Navigating a New World – UAV Technology in Agriculture
My first exposure to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was as a master’s student at Kansas State University. I was researching nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in winter wheat varieties and had the opportunity to collaborate with another researcher looking at applications for UAV technology in agriculture. This was very early in the development of UAVs, and it was unclear where they fit into agricultural production systems or how they could be used.
I first met Dr. Kevin Price at the edge of one of my research fields, where he was piecing together a homemade, or rather a laboratory-made, UAV. I had never seen a UAV other than a military predator drone, so I was skeptical that a UAV with pool noodles for landing gear and a modified point-and-shoot camera bolted to the bottom would provide anything useful to my research. As Price finished assembling his drone, he gave a simple pre-flight safety lesson, “If it starts coming towards you, don’t just stand there, run. It has the equivalent of eight butcher knives spinning at several thousand RPMs and will cut you.”
I took a few steps back. (Okay, maybe more than a few.)
With a quick check of his systems and confirmation that the UAV had adequate GPS signal, Price coaxed the octocopter into the sky and began flying parallel lines over my field trials. Admittedly, it was a boring flight, and within ten minutes he had flown the several acres that my field experiments covered.
A few days later, Price shared some of the imagery and preliminary analyses, and I quickly became convinced of the utility of UAVs in agriculture. Not only did it detect the same genetic differences in nitrogen use that I saw through tissue analysis, but it also showed clear mistakes in how portions of the plots had been hand-harvested that helped me better manage my fields and research.
Drones have advanced considerably since I first saw one fly over my fields several years ago. Not only do they look more professional, but they are packed with sophisticated sensors, flight computers, and high-resolution cameras that make safely operating a UAV extremely simple.
As the technology has become more affordable and easier to use, farmers and service providers have become more interested in integrating UAVs into their businesses. When considering what kind of drone to purchase and begin using, ask yourself the following three questions.
1. What do I want to do?
What do you want to use UAVs for? Many simply want to use drones because they’re fun, and a great marketing resource for photography and videography. In this case, there are a lot of affordable consumer drones that have great cameras and 4K video capability. However, drones can also be used as a tool for understanding soil, monitoring plant health, and potentially making management decisions. For those looking to integrate drones into a farm or agronomy business, many consumer drones can be used and fitted with NIR sensors for creating NDVI imagery.
2. How much do I want to spend?
When it comes to price, the sky’s the limit! With drones, the adage that you get what you pay for rings very true. There are many different UAVs that you can purchase from Best Buy, Amazon, or other retailers at affordable prices; but, while great for consumers, they lack many of the features needed for making management decisions on the farm. Some of the features you should consider would be: NIR or multi-spectrum cameras for looking at specific wavelengths of light that are a better indicator of plant health; incident light sensors for correcting exposure issues that are common on partly-cloudy days; and software that enables autonomous flight and image processing.
3. How do I choose between Multi-rotor vs Fixed-wing?
The two different flying styles of drones each have their advantages and disadvantages. Multi-rotor UAVs, like the popular DJI Phantom, are great for spot checking fields. They are affordable, user-friendly, capable of vertical landings and takeoffs (making them convenient in tight places), and are often equipped with great cameras for taking pictures and video. However, they have notoriously short battery endurance because of the four (or more) rotors that are required for flight. This makes them a less-than-ideal solution for flying large acres because they will require multiple battery changes and frequently a way to recharge batteries in the field.
Fixed-wing aircraft, such as the senseFly eBee SQ, or Sentera Phoenix, or AgEagle are great examples of drones capable of large-scale use in agriculture. They are truly professional-quality drones and are capable of longer sustained flights, typically in the range of 40-50 minutes, allowing them to cover more acres per battery. The fixed-wing aircraft are fully autonomous and have more advanced flight software that allows for more customization. These UAVs are usually equipped with advanced sensors that allow for standard color imagery and NDVI. A drawback to these systems is that they are usually more expensive than multi-rotor drones and are not the best option for those who want to take videos or pictures for marketing purposes.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology has changed considerably since I first saw Dr. Kevin Price fly one of my fields with his UAV. As I’ve worked as an agronomist in the industry, I’ve continued to experiment with the technology to find ways to do my job better and help farmers. I’m convinced that they have a place at the table, but as with any new technology, the hardest part is just getting started.
