Emissions from non-road vehicles contribute between 15-20% of unburned hydrocarbon (UHC) and particulate matter (PM) emissions across the US in urban areas. In addition, with the significant greenhouse gas improvements offered by on-road electrification in areas with efficient energy production, it makes sense for mobile machines to employ electric features as well. It is worth noting that "electrification" does not mandate a fully-electric drivetrain; the term can apply to hybrid engines or electric features that rely on battery power.
Due to the advancements in IoT devices and the continued proliferation of 5G network infrastructure, mobile electrification systems integrate smoothly with smart technology. This pairing enhances the operation and performance of vehicle features at nearly every stage in the development and life cycle. With that in mind, here are five ways electrification is disrupting mobile machines in 2022.
1. Optimize energy efficiency
The most publicized reason for mobile electrification is to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted from the engine. Though most mobile carbon emissions come from on-road vehicles, off-road and heavy-duty vehicles use a significant amount of fuel at relatively low fuel conversion efficiencies.
One application addressing this is the Bosch electric excavator, which uses up to 90 gallons of diesel in an eight-hour workday. The excavator's size and required amount of fuel prevents direct substitution with hydrogen or a battery. Instead, the design team focused on efficiency to optimize the package space to address the challenge. The project team credited electrification with creating new degrees of freedom that act as levers to pull to maximize energy efficiency. Some examples of the innovative design features are variable-speed hydraulic pump operation, all-electric slewing gear, and recovering hydraulic energy to supply to the battery, augmenting its capacity to extend its life while enabling a smaller battery size.
The mobile electrification systems' features reduce the battery requirement by over 30% over the eight-hour day.
2. Increase safety through autonomous features
Electrification and autonomous controls are a natural fit. The more driving tasks the vehicle performs by itself, the more data it needs to process. Therefore, the onboard computer in an electric vehicle would integrate more easily with the autonomous features. Furthermore, with the autonomous features already present in many mobile machines, a traditional internal combustion engine battery may not carry a high enough voltage to process the data.
In addition, designers are developing new mobile electrification systems and sunsetting traditional combustion ones. This landscape creates the opportunity to integrate autonomous features into the vehicles during development vs. retrofitting in a future model. Better integration leads to more rapid data processing and response to safety issues. For example, the vehicle will respond to a component failure quickly and can self-monitor or execute tasks in dangerous settings without the need for an operator, such as in a mine or low-oxygen location.
3. Predictive maintenance with digital twins and machine learning
Another disruption enabled by electrification is predictive maintenance with a digital twin through improved simulation capability. Digital twins are a model simulation of a real-world asset or system. Similar to how electrification works with autonomous features, engineers can collect and send data from the physical twin to the digital twin to optimize, automate, and refine the simulation model for future designs.
The digital twin can simulate a failure by analyzing sensor data from the physical twin. From there, programmers can create an algorithm that uses machine learning to tune the model to reflect a component failure. Engineers can then send the algorithm with the failures' data signatures to the physical twin, which can predict and alert operators to an impending failure. This process saves substantial development iteration cost and time as well as reduces the amount of downtime a piece of machinery undergoes.
4. Performance optimization
Another disruption from the electrification of mobile machines is performance optimization through the IoT and AI. Integrated sensors can collect performance information, load cycles, or other data and analyze the set with AI to optimize performance. For example, the vehicle could optimize power utilization to increase the run-time per charge or reduce redundant movements. Data collected and processed with AI could also help inform the product development team when developing next-gen designs.
Another performance optimization function of off-road electrification is that the energy recovery described above could support high-load performance, extending the rated applicability range.
In addition, during overnight charging, electrification could enable the mobile machine to receive performance-enhancing software updates through network connectivity. This benefit also couples performance enhancement with the cybersecurity of the vehicle software, an increasingly critical consideration for any connected device.
Finally, noise from construction equipment can be disruptive in populated areas, where schools and businesses compete with the sounds from mobile machines. Enhancing electrification improves noise performance and local air quality, reducing resistance to construction in public areas.
5. Possibility of new, enhanced components
An example of electrification in mobile machines tied to a component is the high-performance electromechanical linear actuator (EMA) for agriculture applications. This device has replaced its hydraulic counterpart, offering comfort, reliability, and ease of setup while removing the risk of oil pollution contacting crops.
EMAs are rigid, compact, and can deliver both highly-accurate position control and elevated force. Shock absorbers designed for an EMA mitigate risks stemming from vibration and impact. They also offer many advantages and capabilities reviewed above, such as energy recovery, higher energy efficiency, and extended run time while seamlessly integrating with the IoT.
6. Reduced Operating Costs
Indeed, non-road electrification has not yet fully realized the advantages of Wright's Law, which forecasts cost declines as a function of cumulative production. Nevertheless, detractors of electrification often hold up cost as their rationale for resisting the development of electrified components and mobile machines. To fully assess the cost picture, the disruptions mentioned above must be applied to the operating cost component:
- Optimizing energy efficiency can reduce the size of batteries and cost per kilowatt
- Increased safety reduces litigation, insurance, and warranty claims
- Predictive maintenance significantly reduces downtime and repair costs
- Performance optimization increases the off-road vehicle production output
- Enhanced components further increase production output and quality
With the regulatory pressure all but mandating at least partial movement to electric drivetrains, the mobile machine prices should join the reduced operating costs to create a cost position the market can accept en masse.
Conclusion and Main Takeaway
The electrification of mobile machines has moved from a trend to an industry shift. While most realize the environmental and emissions advantages of electric vehicles, mobile electrification systems provide advantages in performance, energy efficiency, safety, operations, and cost. As more manufacturers and industry participants develop electrified components, these advantages will have a compound effect on the climate and those who use and benefit from their work.
About the Author
Adam Kimmel has nearly 20 years as a practicing engineer, R&D manager, and technical consultant, with expertise in automotive and mobile applications, industrial/manufacturing, technology, hydrogen and alternative energy, and electronics. Adam has degrees in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering and is the Principal and Founder of ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical content writing and strategy firm.
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