Robustness in Electronics Expands Automation Opportunities

Astrid Mozes 2016

responses courtesy of Astrid Mozes, Vice President, Power and Motion Controls, Eaton’s Hydraulics Group

The Internet of Things & Connectivity

How do you see the Internet of Things shaping the direction of the heavy-duty vehicle markets?

We see a high level of connectivity within the off-highway mobile equipment markets, including construction, agriculture, forestry and material handling. This connectivity has become more broadly known with the Internet of Things (IoT) impacting nearly all products and markets, but the mobile equipment space has been working with telematics for many years.

In the past, machine designers and component manufacturers often looked at how incremental improvements could be made on individual pieces, which has had a limited impact on overall machine performance. The increasing adoption of electro-hydraulic solutions as part of IoT yields an ever-increasing suite of sensors and intelligence from which the IoT continues to grow. This provides an opportunity to have critical components “talk” to each other, coordinating functions to make significant improvements in power management, productivity and reliability.  Further coordination between machines and worksite, analyzing all the data involved, and digesting it down to the critical pieces really demonstrates how IoT solutions are starting to move the needle.

From an industry-to-industry perspective, the goals are similar, though the outcomes may be more nuanced. Overall, fleet operators – regardless of industry – are looking for solutions that impact operator behavior, machine efficiency and machine health. Certain industries, like agriculture, have more specific goals for IoT solutions such as improving yield and gathering crop data, but the backbone of the technology remains the same.

Similar efforts are in place for the industrial markets as well. The communication networks differ in industrial as compared to mobile, but there are a lot of parallels in building intelligence across the machine and factory environment.


How is your company integrating IoT solutions into your workspace, or what is your perceived plan for implementation and the benefits you foresee with its implementation?

At Eaton, we have been positioning our offerings to provide customers benefits on several fronts of IoT. Smart components such as our CMA valves include built-in sensors and intelligence to provide significant capabilities beyond the traditional role of valves. Rather than just positioning a boom or machine arm, the valve can analyze load changes and automatically correct for movements due to fluid compressibility or flexing of the structure itself.  From there, we connect individual components across the machine with our HFX controllers and ProFX Software to coordinate functions between hydraulic functions as well as tying in with engine and other machine components to optimize overall machine performance. Information gathered throughout the machine can now also be shared through our gateway, putting the critical information into the cloud for analysis. Understanding and dissecting this information can help to identify issues that must be addressed immediately, or that need to be scheduled at the next maintenance session. Further analysis can build insights on location of the machines for managing the assets, how the machine is used and whether there are opportunities for improving the design down the road.

In our own manufacturing environments, we are following these processes to collect more and different data, and making investments to leverage IoT technologies to improve our own facilities.

Across the company, Eaton’s Electrical Sector also has a significant IoT and connected devices offering, with products that seamlessly integrate with our hydraulic solutions for industrial and mobile machine builders.

How has this concept influenced how you approach technology development and new ideas? 

Nearly everything we’re developing now has some kind of IoT element to it. Years ago, we were working on products that would eventually integrate into the IoT. Today, everything we do touches the IoT – even traditionally “dumb” components now have sensing and intelligence elements that will be connected to the cloud. Our component development processes are nearly all framed in the context of an IoT world, as we press for understanding of how the entire machine is used and where opportunities exist to take advantage of our existing portfolio or where we need to build additional capabilities within the solution offerings.

Looking ahead, we see our ProFx suite of software and electronics solutions enabling machine builders to deliver world class products quickly and easily in an IoT world.


The Future of Diesel

Where do you see diesel playing a role in heavy-duty applications in the long run?

Other than smaller, niche machines, it is difficult to imagine diesel going away in the foreseeable future. The power and amount of work these machines deliver are really tough to replicate with a complete conversion to other power sources. However, we do see a larger opportunity in blending power from multiple sources to better take advantage of each type’s capabilities. Using each source where it makes the most sense on individual functions will optimize energy use (and cost) for the machine.

Any expectation for significant shifts in diesel engine technology or expectations in the near term?

Engine manufacturers are continuing to improve their products. One of the next significant technologies is the coordination of the engine with the loading devices such as transmissions and hydraulics. A good demonstration of this was the collaboration between Cummins and Eaton in coordinating engine and transmission shift events for significant fuel and emissions savings. We see similar opportunities with our hydraulic systems as well.

Automation Advancements & Smart Systems

What technology is the most significant contributor to the progress of vehicle automation? 

A lot of the technology required for vehicle automation already exists. The biggest challenges involve the safety considerations to meet machine performance and regulations to provide secure operations. Another focus area is understanding where autonomous operation is needed, and where a combination of operator and automated functions make the best sense.

