“What has separated us is that we have not risen and fallen with the tides in terms of technology,” says Jeff Dearborn, who has been in charge of implementing technology at Sanders for more than a decade.
Keeping on top of technological trends in agriculture requires constant evaluation of new technologies. Jimmy Sanders’ recent integration of telematics is another manifestation of that commitment to improving service and efficiency using smart technology.
A Complete System
In short, telematics marries global positioning systems with mobile communications and computer technology to bring a whole host of powerful tools to an end-user.
The telematics trend was one of the concepts that Dearborn watched closely as it became more prevalent in the consumer market. The most visible manifestation of telematics technology has been the growth of the OnStar system in cars, but the increasing power of handheld communication devices like the Blackberry and iPhone also revealed the potential of telematics technologies.
Not unlike many technological breakthroughs, telematics has been slow to emerge in agriculture. It can be frustrating to wait and watch, but Dearborn feels it also provides an advantage. “We have the luxury of being at the tail end of adoption,” he says. “All you have to do is follow general trends in technology to predict what’s coming.”
A couple of years ago, Dearborn got the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Equipment manufacturer GVM was developing a suite of telematics-based tools specifically designed for custom applicators called AgJunction. Being long-time partners on the equipment side, Sanders became one of the first retailers to sign up for the new product, GVM Telematics.
Aaron Hunt, who heads up the AgJunction initiative for GVM, says that there are three primary functions that Sanders is using. First, sending and receiving data and transferring files wirelessly; second, tracking the movements of machinery in the field; and third, monitoring and recording machine efficiency, performance, and maintenance.
To maximize the benefits of these capabilities, Hunt worked with Dearborn and his team to integrate the capabilities into Sanders’ OptiGro program to ensure that the systems worked efficiently and in harmony. The connectivity ensures that every piece of machinery operates like a remote office, sending and receiving data as if the rig cabs and locations were cubicles in an office building.
The GVM Telematics package is virtually turnkey today, with all of the hardware, software, and cellular subscriptions provided. The rig system includes a cellular signal receiver and a programmed in-cab computer — the Raven VIPER because it features built-in wireless communication capability.
“GVM Telematics will work with more in-cab displays in the future as they come out with wireless capabilities,” says Hunt. Development emphasis now and in the future is on building a system that works anywhere with any color machine or brand of display.
Hunt notes that the cellular contracts are purchased and maintained by GVM to eliminate confusion and make things more streamlined. Cell service can be added or changed by Sanders using GVM as a third party.
All Systems Go
The system used by Sanders starts with a work order. That order is tied to a field boundary, and is assigned to an asset. The software in the VIPER downloads the work order to the cab, and it is ready to go. After completing the work, it generates an as-applied file and an invoice and automatically changes the job status — all of which is transferred wirelessly to the main office.
A big time saver? You bet. “Back in the old days, when a work order had to be changed, you just naturally took out two disks because one would fail,” says Hunt. “Flash drives are better, but you still need someone running them out to the field. This technology virtually eliminates that problem.”
Back at the main offices, an Internet-based software program gives every manager access to a screen that shows the location of all the retailer’s assets on an electronic map in real time. Assets can be monitored and reassigned based on customer requests or even expected weather events.
On the back end is a rich pool of data for managers to consider and make future decisions. Machinery operation data reveals how much product is spread over any period of time, as well as time spreading vs. time driving. The data help managers make decisions about logistics and equipment replacement, and find holes in an applicator’s performance.
It’s also helped solve the elusive “shrinkage” problem. “Every location has found spread acres that did not get billed, especially with fertilizer,” says Dearborn. “It’s a constant battle to remember what got done when you’re working so hard, but with the system we have a better handle on acres applied and product shipped.”