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Podcast Ep. 116: Dawn Equipment, Part 2

28 Apr 2020

Dawn Equipment is a family owned and operated company, founded more than two decades ago in Illinois. Today, they are an innovative leader in American-made tillage equipment, with products and solutions aimed to maximize efficiency for no till or strip till applications.

In Part 2 of our conversation with Dawn Equipment, Joe Basset, President and CEO, picks up right where we left off in Part 1 - talking about the latest agriculture technology Dawn Equipment has in the works, and what the future holds for agriculture equipment.

Missed Part 1? Tune in here.

Listen here:

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Each month, we share the latest in agriculture technology. Don’t miss an episode by subscribing to our podcast on iTunesSoundCloud, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. 

Have a story idea or a precision ag topic we should highlight? Connect with us on social media:  Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Twitter and connect with podcast host, Tony Kramer on Twitter at: @RDOTonyK.

Catch this episode’s complete transcript here:

Tony Kramer: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 116. Today we're going to finish the story of Dawn Equipment talking with Joe Bassett. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we were streaming this out to such as Apple's podcast app, it's on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud as well as many others.

While you're out there, please drop us a review. We would love to hear what you think about the show. Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and catch our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @RDOTonyK. Now, like I said two weeks ago we released part one of this episode, talking with Joe Bassett the president and CEO of Dawn Equipment.

We are going to pick back up in that conversation and finish up on a few other pieces of technology that Dawn is working on, they have out to the market. As well as Joe shares a little bit of insight on what he believes the future holds for agriculture equipment and some of the stuff they're working on. Let's step back into that.

Joe Bassett: The Reflex basically became our next-generation control system. Instead of using the typical controls like exist on almost every product in the market, it uses a very simple control strategy, which has two pocket valves. One of which opens in order to let flow into the cylinder to increase pressure, one of which opens to decrease pressure and let oil out of the cylinder. Basically, we're pulsing these valves. Just pulsing them open and close as close as possible.

We say, "Okay, you want to keep 100 pounds of force on the gauge rails", and then we have some dead band. Then we say, "Okay, maybe the dead band is 20 pounds. If the gauge real load is below 90 pounds, we open the valve to increase the pressure. If it's above 110 pounds we open the valve to decrease pressure." The whole name of the game is simply doing that as fast as possible. The accuracy of a planter downforce control system is basically a function of how quickly you can make adjustments.

Not electronic adjustments, because it's actually an electro-hydraulic system. You have to get a flow in too. What we're doing with Reflex is we're making tons and tons of tiny little adjustments. Every 30 to 50 milliseconds we're just pulsing. Doing a tiny little pulse, and letting a little bit of oil in or out. If the gauge real load is way off the target, then we open it and make a big adjustment. It's just like if you're flying an airplane, you don't make big adjustments. You make lots of little adjustments to keep yourself on course.

We're just going tiny, tiny little adjustments every 30 to 50 milliseconds. It's an incredibly accurate control system. Not only that, it's very, very energy-efficient. With the proportional type of control systems, you have to run constant electrical current to the valves in order to operate them. Whereas even normally, our valves are normally closed, so that if you're not making an adjustment you're really not consuming any electrical power.

That decision was made with the idea that we said, "Okay, now we've got a row cleaner that's remotely controllable, we've got automatically control down pressure. We're going to envision a future where every single thing on a planter that a farmer would've gone out and made a qualitative decision about, is going to become something that's automatically controlled." The seed depth, the closing wheels, and so on and so forth.

In order to do that, we're adding all these additional channels of control to the planter and it becomes critical to start thinking about the energy management. That's also in the picture around the same time when the Reflex system came out. That was designed with energy efficiency in mind knowing that we were, in the end, going to automate the entire planter. Currently we have already today depth control systems, where you can be controlling the depth of the planter as you go through the field.

You can adjust relative to a map even, which we started experimenting with last year. Where you would take a map of the moisture in the field and you could actually change the planting depth, so that you plant deeper in dry areas and shallower and wetter areas. There is a whole slew of different things that could be coming down the pipeline on that. The closing system is really, really unique.