If you are considering adding a UAV to an agronomy or farming operation, my recommendation is to start small. Consider purchasing an affordable multi-rotor aircraft and develop a workflow that makes sense for you. When you are ready to cover more acres and can justify the cost, upgrade to a professional fixed-wing aircraft.
About the Author
Nate Dorsey is an Agronomist for RDO Equipment Co. based in Moorhead, MN. Connect with him on Twitter @RDONateDorsey.
To learn more about UAV technology solutions from RDO Equipment Co., contact your local store.
Ready for Takeoff – RDO Equipment Co. Flies High at Drone Focus Conference
On May 31, drone users, UAS enthusiasts, and those brand-new to the industry gathered in Fargo, ND for the third-annual Drone Focus Conference. The two-day event brought together hobbyists and professionals to learn, share ideas, and connect.
RDO Equipment Co. welcomed two speakers to Drone Focus, Jason Barton of Agribotix and Nathan Stein of senseFly. Both spoke about UAS in agriculture, with Jason discussing opportunities of implementing precision ag technology, drones included, but also the challenge of technology adaption by farmers.
Nate Dorsey, Agronomist, added insight to Jason’s message, “We find, while most farmers know and use the basics, the majority aren’t aware how capable their machines really are and how much functionality they have. We’re trying to help our customers understand all the technology offered.”
In his presentation, Nathan [Stein] touched on the effects of UAS technology on agronomy, saying, “Agronomy and the way plants grow isn’t going to change. But by fusing agronomy with the information we’re gathering from drones, that’s when good decisions can be made.”
Nate [Dorsey] agreed, explaining the data is key in detecting problems early. “We provide customers, and the agronomists they work with, the data to help make decisions that can prevent problems and yield loss,” he said.
Jason and Nathan joined a lineup of notable speakers that included U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, U.S. Senator (R-ND) John Hoeven, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. All three leaders had a similar message in the rapid evolution of technology and the industry, and that the future of autonomy is headed beyond drones.
Bill Edmonson, UAV Product Specialist in Billings, hosted a workshop that demonstrated opportunities with swarming – operating more than one drone simultaneously. This was important message for Drone Focus attendees, who, throughout the event, heard about several areas of opportunity for swarming in areas like agriculture, pipeline, and search and rescue missions.
Swarming offers major advantages, with two, three, or even ten drones working together able to cover more area, and cover it faster, than one. Bill highlighted the RDO Equipment Co. team’s experience in swarming from an event last October – a fully-coordinated, planned mission of ten senseFly eBee drones flying simultaneously.
The first Drone Focus Conference was all about possibilities, while last year presenters began sharing initial experiences. This year, the industry’s maturity was even more evident, with several UAS-specific companies discussing services and expertise, as well as a greater number of seasoned experts sharing their knowledge.
Three of these experts, RDO Equipment Co. customers, participated in a panel discussion. Ryan Otis, Otis Farms and Ryan Rustan, Blattner Energy, are both professionals who have successfully implemented drones into their business, while Joey Schmit of Flight Pros is a provider of UAS technology services.
The panel cited data management as the biggest challenge in the industry. To help manage it and expectations, all agreed that it’s important to first understand the goals of the data, then work back to base a plan on achieving them.
“The info shared by our customers provided great value to attendees,” Kelly Gress, Vice President of the RDO Integrated Controls division, said. “Thank you to Joey, Ryan, and Ryan for taking the time to share their unique insights and experiences with drones in their businesses.”
A final message from the panel was one that came up in other presentations throughout the conference: Drones can’t and won’t ever fully replace traditional methods. They’re a great tool to have in the toolbox but people are still needed to understand them, operate them, and turn the data they produce into actions.
