How Machine Monitoring Equals Better Fleet Management
Several years ago, RDO Equipment Co. created an internal system to monitor machines in its rental fleet, ensuring preventative maintenance was getting done and tracking intervals to avoid unplanned downtime. Fast-forward to 2017 and, by teaming up with John Deere, RDO Equipment Co. now offers complete Machine Monitoring services to customers, leveraging the connection to the machine made possible by JDLink.
Here’s what you need to know about Machine Monitoring and why to explore opportunities for your fleet from RDO Equipment Co.
What is Machine Monitoring?
John Deere operates a Machine Health Monitoring Center, and works with RDO Equipment Co. to turn machine trouble codes into proactive solutions and problem-solving info for customers. When something isn’t running at the optimal level, machines generate trouble codes – from the simplest issues like low tire pressure to more complex problems that could lead to future breakdowns and downtime. John Deere partners with RDO Equipment Co.’s trained Machine Health team to monitor alerts and develop solutions to prevent or help schedule downtime for customers.
How Does Machine Monitoring Help My Fleet?
With Machine Monitoring, RDO Equipment Co.’s team can notify customers of problems and help troubleshoot before the issue turns into a full-blown problem. Unique to John Deere, the team can even send software updates and bug fixes, saving time and, often, from having to send a technician out to update the machine onsite.
Can’t I Just Call Support When There’s a Problem?
Yes, and RDO Equipment Co.’s Service Support team will get machines back up and running – but imagine saving that phone call and machine downtime by proactively preventing issues. The biggest advantage of Machine Monitoring is identifying issues before they lead to costly equipment failure and downtime.
Not only that, because John Deere and RDO Equipment Co.’s teams are monitoring machine data from thousands of machines, they’re able to spot trends and address issues even faster, while coming up with new solutions to improve machine health practices.
Here are a few success stories from customers taking advantage of Machine Monitoring offered by RDO Equipment Co., both agriculture and construction equipment.
Machine Monitoring caught an issue that had been plaguing a customer and the store was unable to figure out the issue. Using RDO Equipment Co.’s Machine Health team along with John Deere, not only was the problem discovered, a solution was delivered using the information received from JDLink. RDO Equipment Co. scheduled service with the store closest to the customer and the repair was completed in a timely manner. The customer was appreciative of RDO monitoring the machine and that the team helped him out with an issue that, “had them beating their heads against the wall” for months.
After seeing one machine needing a software update, RDO identified 24 additional machines in the customer’s fleet needed the same update and was able to take care of all, quickly and prior to any issues occurring, and, most importantly, without having to send a technician to diagnose or repair – it was all done remotely.
A customer was having issues with a sprayer’s transmission in the field, thousands of miles from an RDO Equipment Co. store. RDO sent the tractor software and walked the customer through the installation process. The customer was previously unaware of the software update, and was happy the team was watching out for him.
After being dissatisfied with the service he was receiving, a customer switched from a competitor’s machines to John Deere equipment. After working with RDO, he has received several alerts from a Machine Health Monitoring Specialist, giving him information about the alert and options how to proceed. He’s grateful RDO is monitoring these issues before they become big problems, saying, “The window of planting and harvesting gets smaller all the time. Having RDO monitor our machines gives me peace of mind.”
With proactive monitoring and fast, remote capabilities, you can trust your fleet to the knowledgeable experts at RDO Equipment Co.
To learn more about Machine Monitoring and the complete preventative maintenance program, RDO Fleet Shield Services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Technology Trifecta for the Mining Industry
As the mining industry continues to climb out of tough years, reducing costs, improving productivity, and enhancing safety are among the top priorities for most. Several technology opportunities exist to help mining professional achieve these goals, and when key offerings are combined, they offer a big boost to an operation’s efficiency and effectiveness. Here are three of the primary technology offerings RDO Integrated Controls and its partners are bringing to the mining industry.
By combining sensors and software, the biggest advantage machine control offers the mining industry is realized in efficiency. Mines move thousands, even millions of yards of material per year. When mismanaged and moved inefficiently, it can waste time, fuel, effort, and, most importantly, money.
Carlson Machine Control offers a solution that provides operators an accurate visual guide of position, making them better able to follow cuts and fills per the grading plan. And, Carlson software integrates with most brands of AutoCAD software.
