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Refining lift truck control system design

06 March 2013

Engineers at NACCO Materials Handling Group (NMHG) are using the Delphin ProfiMessage data acquisition system as an integral part of their work testing and refining lift truck technology.

Employing more than 5,000 people in 13 countries, NMHG designs, manufactures, sells and supports the Hyster and Yale forklift truck brands. The company, the third largest player in the global lift truck market, has regional product development centres in the US, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan. It also operates a dedicated R&D facility in Basingstoke, UK, where a small team of engineers creates and tests the technologies and concepts destined for future generations of vehicles.

The Basingstoke facility conducts a broad range of test activities, ranging from lab tests on static equipment or individual components to full-scale evaluations in realistic working conditions. The R&D centre is equipped with its own racking and loading bays, allowing the engineers to replicate the working cycle of lift trucks with absolute fidelity. 

“We might be asked by our design centres to evaluate almost any aspect of truck design,” explains Graham Gould, a validation engineer at the NMHG Basingstoke centre. “It can be individual components and systems, or complete vehicle designs. In particular, we often look at new control systems and user interfaces, to look at their effect on the performance of the truck and the comfort and efficiency of the operator.”

The centre’s testing work makes some very particular demands on the data acquisition technology it uses and that, Gould explains, is what led it to the Delphin ProfiMessage system, which is supplied and supported in the UK by Adept Scientific.

“We need to record a range of signals from different sensors mounted on the truck, including acceleration, speed, temperature, pressure and the speed of movement and deflection in components like lifting masts. And we need to compare that data with the signals being sent to the truck’s control system at the time, to see if it is performing as it should.”

The rugged, rack mountable ProfiMessage unit has proved to be the right platform for this acquisition challenge, since it is compact and robust enough to mount on a working lift truck and can simultaneously record both the analogue signals from a dozen or more sensors around the truck and the digital output from the vehicle’s CANbus control system. “Having all the data recorded with the same time signature saves as a lot of effort matching things up later,” notes Gould.

Gould’s other key demands were for a system that was fast and straightforward to use. “We conduct a large number of different tests here, so it was vital that we had a system that was easy and intuitive to use and to which you could attach new sensor configurations quickly and easily. I also wanted the ability to view data in real-time so we can instantly check that everything is working properly instead of completing a test and only discovering issues later on. The ProfiMessage fulfils all those requirements.”

The NMHG team uses Delphin’s ProfiSignal Go software package to analyse the data collected during its trials and Gould notes that the ability to add calculated data channels in the ProfiMessage system during acquisitions further helps to speed and simplify the preparation of data before analysis.

Once analysis is complete, the teams’ findings and any relevant data sets are shared with their customers at NMHG design centres around the world, ultimately helping to define the technologies that will boost productivity of the world’s warehouse operations in years to come.

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