If this year’s event proved one thing it’s that autonomous technology isn’t going away, and the RDO Equipment Co. team continues to lead in delivering the UAS solutions customers are and will be demanding.
Contact the RDO Equipment Co. team to learn how we can help you implement UAS technology to your business and bring the benefits to your bottom line.
5 Most Popular RDOIC Blogs
As we head into the busy summer season, we’re taking a moment look back at our most popular blogs from the year so far.
Whether you’re interested in bringing drone technology to your company or would like to get a jumpstart on planning for the first snowfall of the winter season, these top blogs have the info and insight you need.
5 Benefits of Snow Plow Lasers:From better vision to enabling quick adjustments to versatility, five reasons a snow plow laser might be the next tool you’ll want in the toolbox.
5 Reasons Drone Focus Should Be On Your Radar: If your near-future goals include implementing UAS technology into your business or you’d like to connect with others in the industry, Drone Focus is an event you won’t want to miss.
Agriculture. Surveying. Construction. Inspection. What do these industries have in common? UAS technology is making an impact across them all, and offering professionals new opportunities to work more economically, efficiently, and effectively.
For the third year, Drone Focus Conference is being held in Fargo, North Dakota to bring together drone professionals, enthusiasts, and others interested in the world of unmanned aerial systems. The event takes place May 31-June 1 and is led by Emerging Prairie, a nonprofit organization in Fargo.
As a supporter and key curriculum contributor, RDO Equipment Co. is offering a variety of sessions and touching on multiple areas of UAS throughout the two-day event. Learn more about presenters and topics from the RDO Integrated Controls team at RDO Equipment Co.
Workshop Overview – Wednesday, May 31
Last October, RDO Integrated Controls brought together a dozen customers from various industries to be part of a unique event – a fully-coordinated, planned mission of 10 senseFly eBee drones flying simultaneously. This experiment, eBee10, demonstrated scalability and the power drones have when flying together.
Bill Edmonson, UAV Product Specialist for RDO Integrated Controls, will detail the impact and opportunities of operating more than one drone simultaneously. He will also talk about workflow management and regulations operators need to be aware of to execute a multi-drone flight. Bill has 15 years of experience as a drone operator and data analyst, so you won’t want to miss his workshop on Wednesday, May 31.
Focused Lunch – Wednesday, May 31
Ryan Otis, Farm Manager at Otis Farms, has successfully implemented UAS technology into his business, using it for field survey, drainage construction, and assessing crop health. On the other end of the industry spectrum, Ryan Rustan, Engineer at Blattner Energy, uses drones for all-things energy, such as solar and thermal work, survey, and transmission line inspection.
Ryan and Ryan are RDO’s featured guests for Wednesday’s Focused Lunch at the Toasted Frog restaurant. Both longtime and successful drone users, they will answer questions about the real business impact of UAS technology, including how drones have changed workflow and seeing ROI. To attend this session, add on the Focused Lunch when registering for Drone Focus.
Speaker Presentations – Thursday, June 1
RDO Equipment Co. is pleased to welcome Jason Barton, VP of Sales from Agribotix, and Nathan Stein, Application Engineer from senseFly, as speakers on Thursday, June 1.
Both experts in the agriculture industry, Nathan will talk about UAS use in the field, while Jason’s discussion is focused on cloud processing and the data side of drones for precision agriculture.
If your near-future goals include implementing drone technology into your business, expanding your UAS knowledge, or connecting with other drone professinals, join our team at Drone Focus May 31 and June 1.
Those in the asphalt paving business know that dated technology and old methods aren’t ideal. Not only can antiquated practices waste valuable time, the end results may suffer in overall quality, both hitting the business where it hurts most – the bottom line.
Thanks to the work and advancements offered by trusted manufacturers, most major pavers now have several options for products designed to enhance the quality of pavement being laid down and the efficiency of crews doing the work.