On the management side, all machines enabled with Carlson’s machine control technology can report to a central hub where all machine positions can easily be viewed by engineers, managers, and other office staff. Management can track efficiency and productivity, and make adjustments if necessary, while also being able to send any project changes or updates directly to the machines, rather than manually visiting every machine onsite.
Machine intelligence (or awareness) offers insight into everything about a piece of equipment, from tire pressure to optimum bucket load, in order to optimize operation of all machines for maximum productivity.
iVolve is a machine intelligence system designed to boost utilization of equipment like excavators and haul trucks. The iVolve hardware uses various sensors, such as hydraulic sensors and brake sensors to track and display machine awareness in real time. The product is compatible with most manufacturer’s equipment, making it an option for mixed fleets.
Like with the Carlson software, all machines running on iVolve report to a centralized hub. Based on pre-determined or developed criteria, viewers can see where all machines are onsite, and see alerts if they’re near any trouble spots like large potholes or other obstructions, or if there are any concerns with the machine’s operation or health. The immediate, real-time availability of all machine data and alerts enables management to detect machine or productivity issues, or spot safety hazards quickly, and make adjustments right away to avoid downtime or other major problems.
An added benefit of iVolve’s tracking is operators no longer need to fill out machine pre-checks or haul reports, and there’s no data entry personnel needed to enter these logs into a system manually. Not only does this save time and effort, it eliminates potential human error.
Not long ago, UAV technology was new to most in the mining industry; an exciting opportunity. Today, UAVs offer advantages like accuracy, efficiency, and safety with their ability to survey and provide 3D mapping and modeling of sites.
Drone technology can be used in several ways. Short-term opportunities include pit and dump management, storm damage assessment and control, and general daily plan communication, while long-term advantages include haul road, dump, and pit design, surface stability monitoring, and mapping of steep, inaccessible inclines. When a job is complete, all the data the UAV has collected can be used as final proof the project, even the final reclaim portion, was done to spec.
UAVs cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, especially compared to traditional surveying, and reach areas that would be inaccessible or dangerous for workers to navigate. Set up and planning of flights is also fast, and both imagery and video can be captured by a UAV.
Bringing It All Together
Today’s equipment professionals are living in a world of data overload. While nearly all recognize the value of collecting and analyzing data to run more efficient fleets and make better operational decisions, few have the time to actually execute a data-driven strategy. This is where RDO Integrated Controls steps in.
Understanding that data can be overwhelming to even the most savvy fleet manager, the RDO Integrated Controls team works with every customer to find out how the data can best work for them, and provide it in a way that allows them to use it for better management. The company also offers a Fleet Shield Services program featuring warranty and repair guarantees, and Solutions Center for questions and troubleshooting help.
With many exciting opportunities for the mining industry, it’s important to look for the ones that offer the biggest impact. Combining Carlson’s machine control solution with iVolve and UAV technology, RDO Integrated Controls can help mining professionals increase efficiency and safety, while reducing costs and manual time and effort.
RDO Integrated Controls Honored with Six Awards at Topcon Xperience
RDO Integrated Controls received four team awards and two individual honors at Topcon’s annual sales meeting, Topcon Xperience. Among those received was Topcon’s highest dealer award, being named Topcon Construction Global Dealer of the Year. It’s the second time the RDO Integrated Controls team has taken home this top honor.
Additional awards for the team included Top 5 Globally for Market Share Performance, Top 5 Globally in Year-Over-Year Sales Growth, and a new award this year, Top 3 Globally in UAV Sales. Adam Gilbertson, General Manager of RDO Integrated Controls – Northern Region, says he’s proud to see hard work recognized, not just from RDO Integrated Controls team members, but from all who contributed to the team receiving these honors.
“It’s a testament to the dedication of everyone at all our stores who are involved in the effort to bring technology to our customers,” he said. “From our construction equipment sales people to service technicians, all play a key role in making sure this technology works for customers and we’re successful in delivering it.”
In addition to the team awards, Topcon honored two individual RDO Integrated Controls team members with its famous Coffee is for Closers award, a recognition of the Top 10 in Sales, Globally. This year, Dan Wiese, Account Manager in Rochester, MN and Kris Kloeckner, Account Manager in Billings, MT represented RDO Integrated Controls in this elite group of recipients.
