ISOBUS or Bust

July 25, 2009 01:36 PM

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Wires cross and colors blur at Plugfest. As iron and electronics evolve, a task force of engineers and company representatives are working together to achieve the ISO 11783 standard—plug-and-play compatibility no matter who makes the tractor, implement, monitor or controller.

The task force assembles twice a year for Plugfest. Equipment and technology companies plug their products into one another to see what happens. The 70 or more representatives rotate around a meeting room and literally plug in their more than 30 controllers, monitors and electronic components. They take detailed notes on what works and what doesn't so they can return to their offices and address the problem areas.

"ISO 11783 provides standardization of data and information transfer from tractor and outside and back again, and engineers are taking equipment and seeing if they function together,” explains Andy Beck, task force chairman and a software engineer with John Deere. "We are looking for compatibility in documentation, user interface and data transfer.”

click to enlargeAlthough they are competitors in the marketplace, at Plugfest companies work together. Companies that take part in Plugfests are: Ag Leader Technology, AGCO, CNH, Dickey-john, Hemisphere GPS, John Deere, Parker Vansco, Raven Industries, Sauer-Danfoss, TeeJet and others who are engaged as observers, such as Kinze Manufacturing, Loup Electronics and Novariant.

"There is a lot more compatibility than in the past,” Beck explains. "It's not good for customers to find compatibility issues; we want to identify them first. One way to ensure compatibility is testing.”

There have been 10 Plugfests held in North America, and progress has been made at the events and in the field. At the first Plugfest in 2003, components were covered with cardboard boxes with holes cut out to access the plug. Today, everything is out in the open: equipment and conversation.

At previous Plugfests, the computers wouldn't even communicate. Today, the problems encountered include an icon not displaying correctly or the wrong display colors.

The North American task force is joining with groups in Europe and Brazil to form the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF). This international group, which now has 35 members, will join together for greater improvements in compatibility.

"AEF will provide a support role for standards development,” says Rudy Rudolph, a retired engineer from TeeJet who is helping lead AEF efforts. "They don't write the standard but work toward implementing it for the benefit of the users. The group will include conformance testing, safety in electronics equipment, service and diagnostics into their work.”

It's an ongoing quest, but as equipment makers continue to work together, farmers will see machinery and electronic compatibility make strides.

You can e-mail Margy Fischer at

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