From intelligent compaction to GNSS paving solutions to its exclusive P-32 Paver System, Topcon is one company that has and continues to offer new opportunities to the paving industry. For example, last fall, Topcon introduced an upgrade to its sonic averaging system (SAS), Smoothtrac. The upgrade featured enhancements designed to save time – during initial setup, changing applications, and transport – as well as option to upgrade existing trackers or screens.
But even before this upgrade, the Smoothtrac system offered advantages to asphalt paving professionals, especially when combined with its P-32 Paver System. Here’s how the systems work and the unique, key values they offer the paving industry.
P-32 Paver System
Featuring the GC-35 control box, the Sonic Tracker II sensor, 9130 laser receiver, and a slope sensor, P-32 is a premier grade automation system. The combination of which and how many components are used is dependent on the paving job, so the system is designed for easy configuration to best match the project at hand.
By offering control over aspects like sonic elevation and slope control, and combined with its easy configuration setup, the P-32 Paver System is designed to work for numerous applications including road paving, airport runways and parking lots, and maintenance or widening projects.
2. Precision and Production
The system offers the ability to calculate, to degrees of extreme accuracy, compaction and number of lifts required to reach desired mat thickness. Not only does this ensure a quality finish, it provides users the opportunity for best material control.
And thanks to the level of accuracy and reliability of the system, crews can work at greater speeds, as well as reduce starts and stops, for increased production rates.
Smoothtrac was designed as a better option over a traditional mechanical ski. When adding Smoothtrac to the P-32 Paver System, the setup still includes GC-35 control boxes, a slope sensor, and Sonic Tracker II sensors, but adds more sensors and in different areas, and also includes the Sonic Averaging ski.
1. Mat Quality
Smoothtrac features four Sonic Tracker II sensors on the ski and one additional on the opposite side of the paver. Working in unison, the five sensors continuously measure elevation and take an average of high and low points, then adjust the screen to a mid-point. This constant and automatic adjustment smooths bumps and dips in a mat surface and ultimately offers the best averaging results.
Smoothtrac is a non-contacting system, allowing a paver equipped with it to be backed up, turned around, and pass over obstacles without having to lift or remove. Furthermore, the Sonic Tracker II sensors easily fold up and stay out of the way when needed for the paver to maneuver in tight areas or around curves.
In the event the Smoothtrac needs to be removed to navigate especially challenging areas, it easily removes and reattaches.
Cohesive and Compatible
Not only are these systems ideally suited to work together, they’re designed to integrate with numerous other Topcon products. Both can be upgraded with the latest technology available in the industry, offering even more opportunities.
As equipment and methods continue to advance, contractors are in better position to do quality work, on time and with a better impact on the bottom line.
The third-annual Drone Focus Conference is May 31-June 1 in Fargo, North Dakota. Organized by Emerging Prairie, a nonprofit organization in Fargo, this all-drones event is all about the latest in the UAS industry.
For the third year, RDO Integrated Controls is participating in a big way, both as a supporter and as part of the curriculum.
If your near-future goals include implementing drone technology into your business, expanding your UAS knowledge, or connecting with other drone enthusiasts, here are 5 reasons Drone Focus is an event you won’t want to miss.
Drone Focus includes a lineup of speakers who are experts in all areas of UAS. Notable speakers include Senator (R-ND) John Hoeven, Nicholas Flom of Northern Plains UAS Test Site, and Ed Waggoner of NASA.
Hear ideas about the future of UAS from the future of UAS. Students are invited to form a team and create a project, the only criteria that it must be an innovation in the drone or unmanned systems industry. Each team will present its idea with a 3-5 minute pitch, and participate in a Q&A session with judges. The program is designed and led by Innovation Fellows at North Dakota State University’s Research and Tech Park.
As with any conference, some of the most valuable learning is gained outside of the seminars. Drone Focus 2017 will feature Drone Focus Fest, an afternoon of drone races, autonomous vehicle and tractor shows, and new consumer product launches.
