Tractor Implement Management is a system that enables an implement to take over control of a tractor. With a system like that work can be done way more precise. It is easier for the driver as well. Read all about the progress of this exciting system.
Imagine you are in a field, making round bales. When the chamber is full, you have to stop driving, the baler opens its door and the round bale rolls out. A quick check, you close the door and resume driving. This goes on and on, it’s an endless string of repetitive actions.
Luckily there’s a new, universal system being developed that will take care of these kinds of operations shortly. It will take a lot of the repetitive work out of the drivers hands. The system is called Tractor Implement Management (TIM). This new electronic technology allows implements attached to a tractor, such as a baler to automatically control specific functions. Such as driving speed, PTO, lift or the steering wheel.
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TIM has 2 big advantages. First: the implement operates itself, meaning a driver has less monotonous checking to do while driving his tractor through the field. Second, TIM will improve results. Using sensors, the system takes over the operation of the implement with a higher accuracy than the human eye and with constant focus and makes adjustments to the machine’s settings when needed.
These sensors monitor (soil) conditions all day long without getting tired, also in the dark or when it is dusty. A driver will usually act based on a ‘feeling’, a sensor can get and use more information to make the right decision. For example the pressure a seeding machine will exert on the ground.
Austrian manufacturer Pöttinger introduced an excellent example at the Agritechnica in Hannover, Germany last year. They fitted a sensor on the back of a power harrow. It continuously checks the amount of crumbling of the soil. Based on what it detects, the tractor then automatically changes its driving speed or the rotation speed of the PTO. Should the soil conditions change within a field, the TIM-system instantly changes the machine settings.
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By 2019 a TIM-system will be in the price list of most manufacturers of tractors and implements. Probably as an option, like an automatic steering system. The pricing of such an option is yet unknown. Whether an existing tractor can be updated to work with TIM depends on the strategy of the manufacturer.
There is no need to change any hardware; manufacturers can continue using the same electronic control units (ECU’s). A software update has to be installed on such a tractor though. And it needs a button (this doesn’t have to be a physical one, it could be a button on a touchscreen) for the driver to confirm that he is aware of the TIM functions and wishes to activate them.
Within the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF) a work group focuses on TIM. AEF is known for the development of Isobus-standards. This TIM-group, called ‘Isobus Automation’, was started on an initiative of tractor manufacturers, arguing “If you (implement manufacturers) want to control our tractors, we have to make agreements”.
Most manufacturers have joined up: John Deere, Agco, Kubota, Case New Holland, Same Deutz-Fahr, Kverneland Group, Krone, Grimme and more are working on TIM-technology. Technical specialists from those companies meet every 2 months, to discuss 2 main points. First, to develop a universal ‘language’, so different brands could communicate with each other. The second issue is security and responsibilities.
“It works well during tests inside,” says Peter van der Vlugt, AEF chairman and Chief Technology Officer at Kverneland Group. “That means that the technology is ready to use. Last year we tested intensively on a testing bench, this year we’re in the fields, matching up different brands. It is exciting, I think TIM will be ready early 2019. This might be too conservative an estimate, maybe the first systems will be on sale this year already.”
AEF chairman and Kverneland CTO Peter van der Vlugt: “I expect a slow market introduction”
Is the market waiting for TIM to happen?
“Sometimes a machine is invented based on demand. Alternatively a technical development can get pushed to the market. I think with TIM, the latter is the case. We see the technical possibilities, and push it to the market. The advantages might be small compared to the efforts we make for TIM. That is why I expect a slow introduction into the market. But many technical inventions were initially perceived as useless, yet quickly adopted a bit later. For example our fertiliser spreader with weighing system, everybody thought we were crazy.”
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Why was a TIM like system not a success sooner?
“Existing systems worked between machines from the same brand only. For example a John Deere baler behind a John Deere tractor. Or it worked just for one specific tractor-implement-combination. Turns out that that isn’t so appealing. It’s a chicken and egg story. Without available TIM implements there is no need for TIM tractors. And the other way around.”
Do autonomous tractors play a role in the development of this system?
“I didn’t notice this within our workgroup. A TIM system on an autonomous tractor could be the future. But this is many steps in the future. Let’s put it this way: doing the risk analyses for TIM, we’ve worked with the idea that there is a driver present who can stop the machines immediately.”
Progress is being slowed down by a difficult issue. A simple example: imagine a New Holland tractor working with a Kverneland-implement. The implement sends a signal to the tractor, it responds by activating a hydraulic valve, injuring a person standing nearby. Who is responsible? The manufacturer of the tractor, or their colleagues who made the implement?
This issue had to be tackled before manufacturers would even consider using TIM technologies. The AEF consulted a juridical specialist. Based on his advice the technicians developed technology to solve this issue.
The Isobus-specialists in the work group thought of a smart way to secure the TIM. It works with digital passports. Simply said: every software version of a tractor and an implement from brands that want to use TIM functions, has to pass an intensive test – for example in the Isobus Test Center in Osnabrück, Germany. When successful the software receives a digital passport coded with a digital key.
The moment an implement is linked up to a tractor, the machines exchange their passports and check with the keys if it is valid. AEF chairman Peter van der Vlugt compares it to online banking systems. “The website gives a key to your computer, and then you can work in a secure environment.”
If either one doesn’t have a valid passport, TIM functions won’t work. And should an accident occur, the manufacturers can prove that they’ve done everything possible to prevent it.
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So, manufacturers are cooperating closely on an industrial level. The TIM group is currently working out the requirements the TIM system has to meet. Let’s say, the test standards that new implements have to pass. Implement manufacturers can then obtain test passports, which they can use to try out their TIM machines. When everything works properly, it’s time to send their software to a test centre to get the final passport.
The TIM group is also working on an infrastructure to manage and administer these passports. For example, there has to be a ‘black list’ for passports that have expired, or are faulty in some other way. Also hacked or fake passports can be blocked.
The same companies who are working together tightly on the industrial level are competing with each other fiercely on the factory level. Now the TIM guidelines are official, all manufacturers are trying to invent the smartest TIM solution. It’s a technology race. Manufactures don’t want to disclose their ideas yet. But it won’t come as a surprise if their innovations are on display at Agritechnica 2019.
Lars Schmitz, System engineer bij Agco Netherlands: “Many functions which we can use”
How important is the introduction of TIM?
“Very important. I think as essential as the introduction of the automatic steering systems and section control. Initially farmers will wait and see, but TIM will be the norm soon. For us, as engineers, it is a big step. There are many functions we can make happen now.”
What can we expect?
“Most manufacturers focus on driving speed first. An implement directs the driving speed of the tractor. Think about all the things sensors can do here. Second step is to take over hydraulic functions. But the question is also: what do we see as an implement? You could also consider an automated steering system to be a TIM client (implement). It would be easier to implement a steering system using the TIM interface.”
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How are you, within Agco, coping with TIM?
“We start by developing basic TIM software and try to build that base as robust as possible. Next step would be to equip applications with it. Then we will expand from there in different divisions of our company. Agco focuses on spraying machines first, seeing many possibilities there. Applications for other Agco implements will follow shortly after. I cannot elaborate any further yet.”