Industrial EquipmentJuly 9, 2024

MBSE and the future of farming

The next era of farming will be more proficient, productive and sustainable, driven by sophisticated agricultural machinery and equipment operating as part of a wider, connected ecosystem. Underpinning it all: model-based systems engineering.
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Avatar Abid HUSSAIN

The next farming era will be more proficient, productive and sustainable, driven by sophisticated agricultural machinery and equipment operating as part of a wider, connected ecosystem. Underpinning it all: model-based systems engineering.

By 2050, the agricultural industry will need to feed almost 10 billion people. To keep up with demand, the United Nations estimates that food production from plants and animals must grow by 70% (compared to 2009). It’s a huge ask, especially when you consider that food production is already responsible for almost a third of carbon emissions and 90% of the world’s deforestation. Producing enough food to go around without exacerbating climate change is simply not possible if we continue farming animals and plants in the way that we do today. It’s why key industry stakeholders are calling for a new, more sustainable approach – one that moves away from intensive, industrial agriculture towards smarter, connected and data-driven farming equipment and supply chains that work with each other and the land. And they’re adopting innovative ways of bringing this vision to life, such as model-based systems engineering (MBSE).

Heavy mobile equipment and machinery manufacturers have a critical role to play in all of this. Long renowned for their mechanical innovation, they’re fast evolving into advanced digital service providers. The tractors and agricultural machinery they manufacture now harness AI and autonomous capabilities, advanced analytics and the industrial Internet of things (IoT) to deliver remote monitoring capabilities, self-driving controls, telematics and more.

Developing these smart, software-defined vehicles comes with a whole new set of challenges, not least the complexity of integrating multiple systems and architectures, including mechanics, electronics, robotics, software and sensors. This shift fundamentally changes how companies develop their products, the types of business models they offer and how they deliver value to their customers.

MBSE, also known as a system of systems engineering, based on the principles of systems thinking, serves as the foundation for this transformation. It’s essentially a framework where every interconnection is defined from the start and ensures each system integrates seamlessly throughout the product development lifecycle and beyond. MBSE serves as the backbone for the virtual twin, delivering a standardized way for equipment manufacturers to represent and simulate products and related operations.

Applying MBSE in agricultural machinery and equipment

Within the agricultural industry, standardized MBSE frameworks such as the Unified Architecture Framework (UAF) have emerged as a way for managing dairy and livestock production systems engineering. UAF makes it possible to map out and visualize the complex relationships and interactions between different system layers, capabilities and resources (such as machinery, workforces, animals and land) while balancing economic and ecological factors.

One leading agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturers successfully uses MBSE and UAF to virtually model its tractors, harvester and agricultural machinery and all associated system layers and manage them within a virtual twin. This includes:

  • The subsystem layer: Power generation, operator protection and traction and motion control
  • The product layer: Tractor, seeder, loader, harvester
  • The operation layer: Livestock, arable, dairy, transport.

The virtual twin allows the manufacturer to master subsystem integration and gain full visibility of the product development lifecycle. From this foundation, it’s now beginning to extend its system models to incorporate all aspects of a dairy and livestock farm and define production system needs within a connected ecosystem. The aim is to model and capture all the interactions between forage production and agricultural production machinery and gain a complete view of these operations to achieve agricultural process optimization and customer-focused innovation.

Farmer-centric and sustainable innovation

Farming systems must continue to evolve in the face of unprecedented challenges including:

  • Increasing food demand
  • Climate change
  • Shrinking arable land
  • International and national regulations
  • Volatile commodity prices
  • Labor shortages.

Agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturers recognize that if they want to remain successful, they must help their customers, i.e. farmers, overcome these challenges.

As equipment manufacturers shift from delivering products to services and experiences, they can add value by giving farmers the tools and insights they need to better understand the wider ecosystem and achieve higher yields. Today, this involves real-time monitoring and management of equipment, allowing for remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance and enhanced fleet management. Tomorrow, it will become more about tracking production subsystems all the way through to the point where goods reach the consumer, from preparing and planting to harvesting, storing, recycling and distribution. By capturing all farm production processes, requirements, interactions and knowhow into these models, they can match value chains to different geographies (a farmer’s machinery needs in India will be different to that of a farmer in the US, for example) and map their own and their customers’ goals to what’s happening on the ground.

MBSE has a critical role to play in helping the agricultural industry be more sustainable as well. Within these same production system models, manufacturers can simulate operational scenarios and track metrics such as:

  • Carbon emissions
  • Water management
  • Energy requirements
  • Logistics
  • Waste and recycling
  • Fleet availability and resource sharing
  • Industry regulation requirements.

The path to smarter farming with MBSE

Every industry and business can be divided into layers all the way down to the product level. For agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturers, MBSE offers a valuable opportunity to represent future products and portfolios and capture their customers’ needs to drive innovation and reimagine the next era of proficient, productive and sustainable farming.

For those at the beginning of their MBSE journey, start small, think big and evolve. Remember, MBSE is not a product but a way of thinking throughout the entire product lifecycle. Over time, as businesses practice MBSE and embrace it on a more strategic level, putting all interconnections in dynamic relation, they’re able to improve interdisciplinary collaboration, tackle ever-growing product and service complexity, reduce risk during the design and development phases, and transform customer needs into meaningful solutions.

There’s no time like the present to prepare your business for the future of smart, connected farming. Discover more about the power of MBSE and how it’s shaping the next generation of agricultural machinery and equipment here.

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