Thanks to this system, the owner and workshop can not only view a machine’s processing data, but also intervene in case of software problems. And realize when a malfunction is about to occur
In the field, two kinds of data are produced: on the processes and on the machine. The former range from cultivated hectares to yields per hectare. hectares (or fraction of it), depending on the date and time of each processing, the amount of fertilizer and seeds used, the type of processing performed, etc. The information concerning the machine – or for the machines – relates to hourly consumption, average and maximum engine speed, PTO speed, working depth (for Isobus tools), liquid temperature and so on.
Of course, some data are inter-categories in the sense that consumption is also an information of agronomic (or at least economic) interest, and working hours are linked to the need for maintenance of e.g. the machines.
In any case, without going into too much detail, we can say that the data from the first group are intended for the agronomist following the ground, while those relating to the operating machinery concern not only the owner of the vehicles but rather all the assistance service. And it is the latter that we will deal with on the following pages.
What is it about
Let’s start with the definition. Said in a not very scientific but understandable way, detection and collection of data at a distance is indicated by telemetry. An example known to all is the weather stations, which measure temperature, pressure, humidity and send them to data processing centers.
In our context, the collection and transmission of the operational values of a vehicle or equipment are indicated by telemetry. Operating temperature, engine load, instantaneous and average consumption, oil temperature and pressure and many other values are constantly monitored by the electronic control units in the most modern vehicles and are used to evaluate the machine’s operating status, identify critical situations and possibly malfunction.
The information is recorded in the memory of the operating system and can be read or downloaded by a technician through an analysis and diagnostic device: in other words, a computer connected to the terminal of the vehicle through a special cable.
However, the same information can also be sent via radio frequency both to the owner of the machine and to the assistance service. And here things start to get interesting.
Telemetry on several levels
There are different levels of telemetry, depending on the needs of those who buy the machine and consequently on what they are willing to use. At the most basic step, it tells you where the car is and what it is doing, ie. whether it is standing still or moving. It is a useful tool especially in case of theft (though, it must be said, good thieves disassemble the control unit before stealing the tractor) or to find out if anyone is using the machine improperly.
By increasing the level, the owner can not only know where his vehicle is, but also receive warnings, for example in case of operational problems or exceeding limit values that endanger the tightness of the machine.
Then there is screen sharing, the completeness of which varies from brand to brand. In the simplest cases, the owner sees, on the PC or in the phone, how fast the machine is working and how much it consumes, in addition to the hectares that are worked during the day and little else. At a higher step, it is possible to see the tractor monitor as if you were driving it.
In this case, it is also possible to propose corrections to the operator, who must, however, give consent to use them for safety reasons. For example, the farm worker can change the threshing speed and ventilation of a combine to improve performance. If the operator on board the machine validates the intervention, the corrections will become operational.
Two new features
However, the last frontier in remote control of machines takes the names of remote assistance and predictable telemetry, two functions that require the intervention of the assistance service.
The first, which is already active for some brands, consists in the ability to not only see the terminal on the operating machine, but also to intervene on it, for example, by remotely updating the operating system or loading new functions. If we consider that an increasing proportion of assistance is related to software problems, the idea of updating or resetting it without leaving the workshop is undoubtedly tempting.
Even greater are the expectations that develop around predictable telemetry, or rather the possibility of identifying an error, even before it occurs.
This is an option based on the operating data that the machine collects and sends to the service center upon request. Here, the values are constantly monitored, and if one or more of them go beyond the standards, an alarm is triggered.
An abnormal consumption of oil or loss of pressure on a pump, overheating of the radiators and other parameters outside the norm can indicate a fault in a short time. When this situation occurs, the control software warns a technician, and the latter, after verifying the nature of the problem, warns the operator and asks him to intervene on the machine or in the most severe cases interrupt the work and wait for the arrival of the mobile workshop.
