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C Code Becomes User Accessible

C Code Becomes User Accessible

Mechanical engineers who don't know how to program in C code but want to create advanced electronic control systems for hydraulics-based off-highway equipment may now have a graphical software solution.

Sauer-Danfoss, Inc.'s Mobile Electronics division (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-552) has rolled out a new design package that allows OEM engineers to readily customize electronic controls for such equipment as cranes, pavers, bulldozers, excavators, garbage trucks, and a multitude of other mobile machines. Known as Plus 1(TM), the new methodology could allow engineers to bring the design of control systems back in house, instead of relying on vendor experts, or farming out such projects to system integrators.

"The biggest hindrance to the growth of control electronics in our industry has been programming," notes Dan Ricklefs, product portfolio manager for the Mobile Electronics division. "Historically, most of us have coded in C, which OEMs typically don't have expertise in. As a result, they've relied on us to implement their electronic control features. With this system, though, we've provided the building blocks for them to do it themselves."

Packaged goods

Plus 1 solves the programming problem by providing a graphical software package, microcontrollers, I/O modules, terminals, and joysticks. The system's software supplies a library of graphical objects that engineers can drag and drop onto a template, and thus connect to inputs and outputs. The software then automatically generates code that can be downloaded into the microcontrollers, which employ 16-bit DSPs from Texas Instruments. Plus 1 also offers nine different microcontroller configurations, ranging from 12-pin units for simple needs to 50-pin controllers for more sophisticated features.

Sauer-Danfoss representatives >>say that Plus 1 enables mechanical engineers, even those who don't know the C programming language, to configure complex PID control loops and dual-path control algorithms. "It's a little bit like using a PLC, except that this software is much more tuned to the needs of the user," Ricklefs says.

The new design system could be particularly important for the off-highway equipment industry today, especially in light of new government regulations that compel OEMs to use electronically controlled engines. The use of such engines has motivated many large equipment makers to employ CAN buses onboard their machines as a means of tying all of the new electronic components together.

Using the design package, engineers can connect as many microcontrollers as they want to the CAN bus. As a result, they can control such hydraulic features as track drives, articulated booms, and automated lifting mechanisms.

Moreover, the new design methodology could be particularly well suited for manufacturers whose engineering ranks have been thinned out by the lackluster economy. Using systems such as Plus 1, engineering teams may be more able to bring design projects back inside, instead of relying on suppliers who may not have the time to do the controls integration. Sauer-Danfoss says that it now has several unnamed customers employing Plus 1 in the design of prototype machinery.

"With this, we expect small-tomid-sized manufacturers to be able to realize the benefits of electronics," Ricklefs says.


Control Bus: On equipment such as this automated forestry concept machine, Sauer-Danfoss' design methodology can be used to place numerous microcontrollers along the CAN bus to control such features as articulated booms.
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