The Closing Wheel System, the ACS, it doesn't control how hard the closing wheels are pushing on the ground. Because we came from a place where we were making the tooth wheel row cleaners. We know that when you're running and closing it like that, it's actually changing how fast it's penetrating into the ground. The Closing Wheel System is not a force control system like on the down pressure. Where you're controlling how hard you're pushing on the ground or the row cleaner.

It's actually controlling the depth that the closing wheels are penetrating into the ground. It has this firming wheel that runs in the furrow and acts like a high-speed seed firmer, and it pushes the seed down at the bottom of the furrow. Also, by doing that, that wheel is establishing a plane of where the seed is actually placed. Then there's a sensor that measures the relative distance between where the closing wheels are and where the bottom of the seed trench is.

That's where that first concept, that foresight hardness control technology that we were developing a long time ago, came back into our product line. Was with the Active Closing Wheel System, because it's essentially the same thing. The Closing Wheel System is a automatic depth control system that's adjusting the hydraulic pressure on the closing wheels in order to keep the closing wheels exactly the same distance from the bottom of the furrow as you go through the field.

It's pretty slick. We're out ahead of the market on some of these products, but I think that over the next five years, if we agree that planters are going to become more and more automated, then things are likely to come our way.

Tony: Yes. Starting with the row cleaners, moving to the downforce, and then talking the automation with the depth system and the Closing Wheel System. You guys, like you said, you're definitely working towards a fully automated planter. Now, you talk about control and how you're controlling that. You guys have a special platform that you're utilizing, I believe that's called Furrowtechnic, is that correct?

Joe: Right. We started off making these ISO bus control systems, which I strongly, strongly disliked. Because it was extremely difficult to produce a uniform user experience when you're trying to package all of this onto a virtual terminal-type display. It's just a lot of stuff to get on there. You're constantly fighting compatibility issues between different monitors. I'm unlikely to go down that route moving forward. We said, "Okay, what's our next-generation thing?"

We made these different hardwired solutions where we were actually developing these other CAN bus displays that would run on our tablets, and they were okay. We needed to do more, and we knew that we wanted to get into math in the telemetry. We decided to change our architecture a year ago and introduce the Furrowtechnic. What it is, is each row has its own controller. The row-unit controllers are connected to the central unit, the telemetry control unit.

That telemetry control unit has CAN bus inputs, it has an SD card memory, it has a mobile modem for 3G LTE, it has a GPS input, it has all those things. Then it has a Wi-Fi router built into it too. The operator is actually controlling the systems through a iPad, Android phone, it could be anything. The tablet in the cab is actually just a display. All of the machinery's happening back in the telemetry control unit.

It's establishing a wireless Wi-Fi connection between the tablet in the cab and the TCU. The data is being recorded to memory on the telemetry control unit. The telemetry control unit is also providing that mobile connectivity, which gets you your mapping layers. Which allows us to now do remote diagnostics and remote software support, which is a huge deal.

It's also running a GPS position into it, which we need for the mapping the slick.

We've got this really slick application that's available on the app store called Furrowtechnic, that gives you all of these displays. It has a system overview, which gives you average values across the whole planter of all the different controls. Because bear in mind, you have the down pressure, you have the uplift, you have the seed depth, you have the closing wheel. Even with the Reflex three product line, there's eight or nine different data layers. We're about to introduce the Reflex four product line, which adds electric seed meter drive control and control for a high speed seat belt type of thing, should a customer want to use that type of thing. That for the first time will really be where we are controlling the entire planter row unit, and we've hit that point where it's like we're really competing on equal terms as a precision AG company with the other players in the market.

We've gotten there with minimal to no debt load and also no outside investment. It's been really scrappy, but this is starting to come together and our control systems are really working. There was a period where we were putting some pretty half-baked stuff out there, especially from a control standpoint. I just got to the point in my life, and part of growing up was that, "I don't want to deal with it anymore. We're only going to be putting fully-baked, ready to market control systems out there. If that requires us slowing down, not really pushing sales and sitting back for a while, then that's exactly what we'll do."

