Fleet Footed

January 7, 2014 06:05 PM
Fleet Footed

Telemetry enables quick decisions, even when you’re not in the cab

When discussing fleet management, Troy Walker of Ceres Solutions believes it’s important to focus on the possibilities.

Ceres Solutions is a retailer with similar "footprint challenges" of many large farming operations, says Walker, who is the GIS team leader in western Indiana. He is responsible for coordinating the movement of multiple machines in multiple fields.

As farms increase in acreage and more machinery is required to do the job, fleet management will play an ever-increasing role. "Fleet management will catch on," Walker says. "It will become more integrated and increase productivity, operational efficiency and communication."

To manage his fleet, Walker uses several logistical tools, including John Deere’s AgLogic tool to schedule soil and tissue sampling. Each vehicle appears in real-time on a secure Web browser where Walker directs traffic. He can schedule and dispatch service providers, track his fleet and transfer data instantaneously.

Essentially, Walker is a logistics guy for a company that supplies farmers with agronomic inputs, energy and a variety of other products.

"You don’t even need to be in the cab; you can see what’s going on with your tractor from anywhere."

Manage Logistics. The word "logistics," is usually associated with FedEx or UPS. Walker takes a page or two from their playbooks, but instead of tracking parcels, he’s tracking employees and equipment.

"FedEx owns logistics," he says. "It’s how they’re profitable. As we get bigger, we need to think more about it. The technology has a little ways to go, but it’s where we need to be so we can deal with bigger acreage and more people."

The scheduling efficiencies add up. Walker can check which open orders are clustered near each other and dispatch employees to take soil samples in more streamlined routes. He can even overlay weather data to determine what areas to avoid.

A fleet management mindset can help you better care for individual pieces of machinery while improving efficiency. Many telemetry platforms allow you to see real-time fuel levels for each piece of machinery.

Andy Pace, a Precision Planting regional sales manager, says that as farmers use more sophisticated technologies, they can closely monitor performance attributes. When planter problems arise, the company’s 20/20 SeedSense with the FieldView iPad app can provide valuable insights.

For example, an abundance of skips and double-planted seeds on one side of the planter could signal a transmission problem, malfunctioning seed plate or other maintenance issue that needs attention, he says.

"Now you know you need to stop the planter and make an adjustment," he says. "You don’t even need to be in the cab; you can see what’s going on with your tractor from anywhere."

Decision Aid. Pace points to an example from a Mississippi Delta customer. After struggling with poor singulation and no apparent equipment issues, they finally figured out that when planting corn into cotton stubble, the planter bounced, sacrificing accuracy. The solution was to slow down from 4.5 mph to 3 mph.

"When you have the data, you can make fast decisions," Pace says. As farmers have more information at their fingertips and tools to digest the data, fleet management and machine-to-machine communication will become the norm, he adds. 

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