Search Images Maps Play YouTube News Gmail Drive More »
Sign in
Screen reader users: click this link for accessible mode. Accessible mode has the same essential features but works better with your reader.

Patents

  1. Advanced Patent Search
Publication numberUS20090222176 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 12/093,334
PCT numberPCT/EP2005/013381
Publication dateSep 3, 2009
Filing dateNov 10, 2005
Priority dateNov 10, 2005
Also published asEP1954888A1, WO2007054123A1
Publication number093334, 12093334, PCT/2005/13381, PCT/EP/2005/013381, PCT/EP/2005/13381, PCT/EP/5/013381, PCT/EP/5/13381, PCT/EP2005/013381, PCT/EP2005/13381, PCT/EP2005013381, PCT/EP200513381, PCT/EP5/013381, PCT/EP5/13381, PCT/EP5013381, PCT/EP513381, US 2009/0222176 A1, US 2009/222176 A1, US 20090222176 A1, US 20090222176A1, US 2009222176 A1, US 2009222176A1, US-A1-20090222176, US-A1-2009222176, US2009/0222176A1, US2009/222176A1, US20090222176 A1, US20090222176A1, US2009222176 A1, US2009222176A1
InventorsGilles FLOREAN, David Lazzaro
Original AssigneeVolvo Construction Equipment Ab
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Loader
US 20090222176 A1
Abstract
A loader including a vehicle including a structural frame and an elongate boom arm is provided. The boom arm is pivotally mounted at its first end to the frame and has at its second end an assembly for receiving a tool. The loader includes actuators to actuate the boom arm and its associated assembly. The loader also includes a control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling position and orientation of the boom arm and its associated assembly. The actuators integrally incorporate therein magnetic sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of the actuators and thereby generate actuator feedback signals indicative of the longitudinal extension. The control unit processes the actuator feedback signals in a feedback control to render the position and orientation of the boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using the user operable controls. Sensing a rotation rate of vehicle engine providing power to the actuators is employed to modify the feedback control to improve operating stability of the loader.
Images(6)
Previous page
Next page
Claims(16)
1. A loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, the at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, the loader further including actuators operable to actuate the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including a control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, wherein the actuators integrally incorporate therein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of the actuators and thereby generate actuator feedback signals indicative of the longitudinal extension, wherein the control unit is operable to process the actuator feedback signals in a feedback control to render the position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using the user operable controls.
2. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the magnetic actuator sensors integrally included within the actuators are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated co-operating cylinder of its corresponding actuator.
3. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the actuators include a first actuator operable to actuate the at least one boom arm to vary its pivotal angle relative to the structural frame, and a second actuator operable to actuate the assembly to vary its pivotal angle relative to substantially the second end of the at least one boom arm.
4. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the control unit is operable to apply a mathematic translation to the actuator feedback signals to generate translated signals indicative of an inclination angle of the one or more tools and a height of the one or more tools, the translated signals being compared in the control unit with signals from the user operable controls to provide in operation the feedback control.
5. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the feedback signals are operable to provide substantially a first order dynamic measure of angular orientations of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly and one or more tools.
6. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the control unit is operable to enable the user:
(a) to record one or more sets of preferred angular orientations of at least one boom arm and its associated assembly corresponding to preferred positions and orientations of the one or more tools, and
(b) to invoke the one or more sets of orientations for operating the one or more tools for moving them to one or more of the preferred positions.
7. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the vehicle includes an inertial sensing unit for sensing at least one of inclination, acceleration, deceleration and vibration of the vehicle and thereby generating an inertial signal, the sensing unit being in communication with the control unit for receiving the inertial signal such that the control unit is operable to modify at least one of angular orientation and height of the one or more tools in response to the inertial signal for retaining a load borne in operation by the one or more tools more securely.
8. A loader as claimed in claim 1, wherein the vehicle comprises an engine operable to provide actuation power for the actuators, the engine including an engine rotation rate sensor adapted to generate a rotation rate signal indicative of a rotation rate of the engine in operation, wherein the control unit is arranged to receive the rotation rate signal for adapting the feedback control in response to the rotation rate signal.
9. A control system including a control unit adapted to control operation of a loader, the loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, the at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, the system further including actuators operable to actuate the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including the control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, wherein the actuators integrally incorporate therein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of the actuators and thereby generate actuator feedback signals indicative of the longitudinal extension, wherein the control unit is operable to process the actuator feedback signals in a feedback control to render the position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using the user operable controls.
10. A control system as claimed in claim 9, wherein the magnetic actuator sensors are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated co-operating cylinder of its corresponding actuator.
11. A method of controlling operation of a loader, the loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, the at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, the loader further including actuators operable to actuate the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including the control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, wherein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of the actuators are integrally incorporating in the actuators, the method comprising steps of:
(a) generating actuator feedback signals indicative of the longitudinal extension;
(b) processing the actuator feedback signals in the control unit to implement a feedback control to render the position and orientation of the at least one boom arm (40) and its associated assembly adjustable using the user operable controls.
12. A method as claimed in claim 11, wherein the magnetic actuator sensors are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated co-operating cylinder of its corresponding actuator.
13. A method as claimed in claim 11, wherein step (b) further comprises steps of:
(c) applying a mathematical translation to the actuator feedback signals to generate translated signals indicative of an inclination angle of the one or more tools and a height of the one or more tools; and
(d) comparing the translated signals in the control unit with signals from the user operable controls to provide in operation the feedback control.
14. A method as claimed in claim 11, wherein the feedback signals are operable to provide substantially a first order dynamic measure of angular orientations of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly and one or more tools.
15. A method as claimed in claim 11, wherein the method includes further steps of:
(e) measuring using a rotation rate sensor a rotation rate of an engine of the vehicle and generating a corresponding rotation rate signal; and
(f) adapting the feedback control in response to the rotation rate signal to enhance stability of the feedback control.
16. Software on a data carrier executable on computing hardware of a control unit of a loader for implementing the method as claimed in claim 11.
Description
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY

The present invention relates to loaders operable to execute digging tasks or to transport and handle loads, wherein such loaders are mobile and each includes a device such as a bucket or attachment mounted onto a boom arm. Moreover, the present invention relates to arrangements for controlling such loaders. Furthermore, the invention also concerns methods of controlling such loaders and their boom arms. Additionally, the invention relates to software executable on computing hardware for implementing the methods in the aforesaid loaders.

Loaders are known. They are often each implemented as a four-wheeled vehicle with two substantially parallel boom arms pivotally mounted at their proximate ends towards a front region of the vehicle. A counterweight is often included at a rear region of the vehicle. Each boom arm is coupled at its distal end to a pivoting arrangement to which a device such as a bucket is coupled. Optionally, the bucket is demountable and the loader is configured to be able to accept other types of tools or attachments, in operation, such a loader is controlled by an operator or driver seated in a cabin of the vehicle. The operator or driver is provided in the cabin with controls for raising and lowering the boom arms as well as adjusting angle of the pivoting arrangement to which the bucket is coupled. Thereby, the driver is able to, for example, scoop a load, for example cement or building bricks, into the bucket and adjust an inclination of the bucket to retain its load, lift the bucket upwardly, and then drive the vehicle to another location for delivering the load held in the bucket. Alternatively, the driver can employ the bucket for digging operations, for example digging trenches and holes.

In view of a magnitude of physical forces required for such loaders to function, it is contemporary practice to employ hydraulic actuators, for example hydraulic cylinder actuators, for raising and lowering the boom arms, and also for adjusting an inclination angle of the pivoting arrangement associated with the bucket or attachment. Pressurized hydraulic oil for operating the hydraulic actuators is provided from a hydraulic pump coupled to an engine of the vehicle. Moreover, flow of pressurized hydraulic oil to and from the hydraulic actuators is regulated via hydraulic valves coupled appropriately to the aforesaid controls included in the cabin. As will be elucidated later, it has become contemporary practice to include sensors operable to sense orientation of the boom arms as well as orientation of the pivoting arrangement coupled to the bucket or attachment; signals provided by such sensors are coupled to a feedback arrangement employing signals from the controls in the cabin as reference signals.

Known loaders of a type described in overview in the foregoing will now be further elucidated. In a granted U.S. Pat. No. 4,844,685, there is described a loader including an electronic bucket positioning and control system. The loader employs a hydraulically-controlled boom arm assembly and bucket. The boom arm assembly includes a pair of boom arm lift hydraulic actuators, and a pair of bucket lift hydraulic actuators. Each hydraulic actuator includes a cylinder housing together with a piston rod movable in respect of its cylinder. Moreover, each piston includes therein a position sensor implemented as a linear potentiometer comprising a resistance strip for providing an electrical signal indicative in operation of a degree to which the piston rod is extended or retracted in respect of its corresponding cylinder.

In a published U.S. Pat. No. 4,923,362, there is described a boom arm and bucket system for a loader. The system includes a bucket leveling valve operable to maintain a desired orientation of the bucket as the boom arm is raised and lowered. The system employs first rotary angular sensors mounted at proximate ends of the boom arms whereat they are pivotally mounted to a vehicle body of the loader. Moreover, the system further employs second rotary angular sensors to sense an inclination of the bucket relative to the boom arm. The rotary angular sensors are conveniently implemented as potentiometers. Signals from the first and second angular sensors are coupled to an electronic feedback unit, for example implemented using computing hardware operable to execute software instructions, which compares the signals with reference signals generated from operator controls included within a cabin of the loader. In the system, the inclination angle of the bucket is directly and simply derivable from the signals generated from the first and second rotary angular sensors.

Of importance with regard to loaders described in the foregoing is ease of use and reliability. In view of a degree of power which operators of such loaders are able to control to execute various digging or lifting operation, it is vitally important that actuator sensors and their associated control systems are robust, for example to wear and debris generated in operation. A failure or inaccuracy in an actuator sensor implemented as a potentiometer can cause such a loader to function potentially erratically with a risk of damage to property or personnel.

