Connectors for farms of the future

 Ushering in a new age of agriculture will necessitate advanced connectors 

From the monitoring drones that analyse the farmland, the sensors that monitor soil conditions, to the to the unmanned farming vehicles that harvest the crops, the way we farm is changing. Here, Tom Borland, UK and Ireland Country Manager at cables and connectors specialist PEI-Genesis, explores the connectors that will make the connected farm of the future possible.

The drone hovers some 100m above the farm, moving slowly across the fruit-laden field below. It’s fitted with a multispectral imaging system that allows it to capture footage in the near-infrared range as well as the visual spectrum.

With the help of the drone, the farmer sits in the warmth and uses the bird’s-eye video to detect problems not easily visible from the ground, including issues with irrigation, soil variation and even pest and fungal infestations, ultimately increasing crop production.

This is just one example of how farmers are turning to technology to build farms of the future. What may once have been a strange sight is increasingly becoming commonplace on farms across the world. This paradigm shift in agriculture means that, over the next five years, farms will make increasing use of everything from drones and field sensors, to autonomous harvesting equipment and cab-mounted GPS units to send data back-to-base.

With this change, farmers will need to adapt; upgrading and renewing their equipment as they go. One such component that’s easy to overlook is the humble connector. Connectors are already used widely across the agricultural sector and are responsible for delivering power, connecting cameras to screens in the tractor cab, and allowing the operator to send control signals to harvesting attachments.

While the connectors used in farming equipment are already designed to handle a variety of harsh conditions, from ingress protection against water and debris, to vibration damping, it’s essential that connectors used on farms of the future are fit for purpose going forward.

While a stainless-steel connector is useful for heat shielding, its weight may make it less favourable for drone applications. Similarly, while a plastic or composite connector offers a low weight and strong connector — one that’s inherently resistant to corrosion and chemicals — plastic can become brittle with prolonged outdoor exposure and the heat from the sun. In some cases, a balance could be achieved with an aluminium connector featuring an electroless nickel plating, delivering a low weight, metalised connector that is strong and durable.

With this growing complexity, farmers will increasingly need to consider the ability to transfer power and high-speed data effectively. This may warrant the need for high bandwidth fibre optic cables that have the capacity to collect and process the data from all the sensors as well as the wireless control signals from the remote operator.

It will become vital in the coming years that farmers choose the correct connector across their smart farm, for everything from lighting and power systems, and steering and motion, to monitoring and control, data signals, powertrain and cabin interfaces.

At the most basic level, these connectors will be variations of existing cylindrical style M12 ethernet connectors, favoured for their rugged build, in addition to bayonet and push-fit, quick release designs that make it easier to unmate when wearing gloves and during cold weather. Instead of spending time unthreading a connector when changing over equipment, operators can save time by using a quick push-pull design.

These push-pull connectors have become increasingly popular across industry over the last decade for their ease of use and we may see them become standardised in many agricultural applications in the future.

At the more advanced end of the spectrum, connectors will make use of the ISO-Bus platform, a system that allows farmers to use different equipment from different manufacturers with the same tractor and towing vehicles, increasing compatibility as a result.

To futureproof connector design even further, PEI-Genesis can support customers in designing a fully modular connector assembly. Here, farmers can integrate multiple types of connector into a single plate, allowing them to use connectors that meet today’s needs but swap out the inserts when they need to upgrade the type of cable or configuration of contacts in five years’ time — for example, moving from copper to fibre optic — while retaining the same shell housing and external features of the connector.

This will allow farmers to upgrade their system without incurring additional testing, drawing, reengineering and production costs. It will also give farmers the flexibility and responsiveness to make changes quickly to adapt to market conditions without incurring high costs in the process.

As the agricultural industry embraces the latest smart farming technology, farmers will need to ensure that equipment, including connectors, doesn’t become a costly bottleneck in facilitating this smooth transition. Thinking about your connectors now will make this connected future a reality.

 

About PEI-Genesis: PEI-Genesis is a leading global provider of custom engineered connector and cable solutions. PEI partners with you from design to delivery – we design custom connector and cable solutions to meet your specific application requirements and then deliver with service, speed and a consistent quality that is unmatched in the industry.