ISOBUS screen in the tractor cab keeps life simple

Having a single big screen in the tractor for operating different implements has a lot of appeal. Peter Hill asked an contractor already using the technology how he gets on with it

Why clutter the tractor cab with several implement control boxes when everything can be done through one? That’s the theory behind ISOBUS, a common set of standards for data communications between implements, tractors and terminals.

“It’s a brilliant idea,” says Nottinghamshire contractor John Clifford of D Clifford and Sons. “I like the familiarity of using the same terminal for different implements and it’ll save money if I don’t have to buy an individual controller for every piece of equipment.”

From his base at Hoveringham, near Lowdham, Mr Clifford provides a number of contract services, including lime and fertiliser spreading, that involve using precision farming technology.

Lime is applied using a Bredal trailed broadcaster with GPS steering guidance to match bouts and variable application if required using digital rate maps. The same approach is available for fertiliser spreading for the first time this year thanks to the purchase of a new twin-disc mounted broadcaster.

Last summer, Mr Clifford got his first taste of ISOBUS technology when he bought a Vicon baler-wrapper and a Tellus monitor to go with it.

The terminal has been a success, he says, providing a big colour screen and ready access to the many baling and wrapping settings that are available with the RV2190 BalePack combination.

The real test of the plug ‘n’ play technology, though, came a couple of weeks ago when he took delivery of a Vicon RO-EDW fertiliser broadcaster to handle the new GPS spreading service.

“I put it on the tractor, which is kitted out with a power supply for the monitor and an ISOBUS-standard socket, plugged in the lead from the spreader and the Tellus screen lit up with all the settings,” Mr Clifford recalls. “The graphics and the way of entering settings or making adjustments are just the same as for the baler, so I’d found my way around the spreader information within minutes.”

This familiarity and the ease of use that results is one aspect of the ISOBUS concept that he finds particularly appealing.

“I could easily have calibrated the machine and gone spreading it was only when I got deeper into the settings and options that I had to start looking at the operator’s manual,” he says. “The great thing is you don’t have learn a different way of highlighting a setting, changing it and then confirming it because it’s all done in the same way using the same buttons for both machines.”

The terminal has five buttons down each side of the screen to select the functions displayed by different pages in the system. More buttons below the screen are used to highlight individual settings, change the values and confirm them. There are also prominent on/off buttons for use in the field.

“It’s all pretty logical and, for the most part, you can tell what function you’re selecting by the icon that’s displayed,” says John Clifford. “There are some that take a bit of fathoming out but as long as you’ve got the handbook to look at initially, they soon become familiar.”

In operation, seeing graphical representations of what’s happening on the implement are somehow more reassuring than just a character on a simple screen – for example, when the baler’s Opticut knives are engaged, the screen version does the same.

The other attraction of ISOBUS technology is that it should save money as well as clutter in the cab.

“When I bought the baler-wrapper, I could have had the simpler Focus controller, which was priced at £1264 instead of the Tellus unit, which was £3072 – a lot of money for a controller,” Mr Clifford agrees. “But when I bought the spreader, I didn’t need a control box, so having the ISOBUS unit, which is a lot nicer to use, has only cost £540 more at list price – and when I buy another implement it can operate I’ll be quids in.”

What is ISOBUS?

ISOBUS is the term used to identify ISO 11783, a worldwide standard for all aspects of an integrated tractor-implement communication system.

It covers mundane but crucial matters such as the specification of the single cable, plug and socket used to carry power and data between an implement and a terminal mounted in a tractor or other farm vehicle.

It also sets parameters for the software used to create a graphical representation of an implement’s controls, settings and functions in a common format.

As ISOBUS-ready implement carries a small computer containing all the data required to operate its various functions – to lift and lower the pick-up on a baler or forage wagon, for example, or open and close the hopper slides on a fertiliser spreader

An ISOBUS standard terminal can use that data to create the graphical display, change settings and operate the various functions through buttons, dials or touch-screens.

A growing number of tractors are also ISOBUS-ready, which adds another dimension to the technology since these tractors have a network of sensors and the necessary wiring for data about things like the engine, transmission, hydraulics and pto to be displayed on an ISOBUS terminal.

The operator can then use the terminal to adjust and select different functions and there is usually a data capture facility for use in computer-based records for management analysis.

Terminals that comply with ISO 11783 for use with ISOBUS compatible implements and/or ISOBUS ready tractors are available from implement manufacturers, tractor manufacturers and from independent electronic instrument suppliers.

See the ISOBUS website for the latest list of compliant products. 

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