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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » November 28, 2013
Engineering
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The Spider Machines Have Landed
November 28, 2013   
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A research institute in the western city of Poznań has developed a range of unique, spider-like machines on tracks that can climb over obstacles and can be used for a variety of land improvement and flood control tasks.

The machines, designed and built by the Industrial Institute of Agricultural Engineering in Poznań, were showcased and won medals at the 7th International Warsaw Invention Show (IWIS 2013) in the Polish capital.

One of the machines developed by the Poznań researchers can be deployed to a narrow water channel and used to cut grass and tree branches and to remove sludge. It can also handle any other work related to land improvement and cleaning and unclogging drainage channels. Until now, farmers largely relied on primitive scythes to handle this type of work.

The machine maintains stability thanks to a special support system with side arms. The machine can enter a ditch and leave it on its own. The arms provide stability and support the device when it bypasses obstacles inside the ditch. The machine can perform several operations at a time.

The technology has resulted in three patent applications in Poland and two applications for international patents.

“There is no similar device in Poland or abroad,” says Ryszard Chmielewski, an engineer who represented the Industrial Institute of Agricultural Engineering at the Warsaw invention fair. “The main innovation here is the machine’s specialized hydraulic arm, which can be fitted with a range of tools for scrubbing, cleaning and removing sludge. The stabilizing support system is also innovative as is the way in which the machines moves, avoids obstacles and does the cleaning.”

The institute has received a grant of around zl.9 million to develop the machine, with 85 percent of the money coming from the European Regional Development Fund and the rest from the Polish government.

The institute, in partnership with the Hydromega company from Gdynia, has built a prototype that is currently undergoing field tests. It is certain that the invention will be put to commercial use.

The machine is not cheap. It will be targeted mainly at environmental protection departments run by local government rather than individual farmers. It is also expected to attract the interest of communities that are at risk of flooding.

While at the International Warsaw Invention Show, the Poznań engineers also showcased a version of the machine for use in wetlands. The design cost about zl.9 million to develop and won a gold medal at the trade fair.

“This new-generation machine uses special delta tracks for low impact on muddy ground,” says Chmielewski. “The device is equipped with modules for cutting soft vegetation such as reeds and grass as well as shrubs and small trees. A conveyor belt feeds all this into a container for biomass, where it is rolled into bales.”

The machine also has an innovative hydraulic drive system and uses biodegradable oils that do not pollute water. The steering system for the two pairs of tracks is designed to minimize damage to the ground. There is also a special adapter for moving bales of biomass, by rolling them directly along the ground.

A watertight construction enables the device to enter a river or canal and collect biomass there. The tools are mounted on an arm with a conveyor belt. The multi-module design has modes for cutting, grinding and transporting biomass. The device can replace workers who normally have to step onto the wetland in their rubber boots to mow and cut the reeds.

The technology is expected to attract the interest of national park managers as it can contribute to the protection of wetlands from excessive vegetation growth—in compliance with the European Union’s Birds Directive for areas covered by the bloc’s Natura 2000 program.

The Industrial Institute of Agricultural Engineering has also built a machine for harvesting wicker and a machine for processing vegetables, especially peppers. The inventions won a gold and a silver at the IWIS 2013 fair.

The machine for harvesting wicker is equipped with a mechatronic system for activating the binding mechanism and adjusting the size of the wicker sheaf. The National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR) has financially supported the project as part of its Patent Plus program.

Wicker is used in the manufacture of not only baskets and furniture, but also soundproof screens.

The method for processing peppers used in the other machine has been submitted for patenting in Poland. It has been developed for a company from the central city of Kalisz that plans to put the invention on the market.

“At this year’s trade fair in Warsaw, we exhibited a total of four designs involving eight patent applications... The institute is in close contact with small and medium-sized enterprises—our designs can be quickly applied in practice,” says Chmielewski.

At the 6th IWIS exhibition last year, the Poznań institute unveiled two machines for harvesting willow for energy production purposes. These machines were patented and put to commercial use within two years of being developed. The institute signed a license agreement for the production of the machines with two private companies.

Karolina Olszewska
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