Forestry Case Study: Smarter machines for improved control, efficiency and safety

Forestry Case Study: Smarter machines for improved control, efficiency and safety

imageBy Chris Schottler, Engineering Manager—Advanced Technology Team, Eaton Hydraulic Group


The forestry industry continues to be radically altered by technology as it seeks increased productivity and greater efficiencies. Smarter machines begin to answer questions about productivity, efficiency and safety. In particular, Eaton's contribution to the smarter machine movement—Dynamic Machine Control (DMC)—along with the products that support DMC, are opening new inroads for productivity, efficiency and safety in the forestry industry.

Forestry is Technology Hungry for Productivity, Efficiency and Safety

Harvesters and forwarders are technology-laden vehicles that automate timber-harvesting processes. These powerful vehicles harvest, stack and move and generally process logs in difficult-to access locations. But several needs drive the search for technology that will allow the industry to operate more effectively:

  • The need to maximize operator actions to harvest as efficiently as possible
  • The need to work efficiently, using fuel as sparingly as possible
  • The need for operator safety at every step of the process

HarvestingIncreasing Productivity

A harvester operator sitting for an eight-hour shift faces a number of potential productivity-busters. One concern is the operator-controls required to operate the many hydraulic tools and processes. In particular, precise boom control and end-clamp movement typically require a series of expertly coordinated movements that can prove taxing over time. And while expert operators are becoming difficult to locate, smarter machines have begun to show that automation can help mid-level or even newer operators exercise precise control.

Productive Boom Control and Operation

Boom control has continued to improve in general, but precision boom movement still has room to advance. A significant step forward in boom control uses load feedback from pressure sensors to change how the machine reacts to various operator inputs. For instance, the boom will respond differently depending on whether or not it carries a load.
Additional opportunities for smarter boom operation might be the creation of subroutines that mimic expertly-coordinated movement. Creating smarter machine movement could rely on a growing library of automated functions written for Eaton Pro-FX Ready products that use the Pro-FX Technology platform.

End Clamp Control Precision and Programmed Movement

A forwarder joystick using load feedback may help the operator manipulate logs with end clamps. And just like boom control, end clamp control could benefit from automatic, expertly-coordinated movements. Perhaps in the future even transcending or descending a tree to cut or begin processing in another spot may be the work of automated functions written for dynamic machine control, which may dramatically increase productivity and reduce operator fatigue.

Increasing Efficiency

Reducing energy waste is a big-picture concern for the forestry industry. Typically this involves looking at the total system and asking how it can deliver the most output from the given fuel. Given continuous harvester or forwarder operation—day after day, month after year—small gains in fuel efficiency have an enormous impact.
But increasing efficiency also points to the hydraulic valves used in the services provided by harvesters and forwarders. Leveraging independent-metering valves like Eaton's CMA valve, can also increase efficiency and reduce fuel consumption.

Design for Improved Safety and Decreased Fatigue

Safety is a continuing concern for operators, the forestry industry, as well as government agencies like OSHA. Using technology to improve safety mechanisms, for instance, smarter machines that make use of multiple pressure sensors can communicate to a controller when particular parameters are exceeded. This feature helps prevent operators from entering dangerous situations  or, if a machine were to become unstable and move toward tipping, the smart system can take action to improve stability.

Operator fatigue, another aspect of safety, is also an industry concern, especially toward the end of an operator's shift. Reducing task complexity is an opportunity for dynamic machine control, using automated functions to simplify those more complex tasks so that operators at all levels of training can be productive for longer. Of course, reducing noise and using active damping to smoothing boom and clamp movements will help preserve operators, along with helping protect the machine from damage and/or premature failure.

Tree Harvester Concept DMC Aids Improved Control and Efficiency

Increased control over a tighter range of parameters has typically meant more components and more complexity. OEMs and/or system integrators typically decide on the improved control/increased complexity equation by sorting out what their customers need and want and are willing to pay for.

But with the movement toward smarter machines—where users demand better performance, greater flexibility and efficiency—dynamic machine control opens a new way. Products like the Eaton CMA valve—with its inherent ability to run custom software applications that can be tailored to individual applications—can help improve productivity, increase efficiency, and enhance operator safety.