A great challenge over and over again

The upcoming Hannover Messe will be spotlighting India as a partner country. The emerging subcontinent is the world's largest tractor producer and currently experiencing a boom in agricultural machines. With the EHC-8 Electrohydraulic Hitch Control, Bosch Rexroth has developed a product that improves not only the quality of the vehicles but also the working conditions for the farmers.

Sheshadri Raman has been the Bangalore sales and branch manager for forest and agricultural machines since 2007, and hardly anyone else can assess the opportunities and challenges in this regional market segment as accurately as he can. The opportunities: "With some 600,000 tractors produced each year, the Indian tractor market is currently the largest in the world. What's more, "The sector is expecting an increase in production to 800,000 tractors by 2018". The challenge: "Only those who know the local needs of the customers are in a position to create the innovations required to develop this market." Sheshadri: "Innovative ideas especially in the manufacturer's market are what we need in order to meet the population's growing hunger for products from their own country. This presents our engineers with a great challenge over and over again."

Mechanization of the Indian agriculture, i.e. increasing use of machines, says Sheshadri, does indeed carry enormous growth potential. However, the various and in part extreme climatic conditions on the subcontinent regularly call for extremely robust components. Heavy monsoon rain, for instance, drowns crop areas in mud, followed by extreme droughts and dust storms.

In 2011 Bosch Rexroth initiated the project "EHC-8", a project designed to provide better working conditions in such an environment. The term "Electrohydraulic Hitch Control (EHC)" denotes an electronically controlled lifting system designed specifically for the use of ploughs and other attachements. A majority of Indian farmers today uses tractors on which the plough can only be adjusted mechanically - often a less comfortable task. Developers at Bosch Rexroth had realized early on, that using a Electrohydraulic Hitch Control at this point would make the farmers' work more efficient. Uwe Falkenhain supervises the project from the German subsidiary in Schwieberdingen near Stuttgart: "Precise force and position regulation allows for exact lifting and lowering of the lifting gear, which provides for more efficient soil tilling. The soil is broken evenly and gently, allowing for better yields - and making work itself more pleasant, too."

The technology, well established in regions like Europe or North America, needed to be comprehensively modified in order to make it fit for the Indian market. There were two core problems in particular that needed to be solved. Many Indian farmers have small farms and smaller fields than farmers in Europe, for example. That's why they mainly use smaller, less powerful tractors - which are also very cost competitive of course. Secondly, the complexity of the machines must be kept manageable - if only to allow for maintenance work being carried out locally. In addition, most Indian tractors have no driver's cab, therefore providing no protection for the sensitive electronic components. So here, too, innovative concepts were required.

To make the EHC-8 affordable for Indian farmers, the existing technology needed to undergo comprehensive rationalization. Which components are dispensable? Which materials will withstand the specific local conditions? And last but not least: Which components can be produced locally so as to save further costs?

Conclusion: Especially the EHC-8 control unit needed to be developed from scratch. Here the company was able to draw on a Bosch Rexroth housing design that had already been successfully used to serially equip the Tata Nano - the Indian "People's Car". Furthermore, it was possible to dispense with one of the two force sensors, which lowered the costs. The use of competitively priced plastics and plastics better suited to the local conditions as well as simplified assembly and automation processes permitted further cost reductions. In the end, Bosch Rexroth in fact managed to offer the EHC-8 at a price that is attractive for Indian tractor manufacturers.

After the first experiences in 2014 Bosch Rexroth is very satisfied both with the technical and the sales development. This success encourages the company to look out for further ways of lowering costs; additional markets for the EHC-8 are already being explored. Understandably, Falkenhain looks ahead with self-confidence: "We are proud to be the market leader in technology for hydraulic systems within this segment. With the EHC-8 we have created a product that combines various advantages. Especially in the emerging countries of the world, it will help facilitate agricultural work and improve the quality of life of the local population. We, in turn, are given the possibility to further grow in this sector."


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