|Searcy, Stephen -|
Submitted to: Applied Engineering in Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 17, 2011
Publication Date: August 18, 2011
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/54804
Citation: Hardin IV, R.G., Searcy, S.W. 2011. Autonomous cotton module forming system. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. Vol. 27(4): 559-568. Interpretive Summary: Seed cotton is compressed into modules after harvest for storage and transport. Because this operation is labor-intensive, manufacturers have recently introduced cotton pickers with on-board module builders. However, the on-board module builders are expensive and not available on cotton stripper-harvesters, which are used to harvest a significant amount of cotton in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Conventional module builders offer automatic tramping systems, but a module builder operator is still required to distribute the cotton. Another concern with conventional module builders is that inexperienced operators often construct modules with shapes that allow water to collect on the cover. This collected water will penetrate through the cover, causing reduced fiber and seed quality. The goal of this research was to develop an autonomous module builder that can construct properly shaped modules without additional labor. Sensors were installed on a conventional module builder and software was developed to control the actions of the module builder. Compared to a human operator, the autonomous system built modules with more desirable shapes. The autonomous system could build modules quickly enough to keep pace with harvesting operations. Producers using the system indicated that the autonomous system worked well and would reduce labor requirements. The autonomous module builder may also be useful for packaging bioenergy crops for storage and transport.
Technical Abstract: Cotton producers often have difficulty finding adequate labor during harvest. Module builder operators are often inexperienced and may build poorly shaped modules. Equipment manufacturers have recently introduced harvesters with on-board module building capabilities to reduce labor requirements; however, this feature is only available on picker harvesters and significantly increases purchase cost. Conventional module builders offer automatic tramping systems as an option, but these systems do not distribute cotton in the builder or prevent cotton from being pushed out of the builder by the tramper. The objective of this research was to develop an autonomous module forming system by retrofitting a conventional module builder. Sensors were installed on a module builder to determine the position of the carriage, tramper, and location of cotton in the module builder. An algorithm was developed to control electro-hydraulic valves so cotton was properly distributed and compressed in the module builder. The boll buggy operator could remotely control the system using a wireless display. The autonomous system constructed modules with a 64% smaller water collection area in an average time of 37.4 min. Cotton producers indicated that the system was simple to use and significantly reduced labor requirements. The autonomous system can construct quality modules and reduce labor requirements with only a small additional investment in equipment.