Part 107 Training Course
Those interested in obtaining Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification are invited to attend a special one-day course designed to help in preparation for the Unmanned Aircraft General (UAG) written exam. The course takes place May 30 at the Fargo Jet Center and a UAG written exam will be offered on June 2. Learn more about Part 107.
The rumors are true and word’s getting out – Fargo is a pretty cool city. Not only has North Dakota gained national notoriety as a leader in UAS technology and business implementation, the city of Fargo is home of the original “Drone Focus Meetup” a monthly gathering where educators and students, drone professionals and enthusiasts meet and discuss regulations, technology, and business opportunities for drones. It was these meetups that evolved into the first full-day Drone Focus event in 2015.
6 Ways Drones Deliver on Construction Jobsites and Off
Many in the construction industry are discovering UAV technology as game-changers in numerous aspects of their work, from survey and mapping applications to jobsite safety to marketing.
Thanks to recent changes to FAA Part 107 rules for flying drones, UAV technology is more accessible and realistic than ever. Add the fact that manufacturers are offering drones designed specifically for construction applications and it opens up the opportunities to professionals at every level, in both the public and private sector.
For example, senseFly’s eBee RTK drone is designed as a survey-grade mapping drone. The fixed-wing unit is compatible with most base stations and can provide accuracy down to 3 cm with no need for ground control points. Featuring a copter design, the senseFly albris drone has five dual-sensor modules. These provide the situational awareness required to operate the drone in close proximity to structures, making it ideal for building and bridge inspections. It also offers a major advantage in its ability to switch between capturing video, still, and thermal imagery, all during the same flight.
From onsite, day-to-day tasks to behind-the-scenes business opportunities, here are the primary ways drones are delivering for construction professionals.
In the Dirt
Construction sites, whether roadbuilding, bridge inspection, or general builds, all can benefit from the use of UAV technology. When used properly, three key deliverables are achieved on the jobsite.
Drones capture data at very high density, often millimeters per pixel. By comparison, traditional staking survey methods using Lidar and GIS typically collect data points anywhere from 10 to 20 feet; sometimes greater gaps exist due to vegetation or other factors that make an area inaccessible to pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
Because drones capture this 3D data in a spatial or geo info set, they produce highly accurate 3D recreations of just about anything on the ground, from a pile of dirt to a full building under construction.
So what does this mean on the jobsite? Imagine a site prep project with hundreds of cubic yards of dirt that needs to be moved. The exact location, height and width of each dirt pile is exact, so a worker can see exactly how much dirt needs to be moved, and precisely estimate trucks, manpower, and time.
Hand-in-hand with the accuracy they provide is the productivity offered by UAS technology. Wasted effort and resources are minimized.
Consider traditional surveying. With drones, data can be gathered at a rate that makes conventional methods seem antiquated. As fast as the operator can walk, pause, press a key to record, then move along, data can be collected.
Drones also deliver data fast, enabling management to make changes and adjustments as soon as possible.
Perhaps the most important benefit drones bring to the jobsite is greatly increased safety.
Bridge inspection is a primary example of just how impactful a drone can be. Conventional bridge inspection methods suspend a worker under or alongside a bridge – dangerous in any situation, but especially depending on the size, location and usage of the bridge while the inspection takes place.
Even a simple surveying project can put workers in danger. An icy winter jobsite is full of slip-and-fall hazards for workers walking the area, where a drone can be used by an operator, safely and comfortably offsite.
In the Business
It’s hard to argue with the accuracy, productivity and safety benefits that drones bring to the jobsite. And there’s another side of a construction business that benefits – the activities that often go unseen to most but have a big time impact on the bottom line.
1. Asset Tracking
The high-quality photography offered by drones and the ability for them to oversee large areas in a short amount of time is making it easier to track assets on the jobsite – both equipment and workers.
In addition to sheer tracking, this can also help determine if current assets are adequate or if additional resources are needed on a jobsite.
