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Agriculture Technology Podcast Ep. 161: How Technology is Changing the Landscape for Service Technicians

27 Jan 2022

Emma Westman's passion runs deep for the ag industry and her role as a Service Technician.

Growing up on a farm, Emma saw first-hand the role equipment maintenance and upkeep played in her family's operation and is what led her to pursue her education in diesel mechanics.

Our latest episode takes a look at the role of a Service Technician in today's technological-advanced equipment.


You can find past podcast episodes by visiting our Podcast website

Have precision ag questions? We have the answers. Find a specific channel dedicated to answering your precision technology questions: Precision Ag Answers 


View the entire transcript here:

I'm Tony Kramer with RDO Equipment Company. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Agriculture Technology podcast.

Tony: Hello, and welcome back to the show. This is episode number 161. In this episode, we are going to talk with Emma Westman, a service technician for RDO Equipment Company, about working in a male dominant field and how technology is changing the landscape of the service technician world.

Emma, welcome to the show. To get started, tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you got involved in the industry.

Emma Westman: Tony, thank you so much for having me. I really, really appreciate being here and I'm honored to be on your show today.

My name is Emma Westman. I'm a diesel technician for RDO Equipment Company. I have been working for RDO for two and a half years, and I've been employed as a diesel mechanic with John Deere dealerships for five years.

I went to MSU Northern and got my four-year Diesel degree. I also got a two-year in Ag Mechanics and a four-year in Equipment Management. That's my background within the diesel world to this day.

Tony: Okay. Diesel technician, I got to ask the question. You're obviously a female in a male dominant industry or male dominant field. I mean today, diesel technicians, service technicians, most of them are men. Now, why did you become a diesel technician? What drove you to this career path?

Emma: It's definitely pretty interesting how I got to this field itself, but it was also pretty natural evolution at the same time. I have always had a passion for Ag, but when I was working on farms and ranches, there was always- we relied so heavily on our equipment. I wanted to get a bachelor's degree. There was just so many things that I wanted to accomplish and I figured out how to do that through getting my four-year Diesel degree. It was a little bit hard to break into the diesel industry without that degree.

I wanted to give diesel a shot, but I didn't know if I would love it or if I would truly want it to be a career field of mine, but I wanted to give it a shot. I did, and it has been the most rewarding career. I'm so happy every day that I get to be a part of it.

Tony: That's one of the things I want to ask is, you obviously have a passion for diesel mechanics and agriculture. You talked about working on farms and ranches in the past, and upkeep and maintenance of the machines is a very big thing when it comes to efficiency of these farms and ranches and everything that's being done. Fast forward into your diesel career.

You said you have a four-year, you have a bachelor's degree in diesel technician or diesel mechanics, which that's not very common. Most people, they get their two-year, their Associates in Diesel Mechanics, but you went that extra mile. You went to the four-year- you said Montana State, I believe?

Emma: Yes. Montana State-Northern.

Tony: That's another really cool part of your story. Now, what is the favorite part of your day when you talk everyday responsibilities or tasks? What drives you to wake up in the morning, put on that technician uniform and just go to work?

Emma: It's an interesting question. Sometimes I ask myself the same thing. [laughs] No, but once I get here and my job is just so rewarding, every aspect of it. Talking to customers, building customer relations, wrenching, diagnosing, maintaining my personal tools and equipment. It's the whole picture. It's every aspect of the job that is what's rewarding about it. That is what drives me every day is that every day is new. Every day, I'm learning something new. There is no end to what I can learn in this field. There's no end to how far I can take it. The whole aspect is what drives me every day in this field.

Tony: You bring up an awesome point and a segue right into the next set of questions I want to ask you, Emma, is you talk about new, there's always something new and that's one of the things. Here on the Agriculture Technology podcast, of course, we focus on a lot of technology in the Ag industry. Now we think back, let's go back 25 years, 30 years, whatever it may be, mechanics not just diesel mechanics, but mechanics in any industry, it was essentially turning wrenches, changing fluids, things like that.

Maybe doing some electrical work, but today that landscape is so different. I want to start out just talking- you mentioned tools, caring for your tools, and everything that you utilize. Let's just talk a little bit about the technology that has come into this industry from a tool perspective.

Emma: Yes. It's a very big topic. Very interesting topic these days. These machines are precision equipment now, it's not just an analog gauge that we are relying on. These are highly tuned machines with high-performance sensors. These tolerances are so tight and everything is extremely- it has to be to the 1,000th, to the 10,000th accurate. You no longer putting trust in a single gauge, you are maintaining very accurate gauges. You need gauges of the highest quality. You need torque instruments of the highest quality. You need oscilloscopes that operate faster than a traditional multi-meter could. The technology that an individual tech has to have is, way beyond the scope of what we used to use as what we now consider rudimentary tools. The way that we maintain our equipment and our tools has changed and evolved alongside of the technology that we've seen that we use now every day.

