprietary hardware. But a growing number use standards so it's simpler for developers to intermix components from various suppliers. "IEC 61131-3 is being adapted for mobile applications," said Welter. That international standard addresses four areas: adder logic, functional block diagrams, structured text and instruction lists.
Engineers can use these tools for all aspects of system design, even peripheral areas such as networking and the human-machine interface. "Hydraulic engineers can do things like operator interface screens, linking to the engine via J1939 or recording fault codes," said Lola.
Some software tools carry through to the completion of production vehicles. For example, Parker-Hannifin provides a tool that automatically writes scripts that let engineers automate tasks. They make it simple to confirm that no one has skipped a step or entered a wrong step That shortens setup time before equipment ships, letting technicians enter maximum speed levels and make sure that an engine has the right options for a specific machine, Lola said.