Company: New Holland Fiat India
Technology: M2M (Machine-to-Machine communication)
It’s the first time that a company in India has embedded M2M technology in tractors. From the stables of New Holland Fiat, this GPS-GPRS enabled smart tractor is linked to its ERP.
Surrounded by sparkling golden wheat fields, Sangrur, a district in Punjab, is like a postcard. Its industrious farmers in colourful outfits with their crops adorned by bright red and blue tractors make a stunning picture of one of India’s most vibrant states.
But Sangrur is not just a pretty face. It’s significant for Bed Singh, a farmer, and for the Rs 3,000 crore New Holland Fiat India. Two years ago, both Singh and the company created history when they became part of what perhaps was going to be one of the biggest innovations in the tractor industry: A GPS-GPRS enabled tractor.
From the stables of New Holland Fiat India, this smart tractor—titled SKY WATCH—enables farmers to monitor their tractors’ health and performance for better maintenance, operations, and enhanced productivity. The device gives timely reminders to both the dealer and customer when the time for servicing is due. It tracks the tractor’s location, and can therefore suggest a dealership for service in the vicinity.
It was the first time a company in India had embedded machine-to-machine (M2M) technology on tractors. It was the brainchild of the company’s Director-ICT and Supply Chain-Head Avinash Arora.
The company had a strong reason to move in this direction. New Holland Tractors was a late entrant in India’s farm equipment industry, hence, it was up against well entrenched players who had already carved a niche for themselves. That responsibility fell on IT. And Arora was faced with the task of delivering competitive advantage and customer enhancement.
To that end, Arora built a robust analytics backbone as a supporting infrastructure to the device which was transmitting data from the tractors in real-time and using it to track and monitor their health and performance. The device would measure the rise in fuel levels, water temperature, and the engine oil pressure of the tractor. “The data was further channelled into the company’s ERP platform which, as a result, is helping dealers as well as New Holland to keep track of services provided to our customers,” says Arora. For instance, customers would receive updates on their phones to warn them about the expiry date of the warranty or servicing date of
Another remarkable feature of the implementation is that it can send SMSes to farmers alerting them about their tractors’ functioning. For example, the air filter in a tractor is priced at Rs 2 lakh, which is half of a tractor’s overall cost. Given the environment the tractor is subjected to, choking of the engine is a common problem. “When that happens, the device sends an alert to the backend messaging server, which in turn, sends a message to the mobile phone of the farmer notifying him to take action. Similarly, an alert is sent to him if the tractor’s battery goes below two volts,” says Arora.
Like these small but interesting tweaks to its system, in the course of two years, New Holland’s smart device has undergone several improvements and upgrades.
But for a multinational such as New Holland—with over 21 engineering departments across the globe—rolling out a project this novel wasn’t easy. The company has strict guidelines and processes when it comes to technology innovation in tractors. It took Arora close to a year to convince his central engineering department which initially agreed to sell the M2M communication device equipped with various sensors and SIM modules as an installable feature made available at all dealer outlets. “I was apprehensive that no one would buy the device if it were sold as a separate commodity. That’s why, I insisted that it should be assembled within the tractor at the time of manufacturing,” says Arora.
The novelty of the product blew the management’s mind and it finally relented and recognized the M2M communication device as a precision farming concept which must be embedded into the tractor.
In the next one year, Arora conducted several pilots across India, including difficult terrains such as Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, in order to test the tenacity of the device.
SKY WATCH has also ensured that the company acquires new customers by empowering its dealers. With all the new value-added features, New Holland Fiat India is selling over 300 SKY WATCH-embedded tractors in a month as compared to 20 tractors two years ago. “By the end of 2014, we are expecting to sell over 2,000 tractors,” says Arora.
The company has also introduced four different variants of the tractors in the higher range. In the lower to mid-range, the company plans to embed SKY WATCH into sugarcane harvester machines as well.
Arora, who achieved his ROI in the first 300 tractors that the company sold, is observing clear profits with the help of SKY WATCH. “Going forward, most of the automobiles would require embedded intelligence and that’s where the technology can interact with my computer systems and data analytics in order to obtain meaningful data. This is where the future is,” says Arora.
Arora is still in touch with his first customer, Bed Singh, to whom he sold the first intelligent tractor.