Hay Rake behind a tractor in a field on a farm

The Electrification of Agricultural Equipment – Tractor and Implements

This is Part II of a two-part series exploring the electrification of agricultural equipment.  Part I focuses on the electrification of auxiliaries.

The Benefits of Electrifying Implements

In Part I, we focused on the opportunities and benefits of electrifying the propulsion and auxiliaries in tractors or other agricultural equipment. In this article, we will focus on the benefits and the opportunities of electrified farming implements and attachments.  Traditionally, implements have either been power take-off (PTO) implements that are mechanically coupled and powered by the engine transmission or otherwise hydraulically powered. 

As with electrifying the auxiliaries, electrified farming implements reduce the load on the engine leading to reduced fuel consumption and also allows the implements to operate independent of the engine speed. Decoupling these loads from the tractor’s powertrain provides additional benefits and opportunities: 

Flexible Arrangement of PTO Implements

More flexible arrangement of PTO implements which would have otherwise been determined by the location of the transmission.  This may also allow for new types of equipment which may not have been previously possible due to mechanical constraints.

Localize Loads to Eliminate Intermediate Components

Opportunity to localize loads and eliminate intermediate components such as gearboxes, couplings, and shafts.  An example would be a bale processor or hay grinder that has a PTO shaft to a gearbox which controls the rotating shredder; instead the shredder could be directly driven by an electric motor.  This example also provides a second opportunity to replace hydraulic connections by replacing the piston lifter with an electric motor.

Bale shredder on a farm
Example of a farming implement bale shredder that could benefit from electrification

Increased Performance with Independent Controls

Increased performance and flexibility through independent controllability.  Not only does this mean speed control that is independent of the engine or ground speed of the tractor, but this can also include independent speed between parts of the implement and variable speed control for each.  As an example, a hay rake with a direct-drive motor for each rake that would allow front and rear motors to operate at different speeds or inside and outside motors to operate at different speeds during turns.  This flexibility allows the equipment to easily adapt to different crops and landscape situations.

Example of a Fendt hay rake that could benefit from a direct-drive electric motor

Intelligent Control

Opportunity for intelligent control allowing precision farming and implementing new processes or equipment.  Advanced inverter motor controls allow for dynamic and precision control of both speed and torque.  In areas of planting, fertilizer spreading, and harvesting such control can reduce waste and potentially increase yield.  New motor control features such as torque sensing can also lead to new functions on equipment or enhance safety; for example, torque sensing can detect a jam on a shredder or grinder implement and automatically reverse to clear the jam and slowly ramp speed back up.  

In terms of new equipment, the possibilities can change farming into a completely automated and autonomous industry; embedded controls connected via a communication network can coordinate operations between multiple systems for optimal performance.  In the future, this could lead to development of new equipment such as planters that look like mobile pick-and-place robots being guided autonomously.

The Benefits of the KEB T6 Auxiliary Inverter for Agricultural Equipment

Given the large number of auxiliaries and implements that can potentially be electrified and the wide variety of agricultural equipment and applications, the T6 Auxiliary Inverter is a highly flexible solution.  The “all-in-one” motor control system can be scaled from 1 – 6 independent motor controllers with modular power options of 7.5 kW, 15 kW, or 30 kW for each output.  All types of AC motors are supported, including induction, permanent magnet, and switched reluctance motors and can be controlled without an encoder using sensorless closed loop motor control algorithms for dynamic performance and optimal efficiency.  CAN J1939 or ISOBUS communications can be supported for easy integration with the vehicle control networks.  Not only is the T6 Auxiliary a highly flexible system, but compared with individual inverters that control each motor, the consolidated design also reduces the size and weight and the number of cabling and coolant connections.

The KEB T6 Auxiliary Inverter for commercial vehicle applications

The T6 is specifically designed for commercial and off-highway vehicle applications and is made with automotive-qualified components to meet automotive EMC and environmental temperature, shock and vibration standards to withstand the rigor of commercial off-highway vehicles and equipment.   The system utilizes an IP67 / IP6k9k housing with liquid cooling and integrated DC choke filters for reliability in all types of systems and environments.

As the world transitions from combustion engine technology to electrics solutions, agricultural equipment will surely follow suit and can benefit in many ways.  The KEB T6 Auxiliary Inverter stands ready to help enable the benefits by electrifying both auxiliaries and implements while also providing motor control and automation solutions which can lead to new possibilities in farming and precision agriculture practices.

Tony Heiser is the Business Development Manager at KEB America, Inc. for the T6 Auxiliary Inverter for commercial electric vehicle applications.  He received his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul and has 13+ years of experience with AC motor controls and VFD applications with KEB.

Interested in KEB’s automation technology? Contact a KEB engineer today to discuss your application.

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