In this way, it is possible both to avoid long periods of machine downtime, and to reduce the repair costs greatly, too very often a malfunction, when it becomes full, causes damage in different rooms. With predictive telemetry, on the other hand, you replace the worn part and return to work.
One specific – and more easily achievable – area of predictable telemetry is predictable maintenance. In this case, there is no risk of an impending shutdown, yet the tractor signals to the assistance that the time for service is approaching. In this way, the workshop can plan interventions well in advance to avoid blockages in the workflow, and the owner will always have the machine in order and in perfect efficiency.
The lesson of Covid
In terms of remote assistance and telemetry, the lesson on Covid was extremely instructive. In the spring of 2020, the retailers, like any other business, were closed and only the assistance service remained active with strict access restrictions for external staff. Usually the farmer had to leave the tractor in the yard and go.
After a few hours had passed and the cabin had been disinfected, the technicians grabbed the car and carried out the agreed procedures over the phone or computer. However, in many cases, as several dealers have testified, it was possible to act remotely, share the tractor screen or verify proper operation through the processing data sent to the dealer.
According to Enrico Rampin, head of John Deere’s remote support project, during the first wave of Covid, there was a sharp increase in access to the group’s servers, as many retailers used digital technologies to control customers’ machines and reduce physical travel.
“We have clearly seen this trend – Rampin continues – both on Remote Display Access and on Service Advisor Remote. We were also pleased to note that the system held up: despite the increase in contacts, the servers did not crash and handled the abnormal traffic well. This indicates that we are on the right track and that remote sensing technologies are a consolidated and fully usable reality for us, even in exceptional cases like this ».
John Deere’s experience in the covid era was judged to be very positive. A success that is not surprising as this manufacturer has been investing in digital technologies for decades.
In recent years, however, all the large groups have moved in this direction: they have certainly done so since 2019, as one of the requirements for obtaining the Agriculture 4.0 contribution exemption is precisely the ability to remove the parameters of the work in a machine.
Returning to John Deere for a moment, the telemetry service is divided into three phases:
– Expert Alert allows remote assistance service operators to receive error messages or preventive alerts to prevent an error from occurring.
– Remote Display Access, on the other hand, allows you to connect to the tractor terminal with the user’s consent.
– Service Advisor Remote can finally remotely update the software and reset the error codes, but also make remote diagnostics so that the technician, when he goes, already knows which spare parts to bring.
Claas is also at a very advanced stage, which through its Telematics makes it possible to know the position of the machines, receive error codes and also make software updates. The service requires the owner’s consent if it is personalized, but Claas anonymously collects the operating statistics for all its harvesters to identify any manufacturing defects thanks to the big data analysis.
Another manufacturer that has invested heavily in these technologies is Jcb, primarily thanks to their experience in the construction sector. The Livelink portal, which has been active for several years now, provides information about the status of the machine, warns if it leaves the perimeter determined by the owner and helps plan maintenance.
Agco has also activated its own connection protocol, based on its three brands (Massey Ferguson, Fendt and Valtra), through which assistance receives processing data and error messages. The same goes for CNH with New Holland’s Plm Connect and Case Ihs AFS Connect, both of which are also capable of performing software updates remotely.
While the major manufacturers have created their own control systems, the brands with fewer financial resources have preferred to rely on external realities. For example, Sdf has activated the data platform by collaborating with Cefriel (a consortium of universities) and Ibm Watson IoT Platform, while Kubota has utilized the competencies of Kverneland, a brand in the group.
Finally, Argo Tractors has opened a collaboration with the French group Actia, which creates a system that not only makes it possible to control machines, but also to remotely diagnose and intervene against them. The remote diagnostic function is enabled by the Actia Tgu-R control unit. Thanks to this, the service technician can connect to the machine and load the diagnostic software exactly as if it were on the spot, to check what is wrong and determine if it is sufficient to intervene remotely or if it is necessary to leave the mobile workshop.