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Sheshadri Raman - Agricultural & Forestry Industry Sector Management
Bangalore, India

Agriculture in India is changing rapidly, with a stronger focus on mechanization. However, the demands of the Indian farmers on tractors are dramatically different from those in Europe and North America. The average size of the fields is much smaller and the tractors are exposed to extreme environmental conditions such as dust and the monsoon rain. In addition, these machines have much smaller engines. Another decisive precondition: The absolute price of Tractors in India is significantly lower than European or US standards.

Hence farmers in this region chose simpler technology up to now. Tractors in India are usually equipped with mechanical hitch control to regulate the working depth of the plough. These controls are subject to wear which leads to decreasing quality of the control fairly quickly. The result: When plowing, the farmers must constantly turn around and use a lever to re-adjust the mechanical control. In addition to this uncomfortable working condition, this leads to an uneven cultivation, with a corresponding effect on the crops.

“In Europe and America, many tractors have been equipped with the Electrohydraulic Hitch Control EHC developed by Bosch Rexroth quite some time ago,” said Sheshadri. He is in charge of gear pumps and the industry sector management of agricultural and forestry machinery at Bosch Rexroth in India. EHC offers exact force and position regulation enabling accurate lifting and lowering of the hitch. That makes for precision when working the soil and prevents slippage of the drive wheels. This lowers the fuel consumption and protects the soil.

“Today’s EHC systems are designed for the much larger, more powerful and more expensive tractors in Europe and America,” Raman Sheshadri said. “For the Indian market, EHC has to fulfill different needs and be offered at a much more affordable price. Only a solution developed in India and produced here can achieve this.”

For Sheshadri, who has been an engineer at Bosch Rexroth in India since 2007, this fundamental challenge was the motivation for innovation. “We analyzed the Indian tractors and the market and searched for business opportunities,” Raman Sheshadri said. “With the Electrohydraulic Hitch Control EHC, we have awakened the interest of the manufacturers.” But at first, they had major concerns: how to bring down the cost, reduce the system’s complexity and create a solution for which the tractor manufacturers and farmers would be willing to pay a certain premium.

Sheshadri worked with his team to compile a feasibility study, which convinced management of his idea. “This is what makes Bosch Rexroth what it is: recognizing local needs and designing new markets with innovative ideas,” he said. The idea gained momentum with the official project start in 2010 for an Indian version of the Electrohydraulic Hitch Control, named EHC-8. One thing the feasibility study clearly demonstrated: the business potential is enormous.

Nowhere else in the world are as many tractors manufactured as in India: in 2013, it was more than 600,000, and for 2018, the manufacturers are even predicting already at least 800,000 tractors per year, of which approximately 80,000 are to be exported. More than half of the Indian tractors have engines between 40 and 80 HP − and this segment is exactly what the team is aiming at with the new system solution EHC-8.

After a market study, Sheshadri , who is a Bosch Rexroth certified project manager, took the lead coordinating the cooperation of the Indian and the German developers at Bosch Rexroth. The developers completely revised all the components of the system or re-developed them: pump, proportional valve, two sensors, the electronic control unit, and an operating unit. The focus was placed on the truly necessary functions. R&D in India subjected the proportional valve to a comprehensive re-design in order to a just- enough functionality. The production for this component is conducted at Bosch Rexroth in India. In the future, this shall also apply to the new force sensor. For the electronics, the team was able to fall back on the hardware of a control unit developed for the Tata Nano micro-car. With a proven hardware, a new PCB layout and application software complying with Indian requirements was created for the EHC-8 application.

One of the newest and most completely re-engineered components is the control panel. This major redesign was necessary because small Indian tractors do not have a driver cabin. “The only logical place is at the arm rest of the driver seat, where it is unprotected against weather,” Sheshadri said. The new operating unit fulfills the requirements of IP 67 protection class. All in all, the team developed a complete solution to the OEMs. “The tractor manufacturers have so far had little experience with electronic assemblies and they needed a ready-to-install system solution,” Sheshadri explained.

Drawing on user experiences, the team equipped several tractors with previous versions of the EHC-8. “We provided these to the farmers and their feedback was quite positive,” Sheshadri said. And this positive reaction by the farmers has also convinced the tractor manufacturers: Key tractor manufacturers are incorporating the EHC-8 as a feature option in 2014.

And India is only the beginning: Currently, intensive discussions are being held with other Asian tractor manufacturers which are also very interested in EHC-8. “With the EHC-8 system solution, we are the clear technology leader and are creating a completely new market with this innovation, and this will contribute to our growth,” Sheshadri said with pride.