Data-driven off-road equipment will improve uptime and performance and reduce operating costs.
Mobile machine owners, fleet operators and rental companies increasingly want equipment that offers more-exacting control, higher productivity and efficiency, and is more environmentally friendly. Add to that is the growing interest in electrification, automation, and autonomy.
In response, mobile OEMs and their suppliers are doubling down on efforts to embrace IoT and “intelligent” vehicle components that communicate with one another, make decisions, and pair with telematic systems to send data to the cloud.
Such connectivity promises to:
- Give companies a better understanding of how operators use their vehicles.
- Increase overall machine efficiency and productivity for substantial operational cost savings.
- Enable continuous system monitoring and diagnostics to reduce vehicle maintenance costs.
- Optimize vehicle usage and reduce fuel consumption of entire fleets.
- Improve machine security to protect against hacking and theft.
In a recent Technology Conference, “Fluid Power and the Drive Towards Connected Systems and Machines” sponsored by the Fluid Power Industrial Consortium (FPIC) and NFPA, several presenters delved into some important trends, including the growth in electrified devices like pumps and valves; how system architecture will change on next-generation connected vehicles; and collaborative efforts among suppliers and machine builders to ensure disparate systems seamlessly work together.
Current on-board systems often rely on discrete input devices, controllers, actuators and pumps. An ongoing trend is the further integration of controllers and sensors into system components. As the cost of CAN chips and other electronics continues to fall, it’s becoming more cost-effective to put that intelligence on the devices themselves, said D.J. O’Konek, engineering manager at Nott Co.
Integrating input devices and mobile controllers allows communication with other intelligent and non-intelligent components, rather than needing an independent primary controller. This creates a more compact system to control ancillary devices or even propulsion and steering on a machine.
And as integrated controllers, sensors and other devices collect data, controller networks such as J1939 and other CAN-based systems can team with telematics to transmit that data to the cloud for presentation, analysis, action, and storage. This drive towards connectivity lets OEMs and users access far more data on devices than previously possible.
This creates a lot of advantages, said O’Konek. Among them:
- Develop streamlined systems to reduce wiring and eliminate a separate controller. This provides distributed intelligence throughout the system which can reduce programming needs, simplify systems, reduce overall costs, and speed time to market.
- Allow access to additional data that hadn’t been available previously, which permits closer monitoring of operating parameters and can lead to far more efficient systems.
- Build additional safety into the system, with options like redundant supervisory controllers, error-checking of data, or monitoring for system faults.
“All major manufacturers are moving towards these intelligent devices. Everybody has their own suite of products that they have access to, and pretty much all manufacturers are moving towards this type of connectivity,” said O’Konek.
Examples include actuators like electrohydraulic cylinders and electric motors that now provide data that previously required integrating a controller and sensor into the system. Now they can monitor and control parameters like speed, torque, displacement, current draw, and linear force. The same holds for pumps and valves, where it is fairly easy to integrate an onboard controller and provide data on the position of valve spools or the displacement angle on pumps.
Many sensors now have J1939, CANopen or other protocols on board. This puts sensor data on the bus, rather than requiring conversion in a controller. Likewise, user interfaces like displays and joysticks can now provide data directly into the system via CAN.
Networks almost always require a primary controller, whether for supervisory functions, edge computing, or actual decision-making. The trend now is to integrate primary controllers into other devices, such as touchscreens or joysticks, resulting in more compact systems, said O’Konek.
Finally, virtually all gateways connect to a CAN or LIN network and provide data to the cloud. Most common is with a cellular network, but devices can also transmit data via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Some manufacturers are consolidating gateways into their displays, controllers, and other devices. Again, this eliminates additional components and wiring and allows over-the-air updates of products.
The expansion of “smart” components into most every vehicle system undoubtedly results in more data. Functions are electrified, the engine manages operations and emissions, and sensors drive automation and efficiency, said Matt Via, VP of sales and marketing, HED.
Add to that, the equipment of tomorrow will incorporate AI and machine learning to understand real-time conditions, and automatically learn and make decisions based on the environment where they operate. This software-defined vehicle will also accelerate the pace at which data is created.