2. Stakeholder Communication
It’s not always possible for major investors and other stakeholders to regularly visit a jobsite and see progress updates. Thanks to their ability to take quality photos and video, drones provide a valuable tool for frequent stakeholder communication.
The drone can be set to run the same flight plan once every week to capture precise developments and changes on a jobsite, keeping updates consistent from week to week. Furthermore, images can be time-stamped for precise accuracy. Whether the full site or specific sections, and from site prep to final completion, drone images and video offer the opportunity to communicate progress, visually.
3. Future Marketing
There’s no better way for a business to market itself than showing its capabilities. The dynamic images offered by drones can show a fully-finished project, and from angles that are more impressive and that offer a more thorough look than on-the-ground photographs.
An automated flight plan can be set to take a ton of photos, from the start of the job all the way through completion.
When the most accurate, highest-level information is desired, drones are a viable option for every construction project.
Interested in how to integrate a drone on your jobsite to deliver benefits including better accuracy, greater productivity, and enhanced safety? RDO Integrated Controls can help, and is offering special rates and a one-year warranty on its loaner/demo fleet of albris drones. Contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls to find out more.
What You Want to Know About FAA Part 107 and Drones
On June 21, 2016, the FAA announced that Part 107 Rules for UAS (Drone) Operations in the National Airspace had been finalized.
The new rules went into effect on August 29, 2016, opening a door for many potential pilots interested in commercial activities using UAVs. With the new rules, there are many opportunities for the use of UAVs in agriculture, civil engineering, aggregate, and mining industries. It will now be easier for companies to become compliant to fly commercial UAVs.
Here are highlights and updates from the Part 107 ruling since it was originally announced:
Getting the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for non-FAA Pilots
To become certified you simply need to take and pass a 60-question Knowledge Test at an FAA testing center with a minimum score of 70%. There is no flight test required to obtain your Remote Pilot Certificate.
The FAA has several online resources, including a study guide, the actual ruling known as 14 CFR Part 107, and many other information manuals.
RDO Integrated Controls offers a regulatory training package to help you prepare for your Part 107 exam and comply with federal regulations when operating your UAV.
After the exam, all information is submitted through the FAAs Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA), where they conduct a background investigation, evaluate your test score, and either approve or deny the application.
Getting Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for current FAA Pilots
Part 61 Pilots are not required to take the Knowledge Test at a testing center, but must complete an online training course, called "Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451"
Current pilots then need to complete and submit Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate).
Current 333 Exemption Holders
Your FAA Pilot must complete the online Remote Pilot Certification training online before the implementation of Part 107.
Your 333 Exemption is still valid per the time period stated on it.
Pending 333 Exemptions
You will be notified by the FAA that you are in one of three tiers and be given options to continue or transfer to Part 107
You will be required to be approved and vetted by the FAA through its IACRA system before being issued your Remote Pilot Certificate. This process can take several months to complete because of the amount of time required to complete a background investigation, evaluate your application and test scores, and officially approve your request.
What are the final rules?
A summary and a complete overview of the final rules, known as 14 CFR Part 107, are available on the FAA website.
Bring UAV Technology to the Jobsite
The team at RDO Integrated Controls is offering special rates and a one-year warranty on select drones from its loaner/demo fleet. Contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls to find out more about complete UAV products available or to learn more about our exclusive FAA Compliance package, including best practices, tips, and training on topics related to FAA compliance.
This blog was originally posted on June 21, 2016 and updated March 15, 2017.
An Ever-Changing UAV Industry and its Customers
Not long ago, UAVs were a new technology – admired by many and successfully used by few. Fast forward to today, drones have found their way onto numerous jobsites, and are successfully being used for numerous applications. However, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, the story of UAV technology on the jobsite likely won’t ever end; instead, it will continue to grow, change, and evolve.
Because of this, RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Integrated Controls have continued to make significant moves in the UAV space. Our teams strive to make the technology and products accessible to more customers, and have expanded offerings to provide more choices.
