The release of an Industrial Autonomous Tractor Concept by Case New Holland is spurring discussions on the future of electrohydraulic steering, but there are other key advantages driving the technology forward, as well.
These include an immediate need to develop functionally safe systems to meet new government regulations in Europe, new support for multiple forms of steering control, flexible system performance, and the ability to reduce noise levels by removing the traditional valve interface with the steering column from the cab area.
“The autonomous tractor is an example of where electrohydraulic steering is headed in the future, and autonomy is the hot button issue,” Aaron Krahn, engineering manager for Eaton Corporation’s Hydraulics Business, told Design News . “There is a lot of interest, at least, to define the future architecture of machines to be ready for that possibility. Having everything under electrohydraulic control, understanding functional safety, and being sure that you are partnering with suppliers that have those capabilities is key. It’s on most OEM’s minds, and it has driven them into action and active investigation into the impact on their own products.”
Growth in Electrohydraulic Steering
“Within industry now, we are seeing a significant increase in the desire for various forms of electrohydraulic steering for GPS navigation and/or joystick steering control, multiple steering inputs, and multiple devices that the operator can command from,” Krahn added.
With more regulations, especially in Europe, around how to assess the functional safety of hydraulic steering systems, there is both an increase in demand but also increased recognition that just a proportional valve with basic controls, while it may suffice from a performance standpoint, there is more required to implement safe systems. This is beginning to place more of an onus on suppliers to develop products that are more purpose-built for electrohydraulic steering and start to integrate some of that intelligence into the valve.
Eaton has been selling products into the agricultural market for GPS navigation for 10 to 15 years, traditionally providing a valve solution to aftermarket navigation suppliers or OEMs working with vendors to integrate systems using a variety of displays and ECUs. Krahn said that the goal now is to develop products that have diagnostic capabilities and an ability to react to system failures, along with upgrades to the controllers used with these devices. System suppliers focused primarily on GPS navigation are now coming to suppliers like Eaton with developed capabilities in the functional safety arena seeking help to implement solutions. The key is how to put together systems that meet these regulatory requirements.
“We are also seeing demand outside of Ag coming on more aggressively both in construction and material handling,” Krahn added. “A lot of this is being driven by the desire to have future capabilities to do autonomous vehicles and equipment. Case New Holland has some videos on the use of autonomous tractors, for example, along with interest from other market areas, as well.”
One change is a broader focus than the Ag market for electrohydraulic steering, and how new products need to be differentiated to address some of these