As featured in Arable Farming Magazine

Making the connections

by Arable Farming Jan 2021 Issue

A raft of technology is emerging to assist with machine management and decision-making, but how can we be sure it will work across machinery fleets? Jane Carley investigates.

As technology develops to improve machine control, fieldwork precision and record-keeping, issues with connecting machines and transferring data between them can limit its usefulness and lead to frustration.

Whether aiming to share guidance lines from a tractor to a sprayer or download an application map from the farm office PC to a spreader, if the software for the two systems will not ‘talk’, then the most accurate data available is useless.

Aftermarket ‘Tech’ may be supplied by the machinery manufacturer or fitted as an aftermarket device and specialists, such as Trimble importer Vantage, are often called in as an expert intermediary to reconcile systems.

We spoke to Vantage’s Mark Griffiths to find out more about the obstacles facing growers who want to better integrate data into their working practices, and what the available solutions are.

Storage devices

Issue

When moving files with a USB stick or memory device, often the hardware systems will only interrogate the ‘root file’, not sub-folders where data is frequently saved.

USB devices are also easily damaged in a farming environment and vulnerable to being corrupted when inserted/ removed from equipment.

Solution

Mr Griffiths suggests educating users of the systems on best practice and having dedicated storage devices for use with data transfer from vehicle to office.

In addition, the use of wireless transfer completely removes the need for storage devices and reduces risk associated with human error.

Hardware

Issue

Farms commonly use hardware which is seven-plus years old, Mr Griffiths says.

“Often the firmware [operating system] has been updated, but manufacturers may discontinue firmware development if the hardware has been superseded.

“In businesses running old and new devices together, there can be variation in how the system creates the files and between the file types they use.

For example, a field created on a 2010 Trimble FMX display in the drilling tractor may not be in the same format as one created on the latest Trimble TMX-2050 in a newer sprayer.

Often the new displays can read the older file types, but not the other way round.”

Solution

Reviewing technology on-farm and understanding how file versions impact the flow of information and record-keeping will help, says Mr Griffiths.

“Small but frequent investment ensures the technology is aligned.”

Operators

Issue

Systems have previously been standalone and only used to control the machine steering.

Now customers are looking to get more from their displays.

But different systems have their own architecture and operators will need to understand the architecture and process of many to download/upload file types correctly and for them to be recognised.

Solution

Educating operators on how to complete the import/ export exercise in line with the business requirements will rectify this, says Mr Griffiths.

“It is increasingly important for all operators to buy-in to technology and understand its benefits.”

Terminology

Issue

Variation in the terminology used by the technology providers can cause confusion when relying on the data generated from the user operation.

“For example, a Trimble display will allow you to drive the headland of a field, creating a headland pattern and boundary

in a single operation.

In Case New Holland [CNH] versions you must record a boundary and then assign a headland pattern to this boundary.

“Even product names can cause confusion.

A Trimble GFX 750 is referred to as an XCN-1050 if supplied with a CNH machine.”

Solution

There is no clear solution for this, says Mr Griffiths.

“Brands will continue to market products as they see fit.

Precision agriculture consultants should be familiar with the variations and can often help resolve these issues with a phone call.”

Upload/Download process

Issue

In general, hardware type is not the issue, but how terminals read/interpret these functions, usually associated with file type, says Mr Griffiths.

“Some systems will only give you an option to change the export format if it is requested.

Files can be exported in the wrong format for the other system or software and the significant difference in file version can cause the greatest issues.”

Common file types and their most frequent users:

  • AGGPS: Trimble
  • ISOXML: Multiple, including CNH, Mueller and TopCon
  • CN1: CNH
  • AGDATA: AgLeader and Trimble
  • GREENSTAR 3 and 4: John Deere

“In the scenario of moving boundaries from a combine to the sprayer, if the combine has created the field and coverage logging in a CN1 file type, this cannot be transferred directly into a Trimble display in the self-propelled sprayer as that device will only read an ISOXML/AGGPS file version, so it is not recognised.”

Solution

The operator could use a conversion tool before uploading the file to an alternative device.

If there is a choice of export type from the combine, it needs to be exported in the correct format for the sprayer to accept it.

Multiple Brands

Issue

Problems with moving files between the customer interface (terminal) and farm management information system or other terminals can arise from a combination of areas including software and hardware, but most commonly come from the type of file, says Mr Griffiths.

“Historically this kind of technology had a small number of providers and their systems used the same generic file types, so there was some uniformity.

As more brands and equipment manufacturers have started to provide systems to the market, each has come with additional file types, complicating the process significantly.”

Solution

Uniformity is the ultimate solution, he says.

“Having a combination of hardware/software which can communicate in the same ‘language’ will significantly increase the efficiency of any business.

“When there is an understanding of the issues, businesses can take this into consideration when introducing new technology, being able to ‘future-proof’ purchases for complete farm functionality.”

Using the Cloud

Cloud-based data storage can be of significant benefit as it removes the need for storage devices, reduces the risk of corruption and file structures being incorrect and eliminates time associated with travelling and manually administering updates, says Mr Griffiths.

“It removes the reliance on operators completing a process and continually backs up the data.

It also allows data to be available over multiple devices, from the hardware in the machine to mobile phones or tablets.

“Generally, a cloud solution encompasses both software and hardware, creating uniformity which removes a lot of the issues faced with file type.” Drawbacks, he points out, include the need for connectivity to a network to transfer the data.

Being able to push and pull information remotely also increases the importance of the data being correct, as an incorrect boundary/A-B line can easily be synced across multiple machines at the press of a button.

In the field Harry Rymer, Featherbed Court, Oxfordshire

Featherbed Court is a joint venture business in Oxfordshire with arable and fruit growing interests on 1,100 hectares.

Business partner Harry Rymer says: “We were having issues moving maps from the Greenstar terminal in our John Deere drilling tractor and from our Case IH and New Holland tractors to Trimble software, and also to the AgLeader system in our Sands sprayer.”

The issue was the different file types – the Intelliview screen in the Case IH and New Holland tractor could not export its ISOXML files as they were not recognised by Trimble software.

Boundaries “Vantage’s Richard Larke was able to supply a file converter which meant we could upload data as SHAPE files into the Trimble Farmercore software.

This enables me to pull field boundaries into the software and easily set up master A-B lines which will be useful as we are looking at controlled traffic farming,” says Mr Rymer.

He adds that while the aim was to get the basic level of compatibility sorted first, in the longer term more seamless data processing will be useful for variable rate liquid fertiliser and for muck spreading.

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2021-05-21T08:52:47+01:00January 5th, 2021|Blog Post|
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