Kelly Gress, Vice President of RDO Integrated Controls, commented, “It is definitely a privilege to see this great team continue to drive our company’s technology solutions, which sets us apart from our competition and allows our customers to stay on top of their business.”
All awards were presented at Topcon Xperience, an annual dealer event, and showcase of the latest in Topcon technology and preview of what dealers can expect in the coming year.
If your business is considering a year-end purchase to apply Section 179, there are a few things you need to know. Here are 10 frequently asked questions – and answers – about Section 179, plus one additional question to consider.
1. What Is Section 179?
Section 179 is designed to encourage small businesses to invest in themselves with equipment purchases by allowing them to take a depreciation deduction in the first year of purchase.
2. Is There a Spending Cap and Total I Can Deduct?
A total spending cap of $2.5 million has been applied to Section 179; once a company hits that amount, purchases become no longer eligible for Section 179 deductions. This year, the deduction limit is $500,000. Tentatively, the current Republican tax bill is planned to increase this to 1 million (which, if passed, would become effective in 2018).
3. I’ve Heard “Bonus Depreciation” Mentioned with Section 179 – What Is It?
Bonus Depreciation is applied after $2 million is reached, at 50%. When a company reaches the $2 million-mark in purchases, the deduction is phased out dollar for dollar. For example, a company that spends 2.1 million may deduct 400,000, a company that spends 2.2 million may deduct 300,000, and so on until the $2.5 million-cap is reached.
4. Is Bonus Depreciation Expected to Change in the Future?
Through 2017, bonus depreciation is available at 50%. Bonus depreciation will phase down to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.
5. What Qualifies for Section 179?
Tangible, movable items are eligible for Section 179 deduction, including equipment, and some business-use vehicles and software. Assets like additional farm land or a new equipment storage building do not qualify for Section 179 deduction.
6. Is Section 179 Only Applicable to New Equipment Purchases?
Both used machines and leased equipment, in addition to new equipment purchases are eligible for Section 179 deduction.
7. What About Used Equipment in Terms of Bonus Depreciation?
Bonus depreciation cannot be applied to used equipment. Leased equipment, however, is an option. A leased payment can be deducted 100% and 100% of the payment can be depreciated.
8. I’ve Heard the Term “Like-Kind Exchange” – Does That Apply to Section 179?
Yes, it does. By taking advantage of the like-kind exchange, older equipment that has already depreciated can be upgraded, and the Section 179 deduction applied to the trade difference.
9. What’s the Date Range to Apply Section 179 in 2017?
To apply the deduction for tax year 2017, equipment must be financed or purchased between January 1, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2017. Keep in mind any equipment purchases made this year, with the intent to apply Section 179, may already have used the deduction to its full potential.
10. Can I Hold This Year’s Section 179 Deduction Until Next Year?
Yes and there are reasons to consider doing so. For example, a business in a lower tax bracket now, but looking to grow in 2018, might want to hold off on deducting all or a portion of Section 179 until next year.
One additional, important FAQ is also one that will have a different answer for every company: How do I know if Section 179 is right for my business?
With heavy focus on year-end decisions and the Section 179 opportunity, it’s smart to acknowledge it might not be the right decision for your business. If equipment or software isn’t needed, especially if your company can’t really afford it, the deductions and money-saving opportunities likely aren’t enough to justify the investment.
For some companies, however, Section 179 and year-end opportunities might be wise moves. As a bonus, most dealerships offer great prices on equipment this time of year, and that includes used machines and lease options.
When the decision has been made to make a purchase, look to a trusted dealership – one that cares about relationships with partners, not simply selling its most expensive machines and software. The experts at a dealership will help find exactly what fits your needs, and offer service and support long after the sale.
About The Author
Mark Kreps is Vice President of Agriculture Sales with RDO Equipment Co. and based in Moorhead, MN.
When the temperatures drop, hibernation is not an option for your fleet of equipment. It’s essential to keep your machines running efficiently during the winter season. Here are some maintenance tips to combat the cold.
Cold Start Aid Check: Make sure your heating elements (block heater, diesel-fired coolant heater, or glow plugs) are installed and functioning. For equipment configured with an ether injection system, confirm the ether canister is full and system is operating correctly.
Oil Change: Review the oil viscosity recommendation chart in your operator’s manual to find out which oil type is best for the temperatures you will be operating in. Lighter oil makes cold starting easier and protects the engine, hydraulics, and powertrain from wear and tear during initial start-up and system warm up.
