Editor's note: Learn more about the work of telematics by viewing the video at the end of this story.
Brian Orwig remembers the introduction of JDLink in its first iteration. “I wondered why I would want my tractor to email me,” he recalls. Orwig is manager of John Deere Connected Support.
That telemetry tool has come a long way from those early days of email alerts and a little geo-fencing. Today, equipment telemetry and remote diagnostics married to machine learning is changing the way your dealer supports equipment on your farm. Farm Progress wanted a better understanding of how these new tools are changing support and got insight from Orwig and Randy Rice, connected support manager, PrairieLand Partners, a multi-outlet John Deere operation in Kansas.
Orwig puts the changes into perspective. “We’ve been on a journey for a good 10 years now, but even in just the last five years we’ve noticed the speed and velocity that our dealers and our customers are adopting this technology,” he says. “It’s helping farmers farm better, whether you’re talking a small cow-calf operation or a large production ag operation.”
Rice concurs, noting that he’s been working in precision ag at PrairieLand for 15 years, but has seen near-exponential growth in the adoption of a range of tech tools in just the last five years. “And like a lot of dealers, we have really ramped up support in the last couple of years in how to use these new tools,” he adds. “We want to help create efficiencies, or help customers save time or money.”
At PrairieLand, like many multistore Deere dealerships, the support function is being centralized. For Rice, that means a kind of “control room,” with screens that support people can use to track specific machines (with the customer’s permission) and keep track of any alerts that may appear. That approach, and higher level of support, would be difficult without the latest remote tools.
Early warning system
“One of my primary duties is to watch those expert alerts,” Rice says. Those expert alerts are generated when something appears wrong in a specific machine, based on sensor data provided through the telematics system. Those alerts are based on complex algorithms that can provide a kind of early warning system to the customer and dealer if something is going wrong.
“Those [expert alerts] are based on actual things happening in the machine, but with a little bit of machine learning, too, and that builds an alert you can go to the customer with,” Rice says.
He notes that he is not usually the person who reaches out to a customer when an alert happens — that’s the job of service managers. But Rice adds that customers have learned over the years to call the dealership when they see a blinking red light. Today’s telematics change that conversation.
“When we communicate with them, sharing what that warning really means it helps them understand that we are trying to work with them to reduce repairs,” Rice says.
The concept of a more detailed warning on which a dealer can act is a new idea for many farmers. The dealer will call the customer if the John Deere Expert Alert system shows an alert for a specific machine. The farmer can then decide how best to engage that repair.
Rice adds that from their central location, they can monitor machines and the screens will rank equipment in order from “sickest” to “least sick.” The machine at the top of the list will warrant a first action. “That doesn't mean [the machine] is sitting at the edge of the field almost on fire, but it just means there’s a lot going on in there, and that’s the one that’s going to potentially need attention sooner than the rest,” he explains.
And if a service tech heads for the field, he or she already has a good idea of the problem, since all service codes are shared through the telematic system. That may mean bringing a few more parts along as a just-in-case, which can limit the requirement of making more than one trip.
Rice shares an interesting example of how these new tools can really come in hand for both customer and dealership. PrairieLand has a lot of commercial forage harvesters it supports, and they spend a lot of time in Texas. He explains that at one time, several of those machines needed their operational software updated. “Most of those machines were five or six hours away from us, but they’re all working in a similar area,” he says. “When they’re busy, no one wants to stop.”
The answer was Service Advisor Remote, which allowed PrairieLand service techs to connect to those distant machines and send the update. Rice says the update went to more than a dozen machines. The local operator could decide when to accept the update — which can stop a machine for up to three hours — at an appropriate time.
There’s a twofold benefit there. First, no service tech from Kansas had to drive to Texas and go from machine to machine with a flash drive to do the update. Second, the update could be deployed when the machine was parked, say, for rain, which limited any impact on operational time.
Efficiency and benchmarking
While improved service is a key opportunity for dealers and customers engaging with these new high-tech tools, there are potential management benefits as well.
Rice shares the story of something he did during a forage clinic. “I pulled up the operation information for all of the same-model forage harvesters, and I ran some very generic reports that showed fuel usage and other factors on those machines,” he says. “I showed that to the whole group as part of my presentation.”
Based on the reaction from those who attended, it raised some questions about why one machine might have been more fuel-efficient or covered more acres in the same time than another. Those users can go into their own data and see how they are performing. It’s a potent benchmarking tool for boosting efficiency.
Rice also notes that a local cooperative wanted operational information for its sprayers. The co-op had a longtime employee on a sprayer and a new employee in another. In comparing road time and other productivity issues, they found the veteran operator was covering more ground in a day. “They figured out that they needed to get those two guys together,” he says.
This information sharing can help boost efficiency on machines you already own.
John Deere is long known for being an iron company; but in the past 15 years, that’s changed. And that shift to technology offers some new opportunities, too.
Orwig explains that the tools John Deere makes are helping feed the world. He shares that he has a 15-year-old son and adds: “If I were to advise him on where to focus his studies and his efforts, I think agriculture today is as good a time as any to be a part of, because it doesn’t just mean what it did just 10 or 15 years ago. The technology is exciting.”
Orwig got his start as a service technician 20 years ago. “The tools that are in my garage now that were in my toolbox then are not the same ones being used today,” he says. “You don’t go for a hammer first, you go for your laptop first.”
This advancing role of technology also means that dealerships can be more proactive with customers, as the Expert Alerts show. Orwig says this not only helps farmers, but also helps dealers be more efficient and effective for customers.
The future of ag technology offers a range of benefits for farmers, and the dealerships that support them. Given the growth in use of telematics in machines, it will be interesting to watch where this technology goes next.