Tony: That's one of the things that I think a lot of people overlook is, the knowledge of the technician themselves. You guys need the knowledge and the experience to operate these tools. I've looked at some of the tools you guys utilize now, some of the more, the more technologically advanced tools, and I don't even think I could operate them now. I'm a pretty tech-savvy person, but there's very specific tools in there operated in a very specific manner.

Emma: Yes, correct.

Tony: The other thing, of course, is with the machines as they advance and they continue to move forward you have-- John Deere has the Service Advisor 5 program. That's another thing utilizing the electronic data loggers and all of that stuff, the EDLs. That's another thing that you guys rely very heavily on, correct?

Emma: Yes. It would be impossible to do our jobs without Service Advisor 5 and an EDL.

Tony: Yes. That's one of the things that I think is so neat about, again, not just diesel mechanics, but mechanics in a whole is, it is evolved and adapted and we don't just see technology at a desk job, or we don't just see technology in Silicon Valley in California. I mean, it's all over the place, and having the mechanics, the diesel technicians like yourself, you guys are kind of the front line when it comes to supporting these and maintaining and all of that stuff.

I think it's really neat that these tools are coming to the industry and that you guys are utilizing more and more technology to maintain these machines. Now, the next thing I want to talk about that you have a lot more knowledge on it than I do is, the amount of technology embedded in these machines. We're not talking about just your standard compression engine, your diesel engine anymore, there's so much more to it.

Let's talk to, or let's tell our listeners a little bit about what goes into a combine or a tractor or whatever that may be.

Emma: What we are working with today is, we've had many factors driving technological advances, which has been the consumer has been environmental and has been safety-related. We have a lot of different factors driving us in all of these directions to make advances. It's interesting now how we do have to go hand in hand. We couldn't have these diesel engines as efficient as they are today without technology advances and oils and fuels.

We're able to do all of these different things with emissions because every industry is embedded in technology. Now, when that comes to a combine tractor, for instance, not only do we have the technology around productivity, which is obviously our biggest driver, but how are we comfortable in the cab? Are we safe in the cab? How do we reduce noise? How do we reduce vibration to reduce carpal tunnel? Everything plays into this and then like how efficient sensors are. As a technician, we see all of these advances. We see the advances on the engine side, we see them on the hydraulic side, we see them for the consumer, we see them for safety, so we get to have a unique view, we're not just focused on one advancement of productivity, we're focused on all of them.

Tony: Just to put it in the perspective to our listeners that may not know the amount of technology, and you brought up even so much more than what I was just talking toward- I was talking, the engines, the hydraulics systems, but you were talking about even the creature comforts and everything inside the cab and the exhaust systems or the emission systems, things like that. Just to put it into perspective, let's take a tractor, an 8R, and I don't mean to put you on the spot, but how many controllers alone do you think are on that 8R tractor?

Emma: There's going to be about 16 controllers on an 8R, and it all depends on the number of options you have of course, because even a fridge for the cab, it runs off of a controller. Depending on what the capabilities are determines the number of controllers, but that's about the number that you're going to see on an 8R, and then on a combine most of the time what we see is 32 on an S780 combine.

We're seeing a lot of computers and in automotive, for instance, they have even more, they're using a absolute ton of computers and a very big network. We have adapted that into our large equipment world. 8R is actually the perfect example of technology from what an 8R was and what it does today.

It's crazy to think about just how far in our lifetimes we've come from the equipment that we used to work on to today, and even from not auto tracking to auto tracking, to autonomously tracking. It's absolutely crazy, and just like the evolution of these tractors, the evolution of these combines, and then working with that technology, as a diesel mechanic, you have to go back, you have to know everything, you have to know about tractors from the '80s.

You have to know about tractors that are in development or prototyping. You got to know what's coming down the pipeline, and then you have to be able to work on all of these phases of technology that have come out throughout the decades and all of their problems.

It's interesting to see the evolution when you're working on tractors and combines about, "Oh, yes, this was an issue at that point," "Oh, this is how far we were developed at this point." The evolution is definitely in itself, like very interesting and then as a tech having to know and work on all of those is very interesting.

