As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Technology counters lockdown challenges
by Arable Farming July 2020
‘Connected’ technology is enabling dealers to maintain machine back-up, which is proving invaluable during social distancing measures.
During these challenging times, when it comes to sales and service of machinery, traditional customer, dealer and technician interaction has required a major readjustment in order to maintain the safety of all involved.
This has become most apparent with diagnostics, training and servicing duties, which typically require the technician to sit on the tractor with the operator to
instruct on the necessary procedures and ascertain any issues experienced.
While many manufacturers now offer ‘connected’ services, here we take a look at what John Deere and its customers are able to do with this type of technology.
For the last five years, Deere has been developing its Connected Support programme, with more than 50,000 machines now equipped with JDLink, feeding data into the system.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, although different countries restricted movements and implemented social distancing guidelines at different times, the manufacturer reports an ‘explosion’ in the uptake and use of its connectivity tools.
Previously, it says the use of such systems was low and many owners were sceptical about its relevance but, the company says, as of late, dealers and customers
are engaging much more via the software.
However, it is not just a glorified video-calling tool. The Connected Support platform monitors many machine parameters, notifying the dealership of component failures, potentially before they fail and cause excessive damage to the machine through expert alerts. Service technicians can also use remote diagnostics to pinpoint the problem.
Paul Delahay is John Deere dealership Rea Valley Tractors’ technical support manager, a role that encompasses the precision farming products the dealer supplies, managing nearly 800 machines fitted with JDLink.
He says the manufacturer’s Connected Support system is allowing the dealership a more proactive approach to service and maintenance of customers’ machines, with John Deere’s Expert Alerts system flagging up problems before they materialise into breakdowns.
Using a host of sensors around the machine, historical and anonymised machine data as well as algorithms for error detection and machine optimisation, Expert Alerts is said to automatically analyse the data and send warnings to the dealer service technician.
Mr Delahay says: “It allows us to provide a more professional service, so technicians arrive on-farm already knowing the issue, armed with the correct parts to fix it.”
This has streamlined the dealer’s operations, with less time spent on the road ferrying parts around.
He says the system is extremely accurate identifying a potential component failure before it causes machine downtime, giving owners peace of mind their machines are being maintained by staff through daily checks, but also supported by the dealer when needed.
Mr Delahay says during lockdown, other features have played a large role in reducing the amount of exposure employees of the dealership and farms have with each other.
With JDLink modules now fitted to most of the tractors, sprayers and combines leaving the dealer’s yard, remote training is playing an increasingly important role through RDA.
Likewise, software updates and fault code retrieval can be done wirelessly, as can data transfer between the machine and the farm office.
In the field: JR & EH Nott, Suffolk
JHaving used John Deere’s connectivity solutions for over three years, James Nott who farms more than 2,000 hectares in a 10-mile radius near Sudbury, Suffolk, says the suite of applications simplifies management.
The farm has 10 machines connected to JD’s Operations Centre, including the tractors, sprayers and combines.
Mr Nott says: “It helps to make sure jobs are done at the right time and in the right order.
“I can see what tasks everyone has done each day and re-organise our schedule by order of priority. Rather than having to drive around our land, I can see it all remotely which also helps with my workload.”
JDLink is a powerful, valuable tool, says Mr Nott.
“The industry is becoming more data driven. Being able to see hours worked, area covered, fuel used and any error codes that pop up through JDLink helps us and the dealership work more efficiently.”
While the pre-empting of breakdowns through Connected Support is useful, Mr Nott says it is not fully developed for use with his business just yet.
Getting the error codes and assessing the severity of those is his chosen method, scheduling work to be carried out on the machine as and when suits the farm’s workload.
Depending if the code is an amber or red alert dictates when the repair is carried out.
This allows the work to be carried out early in the morning or later at night when the employee does not need the use of the machine.
“A two-way relationship with the dealer is important,” says Mr Nott.
“Organising when work is carried out to least affect our workflow is vital and the dealer knows that.
“When a red code comes up, the dealer will look into what has gone wrong and the best course of action. Depending on what the issue is, they will either say ‘yes, we need to come and fix that’ or they will give us instructions as to how we can fix it on-farm.”
A new addition to the farm’s fleet earlier this year is a R4150i self-propelled sprayer, which landed just as lockdown restrictions were being enforced. As a new model, Mr Nott says the engineers in the factory at Horst in the Netherlands are monitoring the sprayer using the connectivity suites to find common faults
and error codes as a means for product development.
Installation of the sprayer on-farm was done remotely using a host of technology, including video calls. Once in the field, further training and problem solving was conducted using remote display access giving the operator support when setting up the new machine – a helpful feature says Mr Nott.
“The development of these tools is happening very quickly. While the complexity is increasing, you can only go at a rate you and your business can deal with and feel comfortable using,” says Mr Nott, who concedes he is not the biggest ‘techy’ in the world.
His philosophy is if it is simple and useful, he will employ it as a management tool, adding the John Deere portfolio of products is far more advanced than anything else on the market.