Grease Up: grease your machine when it is warmer to reduce the amount of time you spend braving the elements when the weather turns cold.
Fuel Fix: Use a winter-grade diesel fuel, as this type has additives that prevent it from gelling in cold temperatures. Remember to use fresh fuel filters (ask your fuel supplier for the fuel cloud point, when the fuel will start to gel).
Examine the Electrical: Ensure the vehicle electrical system is fully charged, as damage can occur if the battery goes dead and freezes. Load test the batteries; inspect the battery cables for wear and/or corrosion, and check the batteries electrolyte level.
Cab heater: Confirm the cab heating system is operational to keep the operator warm and comfortable. Inspect and clean and/or replace the cab filters to ensure proper air flow.
When the Cold Hits:
Warm Up: Allow your vehicle to warm up for the standard 5-10 minutes prior to operating.
Heat Helps: There are a variety of different cold start aids that can help get your machine up and running quickly in the cold:
Electric Block Heater – If your machine is near an electrical outlet, this type of heater easily plugs in with an extension cord and heats up the coolant in-stream (visually inspect the code for wear and test for continuity)
o Diesel-Fired Coolant Heater – If you are operating in a remote area, this option functions on its own, using onboard diesel fuel and the vehicle’s electrical system to heat the coolant.
o Glow Plugs – These are standard in many pieces of equipment. These elements heat up when you key on and heat the combustion chamber during the wait and crank period making it easier for the cold fuel to ignite and engine to start. When starting with glow plugs remember to turn the key to the run position and wait for the indicator before attempting to start the vehicle.
o Ether – Large engines typically have ether canisters that pipe the combustible gas into the intake when you turn the ignition, helping to ignite the fuel air mixture inside the engine.
Regeneration Reassurance: John Deere IT4 and FT4 machines are equipped with active and passive regeneration that keeps the diesel particulate filters (DPF) clean and efficient. This does not change even in cold temperatures and low-use situations. The after-treatment system is engineered to create its own heat to regenerate automatically, regardless of how hard you are working the vehicle or how cold it is outside; regeneration in cold weather is business as usual.
DEF Do’s and Don’ts: John Deere FT4 engines >75hp use Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) to meet emission regulations while minimizing fluid consumption and delivering exceptional performance. DEF begins to freeze at 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 Celsius). Fortunately, freezing will not affect uptime on your equipment at all, as the system is designed to thaw the DEF upon startup with no impact on operation while thawing takes place. Also, repeated freezing and thawing does not harm the makeup of the DEF. When storing DEF outside the vehicle, be sure to keep it in a place that remains above freezing to ensure it can be dispensed when needed.
Winter Windows: Scrape ice and frost off of the machine’s windows prior to operating to ensure visibility is clear on all sides
For more information on winter uptime strategies or to schedule winter service for your equipment, contact your local RDO Equipment Co. store.
A Single Solution for Slope Management
It’s the anticipation of layering up and making the trek to the mountain. The feeling of stepping into ski bindings or strapping on a board. The excitement of the first chairlift ride from the base to the top. And the rush of flying down the mountain over freshly groomed snow.
Whether it’s vacationers who take one trip a year or locals who hit the powder several times in the season, ski hills and mountain resorts are the preferred destination of many adventure-seekers.
For those tasked with managing and maintaining these resorts, every day may seem like just another day in paradise. However, the planning and precision that goes into opening a resort for the first time each year and keeping it in prime condition throughout the season is no small task. Providing the best ski experience ensures repeat lift ticket sales and growth for years to come. Among the best ways to provide that is with GPS technology.
In recent years, ski resorts have experienced lower and lower volumes of snow and, each season, are opening later and closing earlier. The days of relying on Mother Nature to supply endless amounts of snow are no longer the norm and, now more than ever, this precious resource must be managed with the best technology available. When it comes to snowmaking, simply guessing how much snow is needed is no longer an option to stay competitive.
The newest offering from RDO Integrated Controls is for those professionals who own, operate, and maintain ski resorts. As a dealer of Topcon GPS technology and the new, exclusive dealer of ARENA SlopeManagement software, RDO Integrated Controls is pairing the two to provide a solution to enhance quality, improve efficiency, and lead to more cost-effective operation and maintenance of hills and mountains.
