Industrial farming profit margins are shrinking as the price of everything from land to seeds and fertilizer continues to rise and income falls. At the same time, a shortage of farm workers is driving up labor costs and leaving many farms short-handed. And to be better stewards of the environment, farms need to feed a growing population while also minimizing their use of fertilizers, pesticides and water.
The need to reduce operational costs, increase productivity and minimize environmental impacts is driving a demand for field robots that can handle the agricultural tasks traditionally done by human hands and human-operated machines: seed planting, weeding, fertilizer application, mowing, harvesting and more.
Today’s precision agriculture also depends on sensors that monitor soil respiration, photosynthetic activity, leaf-area indexes and other biological factors. Information-based production technologies have proven to drive significant cost savings. These technologies include, for example, yield mapping, soil mapping, auto-guidance machinery steering, and variable rate technologies for applying seeds, fertilizer, crop protection products and water.
Many of these applications require great flexibility and dexterity of robotic motion. Fruits bruise easily and leafy vegetables can be easily torn. Damaging high-value greenhouse herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes and other delicate crops can substantially reduce profitability. Even when factoring in the labor costs saved, a robot that can’t perform these tasks with the finesse and attention to detail of human hands will not deliver the savings and efficiency that make the investment in robotics worthwhile.
For agricultural robot designers, these issues present both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to deliver the intelligence and precisely controlled motion that sets your robot apart from existing field robots in the same category, as well as new robots being developed by your competitors. The opportunity, it goes without saying, is to produce a cost-effective robot with the performance to win in the agricultural market.
Motion is key to success.
What matters for motion on the farm?
Agricultural robots can be autonomous, collaborative (able to work safely in proximity to humans) or both. They can work in large open fields, for example picking apples or doing weed control. Or they can work in controlled greenhouse environments performing highly precise tasks such as scouting and spot-treating diseases or delicately lifting plants to perform root inspection in hydroponic systems.
In all cases, the industry trend is toward motion systems that are lighter to avoid soil compaction, more efficient in 24/7 operation, more compact for greater maneuverability, and more precise to work at high speed without damaging crops. These motion qualities become even more important as the industry increasingly adopts controlled environment agriculture, such as greenhouses, to enable year-round production and to improve produce quality, consistency and yield — all while striving for greater environmental sustainability.
Agricultural robots of various designs require multiple kinds of motion, from rapid and precise positioning of robotic arms, to the end effectors that perform the delicate work, to the systems that drive the wheels and steer the robot into position. Often, highly specialized motions are required — for example, nontraditional coordinate designs such as X–Y with inverted Delta — in order to properly pick produce such as strawberries and mushrooms at the optimal angle. All of these motions require precise coordination through sensors that have their own motion requirements.
No matter what the design, every agricultural robot succeeds only through high-precision motion.
Cultivating optimal motion
Kollmorgen offers a wide range of housed and frameless motors that are ideal for use in the field robots that are transforming agricultural productivity and profitability.
AKM and AKM2G series servo motors offer superior torque density in a compact form factor for use in traction applications. AKM2G low voltage servo motors are particularly well suited for battery-powered traction systems where efficient energy consumption can significantly extend the robot’s working time between charges.
KBM, TBM and RBE series servomotors all offer direct-drive precision and efficiency in a compact form factor that only a frameless solution can provide. They are available in an unmatched selection of sizes, performance ranges and options to suit the needs of robotic applications from steering systems to articulated robot arms and more.
TBM2G series servo motors are designed to meet the highly specific requirements of robotic arm joints. They are ideal for applications ranging from industrial cobots to surgical robots and, of course, agricultural field robots.
Frameless, brushless TBM2G motors provide exceptional torque density in a compact form factor. They take advantage of the D2L rule to allow for a joint design that is extremely compact in the axial dimension, so that multiple arms can work closely and efficiently together — for example, when harvesting fruit. A large thru-bore easily accommodates power/feedback cables and other components needed to operate joints along the length of the arm as well as the end effectors.
TBM2G motors are also designed for simple integration with readily available strain-wave (harmonic) gearing, allowing robotics engineers to easily and cost-effectively achieve the lightest, most compact arm joints while maximizing load-carrying capacity.
All Kollmorgen frameless motors incorporate advanced materials and windings for the most consistent performance across speed and torque demands, delivering smoother, more precise motion. They enable faster movements, greater efficiency and cooler operation while retaining full performance at higher duty cycle rates compared to conventional servo motors.
To achieve optimum efficiency, Kollmorgen offers the unique ability to cost-effectively modify motor windings to meet the exact speed, continuous torque and peak torque needs of each application. And Kollmorgen frameless motors are designed to operate reliably in harsh and rugged environments while requiring no maintenance.
Kollmorgen’s collaborative culture, breadth of product options, unmatched engineering capabilities and local design teams can help you reduce design cycles and bring a more dexterous and productive agricultural robot to market faster. And with our global manufacturing and support facilities, a commitment to consistent quality, and decades of proven robotics expertise, Kollmorgen is committed to helping keep your robot productive season after season.
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