Long-Distance Diagnostics

07:54AM Sep 30, 2014
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New technologies use cell phones or satellite connections to manage and repair machinery

In the height of spring and fall operations, there’s just not time to wait for a mechanic. Even just knowing someone is watching out to circumvent a mechanical problem can be helpful. 

“We’re set up so our dealership gets a warning if the tractor senses a problem,” says Jeff Fraser, a farmer from Hutchinson, Minn., who uses John Deere’s JDLink system on his four-wheel-drive tractor.

“Last fall, they called us when we were disk-ripping about a warning code related to the clutch,” he explains. “It ended up that my 17-year-old son was starting out under full load. It was simple to correct, but that’s how closely the system watches things.”

In the time it takes to make a phone call or connect to the Internet via a cellular or satellite connection, help can be on its way. The local dealership will transmit software or data to the machine to fix the problem without a mechanic setting foot on the farm. With the operator’s permission, a technician from the local dealership can access the machine’s display and, with the operator in the cab, fix the glitch.

“There are a lot of things that two-way communication will allow,” says Jason O’Flanagan, AGCO Advanced Technology Solutions senior marketing specialist for North America. 

“Not only will it be possible to do remote downloads of software to repair or update computerized systems, but it will also be possible to transmit live data about the machine’s performance,” he adds. “So, a farm manager or dealership technician can see performance information while the machine is actually operating.”

In addition to a remote view of fuel consumption, hours per acre, engine load and other performance details in real-time, AGCO’s AgCommand system allows operators to record and transmit the data for future analysis.

“You can create a report of various machine functions, such as how long it idles, how long it runs at full load, what percent of full load, how much time is spent in transport mode, and then create a vehicle history,” O’Flanagan says. “Being able to look at a machine’s history can help a manager decide if the machine is properly sized for the work it’s doing. It could be a benefit to have a comprehensive history when the machine is traded.”

Tim Huisman admits he’s not a computer person. The Atwater, Minn., farmer appreciates that the JDLink-based system he used during harvest 2013 automatically transferred farm, field and yield data from his combine to his home computer via satellite.

“I’d come in at night and the information from the farms and fields we’d harvested that day was waiting for me,” he says. “No need to mess with data cards.”

Equipment manufacturers emphasize the primary goal of remotely linking machines is to benefit farmers.

“There’s a misconception that [remote linkage] is a benefit only to the dealership,” says Swarupa Bakre, John Deere’s associate brand manager for JDLink. “It’s actually another tool to help producers monitor and manage their equipment and operation. The dealership benefit will be that mechanics will interact with the machine via cellular or satellite link and diagnose or fix many problems with software or programming issues that would have required a service call in the past.”