Latest posts by Blake Griffin (see all)
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2018 has been a formative year for the off-highway sector with a raft of new, electrified machines announced. Impending regional emission standards are part of the cause, with machine builders identifying technical solutions to meet the new standards. Equally important though are low emission zones and zero emission construction projects. If you want to build in cities in the future, machines will very likely need to have zero tailpipe emissions.
The move to electric off-highway machinery comes with two main challenges for the supply base. First, it changes the vehicle architecture, requiring new components: batteries, inverter/converters, motors, actuators, and control ECUs. Second, it requires the supply base to be ready with volumes to support demand.
Historically, the supply chain for the off-highway market hasn’t needed to supply electrification components in major volumes as very few machines are partially or fully electric, and most machines are powered by a diesel engine and with hydraulics to either drive the machine or move the accessories.
Some suppliers – Cummins, Dana, DEUTZ – have taken steps to expand their product portfolios to offer electrification technologies for off-highway applications. However, many haven’t, and may miss an opportunity to support the growth of new products and market opportunities as volumes increase.
For hydraulic components, the impact of electrification is potentially two-fold. First, fluid power used to drive a vehicle may be replaced with electric drives in the future. Secondly, fluid power used to operate accessories – swings, arms, booms – could be replaced with actuators in the future.
Volvo’s EX2 prototype is a good example of total hydraulic replacement. Volvo has removed all of the hydraulics from the vehicle and replaced them with linear actuators (from Bonfiglioli and Elbi). This reduces the number of moving parts (improving reliability and lowering maintenance costs), removes environmental issues related to hydraulic fluid spills, and is more efficient. Other machine builders have started to replace single hydraulic functions with linear actuators, such as control panels or accessory positioners. Others have replaced the swing hydraulics with an electric motor.
The challenge with using actuators is that they currently lack the same force and speed as hydraulic systems. This is limiting their use in heavy duty applications. However, as technology improves it is expected that linear actuators will be able to compete with hydraulics in many heavier applications.
The hydraulics industry needs to actively and urgently monitor the off-highway market as it moves toward electrification. Interact Analysis forecasts that certain applications – urban construction and underground mines – will move quickly to fully electric solutions to improve air quality and, for mines, reduce the cost of thermal management. Although many of the hybrid and electric machines available today use an electric motor to drive the hydraulics, it is forecast that this will change given the inefficiency of this approach. Hydraulic vendors need to be aware that, despite the slow business cycles of the construction industry, their products are beginning to be disrupted.