Farmers must be ready to plant and harvest when conditions are just right. If their equipment is working, they’ll have a chance to make money. If their equipment isn’t working, they can lose money. Fast. That’s why John Deere’s Expert Alerts tool is critical to farmers’ profitability.
Deere launched Expert Alerts in 2017. The tool gathers JDLink data — data sent wirelessly from John Deere machines — notifies dealers of potential machine issues, and generates a recommendation for the dealer to address these issues. That early diagnosis allows Deere dealers to service the machines proactively, which increases uptime and therefore increases efficiency and profitability for farmers.
In the U.S. and Canada, the Expert Alerts tool is producing outstanding results. In the European Union, the story is different.
In 2018, the EU imposed the General Data Privacy Regulation. The GDPR, as the regulation is commonly known, is intended to protect the data and privacy of all EU citizens, which is good. What isn’t good is that the regulation also prevents Deere from receiving machine-specific telematics data.
“I think one of the biggest obstacles I found when I came here is the GDPR — I had days when it was really driving me crazy.” That’s Piotr Grabinski, the product support data analyst whose mission is to find a way to collect telematics data in the EU without subverting the protective intent of that regulation.
A Start in the Auto Industry
Grabinski’s own story begins in Poland. He was born in the small town of Pyrzyce, about 20 miles from the Oder, and went to primary and secondary school there. Later, he moved to Poznań, about midway between Warsaw and Berlin.
“I studied working machines and transportation at Politechnika Poznańska — the Poznań University of Technology,” said Grabinski. “My masters thesis was about understanding the complete electrohydraulic steering system of an automatic transmission from a BMW 5-series and building a complete training manual, including schematics. If I was born again, I would go into mechanical engineering.”
While at the university, Grabinski met two students who would play significant roles in his life. The first, a logistics student, was the woman he would marry not long after graduating. The second was a man who would give him his first job as a diagnostic technician after completing his studies.
“I was responsible for diagnosing and fixing transmissions,” Grabinski said. “Once a failed transmission was diagnosed, the transmission was taken out and moved to the lab, where I had to repair it and make the car run again.”
Grabinski learned a lot, but saw limited opportunities for professional development, so in 2007 he began looking for a new job. He responded to an advertisement for a product support representative at the John Deere branch in Poznań. Up to that time, Grabinski had been a stranger to Deere.
“I knew John Deere only from toys,” he laughed. “I remember tractors and combines were green and had yellow wheels. I could recognize a car from two kilometers away by looking at the shape of the mirror or from the sound of the engine, but I was never looking in the fields because I was so focused on cars.”
That changed when he got his first job with Deere.
“I was in customer service,” said Grabinski. “It’s tough because you deal mainly with complaints, but I find this department one of the most exciting. Every day is different. Every failure is different.”
In the automotive industry, Grabinski noted, the customer delivers his car to the dealer, who then shuts the door. The customer doesn’t see anything.
“In agriculture, in most cases the customer is standing right behind you, looking at what you’re doing, so it’s a completely different way of doing service and support,” Grabinski said. “And once a customer’s tractor has been down for a couple of hours and then is starting to move again, you know it’s because you did something right. That’s the fun of working for product support.”
After 10 years at John Deere’s Polish branch, having advanced from product support representative to area service manager for northwest Poland, Grabinski felt he was ready for a new challenge. His timing was perfect.
The EU had recently imposed the GDPR, and Deere was looking for a way to adapt. John Deere Mannheim Works in southwest Germany recruited Grabinski.
“They asked if I would travel to Germany with my family to work in the tractor platform,” Grabinski said. “I had lots of discussions with my wife and our two young daughters.”
Even though Poland and Germany are contiguous, the move would require significant adjustments.
“The biggest barrier is language because German is so different from Polish,” Grabinski said. “The good thing about southern Germany, though, is that everyone speaks English. This definitely helped my family to overcome this new life situation.”
A blank sheet of paper
Grabinski arrived in Mannheim in April 2018 as Deere’s product support data analyst.
“The position was brand new, so nobody knew exactly what I would be responsible for,” Grabinski said. “But I found that was good because when you receive a completely blank sheet of paper, you really start everything from nothing. You’re responsible for building the structures and the processes for supporting tractor telematics.”
Moving his family to a foreign country, meeting dozens of new people, and fitting into a new role were big challenges for Grabinski. But not as big as the GDPR.
Deere’s Global Director – Tractor Platform Chris Davison said, “In the U.S. and Canada, we’ve been successful at leveraging information from machines to notify customers when a failure is imminent and there’s still time to fix it.”