The agriculture industry has been a major focus, with the additions of the senseFly eBee SQ and Sentera DJI Phantom drones. Another major area of focus is the construction industry, particularly, using UAV technology for surveying and mapping.
Last year, RDO Integrated Controls expanded its UAV offerings with the addition of the new senseFly albris drone. One of the albris’ biggest advantages is its ability to switch between capturing video, still, and thermal imagery, all during the same flight.
The team at RDO Integrated Controls is also offering the senseFly eBee RTK drone. Designed to be a survey-grade mapping drone, the eBee RTK is compatible with most base stations and can provide accuracy down to 3 cm with no need for ground control points.
Meeting the changing needs of customers and an ever-evolving product line doesn’t come without foresight. And looking ahead, our team sees surveying and mapping as major areas of potential for integration of drones on construction jobsites.
For those interested in putting UAV technology to work on the jobsite, RDO Integrated Controls is offering special rates and a one-year warranty on its loaner/demo fleet of albris drones. Contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls to find out more.
This blog was originally posted on January 5, 2017 and updated March 1, 2017.
Your Ultimate Guide to CONEXPO – CON/AGG 2017
It comes only once every three years and takes the construction industry by storm. CONEXPO – CON/AGG is March 7-11 in Las Vegas and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to connect with customers and manufacturing partners, meet new professionals, and learn about new challenges, solutions, and opportunities for our industry.
With more than 2,500 exhibitors showcasing the latest innovations in equipment, products, and services, plus 150 educational seminars, it’s no wonder the country’s biggest construction show sees attendees from nearly all segments of the industry – and also why exhibitors plan their show strategy months, sometimes years, in advance.
We’re here to help you plan your show experience and ensure you get the most value out of attending CONEXPO – CON/AGG, with expert advice from three veteran attendees:
Josh Price, General Manager, RDO Integrated Controls
Mark Rieckhoff, Sales Manager, RDO Vermeer
Will Risinger, Sales Manager, RDO Equipment Co.
From optimizing your time to what you can expect from our manufacturing partners, here are our teams Top 10 tips for making your CONEXPO – CON/AGG experience a success.
1. Plan of Attack
CONEXPO is among the biggest tradeshows in the world. Especially for first-time attendees, the miles of booths, products, companies, and events can be overwhelming. All our experts suggest taking the time to plan out a show strategy.
“This is too large a show to just ‘hope’ you have time to see it all,” Rieckhoff says. He suggests reviewing the CONEXPO – CON/AGG interactive exhibitor maps to help plan a route.
Closely tied to planning a show strategy, a key piece in scheduling time is to prioritize it.
Price suggests taking the time to write down your goals for the show, “What companies you want to visit, what products you want to see, and any seminars or events you need to attend,” then planning time accordingly to ensure you can fit it all in.
3. Account for More Than Booths
Remember, this show is large – as you plan your time, don’t forget to account for walking to and from the show, and between booths and exhibit halls.
Risinger recommends taking advantage of the Las Vegas Monorail to and from the convention center, saying, “It’s the fastest way to get back and forth.”
On the flip side, keep in mind the additional hours you can allocate for business and pleasure. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are great opportunities for quick networking, more in-depth meetings with companies, or just enjoying downtime with other attendees.
4. Spread it Around
Speaking of exhibit halls, there are several. North Hall. South Hall. Outdoor Lots. CONEXPO – CON/AGG isn’t limited to one area; rather, it’s comprised of several indoor and outdoor areas.
“It’s easy to get caught up in everything and realize you’ve spent half your day in one hall,” cautions Price.
Rieckhoff agrees and recommends dedicating time to each hall in the overall show strategy, saying, “Split up your time by halls and days.”
5. Ask, Talk, Engage
Whether the goal is to learn or network, Price says one of the simplest pieces of advice he’d give to attendees is to talk.
