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The next stage of development of agricultural economics is data-driven and demands robust sensor technology in the field. With its products enabled Turck the operation of intelligent driver assistance systems, the harbinger of fully autonomous work processes. QR20 encoders use the steer-by-wire method to measure the steering angle of axles or accompany the unfolding of the spray arms of a field sprayer. For positional alignment of the spray boom, however, are ultrasound and Inclinometerswhile Banner Engineering's compact TM18 photoelectric sensors can monitor the material flow in the grain lift of a combine harvester.

Like no other entrepreneurial environment, agriculture is subject to erratic external influences. Last summer in Europe dramatized this with its interplay of long-lasting drought and sudden onset of heavy rain. Many farmers subsequently experienced severe crop losses. In any case, companies are under pressure to optimize their production in order to reach the goal of global food security in 2050. In spite of increasingly smaller acreage, agriculture has to cope with continuous increases in yields in order to compensate for the projected growth of the world population to nine billion people and, at the same time, to catch up with nature conservation.

Against this background, the use of modern digital technologies can make a decisive contribution. Measuring instruments today are able to collect data on the condition of soils in such a way that they enable farmers to make an uncomplicated evaluation. This opens up ways to make the operation of machines more efficient and increasingly autonomous. For some years, industry representatives have been discussing such potential under the catchwords "Precision Farming", "Smart Farming" or "Precision Agriculture". The digitization of the economy is described in several studies as currently the most important lever for environmentally conscious crop maximization. While the effort to produce more accurately and with less loss is as old as agriculture itself. But with industry 4.0 scenarios, agriculture is in the midst of a development that offers users many new opportunities.

Area analysis for coordinated fieldwork

In a high-tech agricultural process, the farmer will increasingly take on the role of the observing planner without consistently taking all the steps of controlling machines. The beginning of an exemplary process is first marked by a soil analysis based on the idea of ​​forming homogeneous surfaces in an actually heterogeneous field. In one area, plants could be watered more sparingly due to a higher groundwater resource, while one sector may require more fertilizer than other sections require. The optimal soil and plant processing is done at this point on a precise Vorstrukturierung, resulting in areas with similar requirements as possible. For example, information is gradually being assembled into a map that allows farmers to work the soil on a site-specific basis.

Finally, many small auxiliary components are used in the design. Modern tractors and harvesters now have intelligent driver assistance systems and execute processes partly self-propelled. Thanks to the GPS positioning or location data of the mobile network, machines follow specified routes to the very best, which prevents, for example, the overlapping use of pesticides or fertilizers. Another advantage is the reduction in fuel consumption. Now, in the course of possibly already automatically controlled driving, compact and robust sensors find a variety of uses, for example in the case of low-wear steering processes, the alignment of field sprayers or material flow monitoring.

At the height thanks to sensor support

Turck40619In the context of autonomous driving, steer-by-wire technology is regarded as a future established steering method, whereby a joystick can serve as well for the control. The direction command is no longer transmitted mechanically, but electrically to the actuator. Turck's non-contact encoders measure the steering angle of the axle in this system and are resistant to moisture (IP68 / 69k protection) and shocks. If necessary, they can be completely installed in the axle. The inductive encoders work completely non-contact and are therefore completely wear-free, which is very important in view of the naturally short time windows in agriculture and the risk of machine failure.

Have proved the QR20 encoders in addition to the angle measurement on field sprayers. The sensor detects the deployment angle so that the spray arms are always in the correct position. This once again shows the continuing trend of replacing limit switches with measuring sensors that detect a position continuously.

At which height the spray boom should be located, the distance to the stock decides. Information about this distance can be provided by ultrasonic sensors. The automation company provides compact, PTFE-coated transducers that enable detection ranges from 30 cm to 3 m. With built-in temperature compensation, measurement data is delivered consistently across the full range from -40 ° to + 70 ° C, ensuring users precise alignment of the spray arms. By means of the teach button or a teach line, the parameterization is carried out individually according to the user specifications.

Reliable inclination detection

Irrespective of whether farmers apply plant protection products and liquid fertilizers via a field sprayer or operate a combine harvester, the inclination of the vehicle is an important piece of information in most agricultural machinery. If, for example, the threshing mechanism continues to work horizontally on an uneven surface, it can be robust Inclinometers detect and transmit deviations laterally and in the direction of travel. Strong vibrations and unforeseen shocks during operation do not distort the measured values, as they are masked out by individually adjustable filters.

Once the threshing mechanism has separated the wheat from the chaff, a lift transports the crop to the grain tank. Optoelectronic sensors can monitor this material flow. TM18 sensors in IP67 and IP69k versions by Banner Engineering can also be mounted in tight spaces and quickly aligned with the receptions. In contrast to other sensors, these are screwed directly into the grain lift with their thread nose and save the designer complex and vulnerable installations with deflecting mirrors. Recorded data on the amount of grain are relevant for the operating adjustment of the grain lift. Similarly, the seedlings of a seeder can be detected, with contactless capacitive sensors provide information about the level.

Precision for economic and environmental benefits

The presented applications show that intelligent sensors are important precursors for precision farming. They enable farmers to use fertilizers and pesticides more efficiently, thus helping to save resources and at the same time protect soils. This connection is a key driver of investments in the digitization and automation of agriculture. Experts hope that more precise fieldwork will deliver tangible environmental benefits, such as avoiding direct pollution of river water, reduced use of chemicals in soils or fuel savings.

For businesses, on the other hand, this brings better profitability. In the future, self-propelled machines, in particular, should open up new solutions, including time-sensitive operations in particularly favorable weather conditions. So far, farmers only give the wheel out of the hand in the field, even when driving straight ahead, they make turns themselves. However, even these maneuvers are exactly tunable with the help of angle sensors.

Individual plug connections for distribution lines

Turck50619By the way: In order to always apply the correct amount of pesticides, CAN valves often regulate the spray volume sprayers, Prefabricated Y-lines of the automation allow for individual as well as error-free wiring of these valves. The fully molded CAN distribution lines are resistant to aggressive spray media. Cable jacket, handle body and encapsulation are made entirely of durable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Superseal plugs guarantee a reliable grip, even with strong vibrations. And if a line should ever be damaged, only the defective distributor must be replaced. This saves time and service costs.

Picture above: Turck's PTFE-coated ultrasonic sensors record the distance between the sprayer boom and the field or the stock and withstand common pesticides

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