The Syn Trac vehicle system is revolutionary. It impresses with its modular design, versatility and ease of operation
A multi-function armrest from elobau, which communicates with the vehicle and other controls via CAN-Bus, provides simple operational controls for each application.
The Syn Trac is an idea that Stefan Putz had been thinking about for a long time, now transformed into reality. A vehicle system, that can be converted into different off-highway vehicles by changing the accessories or attachments on the front or rear. Together with an investor, he founded a separate company, Syn Trac GmbH, to bring his idea to reality. Since 2015, Syn Trac have employed 19 people to work on developing the entirely new vehicle system at the original company headquarters, Synex Tech, located 70 km from Salzburg.
Executive Director Stefan Putz, who has been working with agricultural machinery since his childhood on the family farm, explains: “During development, we tried to think outside the box. Starting from the coupling point, we deliberately designed our vehicle from outside in.” And you can see just how happy he is with the result when he climbs into his Syn Trac. “We’ve succeeded in making an off-highway vehicle so comfortable and user-friendly that using it for work is actually fun.”
Versatility means high utilisation
Stefan Putz put system vehicle versatility right at the heart of the development work. It should be easy and safe to attach a wide range of implements such as mowers. That’s why the Syn Trac development team designed an interface that is positioned both at the front and rear of the vehicle, and has the same features. It has all the necessary connections for hydraulics, pneumatics, PTO shafts, electrics, electronics and CAN-Bus, as well as a wide range of control concepts. To be able to connect any accessory in a fully-automatic way, an additional adapter plate is required. Syn Trac, as the system provider, supplies this individually made to measure. “It takes less than a minute for the accessory to be ready for operation. And the operator can remain sitting in the cab,” explains Stefan Putz. “It’s convenient and safe. The automated coupling process also saves time and ensures incorrect attachments are avoided.” It’s also possible to dock a standard adapter, with which for example a lifting device or a local mounting plate can be specified. This converts the Syn Trac to a standard vehicle.
There is no limit to the range of attachments. They currently range from various mowers, to balers, telehandlers and tipper bodies right through to trailers, snow ploughs and blowers, spreaders, loading cranes and lifting platforms – the Syn Trac can be combined with all manufacturers. “This means our Syn Trac appeals to a very broad target group,” explains Anna Putz, daughter of the founder, who is responsible for, among other things, marketing Syn Trac. “We are in discussion with local institutions as well as with companies and groups within agriculture and forestry management.”
Proud of how unique their vehicle is: representatives from the Syn Trac team (from left) Anna Putz, Walter Loidl and Stefan Putz, in front of the first prototype.
Easy operation thanks to modern electronics
An integral part of the Syn Trac is the customised control system, which operates the new multi-function armrest 225MA midi by elobau. Stefan Putz states: “It was important to us that our highly technically sophisticated vehicle was also easy for the user to operate.” elobau, based in south-eastern Baden-Württemberg, Germany, with an Austrian subsidiary in Salzburg, has been supplying off-highway vehicle manufacturers with armrests equipped with different operator controls for many years now.
To date, these have been customised developments. Given the individual nature required for an operating system to be designed precisely to meet the requirements of each off-highway vehicle, specific development work is needed, involving product design, construction, hardware and software development, tool design and construction as well as simulation, checks and acceptance tests. With the modular operating system of the 225MA midi modular armrest, this development work is no longer necessary, as it is equipped with tried-and-tested standard elements and is designed to conform with Mother Regulation EU167/2013.
It is also a sustainable product through and through. Even at the development stage, the armrest was designed for sustainability in terms of the material choice, the manufacturing process and the versatility of use. The majority of the plastic components are made from biobased plastics. The challenge here was that there was no room here for anything less than the norm in terms of durability, quality or cost-effectiveness.
“For us this is a stroke of luck,” says Stefan Putz, who discovered such plastics were on offer, even before the first prototype was presented. “It’s as though elobau had developed this product exactly for our purposes.” The current low number of Syn Trac units had no individual armrest. In 2018, four to six pre-production vehicles were delivered to users in different areas of application, and the first production series is planned in 2019.
