Nebraska Engineering Company (NECO), a division of Global Industries, Inc., is a specialized agricultural equipment engineering and manufacturing company in North Omaha, NE that provides high-value grain dryers, grain handling, and aeration equipment for agricultural customers worldwide.
At NECO, “Giving you great gains for your grains…” isn’t just a tagline. By intimately understanding their customers’ business, NECO has put a connected technology system in place that completely evolves farmers’ business operations.
Today’s grain producers demand efficient solutions for drying, handling, and conditioning—and for good reason. Grain drying operations are vital to farmers and customers who store grains.
“A grain dryer may only run for two months, or even two weeks out of the year, but it’s a critical part of operations. Our customers absolutely cannot afford grain dryer downtime,” said Travis Toline, NECO Engineering Manager. “They need the capability to know the grain dryer’s status at all times. At the same time, our customers can’t afford to have someone at the dryer at all of the time to ensure it is doing what it is supposed to do.”
If a grain dryer goes down, operations can come to a complete halt.
According to Lee Goldhorn, Manager of Dealer Development and Technical Support at NECO, some farmers have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in this commodity. “Historically, this time of year, operators would sit out by their dryer all night long because this piece of equipment supports all of their operations. Farmers can’t sleep at night or even have dinner without worrying about their dryer,” Goldhorn explained.
With this knowledge, NECO set out to create a remote management system that supports grain dryer operations in order to evolve their business and their customers’ business.
“Remote access and control was the next step in offering the best product to our customers,” said Goldhorn.
To achieve this level of access, the NECO team knew they needed to create a system, starting with hardware products that could utilize the communication links that were already in the field. Today, each grain dryer is equipped with a ConnectPort® X4 Gateway. The ConnectPort® X4 Gateway collects live data from NECO Commander PLC Dryer Control and sends that data to Digi Remote Manager built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2. Digi Remote Manager then passes the information to NECO’s custom web application, COMMANDnet, so it’s easily accessible and actionable for farmers, dealers and NECO.
With the remote management system in place, farmers don’t have to be near the grain dryer to know its condition. They receive text and email alerts and can login to the application from their smartphone, tablet or computer to analyze operations.
“In some cases, it has allowed customers to cut labor by 30%, because they don’t have to have resources at the dryer dedicated to monitoring its status,” Goldhorn says.
NECO’s dryers typically dry corn, wheat, barley, oats and soybeans. Traditionally, farmers dry product down to approximately 15% for long-term storage. This allows the customer to take it to market when prices are most desirable. If prices change quickly, a farmer could miss a great opportunity. Today, the technology enables NECO’s customers to change the process from wherever they’re at.
NECO’s customers can look at live data and make remote adjustments to the drying temperatures, outlet moisture set point and metering role speed as well as stop the dryer remotely. And, NECO dealers and the NECO team can support customers by troubleshooting issues and installing Commander Control program updates remotely.
In the past, when there were issues with grain dryers internationally, it was common for a dealer or NECO technician to get on a plane and visit the customer in person to find and fix the problem. Today, the team can tap into the machine remotely to find and address issues and install updates if necessary.
Dealers can reduce the number of drive-to calls, and it’s possible for this service to become a new revenue stream in the near future. Dealers are able to offer their customers a new level of performance and service. “In the case that a machine does need service, the remote support can pay for the COMMANDnet service itself in just a couple of service calls,” Toline said.
Today, NECO’s customers have hundreds of connected dryers out in the field. While farmers are able to optimize their operations—not to mention sleep at night without worrying about their dryer—NECO continues to work to improve the business of their customers, while improving the product. They’re adding additional features to the COMMANDnet, such as adding language translations for international customers as well as continuously improving the customer experience.