Thus, two problems which are encountered with contemporary loaders concern robustness in use as well as dynamic handling characteristics. The first problem concerns robustness of the rotary angular sensors which can be conventionally addressed by employing a better quality of sensor. The second problem relates to reducing a risk of loads being manipulated by loaders unintentionally falling with associated potential problems of personal injury as well as damage to property; this second problem is conventionally addressed, for example as described in a European patent application EP 0 597 657, by controlling a rate at which hydraulic oil is applied or extracted from hydraulic actuators employed to actuate loader boom arms and associated buckets.

For aforementioned loaders, although loader operating performance has been enhanced, there is still a need for further improvements in loader performance, for example operating safety when manipulating and transporting loads, to satisfy exacting requirements demanded by contemporary users and operators of such loaders; such operating performance is a technical problem pertinent to the present invention which the present invention seeks to at least partially solve.

It is desirable to provide a loader with improved operating performance and operating robustness.

According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, said at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, said loader further including actuators operable to actuate said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including a control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, characterized in that said actuators integrally incorporate therein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of said actuators and thereby generate actuator feedback signals indicative of said longitudinal extension, wherein said control unit is operable to process said actuator feedback signals in a feedback control to render said position and orientation of said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using said user operable controls.

The invention is of advantage in that the magnetic actuator sensors integrally incorporated within the actuators are capable of imparting improved operating performance and safety of operation to the loader.

Optionally, in the loader, the magnetic actuator sensors integrally incorporated within the actuators are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated cooperating cylinder of its corresponding actuator. Such a manner of including the actuator sensors is susceptible to increasing robustness of the actuator sensors and improving their sensing accuracy. Moreover, such magnetic sensors are found in practice to be highly robust and reliable and provide signals suitable for implementing the aforementioned feedback.

Optionally, in the loader, the actuators include a first actuator operable to actuate said at least one boom arm to vary its pivotal angle relative to the structural frame, and a second actuator operable to actuate said assembly to vary its pivotal angle relative to substantially the second end of said at least one boom arm. Such allocation of the first and second actuators is effective at providing a degree of isolation between local feedback loops controlling the boom arm and the assembly, thereby simplifying control and improving stability.

Optionally, the vehicle comprises an engine operable to provide actuation power for said actuators, said engine including an engine rotation rate sensor adapted to generate a rotation rate signal indicative of a rotation rate of said engine in operation, wherein said control unit is arranged to receive said rotation rate signal for adapting said feedback control in response to said rotation rate signal. Inclusion of the rotation rate sensor is capable of enabling the control unit to provide more stable feedback control in response to variations in engine rotation rate and hence available actuation power.

Optionally, in the loader, the control unit is operable to apply a mathematic translation to the actuator feedback signals to generate translated signals indicative of an inclination angle of the one or more tools and a height of the one or more tools, said translated signals being compared in the control unit with signals from the user operable controls to provide in operation said feedback control. Isolation of the control for inclination of the one or more tools relative to the control for height of the one or more tools is susceptible to rendering the loader easier to control and hence potentially safer in operation.

Optionally, in the loader, the feedback signals are operable to provide substantially a first order dynamic measure of angular orientations of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly and one or more tools. Such first order dynamic response enables potentially more feedback to be applied to the loader and its assembly, irrespective of changes in their dynamic characteristics in response to varying loads being applied thereto in operation.

Optionally in the loader, the control unit is operable to enable the user: (a) to record one or more sets of preferred angular orientations of at least one boom arm and its associated assembly corresponding to preferred positions and orientations of the one or more tools, and (b) to invoke the one or more sets of orientations for operating said one or more tools for moving them to one or more of the preferred positions. Providing the one or more sets of preferred angular orientations and preferred position is susceptible to rendering the loader faster and easier for the user to operate, thereby potentially increasing efficiency of operation of the loader, for example when implementing repeated digging operations.

Optionally, in the loader, the vehicle includes an inertia! sensing unit for sensing at least one of inclination, acceleration, deceleration and vibration of said vehicle and thereby generating an inertial signal, said sensing unit being in communication with said control unit for receiving said inertial signal such that said control unit is operable to modify at least one of angular orientation and height of said one or more tools in response to said inertial signal for retaining a load borne in operation by said one or more tools more securely. Inclusion of the inertial sensing unit is capable of increasing operating safety of the loader, thereby more safely retaining and handling loads borne in operation by the loader, for example over uneven or inclined terrain.

According to a second aspect of the present invention, there is provided a control system including a control unit control unit adapted to control operation of a loader, said loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, said at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, said system further including actuators operable to actuate said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including the control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, characterized in that said actuators integrally incorporate therein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of said actuators and thereby generate actuator feedback signals indicative of said longitudinal extension, wherein said control unit is operable to process said actuator feedback signals in a feedback control to render said position and orientation of said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using said user operable controls.

Optionally, in the control system, the magnetic actuator sensors are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated co-operating cylinder of its corresponding actuator.