Tony: Yes. That's something that I guess I didn't even think about until you said it is, yes, you've got to have the knowledge to work on an S780, but you've also got to have the knowledge to work on a 9600 Walker style conventional combine. The amount of knowledge and experience, that goes back to the tools that you technicians utilize to help you solve problems and diagnose problems. There's so much that goes into it. The controllers, the sensors, everything, some consumers, some people, they want things to be simple, and I get that, there's a time and a place for simplicity and going back to the basics.

We as a society are all always changing. We're always adapting. We're always becoming better and I'm probably going to butcher this quote, but one of my favorite sayings or quotes is, "To get to where we want to be tomorrow, we can't be doing the same thing we're doing today." We've got to make changes, we've got to adapt, we've got to grow. So, it is cool to hear from a technician's perspective, all of the differences that you guys see and what you're working on and working with.

In your career, you said what, roughly five years as a diesel technician, is there any success story you'd like to share with our listeners about- maybe it was an issue that you diagnosed and solved or working with a customer, whatever it was. Do you want to share one with us?

Emma: It's nice for me as a diesel tech because obviously my customers drive me to learn more, and they really give me an ear for what they are looking for themselves, but one of the things that I've been focusing on lately is MTG and connectivity, and I've been very excited about that technology and how we can use all of this data that we're getting to better our farms and our machines.

I went to a customer's outfit to understand how they are using data at this point in their career, and it's something that's very interesting to see, like people taking a technology and adapting it to their situation and making it work better for them. He just asked me a simple question about a 7-Series tractor that he did not have an MTG in.

He just, "Can I put an MTG in this?" I was like, "I actually don't know, I want to look into it." I looked into it and yes, we do make universal kits for it, with MTG's Universal Installs. I was able to convey that to the customer like, "Yes, actually we do. That is something that Deere offers." Just being able to see that they wanted that technology so much, that they want to adapt it to their other pieces of equipment, it's absolutely awesome to see. It's one of the most rewarding parts is, watching what people do with this equipment in the field and how it- it's just their livelihood, everything that it does for them.

Another small success story was a high speed planter that I got the opportunity to work on. The customer allowed me, or invited me to go see their high speed planter in the field. That's a huge treat for a diesel tech. I went out there and we were going along at seven miles an hour, high speed planting, and it's just one of the most amazing things to see your equipment in the field, and something that you had a hand in doing. It's very rewarding, and just like how happy the customer is with what they can do now at their farm is like very rewarding.

Tony: Hey, I like that last one there. If you are a farmer and you are listening to this, go to your local dealership, invite a technician out to the field to ride along with you in the planter, the combine, whatever. You heard it from Emma herself, a diesel technician, that it was a joy, it was a treat to be able to do that and watch these machines operate and do what they do day to day and know that you are a part of that.

I really liked that last one. That was neat. The first story you talked about, that's something that we didn't even touch on is, the Telematics and the remote capabilities that we have in the Ag industry these days, being able to remotely diagnose machines or remotely send software payloads, it just continues to grow and grow and grow. If someone is interested, male, female, young, old, whoever it may be, is interested in a diesel technician career, what is the best advice you could give them about being in the diesel tech industry?

Emma: The advice that I give a lot of the interns or anybody who's coming into the field is, start now. There is so much technology out there that you have to start somewhere, and you might not be able to pick up a wrench and use tools yet, but you can read the textbooks. You can do the research on what's out there. You can do the research on injectors. There's so much that you need to know to be successful at this career, and the more thirst for knowledge that you have, the more that's going to come to your advantage. If you are driven in that regard, you will be successful in this career and in potentially any career field, but being a diesel mechanic, it's different now, it's not the same as it was. We have what we refer to as old school mechanics and new school mechanics. We can't do what we used to do with equipment.

They call us diesel doctors now for a reason that precision is so extreme. Contamination control with diesel engines and hydraulic systems is huge. A half teaspoon of dirt contaminates a 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid. You cannot work in a dirty environment. Yes, you will get dirty from time to time as part of the job. It's completely different than what it used to be. These engines no longer produce black smoke. You're working in a clean shop and your eyes aren't watering from black smoke in the air. These diesel engines clean the air in California. They're so efficient. It's a new day and it's time to do what you want to do. If you have a career field that you're looking into, start.

Tony: I just want to thank you, Emma, for taking the time to sit down with me today and talk a little bit about how you became a diesel technician, as well as just the changing landscape of the mechanics field, the mechanics industry. Not just diesel mechanics, but mechanics all across the board. Technology is continuing to adapt and that's not going to change. Thanks again for doing this.

Emma: Thank you for having me. It's been an honor.

Tony: Take a moment to subscribe to the show and share us with your friends. We are on many different platforms, such as Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. Drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Don't forget to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @RDOTonyK.

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