Electrification of tractors has mainly centred around the displacement of the engine with battery packs, a bid which has so far proven to be problematic.

However, that other major area of agricultural engineering – hydraulics – may yield a little quicker to the power of the electron.

Danfoss senses a new way forward

Earlier this month Danfoss, a major supplier of hydraulic and electronic components to industry, signed an agreement with Rise Robotics, a relatively young company which was formed to develop and exploit electrical actuators for, and within, the heavy machinery industry.

As partners in the project, it is intended that the companies work together to validate the latest electromechanical actuator technology from Rise, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Better all round

There are three major selling selling points of electric actuators over the traditional hydraulic ram.

These are speed, precision and energy saving with impressively large figures being claimed for the latter, up to 50% for an electrical system overall.

Avoiding the forced movement of oil through pipes and valves under pressure will reduce the amount of energy required to operate any hydraulic component, in addition to doing away with the need for bulky and expensive pipes and valve blocks.

Rise Robotics notes that actuators are more precise with no “uncommanded” movements of the ram; it starts and stops exactly as and when the operator demands, be it human or an autonomous circuit.

Hydraulic ram constrains machine design

Other benefits of the technology include its quiet operation, lack of potential pollution and, it is said the ease of serviceability without the need to deal with high pressure fluid-filled circuits.

Presently it is suggested that the actuators are designed into a machine from the ground up, rather than retrofitted to existing designs.

Hydraulic ram machinery
Replacing the hydraulic ram with actuators is a huge business opportunity

This suggests that should they make their way into agriculture, then it opens the possibility of radical new machine types, especially if combined with powering other items, such as a pick-up reel, with an electric motor.

Cost is said to match that of hydraulic systems. Rise Robotics itself suggests that instead of a fixed figure, they share the savings in energy consumption, a scheme which sounds fair, but is hardly workable in the outside world.