According to a third aspect of the present invention, there, is provided a method of controlling operation of a loader, said loader comprising a vehicle including a structural frame and at least one elongate boom arm, said at least one elongate boom arm being pivotally mounted substantially at its first end to the structural frame and having at its second end an assembly for receiving in operation one or more tools, said loader further including actuators operable to actuate said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, and also including the control unit provided with user operable controls for controlling in operation position and orientation of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly, wherein magnetic actuator sensors operable to sense longitudinal extension of said actuators are integrally incorporated into said actuators, said method comprising steps of:

(a) generating actuator feedback signals indicative of said longitudinal extension;

(b) processing said actuator feedback signals in said control unit to implement a feedback control to render said position and orientation of said at least one boom arm and its associated assembly adjustable using said user operable controls.

Optionally, when implementing the method, the magnetic actuator sensors are each operable to sense relative positions of a piston and its associated co-operating cylinder of its corresponding actuator.

Optionally, in the method, step (b) further comprises steps of:

(c) applying a mathematical translation to the actuator feedback signals to generate translated signals indicative of an inclination angle of the one or more tools and a height of the one or more tools; and

(d) comparing said translated signals in the control unit with signals from the user operable controls to provide in operation said feedback control.

Optionally, in the method, said actuator feedback signals are operable to provide substantially a first order dynamic measure of angular orientations of the at least one boom arm and its associated assembly and one or more tools.

Optionally, the method includes further steps of:

(e) measuring using a rotation rate sensor a rotation rate of an engine of said vehicle and generating a corresponding rotation rate signal; and

(f) adapting said feedback control in response to said rotation rate signal to enhance stability of said feedback control.

According to a fourth aspect of the invention, there is provided software on a data carrier executable on computing hardware of a control unit of a loader for implementing the method according to the third aspect of the invention.

It will be appreciated that features of the invention are susceptible to being combined in any combination without departing from the scope of the invention as defined herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

By way of example only, embodiments of the present invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying drawings wherein:

FIG. 1 is a schematic illustration of an embodiment of a loader pursuant to the present invention, the loader including an actuated boom arm pivotally mounted at its proximate end to a vehicle body of the loader and pivotally coupled at its distal end to an assembly dismountably couplable to, for example, a bucket or other similar type of tool; the schematic illustration further depicts a feedback control arrangement operable to control the boom arm and its associated assembly and bucket;

FIG. 2 is a schematic geometrical representation of the boom arm and the assembly of the loader illustrated in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a schematic illustration of the loader depicted in FIG. 1 in operation when manipulating a load retained within a load retaining tool of the loader;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional illustration of a hydraulic actuator employed within the loader depicted in FIGS. 1 and 3 for actuating the boom arm of the loader or the assembly and its associated bucket of the loader; and

FIG. 5 is an optional modification to the loader illustrated in FIG. 1, wherein an inertial sensor unit, for example a configuration of accelerometers and inclination sensors, is included within a vehicle of the loader; dynamic measurement signals from the inertial sensor unit are beneficially employed to adapt control of the boom arm and the assembly for the bucket so as to increase retention of a load within the bucket, for example under braking situations or when the vehicle is negotiating uneven or unstable terrain.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to FIG. 1, there is shown an embodiment of the present invention, namely a loader indicated generally by 10. The loader 10 includes a vehicle denoted by 20, the vehicle 20 being provided with four wheels, an engine 25 providing in operation motive power to one or more of the wheels, a control cabin for accommodating an operator or driver of the vehicle 20, one or more hydraulic pumps coupled to the engine 25 and optionally a counterbalance weight; the vehicle 20 is also illustrated in FIG. 3. Moreover, the loader 10 comprises a boom arm and bucket arrangement which will be elucidated in further detail with reference to FIG. 1.

The boom arm and bucket arrangement is mounted to a robust mounting member 30 of the loader 10; the mounting member 30 serves as a support or structural frame for the boom arm and bucket arrangement. As illustrated in FIG. 3, the mounting member 30 is substantially located at a forward region of the loader 10 substantially in front of the aforesaid control cabin. Moreover, the boom arm and bucket arrangement comprises a boom arm 40 having a proximate end pivotally mounted at a pivot 50 onto the mounting member 30, and also a distal end pivotally coupled to the aforesaid bucket as shown. The boom arm 40 is elongate and includes a bend portion therealong. There is also included a first hydraulic actuator 60 pivotally mounted at its first end by way of a pivot 70 to the mounting member 30. The pivot 70 of the actuator 60 is located at a distance below the pivot 50 of the boom arm 40 as illustrated. The actuator 60 is mounted at its second end to a pivot 80 included on an interface member 90. The interface member 90 is itself attached to the boom arm 40 at a position substantially corresponding to the aforesaid bend portion of the boom arm 40. Towards the distal end of the boom arm 40 is included a first elongate assembly member 200 pivotally coupled at its first end via a pivot 210 to the boom arm 40. The first assembly member 200 is further coupled at its second end via a pivot 220 to a second elongate assembly member 230 and also to a first end of a second hydraulic actuator indicated by 300. The second assembly member 230 is coupled at its second end via a pivot 240 to a first region of a tool interfacing member 250. The tool interfacing member 250 further includes a pivot 260 disposed in a spaced apart manner from the pivot 240, the pivot 260 being operable to pivotally couple the tool interfacing member 250 to the aforesaid distal end of the boom arm 40. The aforementioned second actuator 300 is pivotally mounted at its second end to a pivot 270 disposed spatially substantially midway between the pivots 240, 260 as illustrated.

