Cost-efficient and innovative off-highway vehicles

Cost-efficient and innovative off-highway vehicles

Innovation cycles of mobile machinery and its components are getting shorter.

This is according to TTControl Team Lead Product Manager Arno Purkrabek, who says machine differentiation increasingly occurs due to functions programmed in software.

The changes are not only small and incremental, Mr Purkrabek says, but might even lead to completely new vehicle architecture such as when changing from a combustion engine powered machine to an electric or hybrid drive train.

“While all these changes are seen on the market every day, for most off-highway sectors there is one thing set in stone: customers of off-highway machines expect reasonable machine prices,” he says.

Shorter innovation cycles, higher effort and increasing cost pressure

Mr Purkrabek highlights that, on the one hand, the target is to have perfect fitting components on the machinery.

This means, for example, the right size of electronic control units (ECUs) to avoid carrying costs of too large or advanced components.

On the other hand, he says, often a certain flexibility for feature upgrades is requested and should be foreseen.

“An additional dimension to be considered by off-highway machine OEMs is the development effort put into designing a new vehicle line or variant. With shorter innovation cycles and the need for more machine configurations, low development efforts and short time to market are more important than ever before.”

Electronic components address challenging requirements

A closer look at the portfolio of electronics and software suppliers like TTControl unveils how challenging requirements and limitations can be addressed with electronic components, taking ECUs as an example, Mr Purkrabek points out.

“The high configuration ability of ECUs is extremely valuable,” he says.

“Certain electronic outputs, such as PWM and PVG used on TTControl controllers, drive various types of hydraulic valves on the market to control the working functions of construction machinery, for example. On another machine or machine configuration, the same pin might be used as an output to power the lighting, for example, of an agricultural harvester that is working on the field at night. Or in another case, to power a light, but additionally also control its flashing as on firefighting vehicles for example. What seems to be simple at first sight is not in reality.”

Mr Purkrabek explains that all electronics engineers or programmers who have worked on mobile machinery will most likely confirm that the challenge is in the details.

On the one hand it must be ensured, under all circumstances, that a safety shutdown takes place in case an error is detected for a hydraulic valve with safety functionality on the output pin, he says.

On the other hand, the same detection mechanism might prevent using the same output for controlling the flashing cycle of the warning light on a firefighting vehicle.

“Therefore, when designing an ECU, a great deal of testing and dedication is required from the beginning. This will ensure a large variety of use cases are already covered at the early stages of designing and testing,” Mr Purkrabek says.

“The ECU provider has ideally realised this with a clever hardware design, which is then driven by made-to-measure firmware. With this approach, high versatility can be achieved without unnecessary component costs.”

He explains that when the vehicle design is changed at a later point in time or the ECU is used for a different use case, an OEM can rely on the controller’s versatility.

“There is a high likelihood that the ECU has already been designed for this use case and is already proven in use somewhere in the market.”

Diverse electronic components mean flexibility

Another point to address in the requirements mentioned is the controller portfolio itself, Mr Purkrabek says.

He explains that a large portfolio with different electronic control unit sizes helps machine OEMs to choose the right fit for a dedicated machine project.

“Exchanging or extending one ECU with another one needs to be as easy as possible for a vehicle OEM,” Mr Purkrabek says.

“Therefore, ideally, programming code and testing cases can be taken over to a large extent. This can be further improved by using efficient development toolchains.”

Besides the C-programming environment or CODESYS programming, TTControl customers, for example, can also opt for the middleware from its joint venture parent company HYDAC International, called MATCH.

“This certified software environment has been adapted to the TTControl ECUs and the reusable library modules further streamline the development process and increase the quality of the application,” Mr Purkrabek comments.

Component versatility counters challenge of future off-highway vehicle design

Ensuring component versatility is one way to counter the challenges of cost-efficient and innovative future off-highway vehicle design, Mr Purkrabek says.

In relation to the example of ECUs, having a selection of different sizes and types at hand is an advantage when starting a new machinery project, he concludes.

“This helps to significantly increase development flexibility and reduce production time in combination with high configuration ability of components.

“Machinery manufacturers reduce their overall development effort and benefit from easier and faster implementation of new functions.”


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