New Systems Streamline Workflow and Reduce Risk

Posted January 1st, 2019 in Publications

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of CropLife magazine.

The most common way retail managers assign jobs to operators in the field is by handing them a paper work order with details about the field, the rate, and the product to apply. The operator manually enters that information into the machine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except for the risk of error. Also, if you need to change the plan, it can be a challenge to coordinate everyone with updated information.

But it does take time, and often the operator will take short cuts in entering the details that lead to gaps in record keeping later on.

“While you might have a specific product or blend on the work order, the operator is likely to enter something like ‘Fert,’” says Josh Skanderup, Product Manager at Raven Applied Technology. “On the display in the cab, it’s going to say ‘Fert’ at this specific rate. We also see a lot of ‘Product 1’ as a default.” Sound familiar? Skanderup says when paper records were kept, that was acceptable, because the paper ticket with the details would be filed and recorded.

“That was the truth, whatever was on that paper,” he says. “But with automated systems, that file is going to come back from the machine and just say ‘Fert’ or ‘Product 1.’ Then it needs to be updated manually after the fact, and if that even happens, often the details are lost or forgotten.”

Tools to Simplify Job Entry

There are a number of benefits to having jobs entered in one place and then sent to the operator in the field — saving time, reducing risk of error, and more accurate record keeping. If the details regarding rates and inputs are entered in one location and sent to the machine, there is no redundancy in entering or updating data later. There is no more “Fert.”

Raven’s solution is Job Generator, in which jobs are pre-populated and viewed by anyone who needs the information: Drivers, blenders, and operators.

“Job Generator was developed because of a real need,” Skanderup says. “There is a trend toward consolidation of locations, so you have fewer people running more equipment over a larger area. This tool allows you to build a job using an Rx map or a straight rate at the beginning and add the field, all the products, and the rates. You name the job or give it a work order number — whatever is relevant to you. If you need to phone someone in a cab, you know they are looking at the same job you are.” Additional benefits include the ability to draw field boundaries and entry points.

Field Traffic Control

Once the jobs are generated, Job Sync allows collaboration between all participants. When the job is started, Job Sync streams the coverage live.

One example of how collaboration works is if you have two or more machines that need to work in the same field on the same job, but they are not there at the same time. Low spots in the field may be wet in the spring, so the first operator applies fertilizer only on the higher areas. A few weeks later someone returns to finish the job with a different machine, and they need to see the other machine’s coverage. With Job Sync, all the coverage on that field is stored virtually and is available to all machines at all times.

Skanderup says collaboration is one benefit to this system; risk reduction is another.

“One customer had a situation where they had a high-pressure job with a customer who was very- important to them,” he says. “The manager personally oversaw it; they went to the field and did everything right. Then they left.

“What wasn’t factored in was the prescription map was sent to more than one operator. The other operator that received the same job — not a pre-populated job like we mentioned earlier — went in the field and applied everything again. It was an expensive mistake. If the job came through a solution like Job Sync, the operator might still have gone to the field, but as soon as he opened the job, he would have seen that everything was already covered.”

Tracking and logistics are another important part of Job Sync, says Skanderup. As jobs are happening, progress can be viewed on the web. As the day progresses and things change, it can really help with logistics and planning.

“We realize you’re not going to stare at the map all day,” Skanderup says. “But you can check in to see when jobs are begun and completed and where everybody is without making a lot of phone calls.”

Integration with Existing Programs is Underway

While both Job Generator and Job Sync work seamlessly with the Slingshot® web portal, the Slingshot® application program interface (API) program also enables other systems. Most companies already have software systems that handle work orders and contain field maps.

“Our intent is not to just give you one more place you have to enter information,” Skanderup says. “If you can already generate a job on other software, we can piggyback off that process. Job Generator would automatically create that job as well and send it to the machine. If you already have field maps in place, we’re not saying you have to do it all in again in Slingshot.”

Job Generator and Job Sync were just launched this fall, and feedback from customers has been positive. Skanderup says those who have tried it are putting it on all of their machines next year. Customer demand is high because of the ability to streamline processes and reduce risk, but no one wants to enter information all over again. Many of Raven’s software partners are working to incorporate communication with these new programs into their own systems.

“Our goal is to make these programs available to existing software providers, so they can use it with their own systems,” Skanderup says. “A value with Slingshot is to work well with how customers already do their business, not to dictate how we think they should do it. We want to integrate to make it easier, not add new steps.”