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  • Steer-by-wire and electrohydraulic steering: A powerful machine differentiator

    Advanced steering systems are shaping the future of industries such as construction and agriculture by addressing common challenges such as worksite safety and the skilled labor shortage. Learn more about Eaton’s solutions and how we put machinery OEMs in the driver’s seat.

Common challenges in construction and agriculture

As construction projects grow increasingly complex and technical, skilled employees make the difference in getting the job done correctly, efficiently and safely. However, the available workforce is contracting as skilled individuals retire at a rate exceeding the number of new entrants to the profession.

The skilled labor shortage is consistently identified as a major issue facing the construction industry, but 80% of contractors now report that it’s impacting safety. More than half of contractors consider a lack of skilled workers the number one factor increasing jobsite safety risks.

Another safety issue is the prevalence of overexertion injuries. At 32 incidents per 10,000 workers, it’s a leading cause of lost work injury, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Operator fatigue increases the risk of illness or injury. What’s more, vehicle operators have higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries than non-operators.

Labor challenges are also present in agriculture. Small family farms, once the norm, have consolidated into large, several-hundred acre to thousand-acre farms. As farm sizes have grown, demands on the machinery and operators have grown as well. There are small windows during the growing season in which specific tasks must be completed, which demands efficiency.

Machine solutions

Construction and agriculture equipment manufacturers are developing machinery solutions that help contractors and farmers address these challenges.

Equipment with more intelligence and autonomy, such as operator assist functionality and repetitive task automation, can help alleviate the concerns of a new operator at the helm. GPS-based autoguidance systems, long available as an aftermarket feature, are now a common factory-installed option on tractors.

In response to safety concerns, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are developing machines with features that impact safety both directly—by improving operator sightlines, for example—and indirectly—through improved ergonomics and operator comfort.

The key enabler: Eaton advanced steering solutions

The common thread in each of these solutions is steering, and Eaton is working with OEMs to bring these improvements to their next-generation platforms with its electrohydraulic steering and steer-by-wire systems.

At the core of Eaton’s advanced steering solutions is the SBX steering valve. The valve can be mounted to a steering control unit in an electrohydraulic (EH) steering configuration, or it can be mounted to a secondary EH valve or manifold in a steer-by-wire (SbW) configuration. This enables OEMs to provide an SbW system to one customer and an EH system to another without major changes in architecture. It also allows a simple transition from an orbitrol today to a backup valve in the future.

Electrohydraulic steering today, steer-by-wire tomorrow. It's possible with the Eaton SBX steering valve.

The modular design of our EH and SbW systems gives OEMs the flexibility to integrate steering components according to their designs. We can provide a complete, fully integrated solution, or the OEM can use only the components they need. Our advanced steering solutions are designed to pair easily with the machine’s control system or with the Eaton SFX safety controller (pictured below) to streamline the path to meeting functional safety requirements.
Eaton's SFX safety controller

Autonomous operation

In agriculture, autoguidance systems offer greater precision for tasks such as seeding, spraying and harvesting, which can prevent waste and increase crop yields. In construction, this precision improves the accuracy of operations such as grading and digging, preventing rework. On some types of jobs, bonuses are granted for accuracy—a direct cost benefit.

But autoguidance systems address more than the skilled labor shortage; they also improve fuel economy and productivity, which helps keep costs in line. Operator assist and fully integrated GPS autoguidance features have demonstrated as much as a 50% increase in task productivity. An electrohydraulic steering valve like the Eaton SBX is a mission-critical enabler of such functionality.

Multiple steering inputs

Unlike a traditional orbitrol, the SBX steering valve can receive multiple steering inputs. This eliminates the need for a separate valve for each input and enables multiple steering arrangements for various modes of operation. Steering devices such as joysticks, mini-wheels and levers, which supplement or replace a traditional steering wheel, enable the operator to select the input best suited to the task at hand. For example, the operator could drive the machine with an automotive-style steering wheel while roading then switch to an ergonomically friendly lever-style device for digging or performing tasks that require frequent, repetitive steering motions. Operators can seamlessly transition from one steering method to another at the touch of a button. 

Wheel loader operator using steering knob and steering lever

Variable operating modes

With Eaton’s advanced steering solutions, OEMs or machine owners can customize vehicle parameters more than ever. For example, the SBX valve can be programmed to allow the operator to adjust:

  • Steering knob position
  • Number of wheel turns lock-to-lock
  • Steering feel

These changes can be made at the touch of a button, without hardware modifications.

An OEM can also incorporate safety features such as a variable turn ratio, which enables quicker steering inputs while the machine is in work mode and slower inputs while the machine is in drive mode. This ensures vehicle stability at high speeds, while reducing operator effort and fatigue at low speeds.

“Columnless” and common cabs

In a true steer-by-wire system, a steering column is no longer necessary—removing it can improve operator sightlines. The removal of the steering column enables the hydraulics to be removed from the cab and mounted strategically to reduce cab noise and improve operator comfort. OEMs can further improve visibility by allowing rotation of the cab or operator seat without added steering inputs. Steer-by-wire systems enable this because there's no hoses that need to be turned.

With steer-by-wire systems, OEMs can more easily implement one common cab design across different platforms. A single, cross-platform cab could streamline manufacturing operations.

Why Eaton

Since 1961, Eaton has been the leader in off-highway steering solutions. Whether a functionally safe electrohydraulic solution or a fail-operational steer-by-wire system, Eaton works with OEMs to develop next-generation machines that meet stringent safety and reliability requirements.

At Eaton, we’ve created an advanced steering portfolio that perfectly aligns with any OEM’s vision. The modularity of our steer-by-wire and electrohydraulic systems enables OEMs to design and differentiate their vehicles in bold new ways while addressing industry challenges such as labor availability, worksite safety and productivity. When it comes to steer-by-wire and electrohydraulic steering, only one brand puts the OEM unquestionably in the driver’s seat—Eaton.

Yellow wheel loader at construction site
To see these solutions in action, watch our advanced steering solutions video.

Contact us

Ready to explore steer-by-wire or electrohydraulic steering for your platform? Contact us today.

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Learn more

The SBX advanced steering valve is designed to meet the demanding requirements of mobile equipment in both an electrohydraulic and steer-by-wire configuration. Read more by downloading the SBX sales sheet.