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Danfoss has several demonstration machines, outfitted with its latest systems, running at three Application Development Centers worldwide. (image: Danfoss)

Danfoss employs ADCs to accelerate product development

“Customers can’t drive a PowerPoint.” That’s the short answer for why Danfoss Power Solutions has built three Application Development Centers (ADCs) worldwide—in Ames, Iowa, more than five years ago; at Danfoss headquarters in Nordborg, Denmark, a couple years ago; and most recently in Haiyan, China, in mid-2017.

The system and component supplier employs its ADCs to work with off-highway OEMs during the whole development process—from research through delivery—to develop, test, prove, demonstrate and refine machines’ key systems to improve equipment design and production. Areas explored include hydraulics, powertrain, chassis, human-machine interface (HMI), even autonomy—with software playing a vital role in each of these.

“The ADC helps to reduce cycle times. It really is an accelerator,” said Jay Moline, director of systems application engineering and technical services,” noting that the facility is an extension of companies’ prototyping capabilities.

The test sites replicate a wide variety of jobsite conditions—from a steep-grade slope (45° in Ames) to a high-speed test track or a muddy field to winter-like road conditions. The Ames site spans about 89,000 m2 (22 acres), and is utilized by all the engineers at Danfoss, not just the technology group. Twenty systems application engineers who work with customers, another 10 engineers in the systems development group, and about 30 product engineers make use of the ADC.

Danfoss has several machines outfitted with its systems to demonstrate a range of capabilities, but OEM customers can also bring their machines to the ADCs to validate specific functions or solve a particular issue. Yet other machines are development platforms used strictly as internal engineering tools. Truck & Off-Highway Engineering took an exclusive tour of the Ames ADC in early December—at that time, 11 machines were on-site.

One area in which OEMs are seeking assistance is with system design to optimize Tier 4 engines—a frequent activity at Danfoss’s ADCs, according to Dan Ricklefs, vice president of marketing at Danfoss Power Solutions. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 machines are in need of redesign, he said: “When Tier 4 became a regulation, a lot of the OEMs just kind of jammed the Tier 4 engine into the existing designs—it’s not optimized. We’re seeing a huge wave right now [of companies] going back and saying, ‘with these engine parameters, how can I make my machine work better?’”

None of the current demo machines in Ames are electric, but it’s only a matter of time, said Moline. Aerial lifts are one application that are rapidly moving to hybridization and electrification, he said, as is turf-care equipment. “As OEMs want to go into electrification, we have to position ourselves to be able to do that same thing.”

This past November, Danfoss did just that, acquiring Finland-based Visedo, an expert in electric solutions for the off-highway and marine markets, to help bolster this area.

“If you come back in probably a year, we’ll have [an electrified machine]. There’s not one on the project list at the moment, but that’ll change,” said Moline.

Software key to growth

“Software is the language of the future. When we talk about optimizing, it’s the software we’re optimizing,” said Ricklefs. “It’s the way that our OEMs differentiate their vehicles and certainly how we differentiate ourselves. You see software in almost all of our product lines today.”

PLUS+1 is Danfoss’s line of electronic controllers and software. The platform is at “the heart of most of our machines,” Ricklefs said. “It’s what we build that application architecture on.” The software is a graphical programming language that allows engineers to scale up or down based on need. The core functionality is building blocks that are “drag-and-drop” from one application to the next.

“For us, the challenge is helping the customer get to a software solution that works for them,” said Moline. “Some of them want to buy the whole thing, others don’t want to give up that much control. Every OEM is trying to make a decision about what is my core part that I need to own on my machine, because the machines have gotten so complex. So you’re seeing OEMs that used to say, ‘I want to control all the code on this machine,’ having to make decisions about, ‘Well, it’s ridiculous for me to write the code for a propel system. I care more about the threshing part of a combine, or I can care more about how the engine interacts with the various work functions on a machine.’”

Jeff Herrin, vice president of R&D, says there’s been a dramatic uptick in software capability within Danfoss over the past five years. “Systems integration work 10 or 20 years ago was very much mechanical integration. In today’s world that’s taken for granted—of course you can do that—but the real challenge now is software integration,” said Herrin. “One of the things we’ve invested in for many years now is the creation of our own environment [PLUS+1] that allows us to dramatically take time out of the software creation process on machines.”

Future outlook, according to Herrin: “It’s just going to continue.”

Autonomous vehicle development

At Agritechnica this past November, the DAVIS (Danfoss Autonomous Vehicle Integration System) technology demonstrator debuted, showcasing how Danfoss can work with OEMs to add autonomous functionalities to their off-highway machines.

“In the ag industry, there’s a lot of people who do auto-guide—go out with GPS, and the tractor can repeat a specific course,” said Ricklefs. “With an autonomous tractor, it’s a little bit like autonomous driving—we’re trying to get to the next level of autonomy where the tractor can actually do its own path planning and can detect obstacles.”

The primary development work on the autonomous tractor was performed in Minneapolis, MN, and then shifted to Ames for a couple of months for further refinement and testing.

Danfoss had no partners on the customer side as of mid-December, but did on the development side: “We didn’t develop it from scratch; it was more taking existing technologies from the automotive world and applying them to our application,” Ricklefs told TOHE.

Danfoss already has the capability to introduce functions such as remote-control steering to off-highway vehicles, but those ventures are distinct from DAVIS, which integrates the company’s extensive application knowledge in hydraulics, electronics, sensors and cloud-based command interfaces to create an autonomous system. Moving forward, Danfoss plans to partner with its customers and utilize their machine design expertise to refine DAVIS’s capabilities.

“The technology for autonomous vehicles is already there. What we want to do is fine-tune how sensors work with the technology and add value,” said Allan Hermanni, Senior Director of Portfolio and Innovation at Danfoss Power Solutions, in a statement. “To continue to do this, we want to start a dialogue with our customers—to share our knowledge but also to learn from them. They are the ones building the machines, and we want to make sure we’re developing the right solutions for their most pressing needs.”

With DAVIS, Danfoss plans to advance existing autonomous machine designs in several areas: connectivity, path planning, obstacle detection, sensor fusion, and intelligent control. DAVIS is connected to a cloud-based command interface, which is used for controls and data analytics, and the machine can determine its most efficient path with localized algorithms and continuously evaluate local driving conditions.

The demonstrator uses multiple sensors to detect both stationary and active obstacles in its path, and will update the machine’s path accordingly. The core of DAVIS’s functionality was built on the PLUS+1 platform.

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