Technology can encourage better tractor drivers - FutureFarming
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Technology can encourage better tractor drivers

Argo Tractors Spa
As manufacturer Argo Tractors rolls out new electronic features throughout its McCormick range, engineers at the R&D centre, located at its headquarters are already looking beyond what’s available today to ways of helping drive down ownership costs through improved driving practices.

With a gentle forefinger prod of the brightly-lit touch screen, another display comes into view. With this one, the operator of a tractor equipped with the Data Screen Manager can edit a headland management sequence to fine-tune it for a perfect succession of control inputs that minimises the driver’s workload.

A second touch brings up the hydraulics screen, where oil flow, ramp-up speed and timer functions can be set for individual electronically- controlled spool valves to perfectly operate the hydraulic functions of an air seeder or multi-furrow plough. Another screen accesses the powertrain settings – start-up and reversing gears for the new P6-Drive 30-speed powershift in the X7 Series tractors, for example, and CVT control strategies for the VT-Drive stepless versions.

Encouraging operators to drive tractors such as the new McCormick X8 VT-Drive safely, efficiently and more economically is the aim of Argo Tractors’ The Human Factor project. Photo: Argo Tractors
Encouraging operators to drive tractors such as the new McCormick X8 VT-Drive safely, efficiently and more economically is the aim of Argo Tractors’ The Human Factor project. Photo: Argo Tractors

High-tech tractors

McCormick used to be a brand of worthy tractors with mainly mechanical controls but following a major investment in new product development, the tractors now rank alongside industry leaders in terms of on-board technology. This technology is generally developed for tractors in high power ranges to improve comfort, productivity and safety, and then over time has moved to lower power tractors that are relatively ‘immune’ to sophisticated technologies but, increasingly, require safety for the driver and the environment.

The next step, reveals Antonio Salvaterra, marketing director at McCormick manufacturer Argo Tractors, is to help operators optimise performance, reduce ownership costs and remain within safe vehicle stability limits by providing indicators to influence driving style. He refers to The Human Factor, a project undertaken by engineers at the new R&D centre located at its headquarters in northern Italy, conducted in partnership with Milan Polytechnic University to find an effective way of ­influencing driving techniques.

“When farmers make big investments in sophisticated tractors and machinery, they want to see the best return on that investment,” explains Salvaterra. “But drivers can have very different levels of experience and attitudes – some are naturally sympathetic to the machine and some drive in a more aggressive way; The Human Factor project developed a way to influence drivers towards safe and more sustainable practices that could help minimise lifetime running costs for the owner.”

Algorithm driven farming

The outcome is a system that measures various parameters of vehicle behaviour, provides visual feedback to the driver via the Data Screen Manager (DSM) and reports to the owner or fleet manager through wireless data transfer to an online portal.

On-board equipment comprises a number of speed and movement sensors including accelerometers and a gyroscope, an electronic control unit (ECU) fixed to the cab floor, and a Can-Bus connection to the tractor’s network. GPRS technology connects all tractors in a fleet equipped with the proposed ‘Human Factor’ feature via Cloud ­computing and a user portal.

A complex patented algorithm at the core of the system standardises the scoring system that provides feedback indicators in a way that is ­independent of external factors – such as the state of the field or road surface – in order to isolate the active contribution of the operator. “The algorithm analyses the dynamics of the vehicle by calculating pitch and roll values, and merges the two indices to better describe the behaviour of the driver,” explains Salvaterra. “Index calculations made in real time are translated into a clear and simple interface displayed on the DSM, illustrating how violently the tractor moves in terms of pitch and roll, and providing overall average and ‘most recent’ index readings relating to safety, economy and comfort.”

Green, so all good! The background colour of the Data Screen Manager touch display is visible regardless of the screen selected by the operator so it constantly conveys a clear message about driving practices – green for optimal, red for significant improvements needed, and with orange and yellow graduations in between. Photo: Argo Tractors
Green, so all good! The background colour of the Data Screen Manager touch display is visible regardless of the screen selected by the operator so it constantly conveys a clear message about driving practices – green for optimal, red for significant improvements needed, and with orange and yellow graduations in between. Photo: Argo Tractors

An eye-catching element of the design is the different colours used to support the individual index displays and relay to the driver his current overall performance. It’s not something easily ignored by the driver because rather than hiding the signals away in a small display, the system lights the background colour of the DSM; and there is no escaping the message conveyed by the colours because they are visible regardless of which screen the operator selects.

When the display background is coloured green, the operator can be satisfied that his or her driving style is optimal across the safety, economy and comfort indices. Yellow indicates a very good performance with potential for some improvement; orange indicates
that significant improvements can be made; and red means that ­multiple issues need addressing – perhaps by attending an anger management course!

“If you display the fuel consumption read-out in your car, it offers a challenge to keep improving the figure by adjusting your driving style; and it’s the same with The Human Factor. “The tractor operator’s attention will always be drawn to his driving ‘score’ by the background colour of the display and, hopefully, he will always want to see it green rather than red.”

Reaping economic rewards

For McCormick tractor owners, the benefits of the proposed system boils down to reduced operating costs – from lower fuel consumption and from reduced downtime due to more frequent servicing or repairs needed because of aggressive or mechanically unsympathetic vehicle operation. “Owners or managers of a fleet of McCormick tractors could use the data to identify bad practices that training can put right and to reward or incentivise operators who achieve the best scores,” suggests Salvaterra. “Beyond that, the system can also help owners to evaluate vehicle condition in terms of the mechanical stress received during its life cycle to help inform replacement decisions.”

For now, though, the Data Screen Manager provides a useful interface for drivers to access the adjustable systems of his tractor, with the option to include ISOBUS data communications capability for implementing set-up, monitoring and control. The generous 12 inch colour touch screen unit boots up with a comprehensive dashboard display providing at-a-glance information such as the tractor’s speed, engine rpm, ‘power boost’, pto speed and 3pt hitch position.

Sub-screens give access to settings and adjustments covering engine and transmission performance, and lift linkage, traction control, pto and spool valve functions, and headland management control sequences. The DSM is installed as standard on 121-140hp X6.4, 150-195hp X7 and 264-310hp X8 tractors with VT-Drive stepless transmission and is optional on top-specification premium versions of the new 150-230hp X7 P6-Drive semi-powershift models.

When the ISOBUS digital data communications option is installed on the X7 and X8 tractors, the DSM becomes an AEF-compliant Universal Terminal for displaying set-up, control and monitoring information from any implement with an ISOBUS on-board job computer. This provides a display in a common format for different equipment, making it easier for operators to navigate the setting-up and other features.

Author: Peter Hill