Slimming down with lots of chips

  • 03-Sep-2008 10:35 EDT

Controllers from companies such as Parker Hannifin keep engines running at peak efficiency.

Electronic controls continue to enable engineers to improve performance and add personality to off-highway equipment. Faster chips and improved software provide significant benefits in the push to do more with less fuel and emissions.

Though they’re small, electronics still add weight, heat, and cost. Eaton is addressing that by doubling up on electronic controls. The company is using one controller for both the valve and pump, eliminating a circuit board and its housing.

As in the human world, good communications is a key facet for maximizing effectiveness. “These systems rely heavily on communications, talking to the engine over a CAN bus,” said Steve Zumbusch, Manager of Application and Commercial Engineering at Eaton.

In many instances, these controls make life simpler for operators, improving efficiency on the work site. For example, they control throttle speed in fixed systems such as cranes, where the engine is used mainly to create hydraulic energy. Operators only rarely need to control the throttle on some equipment.

“The controller keeps the engine running at its sweet spot more often,” said Art Donaldson, Parker Hannifin Corp.’s Systems Engineering Manager for mobile hydraulics. “With total system control, all functions talk to the controller so it can determine the right speed.”

In some instances, the power savings are large enough that engines can be downsized, since engineers no longer have to design for the worst-case scenario.

Regardless of vehicle type, electronics engineers are now taking a broader vehicle view when they design and integrate hydraulics. As systems mature, more jobs are handled by software that bases decisions on input from many sensors and systems.

“The software and algorithms have to address the system side,” said Zumbusch. “If OEMs want to accelerate at a certain rate, they need to be able to set the engine so it won’t stall at critical points. We also have to maximize fuel savings.”

This sort of software customization also makes it simpler for companies to create a bit more of a brand image. New features, good human-machine interfaces, and simple instructions are among the elements that can be used to differentiate products in competitive markets.

“When you look at, say, one skid-steer, then another, they’re pretty much the same. The electronics allow OEMs to create more personality and add some customization,” said Branko Horvat, Product Portfolio Manager for the Propelled Division at Sauer-Danfoss.

Semiconductors also help control costs, letting equipment manufacturers do more with less. “When we make the machine more efficient, operators can downsize to a smaller machine or get more productivity with the same size,” said Zumbusch.

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