Outstanding In Their Field: Increased Tractor Efficiency With Purdue Hydraulic Research


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Modern agricultural tractors contain so many advanced technologies that they even compete with the latest spacecraft. But the background is still old-fashioned, relying heavily on fossil fuels. So any optimization of tractor efficiency is a huge win for the environment.

With that in mind, Purdue University researchers undertook a $ 3.2 million Department of Energy project to optimize the hydraulic systems that connect tractors and implements.

“Hydropower is everywhere,” said Andrea Vacca, Chairman of the Maha Fluid Power Faculty of Purdue, Professor of mechanical Engineering and agricultural and biological engineering, and director of Maha Fluid Power Research Center, the largest university hydraulic laboratory in the country. “It is used in airplanes, in cars and in all kinds of heavy equipment. A tractor is an example of a vehicle that uses hydraulic power to power everything from steering and propulsion to powering the implements it pulls behind it.

Tractors and farm implements use a lot of hydraulic power. By creating new solutions to optimize their hydraulic control systems, Purdue researchers (left to right) Andrea Vacca, Xiaofan Guo, Patrick Stump and Jake Lengacher are working to make tractors more powerful and more fuel efficient. (Purdue University Photo / Jared Pike) Download Image

But feeding the tools turned out to be a problem. The tractor’s hydraulic control system only showed 20% efficiency when connected to the hydraulic systems of some implements such as seed drills, seed drills and scoops.

“There is a conflict in the controls, where the two systems are almost fighting against each other,” said Patrick Stump, a PhD. mechanical engineering student. “Therefore, when connected to a drill, the tractor always has to run at extremely high power, which wastes fuel and increases emissions.

In this study, funded by the United States Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energies, the Vacca team focused their attention on a specific combination of tractor and drill, both supplied by Case New Holland Industrial, with hydraulic systems supplied by Bosch Rexroth. See the video.

The planter is 40 feet wide, with 16 rows of planting.

“Each row has several machines working together to plant the seed,” said Xiaofan Guo, a doctorate. mechanical engineering student. “There is a cleaning wheel in front to remove existing vegetation. A cutting disc digs a tiny ditch in the ground, a motor drives the seeds into the ground, a sprayer supplies the hole with water and fertilizer, and then a final disc covers the hole. There are 16 of these planting rows, which require specific amounts of pressure to successfully plant the seeds. And all of them are powered by a single hydraulic system.

To tackle the problem of optimizing the tractor-planter combo, the Vacca team chose a three-phase approach. First, the researchers had to characterize the hydraulic system and build a computer simulation model.

“These tractors are expensive and complex machines,” said Xin Tian, ​​a doctoral student. student who developed the models over a four-year period. “So we started by modeling individual components and testing them in a stationary condition here in the lab. When these are correct, we combine the component models into a system – and test the system – so that we can verify that the entire model is valid. The model is so large and complex that my team calls it “The Monster!” “

Once their model was validated, the researchers moved on to phase two: developing solutions that they could test.

“Different planting conditions require different amounts of pressure and flow,” Tian said. “If the model shows promising improvements in horsepower and efficiency, then we can start implementing those changes in real conditions. “

For the third phase – real-world testing – the team outfitted the tractor-planter combo with a myriad of sensors.

“We need to know how much energy the tractor is consuming, what the hydraulic pumps are doing, and what the pressure and flow rates are in the planter,” said Jake Lengacher, first year doctoral student. student. “All of this wiring leads to a new data acquisition box that we have installed in the cabin, which allows us to have a complete picture of what is happening during a planting cycle.

Luckily for the team, Purdue has plenty of places for giant tractors to roam. The College of Agriculture assigned the Vacca team a quarter-mile strip of land at Animal Science Research and Education Center in West Lafayette.

“We are very lucky at Purdue,” Vacca said. “We have a lot of lab space in Maha where we can test these big machines under controlled conditions; and Agriculture also has many agricultural plots where we can conduct field research.

And since none of the team members had ever driven such a large tractor in the field, Case New Holland provided training to teach them how to drive.

“The power of a 25,000-pound tractor with 435 horsepower, towing a 10,000-pound planter – it’s amazing,” Stump said. “But there is also a lot going on in the cab, especially when it comes to operating the seed drill. It’s definitely a two-person job, so usually Jake is also in the booth monitoring data on a laptop.

The team carried out several trials in the spring of 2021, during which they planted corn seeds at different engine speeds and predetermined seeding rates. By combing through the data, they found that their new hydraulic control systems resulted in an overall increase in efficiency of 25%.

“Considering the amount of fuel a typical tractor consumes, this is a huge improvement,” Vacca said. ” And that’s just the beginning. The objective of our project is to double the efficiency of the overall hydraulic control system. In the future, we plan to institute a pressure control approach for control logic, which has never been attempted in agricultural vehicles.

“When I saw the data proving that our solution worked, I was so happy,” Guo said. “I grew up in a city, so being on a farm like this is quite an exciting experience for me. My specialty is control systems, so it was so interesting to see our theories in the lab being tested in the real world. Fluid energy is a well established field, but there is still so much potential to come up with new systems and new architectures to make things even better.

Stump said, “I never imagined I would be driving a tractor in a farm field for my PhD. I intended to go into aerospace. But the hydraulics of these tractors are just as complex as an airplane or a rocket. Diving deep into the power of fluids has been extremely applicable to my future in engineering.

Tian said, “This is definitely the highlight of my time here at Purdue. I spent so much time on these models, and seeing the improved results was truly a happy time for me.

Vacca said: “Seeing the hard work of our students – and witnessing an idea move from the lab to the field – is really the best part of our job. ”

Writer: Jared pike

Media contact: Kayla Wiles, 765-494-2432, [email protected]

Source: Andrea Vacca, [email protected]

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