Multi-function armrests with module design
The modular design of this elobau standard armrest consists of five modules, each with numerous variants. It includes joysticks and hand throttles, an operating unit with push button switches and thumbwheels, a storage compartment with a charging socket for mobile phones, a hitch wheel and a potentiometer, as well as a range of variants of the electrical interface for communication. Each control is clearly marked with symbols and colours for ease of use. Construction Manager Walter Loidl explains: “We selected armrests with a full range of equipment and developed the configuration for the Syn Trac together with elobau.” A joystick is used for the vehicle’s basic functions, such as accelerating and braking, forwards and backwards switching, as well as cruise control functionalities. The controller of the front and rear PTO shaft is also built into the armrest. It also contains a joystick that controls hydraulic attachments and multiple fingertip controls that operate further functions on the attachments.
The modular arm rest is coupled via the standardised CAN protocol SAE J1939 and via sealed connections to the vehicle. The CAN-Bus system is crucial to the Syn Trac developers. On the one hand, it makes it possible to programme individual control functions, and on the other, it simplifies the complex connection of attachments that need to be used, such as mowers. Walter Loidl explains further: “Attachments generally have their own control and operating unit that we – in parallel to the mechanical docking of the device – connect to a rail system with CAN-Bus interfaces in the cab and then remove after use. We build this external ‘intelligence’ into our control system. It automatically detects which accessory is used and specifies the corresponding functions on the elobau operator controls.”
Complex programming ensures easy operation
The basic setting applied to the vehicle on the elobau armrest is always retained, so that the driver does not need to rethink. “For specific assignments, if necessary, the operator can call up information on a visualisation screen (also developed by us),” explains the designer.
Since the rail system that is already built into the right side console only contains the necessary controlling device, in addition to two screens, the driver’s cab is streamlined and clear, as Anna Putz highlights. “In comparison to other vehicles, we do not have a surplus of screens in the cabin or have to feed in a trailing cable through the rear window. The connection is established simply and fully via our docking interface.”
Thanks to the close collaboration between Syn Trac and elobau, established before the 225MA midi multi function armrest was launched on the market, a great level of mutual trust has developed, as Stefan Putz comments: “The quality of the elobau products that we experienced first hand and the expert advice from Helmut Höller, the Executive Director of elobau Austria, led us to obtain further products from elobau, such as fuel level sensors with supply and return pipes, as well as ultrasonic sensors for level measurement of hydraulic and gear oil.” With a smile, he adds: “After all, for our high-quality vehicles, only the best is good enough” – hinting at more than just the functionality of the elobau multi-function armrest. He also welcomes the use of bioplastics, and covers made from apple leather: “If, by making use of such details, we can also protect the environment, then we think that’s a very positive thing.”
The Syn Trac – unique in many ways
The great interest in Syn Trac, which was presented to the public for the first time at agritechnica 2017, can be attributed to the many finer details on offer, above all the docking interface that allows quick connection of many different devices. An additional engine can also be docked to this, increasing the standard engine power from 425 HP to around 1000 HP – representing a strong argument for usage as a high-performance snow blower. A third axis can also be connected – and depending on customer needs, it can be driven, suspended and steered. This means that the Syn Trac is also ideal for applications with high loads of up to 27 tonnes, either as a dumper truck or large gritter. The 9.2 litre, six-cylinder engine from CAT makes driving at up to 80 km/h possible, so that the Syn Trac can also operate on motorways. The engine is housed to the right, under the operator’s cab. In parallel with this, it is installed in conjunction with the stepless gear developed in-house by VDS. The chassis is mounted with single wheel suspended axles. The versions are available with all-wheel, front and crab steering. The turning circle is less than nine metres, Last but not least, the price/performance ratio is an important factor. The wide range of possible applications means that further investments in a functional fleet are unnecessary, making the Syn Trac a low-cost alternative.