The tool interfacing member 250 is adapted to releasably interchangeably receive a variety of tools and related devices. For example, the interfacing member 250 is shown in FIG. 1 coupled to the aforesaid bucket denoted by 310; the bucket 310 includes a base panel 320 for holding and retaining a load in operation within the bucket 310.

The boom arm 40 and its associated components are controlled in operation from a control assembly denoted by 400. The control assembly 400 includes an electronic control unit 410; the unit 410 is conveniently implemented using electronic hardware, for example by way of computing hardware operable to execute software instructions or dedicated hardware such as one or more application specific integrated circuits (ASICs). The assembly 400 has associated therewith an operator control console indicated by 420; the console 420 is coupled to the electronic control unit 410 as illustrated and will be elucidated in further detail later. The electronic control unit 410 is connected to first and second hydraulic control valves 430, 440 associated with the first and second hydraulic actuators 60, 300 respectively. The first hydraulic valve 430 includes hydraulic feed pipes or hoses 500 for injecting and extracting hydraulic oil from the first actuator 60 for actuating the first actuator 60 in operation. Similarly, the second hydraulic valve 440 includes hydraulic feed pipes or hoses 510 for injecting and extracting hydraulic fluid from the second actuator 300 for actuating the second actuator 300 in operation.

The vehicle 20 includes a rotation rate sensor 460 rotationally coupled to a rotating engine shaft of the engine 25 which drives the aforementioned one or more hydraulic pumps operable to provide pressurized hydraulic oil to the valves 430, 440. The rotation rate sensor 460 generates in operation a rotation rate signal 470 indicative of a rotation rate, namely RPM, of the engine shaft. The rotation rate signal 470 is coupled to the control unit 410. In operation, the control unit 410 modifies one or more of its feedback parameters, for example feedback loop gain, to improve feedback control stability in response to variations in available hydraulic power available to drive the actuators 60, 300.

The first and second actuators 60, 300 include internally therein position sensors 600, 610 for sensing in operation position of pistons of the actuators 60, 300 relative to their cylinders, namely measures of effective length of the actuators 60, 300 between their pivots 70, 80, 220, 270. The position sensors 600, 610 are preferably incorporated into the actuators 60, 300 in a manner as depicted in FIG. 4 which will be further elucidated later. On account of the position sensors 600, 610 being mounted within their respective actuators 60, 300, they are well protected from potential damage and degradation due to outdoor environmental conditions. Moreover, mounting the sensors 600, 610 within the actuators 60, 300 also enables better dynamic operating characteristics for the loader 10 to be achieved as will be described in further detail later. Position signals 740, 750 derived from the sensors 600, 610 respectively are conveyed in operation to the electronic control unit 410.

The aforementioned console 420 includes first and second operator-adjustable controls 700, 710; conveniently, the controls 700, 710 are implemented as continuously moveable joy-sticks or levers although other implementations are possible. In operation, the first and second controls 700, 710 give rise to first and second reference signals 720, 730 representative of desired height and inclination tilt angle of the bucket 310 respectively. These reference signals 720, 730 are conveyed to the electronic control unit 410 which is operable to, in a complex manner, compare the reference signals 720, 730 with the position signals 740, 750 and thereby generate appropriate output signals 760, 770 to control the first and second valves 430, 440 respectively.

In comparison to contemporary known loaders described in the foregoing, the electronic control unit 410 is operable to perform more complex signal processing on account of the signals 740, 750 from the position sensors 600, 610 not being directly indicative of angular orientation of the boom arm 40 and the bucket 310.

In overview, the loader 10 is operable in dynamic situations to function in a different manner to known contemporary loaders. When applying feedback in general to mechanical systems, it is known that it is more difficult to stabilize such feedback when the system in an open-loop state is susceptible to exhibiting complex multiple pole-zeroes in its frequency response. Such feedback problems are further confounded when the mechanical systems exhibit back-lash, namely “dead regions” in spatial response. Moreover, such feedback is even more difficult to optimize when system characteristics are susceptible to temporally change; for example, the boom arm 40 has elasticity and is susceptible to elastically deforming and thereby functioning as a spring denoted by K in FIG. 2. Substantially at the distal end of the boom arm 40 is included the bucket 310 together with its associated members 200, 230, 250 which collectively form a mass denoted by M in FIG. 2. This mass M is susceptible to variation depending upon a weight of a load 1200 carried in the bucket 310.

A pressure of hydraulic oil provided from the one or more pumps to the valves 430, 440 is also a factor affecting responsiveness of the actuators 60, 300, namely response time constants exhibited by the loader 10. In order to improve user handling performance of the loader 10, the control unit 410 is operable to vary one or more of its feedback parameters, for example one or more of its feedback loop gains, or one or more of its feedback loop time constants, in order to improve handling responsiveness and stability of the loader 10.

Conventionally, to address a potentially variable open-loop system response, two approaches are possible:

(a) vary the feedback applied in response to changes in open-loop characteristics of a system to be controlled, namely characteristics of the boom arm 40 and its associated distal mass M; or

(b) apply a form of feedback which can cope with a full range of open-loop characteristics of the system to be controlled, namely characteristics of the boom arm 40 and its mass M.

