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Off the highways, steer-by-wire is on the fast lane

April 26, 2010 | Christoph Hammerschmidt | 222900788
While x-by-wire and in particular steer-by-wire technologies are slow to gain acceptance in passenger cars, they quickly gain traction in another segment of the vehicle industry: Mobile working machines including tractors, excavators and forklifts.
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In a meeting associated to the Bauma construction machines trade fair in Munich, industry experts discussed the technology and application options for steer-by-wire for their specific markets. It turned out that apparently design engineers for cranes, material handling vehicles and the like are much easier to convince of the x-by-wire benefits than their colleagues in the car industry. There was a broad consensus that in particular steer-by-wire offers superior design options – and it appears that with regard to the implementation of x-by-wire solutions this industry is far more advanced than the automotive industry.

In vehicles where designers seek to replace conventional steering columns for reasons such as space reduction or ergonomics, steer-by-wire is already widely in use, explained Joachim Stieler who runs a technology consulting company focused on off-highway vehicle markets. Examples are forklifts of different kinds where frequently the driver's working position rules out a direct mechanical connection to the directed wheels. Massoud Karimi, senior system engineer for forklift manufacturer Crown presented an electronic “steering column” used in the company's palett trucks. “With this steering unit, we could greatly improve the knee clearance for the driver,” Karimi said. On top of the enhanced design freedom, the solution offers another benefit for the user: Unlike mechanic or hydraulic designs, electric motors used in x-by-wire contexts are almost maintenance-free, Karimi said.

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