In The Shop: Diagnosing Complicated Stuff

Published on: 10:32AM Apr 07, 2012

I "started" a new planter yesterday. The customer bought a new, larger planter, equipped with just about every computerized, GPS-related, sophisticated system he could order. Sitting in the farmyard, after I demonstrated how to unfold, fold, calibrate, turn on/off/adjust  the various vacuum or pressurized-air systems, and had explained the basic steps of how to program and operate the touch-screen computer display in the cab---he turned to me in all sincerity and asked, "Is it too late to get my old planter back? I just want to plant--I don't want to fly the Space Shuttle."

I understand his frustration. I didn't completely understand everything I was trying to explain to him--I'm learning as I go. There's only so much a person can learn by reading a tech book or owner's manual, sitting in the shop. For me, the best way to learn is by "doing," so some of my most educational days are spent in a field, learning out of desperation. 

One of the things I've learned I have to do is think "simple." I have to force myself to view farm equipment as separate systems. That planter I worked on yesterday included the mechanical planter, a vacuum seed delivery system, a pressurized seed delivery system, a seed monitoring system, a GPS guidance system on the tractor, an auto-steer system on the tractor, GPS-based automatic row shut-offs and the ability to alter planting rates according to a "prescription." In some ways, they're all interconnected, but to a large degree they stand alone. The new owner "saw" all those systems as one, big, confusing mess. I saw them as a dozen individual messes. 

When a buzzer went off on the in-cab touch-screen display, he panicked, thinking the whole thing was malfunctioning. I calmly studied the display, identified exactly which system was reporting a malfunction, poked around on the screen to find out specifically what aspect of the failed system was causing the problem, THEN I panicked. 

My point is, when working with modern technology, don't let the big picture overwhelm you. It's dramatic when a $5000 touch-screen display flashes all sorts of warnings and diagnostic codes. Looks like the end of the world. But if you read the warnings, calmly follow the prompts, it may simply be a dirty seed tube sensor that's causing one row to read "low." In the end, we're still simply putting seeds in the ground. All the fancy computerized stuff just makes it seem more complicated.