Whereas the approach (a) represents further complexity in that dynamic response characteristics of the boom arm 40 and its mass M need to be periodically evaluated, the approach (b) results in sluggish performance which is manifest in sluggish and inaccurate response to adjustments of the first and second controls 700, 710 adversely affecting efficiency of use of the loader 10 and potentially reducing operating safety.

The inventors of the present invention have surprisingly found that the implementation of the loader 10 depicted in FIG. 1 potentially offers considerable advantages in comparison to contemporary loaders described in the foregoing. By employing the feedback signals 740, 750 derived directly from the position sensors 600, 610 in the actuators 60, 300, there is provided a direct form of feedback which is susceptible to being of a relatively lower-order system response. Such a low order system response results in the feedback being more stable and responsive. Thus, the configuration of the actuators 60, 300 and the control assembly 400 depicted in FIG. 1 is capable of providing the operator of the first and second controls 700, 710 with more accurate and faster feedback control. Moreover, the loader 10 as depicted in FIG. 1 would be superficially less attractive to employ in view of the complexity of signal processing required to be implemented in the control assembly 400.

Referring to FIG. 2, there is shown a simplified geometrical representation of the loader 10 illustrated in FIG. 1. A parameter “a” represents a length of the first actuator 60 between its associated pivots 70, 80. Moreover, a parameter “b” represents a spatial distance between the pivots 50, 70. Furthermore, a parameter “c” represents a distance between the pivots 50, 80. Thus, the pivots 50, 70, 80 define a triangle which, in operation, is susceptible to having its parameter “a” varied as the first hydraulic actuator 60 is actuated. At the pivot 50, there is subtended an angle θ as illustrated. This angle θ can be described using geometry as in Equation 1 (Eq. 1):

θ = cos - 1 ( c 2 + b 2 - a 2 2 bc ) Eq . 1

On account of the bend portion of the boom arm 40, an orientation θd of the distal end of the boom arm 40 at the pivot 260 is described by Equation 2 (Eq. 2):


θd=θ+θ0  Eq. 2

wherein θ0 is a constant angular offset. In a similar manner, an angle γ associated with the bucket 310 as illustrated can be determined from geometrical analysis. The elongate member 200 has a length denoted by a parameter “e” between its associated pivots 210, 220. Moreover, a distance between the pivots 210, 260 is denoted by a parameter “d”. Furthermore, a distance between the pivots 220, 240 is denoted by a parameter “f. Additionally, a distance between the pivots 240, 260 is denoted by “g”. All four parameters “d”, “e”, “f and “g” are substantially constant as they are determined by the lengths of their associated members 200, 230, 250 or portion of the boom arm 40. The second actuator 300 is operable to substantially modify a spatial distance denoted by a parameter “h” between the pivots 220, 260 to affect changes in the angle γ. The angle γ can be substantially computed from Equation 3 (Eq. 3):

γ = cos - 1 ( d 2 + h 2 - e 2 2 dh ) + cos - 1 ( g 2 + h 2 - f 2 2 gh ) Eq . 3

Thus, an inclination angle α of the bucket 310 can be computed from Equations 2 and 3 as combined in Equation 4 (Eq. 4):

α = θ 1 + cos - 1 ( c 2 + b 2 - a 2 2 bc ) + cos - 1 ( d 2 + h 2 - e 2 2 dh ) + cos - 1 ( g 2 + h 2 - f 2 2 gh ) Eq . 4

wherein θ1 is another angular offset constant. The parameters “a” and “h” are dependent on actuation of the actuators 60, 300 respectively. It is desired that the inclination angle α is a direct simple function of position of the control 700 and not substantially influenced by adjustment of the control 710.

Moreover, from further geometrical analysis, a substantial height H of the bucket 310 above a ground level, for example as denoted on an axis 1030 in FIG. 3, can be computed from Equation 5 (Eq. 5):

H = H 0 + L sin ( θ - π 2 ) Eq . 5

wherein H0 is a height offset constant and the angle θ is as defined in Equation 1 such that the angle θ is substantially a function of a length of the first actuator 60, and L is an effective length of the boom arm 40 from its proximate end to its distal end.

Equations 1 to 5 can be summarized by Equations 6 (Eqs. 6):


α=F 1(S 1 ,S 2); H=F 2(S 1)  Eqs. 6

wherein S1, S2 correspond to the position signals 740, 750 respectively. Measures of the inclination angle α and the height H derived from the position signals 740, 750 are compared with corresponding reference signals 720, 730 in the electronic control unit 410 and the signals 760, 770 appropriately adjusted to minimize a difference between the sensed inclination angle α and the reference signal 720, and also to minimize a difference between the measured height H and the reference signal 730. By doing so, the operator adjusting the controls 700, 710 will find that the control 700 responsively and accurately determines the inclination angle α of the bucket 310, and the control 710 responsively and accurately determines the height of the bucket 310.

It will be appreciated that the electronic control unit 410 can either employ computations to solve Equations 6 in real time, or otherwise employ pre-calculated look-up tables.