How it Works
A proven technology used in the Alps and Scandinavia for years, the ARENA SlopeManagement system is a cloud-based software that works with Topcon GPS on any snowcat snow mover or groomer, including Bombardier, PistenBully, Prinoth and Tucker machines, making it ideal for ski areas with mixed fleets. Using real-time GPS position data, the system tracks and displays snow depths relative to a map of the ski area.
The benefits of the ARENA and Topcon solution are primarily realized in three key aspects of ski hill and mountain management – snowmaking, grooming, and terrain parks.
Grooming and Snow Height
Every day, long before the first skier or rider hits the mountain, the runs are prepped to ensure all enjoy the best experience.
Using Topcon GPS technology that sends data to the ARENA software, snowcat operators can see exactly where they are relative to the entire mountain map. A special feature in the software tracks the operator’s path with color to see where he or she has been, as well as positions of other snowcats across the mountain. Not only does this ensure coverage of all trails, it eliminates the wasted time, effort, and cost of grooming the same area twice. The maps also show snow depths allowing operators to precisely fill any low areas or groom down areas that are too high.
An added benefit of the system is operator safety. Maps include trees, towers, and other infrastructure on the mountain, obstacles that, depending on the amount of daylight and current weather conditions, the operator may not be able to see until it’s too late. By seeing their position on the map, relative to the entire mountain and all obstacles, operators can safely avoid crashes, damage, and personal injury.
Whether it’s gearing up to open a resort for the year, filling in for lack of snowfall during the year, or stretching out the season a few extra days, nearly all resorts make snow. Operating costs include water and electricity to make snow, as well as fuel and labor costs for operators to move it. Without precise data-driven info detailing how much and exactly where snow is needed, there’s potential for wasted materials and cost.
The same maps that show snowcat operators where they’ve been on the mountain during the day can be used to accurately plan for the next day’s snow needs. As the snowcat moves across the mountain, it’s continuously sending data to the ARENA software about snow depth and location. Color-coding can be preset to a resort’s desired depths, giving a clear visual of precise snow depths across the mountain, including high and low areas.
Managers can take this data to see exactly where and how much snow is needed for the next day, and plan for each snow gun to create an optimum amount. The software can even generate a prescription, as detailed as how many gallons of water are needed to achieve the gun’s desired amount of snow and send it directly to the unit.
A feature enjoyed by more advanced skiers and riders, terrain parks have become a staple at nearly every resort, from the smallest Midwest hills to the largest mountain region getaways. In fact, many resorts feature numerous terrain parks scattered across the mountains, offering both beginners and advanced participants an option to catch air and land tricks.
One of the challenges of offering terrain parks is their consistency – day to day and year over year. Those responsible for building them often start from scratch every year with designing and creating, what should be the same park as the previous year.
By using the ARENA and Topcon solution, an exact replica of the previous year’s park can be created for the next year, with less time and effort to design and build. On a daily basis, the operator is able to record and calculate snow volume in the park while grooming, ensuring consistency every day.
By offering the ARENA SlopeManagement software paired with Topcon GPS, RDO Integrated Controls is bringing this proven technology to the U.S. for the first time. On top of the primary benefits, the functionality of the system also offers a natural opportunity for fleet tracking and management. As owners collect data from the snowcats, better optimize snowmaking equipment, and have a clearer overall picture of the process every day, they can make data-driven decisions on everything from preventative maintenance schedules to adding more snowcat machines to the fleet.
In addition to the sale of the system, RDO Integrated Controls offers complete after-sale support through its team of service technicians and Solutions Center. Service technicians are available for onsite troubleshooting and repairs, while the Solutions Center is a team of experts, based in Billings, MT, offering world-class phone support on everything from software activation to historical database support issues.
The skid steer. Versatile and reliable, it’s a jobsite staple, whether your business is concrete, landscaping, or general construction. For as much as this small yet mighty machine can do, imagine making it even more productive. Enter Level Best.
Specifically designed to work with the push-pull motion of skid steers, the Level Best PD Series attachment is a grading blade that essentially turns a skid steer into a high-accuracy grading machine that rivals the work of larger dozers and graders.
How It Works
The Level Best attachment works seamlessly with the on-site horizontal laser reference alongside highly-accurate satellite measurements that establish vertical reference points. The system reads the grade and makes dozens of adjustments per second, offering accuracy to 1/10 of an inch.
