As farmers and contractors are pushed by ever tighter margins, reducing downtime and increasing efficiency are two key targets.
And any technology which can help achieve these goals is welcome.

A system that collects and transfers information from a moving machine to monitoring equipment back at base – telemetry – is by no means new technology. In fact, engineers have been experimenting with it since the mid-1980s.

Data are transferred by FM radio waves or via a mobile phone network.

Already in place within the automotive industry, F1 racing teams use the technology to monitor and detect potential problems, which allows team engineers to decide what changes are needed to improve car performance.

In much the same way, Claas is now using telemetry to optimise farm machine settings remotely through its MARVIN (Machine Analysing Remote Visual Integrated Network) system.

A series of sensors and data loggers – fitted to a machine such as a combine or forage harvester – gather information and report it to a dedicated website accessible via a remote computer.

The system uses the list of logged data and service codes to predict if a fault is likely to occur.

For example, if a pulley is running too slow or heating up excessively the system could predict that a worn bearing is about to fail.

Should a fault be detected the system will alert the appropriate person – such as the dealer technician – who can then take the appropriate action to rectify the problem before machine failure occurs, which, in theory, reduces downtime.

In a worst case scenario when a breakdown does occur, the dealer technician is able to diagnose the fault – again using the logged information and service codes – at the dealer yard.

This is claimed to allow the fitter to ensure he has the correct parts to complete the repair.

Agco is also trialling telemetry technology in Europe and has been working on various packages over the past seven years.

In Norway the firm offers a telemetry package designed to help with running tractors in the extreme cold experienced in the north of the country.

A heater built into the sump of the engine warms the oil and block and can be switched on from a remote location.

This means that when the farmer arrives the engine is warm and ready to be fired up, much like turning on the heater-plugs in a conventional diesel engine.

Agco says there are systems operating here where the firm is monitoring tractors – from its Stoneleigh base – which are running in remote parts of the UK.

It says the market for the technology is too niche to justify introducing a commercial version to the UK, but in future the technology could be combined with its current service and maintenance packages.

Stateside

John Deere has just launched a telemetry package in the USA and Europe aimed to make machine location, performance and maintenance information available to owners remotely.

Much like the Claas system, users can access fleet data via a dedicated internet site, which provides information such as engine temperature and hydraulic system functions.

The set-up also features an alert function which is set up to email the appropriate persons if downtime is predicted.

No such systems are running in the UK, but Deere expects that demand will grow, especially as skilled labour shortages become an increasing problem.

All telemetry systems offer the potential to detect possible failure before it occurs, which may save thousands of pounds in repair bills.

In the not too distant future farmers could be driving around their fields, oblivious to the fact that the dealer is rectifying potential gremlins on that machine from a computer in an office a number of miles away.

Technophobes beware.

fwmachinery@rbi.co.uk