Make a Digital Diagnosis

December 15, 2012 07:32 AM

Remote tractor troubleshooting is here

TechnologyOnTheMoveTime is money—and equipment downtime costs you both time and money. But thanks to new technologies, you can keep track of your fleet, make time- and money-saving adjustments, and, in some cases, even make mechanical fixes without ever leaving your office.

Remote management of farm equipment is becoming more common and can make significant differences on the farm, says Josh Skanderup, product manager for Raven Industries’ Slingshot. For instance, the screen sharing functionality of Slingshot allows tractor operators to give a co-worker or mechanic permission to view their touch screen to see what’s happening.

"If you can just see it for yourself, you can much more quickly diagnose what the issue is," Skanderup says. "You don’t have to kill half a day driving out to fix what could be a simple problem."

Faster equipment fixes. Shane Swedlund, field computer product manager for Raven, says remote service is quickly becoming one of the top reasons to invest in the new generation of precision ag equipment.

"Remote support is huge," Swedlund says. "You can check calibration values and see exactly what the user is seeing in the field in real time. The need for troubleshooting is often so time-sensitive. You have a window of time to get things done. So remote service and great dealer support have become very important."

These new technologies are also making USB ports more irrelevant in the cab because Slingshot can transfer prescription field maps and other files directly to the cab, he adds.

John Deere is developing new ways to troubleshoot tractor problems, with its Remote Display Access. Users are able to view the operator’s display screen, identify any problems and assist the operator with making the necessary adjustments to ensure correct settings and machine operation. Product manager Dave Mulder says proactive customers are using the technology as a training opportunity with their equipment operators.

"The major benefit of Remote Display Access is the ability to give farm owners, managers and equipment dealers the ability to see exactly what the operator sees in the cab to ensure that the equipment is operating correctly and provide training," he says.

"Having remote access to this real-time information improves service from dealers and increases the productivity of the equipment and field operations," Mulder adds.

The Remote Display Access is easy to use—it can even be accessed from a farmer’s tablet or smartphone, he says. It’s a simple matter of logging onto a website and following the links to each piece of connected equipment.

AGCO’s AgCommand telemetry service has also gone mobile, offering access to more than 13 fleet management features via a free iPhone or iPad app.

Problem solvers. Some software even helps farmers avoid problems before they happen. The vehicle management features that are a part of Trimble’s Connected Farm, for instance, allow users to set up alerts for each tractor that include parameters on cab monitors, fuel usage, engine reporting and performance analysis.

They can even set up "geo-fences" as an anti-theft maneuver, says Ian Harley, Trimble business unit director of information management.

"We’re trying to get you more information about your fleet so you can better manage your fleet," he says.


Another Timesaving Tip

As you prep equipment for the spring season, remember that while it’s important to make sure your planter is mechanically sound, it’s equally important to check the electronics and technology on today’s planters. That ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, says Phil Jennings, Kinze Manufacturing service manager.

"The electronics on your planter affect productivity and bottom line, just like the nuts and bolts," he says.

No matter how much technology you add to your equipment, it is still the operator’s responsibility to verify that control systems work properly.

"I recommend a full 1⁄1,000th-acre field check when any settings or adjustments change," he says. "The extra 15 minutes it takes to dig up those seeds is an inexpensive insurance policy."


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