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Grant Eisenhut: Unleashing the Potential of OEM Custom Sensors in Revolutionizing Agriculture - Exclusive Interview with an Industry Expert

Grant Eisenhut, OEM Sensors Business Development Manager at Hottinger Brüel & Kjær, has amassed a remarkable level of expertise through years of collaboration with design engineers and agricultural machinery manufacturers.

In our interview with Grant, we delve into the evolution of the farming industry, the upcoming wave of advancements in the agriculture market, and the crucial role that OEM custom sensors play in developing solutions to meet the challenges of tomorrow's farmers.

We highly recommend reading this interview as it provides valuable insights from a passionate industry expert who help to create more sustainable products on a daily basis.

How is the evolution of the farming industry impacting the growing number of sensors HBK manufactures being implemented into agriculture machinery?

There have been several major advancements in how farmers use machinery today to plant, fertilize, and harvest their crops.   Farmers today have an incredible amount of data they can utilize at their fingertips to help make planting, fertilizing, and harvesting much more efficient, while at the same time increasing their yield. 

At HBK we provide machinery OEMs a wide array of force, load, and torque sensors that help farmers and their equipment to gather critical data during operations, that provide needed feedback to the machinery, or to the farmer as data to assist in operations planning. 

Our load cells are being used to measure planting downforce, soil compaction, and closing wheel force to ensure proper seed depth and emergence.  In the harvesting process we provide load cells for yield monitors in conjunction with grain carts so the farmer can combine that data with GPS location to accurately plot and understand their yield in various areas in their field.  We also provide load cells that measure and weigh seed and fertilizer bins.

A woman farmer with digital tablet controls an autonomous tractor on a smart farm

What do you see as the next wave of advancements coming to the agriculture market?

There are definitely two big drivers for technology advancements.  Agriculture machinery is going to become more autonomous, robotic, and more efficient.  As the tractors, planters and harvesters are implemented with more autonomous features, they will need additional sensors like load cells and force sensors to intelligently interact with their surroundings.  We've seen it already to a certain degree in grains planting and harvesting machinery,  but the next wave of planting and crop harvesting in the fruit and vegetable industry will become less manual and involve more autonomous robotics.   These machines will be replacing the tasks of hand picking crops from the ground, and will need to be able to carefully and quickly handle the product with the assistance of force sensors.  Load cell type sensors will then be able to accurately measure the weight and crop yield. 

All of this amounts to more machine control and intelligence, which will also be useful to increase machine fuel or energy control and efficiency.  At HBK we have advancements in torque sensing, that will see each tractor or harvester with multiple torque sensors along its drivetrain and power take off.  This will allow much greater intelligent drivetrain control to efficiently distribute power along the axles and gear boxes to the wheels or implements.  Previously inaccurate calculations were used to determine approximate power or torque at various points in the drivetrain, causing issues like wheel slippage or not enough power being transferred to a planter as it plows through various soil conditions.

What is the process for designing a new sensor? Does HBK have standard catalog products available?

For OEMs in the agriculture and off highway industries, we take pride in the ability to design a sensor to that customer's exact need and specifications.  We have an excellent team of engineers dedicated to designing high quality, rugged, custom load, pressure, force and torque sensors.  Our engineering team will meet with a customer and discuss the application.  We will look at taking a possible existing component within the mechanical system that we can turn into a sensor.  This enables a more economical solution and allows us to design the sensor directly into the existing mechanical envelope vs the OEM having to design their machine around our catalog sensor.  Agriculture machinery sees an incredibly wide range of force, temperature, and other harsh environmental conditions that we take into consideration. 

Our engineering team will perform FEA analysis in their design phase to ensure the sensor's output data signal falls in line with highly accurate expectations and that the sensor will be durable when in use in the field.  We then manufacture prototypes for testing approval.  We work as a team with the OEM during the prototype testing process to ensure the results are reliable and accurate.  Once a prototype is approved, we move into the volume production phase of the process.

What are some of the key design and manufacturing advantages that HBK can offer the agriculture OEM industry?

HBK has an abundance of experience designing sensors for the agriculture OEM industry, where a robust and manufacturable design is vital. These sensors must often have high ingress protection (IP) ratings, withstand significant overloading and shock loading, and perform consistently over the course of many seasons in the field. HBK can also incorporate customized PCBAs with signal conditioning (amplification, calibration, fault detection, etc.) per customer requirements and preferences. HBK will ensure consistent quality for high-volume production through DFM (Design for Manufacturing), PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), and customized production testing to guarantee sensor performance.