RDO Integrated Controls combines the Level Best attachment with the Topcon laser system, and it can also be upgraded to fully-automated 3D GPS or mmGPS. The system is compatible with most skid steers, including new and pre-owned John Deere models offered at numerous RDO Equipment Co. locations.
By pairing Level Best with proven Topcon technology, RDO Integrated Controls is bringing this unique attachment to companies looking for opportunities to diversify, save on labor, trim costs, and, ultimately, win more jobs.
Level Best produces highly-accurate results and requires just one person to operate. Companies, especially those without the means to own and operate large road or motor graders, can take on projects without tying up multiple workers grading by hand.
Furthermore, the system is easy to set up, training is quick, and the Level Best attachment requires very little maintenance, saving even more time and labor on a day-to-day basis.
Perhaps the greatest advantage offered by Level Best, by adding the attachment to an existing skid steer, a company is now in position to do more grading projects or diversify into tasks outside its primary business.
One of the biggest industries RDO Integrated Controls has seen customers realizing the opportunities of Level Best are small to midsize concrete contractors. Many of these businesses don’t have the means or justification to purchase larger grading or machine control equipment, but they do have or have the means to purchase, a skid steer. Level Best allows them to do a variety of projects like concrete subgrade, curbs, sidewalks, and parking lots with just one operator and a skid steer. It also offers the opportunity to enter the machine control arena without a major investment.
Landscapers, general contractors, golf course and other sports field managers, and even farmers and large property owners are also ideal candidates for added opportunity from the Level Best attachment, as it’s ideal for projects like parks and sports fields, footings and building pads, spreading rock and gravel, and several landscape and property management tasks.
The bottom line of Level Best comes down to, well, the bottom line. In addition to trimming costs from labor savings and increasing profit potential by winning more jobs with diversification opportunities, the Level Best saves on ownership and operation costs that come with larger dozers and graders.
Furthermore, the accuracy provided by the Level Best and Topcon system eliminates costly rework. It also allows companies to better control and manage material costs.
From parking lot pads and snow management to golf course tee boxes and farming tasks, the Level Best PD Series attachment takes a productive skid steer and expands its use even further to several different projects and industries.
Not only is the system available to purchase from RDO Integrated Controls, the company offers complete after-sale support through its team of service technicians and Solutions Center. Service technicians are available for onsite help, while the Solutions Center is a Billings, MT-based team of experts offering world-class phone support, troubleshooting, and other assistance.
Vermeer’s PD10 Pile Driver and Carlson’s PDGrade Machine Guidance Create a Unique Solution
Vermeer’s PD10 Pile Driver and Carlson’s PDGrade Machine Guidance Create a Unique Solution for the Solar Industry
Look around and you’ll see innovation is alive and well in the construction industry, particularly in solar field construction. Not only is this a new segment of the construction and energy sectors, the tools and technology used to build these hubs of solar energy are improving.
In an effort with two of its equipment partners, Carlson and Vermeer, the RDO Integrated Controls team had a vision for how they could make a key part of this specialized construction job more accurate and efficient – and they did something about it.
As a dealer of both Vermeer machines and Carlson solutions, the RDO team began to recognize the opportunities of paring the PD10 with a GPS offering from Carlson.
While the PD10 did its job – and did it well – the process of post-driving on solar projects was a bit time and labor-intensive. Solar field projects vary greatly in size, some requiring a few hundred piles, others requiring a few hundred-thousand piles. It’s also a process that allows little room for error with a traditional method leaving too much room for error.
A New System
The traditional pile-driving method for construction of a solar field has three main steps:
1. Prior to the project start, a surveyor stakes the area and designates the locations for every pile.
2. String line is continually – and manually – placed along the way to give the pile driver operator a gauge for remaining aligned.
3. After all piles are placed, the racking system that will eventually house the solar panels is brought out and fitted on the piles.
Depending on the racking type and size of the project, one rack could be placed on several piles, a point that, according to Tom Potter, Regional Sales Manager for RDO Integrated Controls, really demonstrated the need for absolute precision in pile placement.