How much data are we talking about? Estimates are that an electronically-controlled excavator produces approximately 15 GB/hr. In normal usage, an average machine produces 2.5 TB/month, he said. As manufacturers add battery-management systems, high-accuracy radar, Lidar, high-resolution cameras and automation to support autonomy of a vehicle, data is expected to increase to about 5.4 TB/hr — approximately 200 times growth by about 2035.
“There is simply not enough bandwidth on today’s machines and the world of connectivity does not contain enough wireless or cloud capacity to try and consume all this data,” said Via.
“As we process the stunning growth in the amount of data, it becomes clear that how we architect machines matters. Understanding what types of data, communication methods, and how machines will optimize edge processing versus cloud reliance to develop analytics will happen very quickly. The pure volume of software will demand connectivity of machines and, like your computer, updating the equipment will be normal,” he said.
Typical vehicles today are based on a domain architecture where controls are organized around functions. All inputs and outputs that are part of a function are wired back to a specific location. The average machine needs at least four CAN buses to move data, which can be replaced with a single, higher-bandwidth CAN-FD (CAN with Flexible Data-Rate) backbone. This offers a near-term solution, said Via.
But future networks will require Ethernet to handle communications between vehicle systems, he said. As we implement items like functional safety and automation, machine builders need to reorganize how operations are distributed from functions to locations on the vehicle.
An Ethernet backbone set up around the vehicle lets controllers share data. Within each zone, local networks collect data from sensors, while zonal gateways use the Ethernet backbone to transfer aggregated data back and forth for data processing.
Changes in the architecture of the vehicle also drive direct cost benefits for the manufacturer. Zonal configurations simplify and shorten wire harnesses, and software layers become more contained, allowing components to simply transfer raw data and remove multiple locations for software configurations, meaning fewer locations to maintain software.
The evolution from the domain to zonal architecture will start with power distribution and central computing. Over time, more and more domains around the vehicle are added, all using the same backbone. These features quickly start to use and leverage more data. This is why advanced automation and autonomy require a different approach to the vehicle system architecture, said Via.
Telematics becomes essential
With the increase in data, telematics — the system to collect and transmit data to the cloud — also moves into a central role. Experts often tout next-generation controls and connected vehicles in terms of benefits like safety, predictive maintenance, productivity, user experience, and over-the-air programming. But ultimately, the reason to embrace connectivity is for cost savings.
Fleets operate in an extremely competitive environment and are looking to use data to improve their margins and enable better outcomes. Today, there are about 8.85 million subscriptions for data and telematics in non-trucking heavy vehicles, generating an average savings of around $6,400 — typically from machine utilization, operator efficiency, fuel, and reduced accident costs, said Via.
OEMs also spend billions on warranty costs, great for their dealers but bad for customer satisfaction and OEM profitability. By integrating telematic systems into their vehicles, OEMs can gain real-time insights into the performance condition of their vehicles and customer’s real use cases. This lets OEMs proactively identify and address potential issues before they become major problems, reduce the warranty pool size, provide real-time diagnostics and enable faster fixes, possibly avoiding the cost of a service call.
With software-defined vehicles, the ability to update features over the life of vehicle lets the OEM build constant value on existing vehicles that are in the field. The ability to fix with over-the-air programming provides more uptime, something that will be a key differentiator for early adopters. And telematics data can be used to improve product designs and manufacturing processes, leading to vehicles that are more reliable.
In addition, there are three impacts that’ll be very difficult or near impossible to implement without machine connectivity, said Via.
First, software security. Equipment today is vulnerable to security attacks. Machines that are hacked could be rendered inoperable or cause damage and liability issues. Protection will require OEMs to implement encryption, security certificates, and hardware security devices. Connectivity will be required to keep these security systems up to date.
A second reason for connectivity in software-defined vehicles is software bugs. Today, heavy-equipment software has about five to eight million lines of code, and Frost & Sullivan estimates about 100,000 bugs. In a decade, that’s estimated to be 150 to 225 million lines of code and three million bugs. Without connectivity, software warranty costs for OEMs will be astronomical, if not unsustainable, he said.
