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Ag-Tech Turf Cutter/Harvester depends on Zynq-based NI CompactRIO controller for precision parallel control loops

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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Steven Aposhian grew up in a family that farmed grass turf, which is why he went to college and became a mechanical engineer—so he wouldn’t end up laying turf. Now he’s CTO, President, and Chairman of FireFly Equipment and the designer of a complex piece of Ag-Tech (agricultural technology): a mobile, Diesel-powered turf cutter/slab harvester called the FireFly ProSlab 155 that harvests, stacks, and palletizes turf slabs 20% faster than competing machines while consuming only half the fuel. This complex piece of machinery uses a National Instruments’ (NI’s) CompactRIO controller to run as many as 30 parallel control loops all programmed with NI’s LabView graphical development environment and LabVIEW FPGA. The FPGA is an integral part of the Xilinx Zynq SoC inside NI’s CompactRIO controller.


Here’s a photo of the FireFly ProSlab 155 on the show floor at NI Week in Austin, taken from the front of the machine:



FireFly ProSlab155 Turf Cutter and Harvester.jpg



FireFly ProSlab 155 Turf Cutter/Harvester



It’s a bit hard to envision what this machine does from a still photo, so here’s a video of the machine in action. The video illustrates just how many mechanical systems there are for the NI CompactRIO controller to automate.






As you can see, the machine cuts turf, takes the resulting turf slabs up a ramp, stacks the slabs on a pallet, and then drops the loaded pallets in the field where they can be forklifted onto a truck for transport.


The many mechanical systems in the ProSlab 155 must be closely coordinated or the slabs won’t be properly harvested, stacked, and palletized. The CompactRIO controller that coordinates all of the harvester’s systems is installed in a cabinet behind the driver along with the various sensor modules and the motors and relays it controls. Using the CompactRIO as a controller driven by LabVIEW permitted FireFly to rapidly prototype the machine. Here’s a photo of the inside of the ProSlab 155 harvester’s in-cabin control cabinet:



FireFly ProSlab155 Controller Cabinet.jpg



Control Cabinet in the FireFly ProSlab 155 Turf Cutter/Harvester



The FireFly ProSlab 155 is a rather large piece of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) equipment—you’d hardly call it a wearable. Using a secure Internet gateway over a wireless link, an operator can monitor the operation of the harvester remotely—from as far away as the other side of the country—and can control the machine remotely as well. The one feature that seems to be useless to the remote operator in the FireFly ProSlab 155 would appear to be the dual cup holders in the dashboard.




FireFly ProSlab 155 Dashboard.jpg



FireFly ProSlab 155 Dashboard with Dual Cup Holders


Read the NI Case Study here.

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