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Do-it-yourself GPS Fixes

February 8, 2011
By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal Columnist
4 28 10 027
When heading to the field at the beginning of the season, check wire quality and signal strength.  

Your automated steering system starts to veer off path. The swath control system on your planter stops recording passes through the field. The yield monitor on your combine suddenly is nothing more than a blank video screen.

When computerized systems go down, it can be unsettling. It’s easy to diagnose a smoking drive belt or a hydraulic hose that’s spewing oil, but the intricacies of diagnosing problems in high-tech computerized systems leave many farmers in a cold sweat.

Experts familiar with GPS, auto-steer and swath control systems say many problems related to those systems are easily diagnosed with common sense or a few basic tricks common to most computerized systems.

All computerized control systems on modern farm equipment have extensive built-in self-diagnostic capabilities. In many cases, a warning or fault code appears on the display screen when a system malfunctions.

"Warning codes alert the operator that something is wrong, but it’s not something that’s critical or bad enough to require stopping," says Erik Ehn, product manager, Trimble Agriculture Division. "Fault codes indicate something is not operating correctly and may require stopping the machine."

Check the owner’s manual or on-screen diagnostics page to identify the warning or fault code’s origin.

"Most systems record all the codes as they occur, and operators can look at them on the diagnostics page," says Brian Davis, Ag Management Solutions consultant for Schilling Brothers Inc., a John Deere dealer in Mattoon, Ill.

"The codes will tell them [the source of] the problem. Maybe they lost their GPS signal, or the steering sensor isn’t sending a signal. Or it could be something really simple like the steering wheel got bumped and that caused the auto-steer to disengage. The diagnostics page tells you where the system thinks it has a problem," he adds.

All sensors and components in auto-steer, swath control and yield monitoring systems constantly

report their status to the diagnostics page. Most diagnostics pages not only display current conditions of various components (voltage, ohms, on/off) but also list acceptable operating ranges so operators can quickly determine if components are operating within design parameters.

Puzzling, intermittent problems can sometimes be solved by monitoring the diagnostics page as the machine moves across the field to identify momentary voltage drops, blips or brief failures.

Beyond using the self-diagnostics functions to pinpoint problems, here is a list of simple problems and fixes related to GPS, auto-steer and swath control and yield monitor systems:

"S-ing" or "weaving:" Weaving on either side of the designated auto-steer line is often related to programming that affects sensitivity and reaction to computerized auto-steer inputs. But it can also be a simple mechanical problem.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-February 2011

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