John Deere Power Electronics

John Deere circuit board

A Peek into Power Electronics

As the off-road industry moves further into the electrification space, OEMs are looking for comprehensive, holistic solutions for electric drivetrain systems.

As an OEM itself, John Deere knows how to make components work effectively within electric drivetrain systems, as well as engineer those systems to stand the test of time in harsh environments. Because of this deep understanding of off-road equipment needs in a wide array of John Deere equipment, John Deere engineers can apply that knowledge to an OEM's application.

"There are many applications where electrification is occurring in the off-highway market today as early adopters, one of which is underground mining. We've seen activity in the underground mining sector where we integrate inverters to support electrification, eliminating diesel fumes within an enclosed space," says Darren Almond, Module Manager at John Deere. "It's also common in airport and municipality applications where customers are also trying to drive down emissions with a hybrid or fully electric solution."

A central component to enable such a solution is an inverter. Not only are companies exploring these solutions as more regulations mandate zero-emission or carbon-neutral zones, but they're also experiencing the benefits of the increased efficiency that electrification components can give over traditional hydraulic components.

"Electrification systems can be beneficial in terms of the efficiency of distributing power over long distances in a vehicle. The capabilities of e-machines that are optimized by highly capable power electronics are beginning to get the attention of OEM vehicle designers," says Almond. "So we're seeing some applications where the decision to use an (electric) machine is purely performance based. There's a variety of different market opportunities in that regard."

Designed with off-road in mind

John Deere was made for working off the road and in the dirt. Whether it be in agriculture or construction, John Deere components not only have to survive, but also thrive in very difficult environments.

"There is certainly a lot of progress in electrification technology in on-highway applications, but when you put vehicles in off-highway situations that are in very aggressive environments — whether that be extreme temperatures or working in dirt or water — there's a magnitude of difference in the problems that have to be overcome to ruggedize the products we use," continues Almond. "John Deere's inverters have been proven for these on-highway applications, while being rugged enough for off-highway."

At the end of the day, end users depend on their equipment for their livelihoods, which means the stakes are much higher compared to on-highway applications. "When you're dealing with an electric car, you're just going from place to place. If it breaks down, you can simply call an Uber or a tow truck and be back on your way," says Almond. "However, with off-highway applications, these components must work because they are the work. If they shut down, the job may not get done or may be delayed, so the components must be extremely reliable. What John Deere brings to the table with our power electronics is that we've worked to make them as functional and as bulletproof as we can."

Since these components are designed for off-road industries and must perform to those harsh environments, they're tested to meet the high standards of John Deere.

By electrifying a machine, customers also have the opportunity to integrate additional functionalities and controls. Managing the energy flow required for these additional capabilities is built directly into John Deere inverters, which can be configured and tailored based on the application. The adaptability of the inverter allows OEM engineers to work with a multitude of e-machine manufacturers in the John Deere test lab to create their own customized solution.

"We can bring in an e-machine and do what we call characterize it — (we) basically put the machine through its paces with our inverter and create the performance map so that when that system is (used) in an application, we know exactly how it's going to work," says Almond. "We can then optimize the performance of that system, that e-machine, and that inverter system within a given application."

Not only are manufacturers able to obtain the hardware components they need to build their electric drivetrain systems, but they are also able to leverage the engineering expertise and active problem-solving of John Deere during development.

"We understand how to put the whole system together. It's not just selling our customers a component, giving them a handbook, and saying, "Good luck!" says Almond. "We have experience in both building systems for John Deere equipment and with other OEMs. With this knowledge, we can really help those who are putting an electrification system together to overcome and avoid challenges."

Flexibility for multiple applications

The John Deere family of inverters includes the PD280 in both single and dual configurations, the PD400 Single, and the PD400 Dual. The numbers in the product name refer to the continuous amperage limit each inverter is designed for.

As off-highway applications require higher voltages, the PD400 is well-suited to handle the additional power capacity. The PD400 provides a flexible, modular design and minimizes space while maximizing efficiency — offering a continuous current of up to 400 amps with a burst capacity of 600 amps. It is also designed with complete monitoring capability. It supports a wide variety of motor types and provides maximum protection for the equipment it's placed in.

However, some applications don't need to be pressing beyond 280 amps, making the PD280 an ideal solution. Offering two inverter options with slight differences empowers John Deere and its customers with the flexibility needed to fit a variety of needs in the OEM space.

More to come

Even with the added flexibility available in our current family of inverters, John Deere is committed to bringing additional electrification solutions to the marketplace.

"We are striving to offer more products over time to build out electrification solutions for our OEM customers," says Almond. "Since the off-highway application market is so varied, it's important to have a breadth of proven solutions that can be customized for our customers' needs."

Of course, as with any John Deere solution, customers can rest assured knowing components are engineered to provide reliable, efficient, and rugged alternatives to traditional systems. Interested in learning more about electrification and advanced, innovative technology? Take a look.