Chad Elmore, Managing Editor

Adapted from an article in the March 2010 issue of Farm Equipment.

Phoenix Intl. Modular Gateway
The Phoenix Intl. Modular Gateway offers mobile communications and processing that integrates GPS, GPRS data, and on-board machine communications to enable advanced telematics applications, such as remote diagnostics and repair.

Maintaining regular communication with customers is crucial to a farm equipment dealer’s success. Today, thanks to telematics systems, it’s possible for the tractor itself to be part of that dialogue.

Although this technology is only now beginning to emerge on farm operations, it holds great promise for deepening the relationships dealers have with their farm customers, and has potential for increasing dealer income. In the same way auto-guidance technology makes farmers more productive, telematics systems are tools dealers can use to make their operations more efficient.

Telematics systems use the electronic communication networks embedded in modern farm machinery as well as GPS to monitor and report on information including machine location, hours, trouble codes and precision farming information. Data is transferred via cellular or satellite systems to the Internet or a mobile phone.

Until recently, the family farm wasn’t regarded as an area where this technology would find a strong market. That’s changing as equipment becomes more sophisticated.

“The farmer with two tractors and a combine probably doesn’t need help knowing how many hours are on his equipment,” says Terry Burchill, product market analyst for Phoenix Intl. in Fargo, N.D.. “He’s out in the field operating the equipment and very likely already has tight control of the maintenance schedule. But that changes if he has an issue in the field such as the tractor showing an error code. He may not have the ability to identify the problem at hand. With a telematics system installed, the farmer could get a call from the dealer even before he knows there is a problem with his tractor. The dealer can explain the situation and provide a solution immediately.”

Phoenix Intl. is a John Deere-owned company that provides electronic components, including hardware for telematic systems, to a wide range of OEMs in the off-road and heavy-duty on-road equipment markets. Its staff worked on the development of the Deere-developed JDLink telematics system. JDLink allows the tractor to send location and performance data via the web and cell phone.

A dealer could monitor how the farmer is using the tractor and recommend equipment that better fits the application. For example, data being sent to a dealer’s computer could show that a particular farmer is using only 50% of the tractor’s horsepower. That might suggest a larger implement that would make the farmer more productive. If he was using a 12-row planter on large fields, a move to a 24-row unit would allow the farmer to improve his efficiency.

Information provided by the machine can help with trade-ins, too. “The dealer needs to turn trade-in equipment as fast as possible,” says Burchill, “and reviewing usage reports could help the dealer work a deal in reverse.”

Before joining Phoenix in 2009, Burchill worked in the field for a dealership. “We installed telematics equipment as part of a dealership promise,” he says. “We worked the cost of the system into the margins of the purchase price, and with it provided a host of other benefits such an extended warranty and service specials.”

The dealer used a service application where hours were recorded and fed into a maintenance scheduler. Service department personnel could be alerted when a particular machine was due for maintenance, and they would follow up with the farmer.