Picture a towering crane moving massive logs deep in the forest. The grapple malfunctions, the logs crash down onto the machinery, severing a line supplying hydraulic fluid to the cylinders in the grapple. In the seconds it takes the operator to shut down the pump, the rupture has sprayed 100 gallons of toxic fluid onto the soil--socking the contractor with $20,000 or more in cleanup costs.
Control Enterprises Inc. in Oakhurst, Calif., says a new generation of dig-by-wire equipment could prevent this scenario and the other leaks that are all too common at forestry, agriculture, and construction sites. "By-wire" equipment would end the need for the long, high-pressure hydraulic hoses that now run between the operator cabin of the crane and the cylinders that move the grapple or bucket.
The trick, says Control Enterprises President James Boling, was combining the cylinder, pumps, reservoir, and valving into one self-contained unit. "The only thing you have going out to it are wires," says Boling. This approach simplifies the design of the machinery and can be applied to any kind of heavy equipment.
The major problem is cost. Because of its complex electronics, the integrated package costs about $6,000--some 60 times as much as a conventional hydraulic design. Even so, Boling says he is negotiating with several heavy-equipment makers and hopes to begin manufacturing and licensing the technology within 12 months.