Operation of the loader 10 will now be further elucidated with reference to FIG. 3. It is found ergonomically optimal that tilt and height of the bucket 310 are independently adjustable by the operator, thereby potentially reducing a risk of accident. It is highly desirable that the control 710 only adjusts height of the bucket 310 so that its contents, namely the load 1200, do not fall out of the bucket 310 when the boom arm 40 is adjusted in position. As illustrated in FIG. 1, the base panel 320 of the bucket 310 has a slight front upwardly-curved lip for assisting in retaining the load 1200 within the bucket 310. In FIG. 3, the aforesaid counterbalance is denoted by 1000. Dynamic mechanical characteristics of the loader 10 are not only affected by a weight of the load 1200 carried within the bucket 310 but also, to a lesser extent, by a weight of the counterbalance 1000. When the bucket 310 is provided with an extension 1020 as illustrated in FIG. 3, it is especially desirable that accurate control of the inclination angle α is achieved.

The loader 10 is susceptible to function in both a transportation mode as well as a digging mode. In the transportation mode, the member 250 is beneficially provided with a fork arrangement as depicted in FIG. 3; this fork arrangement can either be additional to the bucket 310 or in substitution thereof. In the transportation mode, the electronic control unit 410 is configured to be able to maintain a substantially constant inclination angle α in response to different heights H selected by the operator using the control 710; in other words, parallelism of the work piece is maintained in operation. For enhancing safety, a table of lifting capacities as a function of lifting height H can be stored in the electronic control unit 410; the electronic control unit 410, for purposes of enhancing operating safety, can intentionally limit the height H demanded by the operator using the control 710 so that the loader 10 is not operated beyond its safe range of operation. Optionally, the electronic control unit 410 is operable to inform the operator when the unit 410 intentionally limits operation to the limited height H. As a further refinement, the electronic control unit 410 can be configured to limit a rate at which the load 1200 is lowered, namely a rate at which H is reduced, so as to avoid shock damage to the load 1200.

Conversely, in the digging mode of operation, limits to a range of heights H through which the bucket 310 is capable of being manipulated are stored in memory of the electronic control unit 410, for example a highest position and a lowest position. Similarly, maximum and minimum inclination angles α achievable for the bucket 310 can also be stored in the electronic control unit 410. These limits can be stored as preset positions which the operator can invoke by pressing appropriate control switches or similar. For example, there can be provided a “return to dig” control to enable the operator to rapidly invoke a stored and therefore memorized digging position for the bucket 310.

A further refinement to the loader 10 is illustrated in FIG. 5. The vehicle 20 of the loader 10 is further provided with an inertial sensor unit 5000. In its simplest implementation, the sensor unit 5000 is operable to measure inclination of the vehicle 20, for example when operating over uneven or sloping terrain. A vehicle inclination indicative signal present in an output signal 5010 from the sensor unit 5000 is beneficially, for example in the aforementioned transportation mode of operation, applied to modify the reference signal 720 controlling the inclination angle α of the bucket 310 so as to generate via a summing function 5020 a modified reference signal 5030 for use in controlling the first and second actuators 60, 300. By appropriately modifying the desired inclination angle α, operating safety of the loader 10 is potentially improved when operating over inclined or uneven terrain. As a further modification, the sensor unit 5000 also includes one or more accelerometers and wheel sensors for measuring forward or reverse speed of the vehicle 20 and also a rate of deceleration or acceleration demanded by the aforesaid operator when operating the loader 10. In response to the acceleration and deceleration, and also in response to a direction of travel of the vehicle 20, namely forward or reverse, the desired inclination angle α of the bucket 310 can be momentarily modified so as to retain the load 1200 more safely within the bucket 310. For example, when the vehicle 20 is traveling in a forward direction and is subject to deceleration, the inclination angle α is beneficial momentarily increased during deceleration so that the load 1200 is less likely to be ejected from the bucket 310. Similarly, when the vehicle 20 is traveling in a reverse direction and is subject to acceleration, the inclination angle α is beneficial momentarily increased during acceleration so that the load 1200 is less likely to be ejected from the bucket 310. Such compensation of the inclination angle α in response to measurement signals provided from the sensor unit 5000 is optionally selectable by the operator in a situation where the operator deliberately accelerates the vehicle 20 rapidly backwards for dislodging and hence depositing the load 1200. Furthermore, when the sensor unit 500 includes accelerometers, a measurement of an unevenness of a terrain over which the vehicle 20 is traveling can be ascertained in order to automatically reduce the height H at which the load 1200 is carried and/or increase the inclination angle α so as to reduce a risk of accident or unintentional dropping of the load 1200. As elucidated in the foregoing, inclusion of the rotation rate sensor 460 enables the control unit 410 to modify one or more feedback parameters influencing the signals 760, 770 and thereby improving stability and hence operating safety of the loader 10.

It will be appreciated from the foregoing that the present invention is not only capable of providing the operator of the loader 10 with more precise and stable control of the load 1200, but is also capable of increasing operator safety, both when the loader 10 is stationary and when transporting the load 1200 between locations. Such enhancement would not be contemporarily anticipated in that more comprehensive feedback around configurations of mechanical components would be perceived to be a logical approach to improving performance.

