John Deere Exhibits Backhoe of the Future at CONEXPO 2017

A lightweight metal matrixed exoskeleton and hybrid powertrain are among the innovations and emerging materials envisioned by the John Deere and Designworks "Fixstern" backhoe.

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John Deere and Designworks, a BMW Group subsidiary, gave CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 attendees a first-hand look into the backhoe vision of the future, the result of a unique research and design process introduced to John Deere by Designworks called “Fixstern.” The concept leverages emerging materials and technology innovations, such as a lightweight metal matrixed exoskeleton and a hybrid powertrain, to dramatically reconfigure the traditional backhoe machine form. The futuristic design was presented through unique augmented and virtual reality experiences at the John Deere booth and outside in the Tech Experience.

“We wanted to stretch and challenge ourselves to innovate in new ways, and what better platform to showcase this forward-thinking design than at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017,” says Doug Meyer, Global Director of Product Engineering, John Deere Construction & Forestry. “We worked closely with our backhoe customers to apply their input to ensure the Fixstern solutions address future customer and industry needs in performance, efficiency and environmental compliance.”

Meaning “fixed star” in German, “fixstern” is a term that BMW adopted for its holistic pioneering research and design process. As the name suggests, Fixstern results in a far-future vision or focal point that all stakeholders can share in common, align to and drive towards.

John Deere and Designworks established four goals on the project to highlight the key areas of advancement. This included designing a highly capable and robust future machine; reducing weight by a minimum of 20% and the machine’s environmental impact by a minimum of 10%, and lowering the cost to manufacture; elevating the user experience through user interaction and improved interior spaciousness; and addressing changing market demands through flexibility and versatility.

As a result, the visionary backhoe incorporates several compelling features and innovations. A hybrid powertrain delivers the right amount of machine power, efficiency and lightweighting without compromising productivity. It also enables a lower center of gravity and improves forward visibility. The machine form incorporates forward stabilizers, enabling an extended wheelbase with airless radial tires, which, in turn, improves transport stability and expands the operator station.

To elevate the user experience, John Deere and Designworks expanded the operator station with larger openings and fewer obstructions to improve ingress/egress, visibility and storage space. The isolation of seat and controls from a now-structural rollover protective structure (ROPS) greatly improves comfort and control while reducing vibration and noise. Electric four-wheel steering improves maneuverability in tight areas.

The backhoe itself is manufactured with intelligent, emerging, lightweight materials that help reduce dig component weight, which translates directly into increased payload. A combination of center-mount and side-shift capability delivers versatility, no matter what the application. The implementation of a “tuck” feature minimizes overall length for better on-road driving experience and a smaller parking footprint.

The Fixstern also boasts increased machine intelligence and connectivity with integrated augmented interfaces that enhance operation and real-time training, allow for increased communication between operator and project supervisor for efficiency and control, and incorporate predictive maintenance for decreased downtime and improved fleet management.

“Regardless of the industry, as we look to the future, we face more technological and digitalization challenges being balanced with a clean aesthetic appearance,” says Oliver Heilmer, President of BMW Group subsidiary Designworks. “As a part of the BMW Group, we strongly believe that design leadership can help answer some of these challenges.”

John Deere intends for the Fixstern Backhoe to have a “halo effect” in that many of the ideas and innovations may spread from backhoes across different machine forms.