Projects for tomorrow's green industries
As a participating party in an EU-funded project, Automation Region contributes to innovation and automation in the agricultural sector. What began as a concrete technical challenge – the problem with soil compaction in agriculture – has been expanded and now also covers development of a general innovation model for green industries.
A project entitled Collaboration for Developing Ideas and Innovation in the Agricultural Sector is run by Agro Sörmland together with Automation Region, Linköping University, RISE and Robotdalen. The working group also includes two farmers – Karola Reuterström from Stora Lövhulta farm North of Eskilstuna, and Mattias Larsson from Abbotnäs Manor outside Katrineholm.
"The trend in agriculture is towards ever bigger machines to increase capacity," says Mattias Larsson. The downside is that machines are becoming heavier and heavier. Manufacturers are not happy to say just how much they weigh, but there are calculations indicating that a new combine harvester can weigh as much as 50 tonnes.
Soil compaction is a term that refers to the weight of machines crushing the structure of the soil. The soil becomes hard and oxygen poor, which impacts microscopic life in the earth; things grow poorly and earthworms disappear. Fields also become more difficult to work and their drainage characteristics are impaired. Soil compaction is a major problem, and according to surveys, something which farmers all around the world worry about.
One way to handle the challenge is to use permanent wheel tracks. With the aid of GPS steering, machines can use the same contract year after year and worked the field in fixed widths of e.g. 12 metres for threshing and 24 metres for fertilization. However, this approach has its limitations and is not practical or economically feasible on smaller farms.
The solution – an automated system to relieve the load
Together with the other project participants, Mattias Larsson has outlined a solution in which autonomous vehicles replace the conventional grain carts driven alongside combine harvesters.
"Our autonomous grain carts run constantly between the harvester, where it carries out the grain transfer on the fly, to a position at the edge of the field where the serial is transferred," explains Mattias. The idea is to reduce weights in crop handling, both in terms of the combine harvester and grain transportation, without reducing efficiency.
An important goal in modern precision cultivation is to achieve uniform quality in the cultivated area. If soil compaction can be limited, then fertilization and plant protection actions can be optimized for better effect with less effort. At the same time, the system replaces parallel operations with tractors and grain carts.
"The harvest is the most labour-intensive period in farming, and logistics account for a significant part of the effort," says Mattias Larsson. This solution enables us to free up personnel resources needed elsewhere, while also spreading the load more evenly over the year.
A patent application for autonomous grain unloading has been submitted and the project group is now investigating means for funding the continued development.
Innovation model for green industries
During its work with soil compaction, the project group identified a need for a general model for developing innovations in green industries.
"Farmers are solutions-oriented, but they often lack the resources and contacts for them to take their ideas further," says Cilla Krantz, operations manager for Agro Sörmland and project manager for developing the innovation model. We want to find a structure where development engineers and operators in green industries can work together to develop ideas and make them a reality business challenges.
The aim of the project is to formalize the development process, create guideline documents and templates for various types of agreements between participating parties. Another important aspect is transferring know-how between experts in green industries, automation and robotics.
"We don't regard the bio-based industry as an isolated sector; we want to broaden perspectives by working across industry boundaries and linking available skills," says Cilla Krantz. Automation Region and the other participating operators monitor technological solutions that can enable positive, sustainable development within green industries.
The Collaboration for Developing Ideas and Innovation in the Agricultural Sector is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, EAFRD. For further information, please contact Automation Region's project manager Lars Krantz, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agro Sörmland is an unaffiliated forum for professional contacts and discussions on development issues in the agricultural sector. The initiative encourages and runs projects that create conditions for growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. Agro Sörmland is run by AgroÖst (non-profit organisation) and collaborates with e.g. the Vreta Kluster business Park in the County of Östergötland. Further information: www.agrosormland.se.