“It’s amazing how many people stop by a booth and don’t ask questions or engage in conversation,” he says. “As someone who has spent time in the booth, I can tell you we’re eager and excited to talk to attendees! So don’t be hesitant to ask questions or just strike up a conversation.”
6. Watch and Listen
Risinger counters Price’s advice on being an active participant at booths with a reminder of the value of observing, specifically, your competitors.
“Spend some time around the competition watching and listening,” he advises. “You’ll take away better understanding of what your competition is telling customers about themselves and maybe even about you.”
7. Hidden Gems
Price refers to some of the smaller, lesser-known companies as hidden gems – and ones you’ll want to find.
“There are a lot of really small companies doing some really amazing things,” he said. “Even if what they’re doing might not apply to your business, it’s just a great opportunity to see different innovations and unique things other companies are offering.”
8. Get Social
Don’t forget to bring business cards. Yes, you’ll have your badge scanned at every booth and companies will be able to reach out to you after the show. But Risinger notes that most people still carry a few business cards and it’s never a bad idea to be prepared for the exchange.
Price agrees, and offers additional insight into why business cards are still tradeshow networking gold, saying, “If I get your business card, I have the opportunity to connect with you later that night or the next day during some downtime,” he explains.
Just as important the value of the tried-and-true business card, Price adds that making connections can go beyond the show floor.
“Several of our employees leverage social media, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, to engage with customers before the show, meet up at the show, and stay connected after,” he said, adding that attendees can follow the same practice to connect with companies and others involved in the show.
9. Take Small Bites and Chew
Rieckhoff’s biggest piece of advice comes in the form of an expression: Attending CONEXPO – CON/AGG is like eating an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
“What I mean is, don’t feel like you have to try to tackle the whole show at once,” he says. “Split up your trip over the days, stick to your plan, and you’ll be better able to enjoy your time.”
Risinger agrees, saying, “Pace yourself during the week. Most people have more than one day to visit the show so take your time and enjoy seeing all it has to offer.”
“And, it’s Vegas so it has to be said, don’t overdo it on late-night activities the first night,” Price cautions, with a laugh.
10. RDO Equipment Co. Partners
The RDO team is fortunate to work with the best manufacturers in the industry, three of which will be strongly represented at the show. Below, our team offers a quick sneak peek into what you can expect to see, learn, and discuss when you visit the John Deere, Topcon, and Vermeer booths.
Risinger says he’s excited about the technology piece at John Deere’s booth, saying, “You’ll want to spend a lot of time here. This will be a focal point this year and there will be several takeaways you can bring back and implement in your business.”
“Topcon always releases a new product at CONEXPO,” Price said. “The team keeps a tight lid on it so we can’t say what it is, but know something exciting is coming.”
In addition to the unveiling of something new, Price says attendees are sure to see at least one or two products at the Topcon booth they won’t see anywhere else.
“You can go to a lot of booths and see the same stuff but there’s going to be some unique offerings at Topcon’s.” Price noted paving products like the RDM1 and RDMC Smooth Ride, and mast-less dozers as examples of unique draws.
Stop by the Vermeer booth in the Central Hall, C3-C5, booth C32627. Items on display include Vermeer Productivity Tools, Rock Lab, and many new products including the D10X15S3 HDD Directional Drill, the R250C Reclaimer, and a special treat: a look at Vermeer’s newest Horizontal Grinder.
“Vermeer’s booth will provide the opportunity to learn more about technology and on-the-jobsite product improvements,” Rieckhoff says. “We’re looking forward to showing attendees how to better control costs, improve profits, and enhance overall jobsite management.”
On behalf of the entire RDO Equipment Co. team, we wish you a successful CONEXPO – CON/AGG show. We hope to connect with, catch up with, and see many of you March 7 through 11 in sunny Las Vegas.
About the Author
Jessi Zenker is Communications Specialist for RDO Equipment Co. based in Fargo, ND. Connect with her at the show or beforehand on Twitter @RDOJessi.