Think of a more comprehensive and sophisticated version of the oil, gas, and tire pressure alerts on your car.
“We assigned Piotr to implement this for tractors manufactured in Mannheim,” said Davison. “He immediately ran into a roadblock: the new EU data consent laws. But Piotr collaborated with different teams and developed automating tools, consent forms, ways to turn off the transmission of data if customers change equipment. It blows my mind how many obstacles he has overcome.”
Educating the EU
One of the obstacles was general awareness.
“I think my biggest role here is to try to coach people on really using all the benefits of JDLink,” said Grabinski, “not only for the tractor platform at the factory, but also for our customers and our dealers. As a company, we have to be able to translate what exactly is the value of having connected machines.”
That value is, in a word, uptime. And using JDLink is the key to increasing uptime.
Since 2014, all large Deere tractors manufactured in the U.S. have included JDLink as standard equipment. Not so in the EU. For tractors manufactured in Mannheim, JD Link is still an option, and in the hyper-competitive European market, the incremental expense of adding JDLink can be a hard sell.
This means Deere first has to educate customers on the potential value of the JDLink system in reducing downtime and then persuade them to authorize Deere to look at their telematics.
“I was working with Giulio Tosato and Georg Larscheid to develop a consent form for customers, which is allowing us to actually receive data from their machines in JDLink and compare that with other data sources,” Grabinski said. “We already have released the consent form for all European countries. Today, around 5 percent of customers are consenting, but I believe this rate eventually will go up to about 50 percent or higher.”
He hopes JD Link will become standard equipment on larger tractors over the next few years, just as it already is in the U.S.
Deere dealerships also must be onboard. There are several benefits for dealers, including being able to see trouble codes and diagnose problems remotely, which increases their efficiency.
“Some dealers — mostly located in the UK, France or Spain, as well as in southeast Europe — know what JDLink means to them and they are promoting it,” Grabinski said, “but there are a lot of countries and also dealers in the EU that are still reluctant because they have to completely shift the way they operate to a 100 percent proactive approach.”
Grabinski, along with teammates Andreas Worschech, Neseer Al Talakani, Titli Das, and Andrew Wille, also had to equip Deere’s Mannheim factory to see the data coming in from machines.
They’ve set up the Mannheim Monitoring Center, which features four 65-inch screens. It’s the Mannheim factory’s version of the NASA control center. The screens show where tractors are running and are updated daily. They also display fleet health status in the form of a heat map of all the alerts that have occurred in Deere machines over the previous five days.
“We review this heat map first-thing every morning to see if we have had any new trouble codes that could mean new failure modes or a new type of failure in general and make sure everyone is aware,” Grabinski said. “In the past, we were waiting for a warranty claim to come in to make the factory aware of an issue. Now we can be proactive, detect issues faster. And as more customers allow us to see their data, we will get even better.”
The center works so well that Deere may duplicate it in its Waterloo, Iowa, factory. And thanks to Grabinski and the Mannheim Monitoring Center team, Deere has the same first-to-market advantage in the EU that it has in North America.
“And we still have to grow our knowledge on how to build more sophisticated Expert Alerts,” Grabinski said. Greatly supported by the Waterloo large tractor TRACE team and mentored by Deere staffers Joe Schulz and Mike Ryken, he taught himself to understand machine telematics data so he could develop Expert Alerts, which means he is building alerts from scratch. “We are today building our alerts based on trouble codes, which is still a little bit reactive. In the near future, I would like to make all alerts purely prognostic — send recommendations to our dealers on how to fix machines before they fail.”
The future of Expert Alerts
Grabinski has made great progress, but feels he still has a lot of work to do.
“I think I would be finished with my job if all our alerts were 100 percent prognostic,” he said, “so we would be really super-proactive, using machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to detect potential issues.”
For now, though, Grabinski is focused on setting up a robust process, and soon he will codify the process. He and his team are mostly learning by doing, but he plans to define all the steps and create the documentation necessary to prepare a training path for new employees — “going from storm to norm,” as Grabinski described it.
The result of his work is a more robust diagnostic capability, stretching Deere’s lead over competing tractor manufacturers.
“We’re the only ones in the EU delivering this capability from the factory,” said Davison. “No one has the same ability to detect problems proactively. And as the fidelity gets better, we’ll be able to do even more machine learning and better problem-solving.”
Considering his successes at work and his family’s successful adaptation to life in Mannheim, Grabinski might’ve been characterizing his status with his typical understatement when he said, “We feel pretty comfortable in Germany.”