“These racking systems don’t offer much flexibility in adjustment,” he said. “The piles are plotted out to fit within the area of the racking systems. If even one pile in a group is slightly off in placement, the rack may not fit.” Not just horizontal alignment, Tom explained height of the piles is key too in allowing proper mounting for the racking system. In either situation, if a pile is out of alignment or driven too deep, it’s a very time and labor-intensive process to fix.
The RDO teams realized that marrying the PD10 pile driver with a GPS system not only would eliminate the time and efforts of a manual survey, and the potential for human error, it would create a process that was repeatable and consistent across an entire field. This would open opportunity for cost savings in reduced labor required after piles are driven – because all piles would be accurately placed, it would be easier for laborers to do their jobs.
While the benefits seemed clear and obvious, Tom and the team knew the bottom line would be the real driving factor – no pun intended – in selling this idea of a joint system to Carlson and Vermeer. So, they calculated the average costs savings of using this system to be approximately $2.85 per pile. Furthering their case, discussions with partner Vermeer dealer in Australia, the team discovered the costs savings were closer to $8 per pile there.
“Considering these solar fields vary from a few hundred piles to a few hundred thousand, it’s easy to see how the cost savings add up and how quickly RTO can be recaptured.”
After thorough discussions with team members on the RDO Equipment Co. side, Tom was ready to bring the idea to Vermeer and Carlson. Both were open to the idea, and collaboration, design, and engineering – which included Vermeer opening up the PD10’s CANBUS technology to Carlson and RDO Integrated Controls – began. Several rounds of testing followed and the system was ready to go to market in December 2016.
A Perfect Pair
The PD10 now features the option to integrate any GPS system, and Carlson has officially launched its system, PDGrade Machine Guidance for Pile Driving. Designed specifically for use with the PD10, the product combines specialized software with a GNSS sensor.
While the RDO teams have successfully marketed and sold several systems already, before they ramp up efforts to introduce this system to more solar customers, they all agree there’s tremendous value in other Vermeer dealers offering it first. One of the major reasons why is the system offers a new way of doing a task on a type of project that’s still fairly new itself.
“In our industry, very few people want to be the first to try something. It’s not that they’re resistant of the technology, most simply don’t have the time to feel like they’re testing something new,” Tom explained. “But what contractors might not realize is that our system has been extensively tested. As more dealers offer the PD10 and PDGrade system, we feel it will demonstrate to customers that it is ready to get to work on the jobsite.”
When that time of greater adaptation arrives, the RDO team will be ready. They’ve spent numerous hours and efforts on training to be sure they’re 100% poised to support the system for all customers. They’re also ready to pass on that knowledge to dealers.
RDO Integrated Controls has the exclusive rights with Carlson to sell the PDGrade system in North America. Vermeer dealers interested in offering the PD10 with PDGrade system are encouraged to contact the RDO Integrated Controls team.
Growth and diversification – not only are these two words that carry positive association in the business world, they’re often two of the top goals companies strive to achieve. Oftentimes, and in the case of PBS Engineering and Environmental Inc., they also go hand-in-hand with building a business.
PBS Engineering and Environmental Inc.
Based in Portland, Oregon, PBS offers professional services across its footprint that includes 11 locations in Idaho and Washington, as well as the Beaver State.
Throughout the past 35 years, PBS has grown and diversified in locations, as well as services, going beyond its roots in environmental, and health and safety, to various areas of engineering, natural resources, and consulting. Among the services it provides today is surveying – both traditional land surveying and the company’s newest offering, UAS surveying.
Unmanned aerial systems technology has grown rapidly throughout the past few years and, in the surveying industry, has proven itself as a practical option when terrain, time, or other unique jobsite factors pose challenges to traditional surveying methods.
But just as PBS’ growth and diversification have been thoughtful and planned since the company formed in 1982, it wasn’t on a whim or an overnight decision that led to expanding survey offerings to include drones. It started as an area of opportunity and continued after finding the right expert – UAS specialist, Derrick Westoby.
An Emerging Business
For about three years, Derrick owned and operated a UAS services company. Working with a small team made up of himself, an agronomist and a chief pilot, Derrick’s company offered survey and mapping work via drones to customers primarily in northeast Oregon and central Washington.
Early on in his company, Derrick connected with Mike Blondeau, account manager with RDO Integrated Controls, an authorized senseFly drone dealer, and UAS technology services company. Derrick recalls meeting Mike, “Right off the bat, I liked him. He was upfront and honest about what drones could do and, more importantly, what they couldn’t do.”
