"Great development potential in automation"
The CPS team share their thoughts: Prof. Herlitzius, Professor of Agricultural Systems Technology at the Technical University of Dresden, talks about emissions regulation, alternative drive systems and the future of agricultural technology.
Where are the next groundbreaking technological innovations for agricultural machines expected to come from?
Three central issues will dominate the debate on agricultural machinery in the coming years: firstly, the machine’s constructional design, secondly the degree of automation and finally the services offered by the manufacturer. As far as the machinery itself is concerned, there will initially be a further enhancement of performance characteristics. Over the past 50 years, the average output of a tractor has increased by roughly 1.75 kW per year, and in combine harvesters by as much as 5 kW per year. This trend will continue for a few more years at least, although the upper limits of growth will eventually be reached, partly owing to the increasing scarcity of combustible fossil fuels, and otherwise to harmful soil compaction and construction space restrictions associated with the approval of agricultural machinery for use on public roads. These areas in particular have already become fraught with difficulty.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil.
I therefore see much more development potential in the field of automation, for example in information technology and the development of onboard electronics – i.e., precision farming. This is because processes in agricultural operations have evolved to embody much more than just standalone procedures, and as such require a centralised process management solution. This, in turn, opens up opportunities to provide additional services to customers. Many farms, and smaller farms in particular, are often overwhelmed by the requirements of procedural management. This creates market potential for new service providers to step up in process control management.
What do you make of the discussion surrounding better emissions technology?
The first three emissions stages, Tier 1, 2 and 3, have, in my estimation, been prudent. The introduced standards have led to a host of key developments in engine technology, and in agricultural technology too; harmful emissions, for instance, have already been drastically reduced. However, Tier 4 (Stage IIIb/Stage IV) is, in my view, problematic at best. The issue as I see it is not simply the fact that many countries, especially in Asia, have yet to decide whether to introduce emissions standards at all (and if so, which ones), but also the fact that the Tier 4 emissions standard, as far as manufacturers in America and western Europe are concerned, means one thing above all else: additional costs. And, what’s more, these costs will inevitably be passed on to the customer. This is because any new technology, whether it’s SCR or EGR with particulate filter, is inevitably linked to additional expense. And one thing is clear: the additional components will undoubtedly boost consumption. Particulate filters consume fuel to regenerate, while SCR catalytic converters increase consumption of AdBlue®. In fact, manufacturers achieve reduced fuel consumption rates by optimising the overall efficiency of the machine and drive train. Thoroughly credible data or comparative studies on the matter do not yet exist or have not yet been made public. I believe that the world would have benefited more had the money invested in new exhaust emissions technology been channelled into the development of alternative drive systems instead.
Will diesel technology be replaced by new drive systems anytime soon? If so, when do you think this will be?
There is little doubt that electric drive systems will become more and more prevalent as the agricultural sector develops, although this will still take some time. We are in fact talking about outputs of up to 1,000 hp on a 14-hours-per-day operational basis. These levels will not be achieved by electric engines or fuel cells anytime soon. The necessary storage technologies in particular, i.e. battery systems, are some way from operational readiness. The ideas put forward by a number of agricultural machinery manufacturers, such as tractors equipped with fuel cells, remain in the investigatory phases; a great deal has yet to be fully thought through. What we can expect to see over the next five to ten years, in fact, will be hybrid solutions and diesel-electric drive systems in agricultural machinery. That is the future of the industry, and that’s where the challenge for manufacturers lies, and where good designs need to be developed today.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Thomas Herlitzius is Professor of Agricultural System Technology at the Technical University of Dresden. The professorship forms part of the Institute for Processing Machines and Mobile Working Machinery.