In order that the present invention is comprehensively described, implementation of the actuators 60, 300 will elucidated with reference to FIG. 4. In FIG. 4, a cross-sectional view of the actuators 60, 300 is provided. Each actuator 60, 300 comprises a first end substantially circular housing eye 2000 comprising a central mounting hole 2005, and also a second end substantially circular housing eye 2010 also comprising a central mounting hole 2015. The first end housing eye 2000 is attached to a proximate end of a piston rod 2020. Substantially at a distal end of the piston rod 2020 is included a piston 2030 implemented as an annulus surrounding the piston rod 2020. The piston rod 2020 has formed therein an elongate central hole as shown, the central hole having an opening at the distal end of the piston rod 2020. Moreover, the second housing eye 2010 is attached to a proximate end of a cylinder 2040, the cylinder 2040 having at its distal end an integral annular collar providing a hydraulic seal to an outer surface of the piston rod 2020. An outer annular surface of the piston 2030 is operable to provide a hydraulic seal to an inner surface of the cylinder 2040 as illustrated. Thus, in operation, the first housing eye 2000 together with its piston rod 2020 and its piston 2030 are capable of sliding relative to the cylinder 2040 and its associated second housing eye 2010. In the cylinder 2040, the piston 2030 is operable to define first and second chambers 4000, 4010 which are preferentially supplied with hydraulic oil under pressure in order to actuate the piston 2030 and hence the piston rod 2020 relative to the cylinder 2040.

The aforesaid sensors 600, 610 are implemented for each actuator 60, 300 by way of a magnetic transducer 3000 provided with a robust electrical connection 3010 at a peripheral surface of the second housing eye 2010. The aforesaid signals 740, 750 are derived via the electrical connections 3010 of the actuators 60, 300 respectively. The transducer 3000 includes a central shaft 3020 adapted to be accommodated within the aforesaid central hole of the piston rod 2020. Substantially at the distal end of the piston rod 2020, at an inside surface of the central hole thereof, an annular magnetic component 3030 is included. In operation, the magnetic component 3030 slides together with the piston rod 2020 relative to the central shaft 3020 thereby modifying a magnetic characteristic of the transducer 3000. Such modification of the magnetic characteristics of the transducer 3000 provides a measure of relative position of the piston rod 2020 relative to the central shaft 3020 and hence an indication of a length of the actuator between its housing eyes 2000, 2010. Either changes in inductance or change in magnetic field strength experienced by the transducer 3000 are used to generate the signals 740, 750. Use of magnetic sensing is found to be especially robust in practice, especially in view of the cylinder 2040 being operable to provide magnetic shielding for the transducer 3000, and relatively insignificantly affected by trace hydraulic oil and other debris arising within the actuators 60,300 during prolonged periods of use.

Modifications to embodiments of the invention described in the foregoing are possible without departing from the scope of the invention as defined by the accompanying claims.

Expressions such as “including”, “comprising”, “incorporating”, “consisting of, “have”, “is” used to describe and claim the present invention are intended to be construed in a non-exclusive manner, namely allowing for items, components or elements not explicitly described also to be present. Reference to the singular is also to be construed to relate to the plural.

Numerals included within parentheses in the accompanying claims are intended to assist understanding of the claims and should not be construed in any way to limit subject matter claimed by these claims.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7748147 *Jul 17, 2007Jul 6, 2010Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom or attachment for work vehicle to a present position
US7752778 *Jul 17, 2007Jul 13, 2010Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom or attachment for work vehicle to a preset position
US7752779 *Jul 17, 2007Jul 13, 2010Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom or attachment for work vehicle to a preset position
US7797860Jul 17, 2007Sep 21, 2010Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom or attachment for work vehicle to a preset position
US7894962 *Jul 26, 2007Feb 22, 2011Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom and attachment for work vehicle
US8132345 *Jun 15, 2007Mar 13, 2012Deere & CompanyHydraulic function control with auto-control mode override
US8200398Jul 26, 2007Jun 12, 2012Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom and attachment for work vehicle
US8204653Jul 26, 2007Jun 19, 2012Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom and attachment for work vehicle
US8386133Jul 26, 2007Feb 26, 2013Deere & CompanyAutomated control of boom and attachment for work vehicle
US8833861Dec 3, 2010Sep 16, 2014Caterpillar Inc.Loading analysis system and method
US20120057956 *May 11, 2010Mar 8, 2012Komatsu Ltd.Work vehicle
WO2012108923A1 *Nov 30, 2011Aug 16, 2012Caterpillar Inc.Lift arm control system
Classifications
U.S. Classification701/50
International ClassificationE02F3/43
Cooperative ClassificationF15B2211/633, E02F9/24, F15B2211/6336, F15B15/2815, F15B2211/20523, F15B2211/7051, E02F3/432
European ClassificationE02F9/24, E02F3/43B2, F15B15/28C
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Aug 12, 2008ASAssignment
Owner name: VOLVO CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT AB, SWEDEN
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FLOREAN, GILLES;LAZZARO, DAVID;REEL/FRAME:021372/0151
Effective date: 20080525