Rather than deliver a canned marketing message or sales pitch, Mike and Derrick had a conversation about drones, including some of the challenges business owners face when looking to implement UAS technology. While his company was focused primarily on agricultural customers, Derrick saw great potential in the professional engineer and surveying world and was seeking a firm to partner with. Mike and RDOI Integrated Controls brought a background in the industry to the table, offering themselves as a resource that would equip Derrick with the tools needed to explore these new possibilities.
From Mike’s point of view, the connection came naturally. “I wanted to help Derrick understand the value in our offerings, and also help him be able to show deliverables and specifics with what he was doing,” he said.
Derrick later began seeking out local engineering firms that he could add value to with his UAS services. In the process, one that caught Derrick’s eye, due to its progressive approach to technology, was PBS.
Partnering for Success
After demonstrating drone capabilities to PBS’ surveyors, there was enough interest in UAS technology that PBS decided, not only to move ahead with a dedicated UAS surveying program but also to bring Derrick on board full-time to lead the effort. As the lead of the new UAS surveying program at PBS, Derrick would be responsible for every aspect including flight planning, ensuring safety and compliance, and data quality management.
In the summer of 2016, PBS worked with Derrick to initiate several pilot studies on existing projects by incorporating the use of UAS for orthomosaic photogrammetry. The initial proof of concept was encouraging. As the testing progressed, the firm began to realize the efficiencies that could be gained from integrating UAS technology into their toolbox.
Derrick’s second order of business was to purchase equipment necessary to do the job. He had familiarity with the senseFly eBee, a fixed-wing drone, from prior discussions with Mike. Because he understood very well how the eBee could be used, as well as its limitations, Derrick included an eBee purchase in his program rollout proposal. From the start, he was also an advocate of the RDO Solutions Center UAV Support Team, a group of UAS experts available to provide troubleshooting and other help to customers.
“The eBee was our first drone in the PBS UAS Program and has already allowed us to get business we may not have otherwise,” Derrick said. He continued, citing one example of a recent road project. This particular project required land survey over terrain that was hallmarked by several rock overhangs, which would have made traditional surveying nearly impossible.
“One of the things that made the eBee a good fit was the terrain following feature,” he said. Thanks to sensing software, the eBee was able to detect when it came close to the face of a cliff, “within approximately 130 feet,” according to Derrick. When it reached that point, the system’s failsafe triggered and the drone elevated itself to fly above the cliff.
The team used the aerial imagery collected from the survey to create a 3D model, which was key to successful completion of the project.
The partnership between senseFly and Skyward has also helped Derrick streamline his workflow for flights. "We started using Skyward because we needed a simple way to plan and log flights," Derrick said. " Skyward fits the bill perfectly. We're able to plan a flight, check the airspace map, and maintain a log of aircraft and pilot hours. They've found the balance between functionality and efficiency, which is what commercial UAS operators need."
Skyward’s digital airspace map lets drone pilots see where it’s safe to fly. In addition to showing controlled airspace and permanent restricted areas, the map also reflects current and future temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) so pilots can better plan their operations and ensure compliance with FAA regulations. As for flight logging, the software tracks the total recorded hours for pilots and aircraft as well as storing maintenance records and documentation in the digital library.
Skyward Co-President Jonathan Evans explained how Skyward is perfectly suited to PBS. “We built Skyward to offer a set of tools for this new generation of aviators—people like Derrick who needed a way to manage a safe and efficient program as he expanded from a proof of concept to an operation spanning multiple offices, pilots, and use cases.”
While more and more companies are researching and adopting UAS technology every day, the PBS approach is unique in the broad scope they use it, from aerial imagery and video to creating 3D models, and generating surface meshes and contour lines. Invested in future of this area of service, the company recently expanded its drone line up with four multirotor-style aircraft for small jobsites.
As unique as the UAS Surveying division is, Derrick is quick to point out that PBS isn’t offering a new service per se; rather, the team is using UAS technology to support what it’s already doing, improving the product and efficiency along the way.
Derrick recognizes and is excited about the potential of UAS technology, in surveying and beyond. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons he was drawn to joining PBS. “There are so many ways we can use drones in our business,” he said. “And we’re continuing to develop and refine new applications every day.”
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.