Controls like in a cockpit
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We hold it in our hands every day with our smartphones, it is everywhere, all the time: digitization. Digital technology simplifies our everyday lives, because we can access information anywhere thanks to networking. But what role does digitization play in agriculture? We spoke to Hendrik Schmidt, Director of Systems and Control Engineering at Vogelsang, about the state of the art and the Performance Control Unit developed specifically for spreading equipment.
Interview with Hendrik Schmidt, Director of Systems and Control Engineering
THINK RED: Mr. Schmidt, how digital is agricultural technology today?
Hendrik Schmidt: Digital technology is now just as important and essential a part of agriculture as it is in other industries. All equipment manufacturers have advanced their development signifi cantly. Equipment in the agricultural sector, for example a dribble bar system and a tractor, are no longer simply attached to one another and then operated separately. Today, contractors sit in the cab of their tractor and see which functions their equipment is performing on monitors, like in a cockpit. They can control and supervise the machinery very simply and directly.
What effects does digitization have on technology?
Of course, contractors were able to control their equipment from the tractor before digital control technology was introduced. However, as every manufacturerdeveloped their own interfaces and controllers for communication, devices generally only worked with tractors by specific manufacturers. There was a separate control unit in the driver’s cab for every additional device, and contractors were stuck with specific device combinations. To give the users more functions, and allow them to use devices from multiple manufacturers, standardized inter-device communication was needed. ISOBUS now off ers a standard for digital interfaces, and has prevailed on the market thanks to strong committees like AEF and CCI. Established manufacturers use ISOBUS as standard. Strong standards are a major advantage for users, as they can rely on interoperability of devices by different manufacturers.
What does ISOBUS device networking change?
The machines “talk” to one another, without the user having to intervene. That improves ergonomics for users, as all information is pooled in one location in the driver’s cab and operators can make decisions on work steps more easily. In our opinion, ISOBUS is a future-proof foundation, as it off ers all functions for smart networking technology. That is why Vogelsang developed the Performance Control Unit for the spreading technology, in particular for dribble bar system, and made it ISOBUS-capable.
What makes the Performance Control Unit special?
The Performance Control Unit (PCU) is a performance-boosting control platform that is fundamentally suitable for devices in all industries. Thanks to its modular design, new functions can be added at any time via updates. We started in the agricultural sector and equipped Vogelsang devices like the Compax dribble bar system with the PCU and an ISOBUS interface. All it takes to connect the link-age to the tractor is an ISOBUS-compliant IBBC plug connector. When developing the system, we made sure that the PCU works with every terminal. In future, we will have the standard compatibility confirmed by AEF.
What advantages does the PCU offer contractors?
The PCU allows farmers to operate the hydraulic folding mechanism, the precision distributor, the part width section management and the Flow Performance Monitor of the dribble bar system. The PCU combines all functions of the dribble barsystem – which is why only one terminal is required to operate the linkage instead of the previous four separate terminals. As no additional control units have to be installed on the tractor, the attachment can be used on multiple vehicles. It was also important to us to make handling as easy as possible. With the text-free interface and uniform pictograms, the software is language-neutral and easy to operate. As a result, different user languages are no obstacle to operation.
Where does Vogelsang envision further potential for digital technology like the PCU?
With the PCU, Vogelsang is developing standardized control systems both for the industry and for agriculture. The transitions are fluent, and the distinction between the systems is largely in the interfaces. With regard to humans, we prioritize ergonomics, and with regard to tractors, interoperability and compatibility are our key goals. In the agricultural sector, we want to help our customers spread liquid manure on specific partial areas with the latest control technology. ISOBUS technology uses the TaskControl principle, in which the user controls the devices from the terminal. In the first development step for PCU for dribble bar system, we focused intensively on this human-machine communication. In future, we are interested in developing section control interfaces in cooperation with manufacturers of self-propelled vehicles. This means that instead of human machine communication, the next milestone is direct communication between the machines to achieve greater automation.
ISOBUS: HOW IT WORKS
ISOBUS is an international standard for a communication bus system (standard ISO11783) and is based on a development from the automotive sector. The system ensures that a tractor “understands” the feedback from an ISOBUS-capable dribble bar linkage, for example. The concept: An internal controller (ECU) makes devices smarter and allows them to communicate with a central control unit in the tractor (TCU). ISOBUS is the first development to make plug and play functions possible. Attachments register automatically on the terminal in the tractor and make their functions available there. All the device needs is a standardized plug connector, the IBBC, to make the connection between the power supply and communication with the tractor. The visualization for the attachment’s functions are automatically loaded on the terminal (VT) in the tractor. The operating concept is standardized and adapts individually to the terminal depending on the softkey or joysticks available for control. That makes it far easier for users to handle and operate attachments.