A team of ag equipment electronics experts is closing in on a solution that could unlock the potential of high-voltage tractor technology.

Working under the auspices of the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), the team is tasked with defining a safe, reliable, and cost-effective high-voltage electrical interface between tractors and implements.

Up to now, agricultural implements have been powered primarily by mechanical or hydraulic means.

However, as the capacity of mechanical and hydraulic-powered systems begin to reach their limits, a number of ag equipment manufacturers have started to develop implements that are powered by high-voltage electricity.

With their powerful electric motors, these new implements offer the opportunity to greatly increase equipment productivity. At the same time, their potential for greater precision and flexibility will help reduce costs.

Need for Standard Interface

But before electrically-powered implements can become commercially commonplace, one problem must be solved, and that’s the interface (or connector) between the tractor and the implement.

According to information on the AEF website (www.aef-online.org), the objective of the high-voltage project team is to develop an acceptable proposal for an industry-standard tractor interface that supplies power to attached machines and external components.

In other words: design an interface that will allow any implement to run its electric motors on any properly equipped tractor.

Five project team subgroups are already working on special areas in this direction:

  • Interface connection (physical interface)
  • Requirements for attached machines
  • Safety and risk analysis
  • Specification of the interface with regard to the requirements for communication and performance
  • Approaches to solving cooling system problems

Industry interest is high. The project team originally started with just 12 participants from eight companies. Currently, nearly 100 participants from 51 companies are involved in the ground-breaking work underway at AEF.

Electric Drives a ‘Historic Chance’

Leading the AEF project team is Harald Dietel of Sensor-Technik Wiedemann GmbH based in Kaufbeuren, Germany. Dietel called the growing use of electric drives in agricultural machinery a “historic chance.”

“Using the control abilities of electric motors opens the world of decentralized motors to overcome the limitations of mechanical and hydraulic solutions,” he said.

Dietel noted that one of the AEF project team’s biggest challenges is designing a connector that accommodates the use of both AC and DC electrical current.

The reason for this, he said, is because in some cases the inverter with its controller and power electronics is located on the tractor (AC) and in others on the implement (DC). The connector must be able to transmit power from the tractor to the implement in each case.

“In the end, we want one connector for all of the operating modes we can think of, at a size and a price that is suitable for the agricultural equipment market,” he said.

Connector Definition to Be Completed in 2015

At its current pace, Dietel said the project team should complete the definition of the connector and “at least” the DC operation definitions by the end of 2015.

“AC operation might take a bit longer, but we are working on both solutions,” he said. Ultimately, Dietel said, the team’s goal is to write an industry guideline that can be turned into an ISO/IEC standard.

Of course, additional participants on the project team are always welcome, he added.

“The experience gained from the existing AEF project groups emphasizes the need for sufficient people resources to complete the work required by each group,” Dietel said. “This is a critical factor in completing projects on time. To achieve satisfactory results, companies working in the field of electric drives/high voltage that are interested in participating are requested to provide experts.”

To contact Dietel, email harald.dietel@sensor-technik.de.

About AEF

AEF is a global standardization initiative formed in 2008 by agricultural technology companies AGCO, CLAAS, CNH, Grimme, John Deere, Kverneland Group and Pottinger, as well as AEM and the German machinery association, VDMA. SAME DEUTZ-FAHR joined AEF as its eighth core member in 2013.

AEM provides the staff secretary for AEF.

For more information on AEF, contact AEM Technical Director Mark Benishek (mbenishek@aem.org, tel: 414-298-4118).