In most current ISOBUS solutions the tractor controls the implement but TIM (Tractor Implement Management) ushers in the next level of tractor and machine integration. Our Technology Brand Manager, Steve Mills, takes a look at this exciting development.
Individual machine manufacturers have been looking at systems to allow the implement to control the tractor for many years. These systems tended to be limited both in terms of the functions that they could control and the machines that they could work with. But the advantages are potentially huge. If we take the example of a round baler. If the baler could vary the speed of the tractor to match the size of the swath, steer the tractor to evenly fill the bale chamber, automatically stop the tractor when the bale was formed and then request the spool valve to open the door to eject the bale. All the guesswork for the operator is removed, the productivity and quality of the work is optimised and the stress on the machine is reduced.
However, the difficulty of allowing an implement from one manufacturer to control tractor functions of another manufacturer should not be underestimated. In addition to the machine-to-machine communication protocols that have to be agreed, the health and safety implications are huge. If an implement sends a signal to a tractor to operate a spool valve and the resulting machine movement injures a bystander, who is responsible?
To achieve an acceptable level of brand interoperability with the necessary fail-safe safety features the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF - the organisation responsible for ISOBUS) have been working hard for many years to set out and agree the standards for secure communication
and the result is TIM. All manufacturers wishing to use TIM functions must design their machines to meet this standard and then submit them to the stringent AEF Conformance Test. Once these tests have been passed the AEF issues the machine with the necessary ‘digital certificate’. On connection, the tractor and implement must establish that each have the necessary compatibility and only when this secure ‘handshake’ between a tractor and an implement has taken place will the implement be able to control the tractor functions without the intervention of the operator.
The future integration of TIM functions into tractors and implements will require little in the way of hardware changes but machines will need additional sensors and electronics to control the automated functions. On the tractor side it is likely that once a model range has been certified, only an unlock code and a software update will be required for ISOBUS capable machines to work with TIM enabled implements.
From a P&B point of view the first two suppliers to bring a TIM solution to market will be Lemken and Fendt.
Lemken were the first company to embrace TIM technology on tillage equipment with their iQblue Connect system which was awarded an Agritechnica Silver Medal in 2019. iQblue Connect relies on a module which can be moved between implements and connects to the tractor through the usual ISOBUS interface. Each implement will require a dedicated sensor kit to record the required information and pass it on to the iQblue Connect module.
For ploughs, Lemken will offer GPS-based working width control as a first step. The iQblue module transmits implement data on the plough’s GPS position and current working width via TIM to enable the hydraulic control unit on the tractor to automatically control the cylinder for the plough’s working width. This ensures that the plough always produces a precise and straight furrow. At the same time it also allows operators to plough towards a target furrow, vastly increasing the efficiency when ploughing wedge-shaped fields.
For a semi-mounted cultivator, if a sensor was added to monitor working depth iQblue Connect uses target working depth maps provided by the farm’s management system. iQblue compares the actual and target data and subsequently sends a command to the tractor to adjust the working depth.
Only a single iQblue Connect module is required as this mobile unit can be transferred quickly and easily from one implement to another. iQblue offers a straightforward, inexpensive electronic tool which allows purely mechanical implements to be largely automated.
Fendt have the Variotronic Implement Management (TIM) available as an option on Fendt tractors from the Fendt Vario 500 ProfiPlus upwards. This has now passed the certification tests and it will be available as a chargeable unlock from Q4 2021.
On the implement side, TIM will initially be used for silage loader wagons (Fendt Tigo XR) and trailed sprayers (Fendt Rogator 300).
On Tigo XR loader wagons equipped with TIM the crop flow can be fully automated. The loader wagon regulates the driving speed of the tractor to suit the pick-up volumes. Depending on the swath size, a sensor sends ongoing feedback on the torque at the pick-up. This vastly reduces the chances of machine blockages and takes the strain off the operator who can fully concentrate on the loading process.
The Fendt Rogator 300 trailed sprayer can automatically control a TIM-enabled tractor. In combination with Fendt OptiNozzle, the sprayer calculates the optimal speed and accordingly adjusts the nozzle parameters to achieve the preferred drift reduction and output. Depending on the nozzle used, the sprayer regulates the engine and transmission of the tractor to the calculated target speed. This ensures that the spray is always applied with correct volume whilst achieving the necessary drift reduction.
The functions and capabilities of TIM will evolve as more and more machines gain certification. This is just another step on the road to full machine automation and control. The possibilities, as they say, are endless!