The growing affordability of sensing and electronic controls is also a significant contributor. In the hydraulics industry, we’ve had electronic controls and software for multiple decades. What’s different today is the robustness and growing affordability of these technologies – allowing them to be deployed in an ever-expanding way. Every new machine is more intelligent and sensor-enabled than in the past. Sensing, controls and intelligence solutions enable all kinds of automation solutions – whether complete autonomy or driver augmentation – and it’s all accelerating.


How does your company contribute to autonomous systems development and success?

A number of the pieces needed to build autonomous solutions Eaton has available today. This includes intelligent hydraulic components and solutions with wireless remote. It also encompasses controllers and gateways for communications, such as our electro-hydraulic steering and steer-by-wire solutions enabling next-generation vehicles. Along with the products, we’ve found it important to have application support with a team that understands the machine needs as well as regulation requirements that will influence design architecture of the overall machine. Having the ability to deliver both hydraulic and electrical components helps our customers tremendously.

Hybrids & Electrification

What technological limitations currently exist that are impeding the ability to harness the full potential of hybrid power systems?

Eaton has done extensive work in both electric and hydraulic-hybrid system development. When you look at the technology needs to deliver hybrid systems, all of the component solutions are available for some pretty advanced designs. A number of these Eaton has already demonstrated on our own and customer-owned machines with 20-40% fuel savings and 10% better productivity gain. To maximize the benefits, it is necessary to incorporate the entire machine design as part of the hybrid consideration. This includes engines, operator interface, and mechanical functions where operations can be combined and automated to get the most out of energy recovery and reuse.

On the electric hybrids side, batteries and ultracapacitors remain expensive with long payback in the off-highway markets. Cost reduction in batteries and capacitors will make electric hybrids more effective in off-highway markets.


Is the future fully electric, or will there always be a need for engine/hydraulic supplementary power? 

Being a power management company that includes mechanical, hydraulic and electric solutions, we have visibility to all of these power sources and see them being blended into system-level solutions for customers. We see hydraulics and engines continuing to contribute a significant portion of the high-density power management needs for off-road machines, particularly those requiring precise control of large linear loads.


Managing the Data Trend

How is your company utilizing data in new and valuable ways?

Data generated by our intelligent products have shown us ways to interpret pressure signatures that are creating performance or safety issues. One example is providing stability of long booms when moved from point A to point B, or when pulses of loads are experienced. Our smart valves use onboard sensors to detect vibration and unique algorithms to automatically stabilize the cylinder position and boom structure.

What value is this providing to your company and customers?

In the example listed above, our customers have seen “bounce” reduce by over 70%, which improves safety of workers around the boom, and improves productivity by allowing the machine to get in and out of the job site faster.

Where do you see data leading the industry? What is its potential?

Deeper dives into using the available data can have huge impacts for the end user, the OEM, and component suppliers. Customers get better visibility as to where and how their machines and operators are performing, and how they might be improved and where machines should be located. As issues begin to develop, preventative measures can be taken to maximize machine life and replacement parts can be automatically ordered to save time and efforts. With this data, OEMs and component suppliers can get a better view of how their machines are being used and where improvements can be made. This can result in cost savings with optimized designs or raising capability ratings of the machine based on a complete picture.

Several manufacturers are now investing in data analyst and programmer experts to shape the direction of their company and its use of data. What is your company’s end goal with data?

We see the understanding of machine data as a way to make ourselves more valuable to the customer and apply our expertise to interpreting information that would be valuable to the OEM, fleet users, or end user. By seeing this data, it also gives us a chance to understand how our products are being used and where there might be opportunities for improvement.

Challenges & Opportunities

What new challenges have arisen that effect the way you design or manufacture your product? How you do business? How you go to market? How you differentiate yourself from the competition?

With the expansion of technologies involved with power management and connectivity, it’s given us a chance to look at our entire enterprise and bring those pieces of technology forward from different parts of the business to be easily accessible for our distributors and customer partners. Having the right technologies available opens up a world of solutions that might otherwise be overlooked.

Has the rate of technological advancement had any impact on business decisions, development, or product performance and client expectations?

Agility in business decisions has always been important, but expectations from customers coupled with new technologies coming into being has accelerated that even further. Keeping our customers abreast of these opportunities has also had to accelerate as well.


What is your company’s opportunity to impact the marketplace with a unique product, capability or offering?

Eaton’s position as a power management player across hydraulic, mechanical and electrical sources has opened a lot of opportunities in delivering unique capabilities. As customers continue to raise expectations for energy savings, productivity and safety, we see the chance to bring these technologies together in new and different ways that will set the customer’s offering apart.