Third is advanced automation and autonomy. These technologies leverage learning models such as AI that are constantly learning, based on vehicle operations, the environment, and the vehicle pool. Connectivity is essential to share information, receive updates and continuously improve the models.
“Software is the future in vehicles,” continued Via. “It will drive changes to architectures and expand how connectivity is used in the vehicle. More data creates more opportunities.” Software-driven vehicles let OEMs build customer value in existing vehicles, increase customer satisfaction, and lower warranty rates. To push adoption and drive prescriptive analytics, however, OEMs need to deliver better outcomes. “Data does not equal value. Users want outcomes that produce better results, otherwise data is just noise and expense,” he said.
For software-defined vehicles to succeed, however, commonality and standards become essential. As machines become more intelligent, with smart components and more connectivity, and as they advance toward electrification and autonomy, OEMs need more information and collaboration to design, service, and operate these machines.
“We’ve been in this game for about 10 years now, doing telematics solutions for OEMs. Previously, one company would try to provide that whole solution,” said Adam Livesay, CRO of Elevāt Inc. The problem they’ve experienced: suppliers are very siloed within OEMs. One supplier might allow data to be shared on the CAN bus and the CAN network, but not allow a tie-in to their APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), to their back office, to their service centers or their databases. And they definitely are reluctant to share data between each other, or even with a third-party telematics company.
That’s been the case for years, but it has become increasingly difficult to go it alone. “The major shift we’ve seen in the last two or three years is companies are really coming together with their piece of the puzzle, rather than trying to provide the full solution. Now the suppliers, from the sensors to hardware, to gateways, to controllers, to the cloud, all have to work together in partnership with the OEMs to provide that unique solution,” he said.
Having all suppliers follow the same standards, such as the ability to provide common over-the-air software updates to all modules, or the ability to diagnose and implement common diagnostic messaging, represents saving opportunities for OEMs.
For example, when equipment leaves the factory, OEMs often don’t know how those machines are operating in the field. There’s not a rich and robust data feedback to the OEM, or to their dealers or service centers, said Livesay.
When a maintenance event occurs and the machine shuts down, average downtime for some major North American suppliers is eight days until the equipment is serviced and up and running again. On the other hand, if firms have a connected strategy that shares data with other suppliers and telematics companies, we start to connect these systems and provide better information across company boundaries to help solve these problems quicker — perhaps even eliminating the need for a costly on-site service call — and get the equipment up and running faster.
One impetus behind this transition was Covid-19 and the acceptance of work-from-home, when companies were forced to embrace cloud-based solutions. Their IT teams had to develop security strategies, API strategies, cloud-based service strategies, and it really accelerated the telematics and connectivity industry. “When we meet with OEMs now, they already have their cloud service providers, API security, data-protection contracts all ready to go. Now it’s about making those components and that infrastructure ready to be shared. This is becoming more of the norm in the industry,” said Livesay.
Now, a connected machine or fleet can take that local data and connect it to the cloud, where an API might share that data not just to the OEM and the machine operator, but also the service centers, which can react to alerts and solve immediate issues. But as data is collected over years, OEMs build a history and can start making recommendations on predictive maintenance. And suppliers get information on how their components are being operated, how they’re holding up, and what kind of failures occur. Ultimately, it can lead to better components and better recommendations for system designs in the future.
“A shift is happening in the industry. It’s happening fast. Companies are coming together, and they’re building these ecosystem partnerships that are really focused on delivering high value to the OEM and their customers,” said Livesay.
“So I think there’s two types of companies out there right now. You have the companies that are choosing not to do this, they’re choosing to stay siloed and provide their own solution. But I think the industry is really moving past that, and they’re expecting a lot more ecosystem cooperation and partnerships so that they can deliver their next generation of machines.”
Elevāt | elevat-iot.com
HED Inc. | hedcontrols.com
Nott Co. | nottco.com
Filed Under: Industry 40, IoT, Mobile Hydraulic Tips, Trending