You're about to see us come out of that phase where from a control system-- If you're looking at how we are positioned ourselves as competitors to other leading aftermarket precision AG companies, we've been hanging back over the past couple of years. We haven't been doing any marketing. We haven't been really doing much in the way of sales, because we made the conscious decision that we're not going to go out and try and sell anything in this market space until we really have completely ready to go and fully sorted products.

The problem is, in order to compete, we realized, "Boy, we don't just need a control solution. We've got to have mapping solutions. We've got to have telemetry solutions. We have to have remote diagnostics. We have to be able to push a software update to clients around the world at this point." When you're evolving and developing yourself from a digital end this quickly, you're pushing software updates all the time. We need to be able to fix a customer and update their software on a really short timescale

All of our customers this year are actually getting SIM cards from us. We're providing them, and we're going to cover the cost of their mobile data plan for the first year, because it's so helpful. When you can be sitting there, log on, and basically update a guy's software remotely and see what's going on with the system. I cannot overstate how powerful of a tool that is.

Because before that, before you can do remote software updates, what do I do if I want to do a firmware update from somebody? I got to have him take his ECU and send them back to me and flash them? It's not sustainable especially when you're pushing a software update every 30 days. Things are really clicking into place at this point. Our general strategy is, we're going to take-- Traditionally ISOBUS' thought is like, "This is a hardwired connection between the vehicle and the tractor and the implement."

It's a system by which you can produce intercompatibility between implements, and tractors and or, different control systems in the tractor. Our long-term strategy is that handshake of compatibility is going to become something that happens in the Cloud. For instance, I do a lot of business around Bismarck to Jamestown, if you draw a line in that area and down south into Linton. I remember going around to farms around the Bismarck area, and you'd have nothing for cell phone service.

Now, in a lot of these even fairly remote areas, you get around in South Central and central North Dakota, you've got blazing LTE data speeds. North Dakota in particular-- I'd like to hear your perspective on this. I think North Dakota has done an amazing job with rural broadband. That's going to empower the future of agriculture, really. If you don't have that core infrastructure, it means that companies like us can't develop on that. Because the next generation-- Say we move that ISO connection.

If you export data from our system, it's in the ISO XML data format. Which you could then put into the command center, you could put into any different FMIS that you want in the market and create-- The inner compatibility becomes intercompatibility of data formats. Well, what's the next stage? The next stage is in fact, taking our command structure to change a setting on the planter, change the depth, change the down pressure, change the closing wheels, change the seed rate, so on and so forth.

That what we'll be doing is instead of making that an ISO Task Controller type of system, that will become almost like an API. Say you're generating your prescription in some sort of internet connected FMIS. Then what you're doing is, you're in fact exporting that prescription or that direction of what to do with the hardware through that mobile data, Cloud connected link. That it's not going to be something that necessarily has to happen with direct interconnection and with a direct hardwired solution on the tractor itself. That's a little perspective of where I think the industry is going.

Now bear in mind, most people don't believe this. Especially in Europe. The European mindset is driving a lot of what you see in precision AG development. You've got this just obsession with ISOBUS in Europe, because it's a much more fragmented product ecosystem. You have all these smaller, bespoke manufacturers of implements and tractors, and ISOBUS is a big deal. I personally don't believe ISOBUS is the future. It's not that ISOBUS isn't the future. It needs to be rethought of as something different, which is in keeping with where mobile data trends are.

Tony: Absolutely. I would agree with you there, Joe. The future is definitely Cloud-based. It's really interesting to hear this story of Dawn Equipment. From your dad starting the company all the way to where you are, and then hearing the future outlook on Dawn. It's really exciting to hear that. It's cool to hear a perspective of someone like you that is in the industry and working on those pieces of equipment to advance the agriculture industry from a planter perspective or some of the other products that you guys are working on. Now, with your long history of being in the industry, Joe, do you have any sort of a success story working with either a customer or a dealership that you'd like to share with us?

Joe: If we bring it back to your guys' own dealership at RDO. It was in fact RDO that was the first client of the GFX Hydraulic Row Cleaner. It was that client base that really got the momentum going on that product line,and put the fuel in the tank that we needed in order to put us on this course that we are today. From a customer success perspective, that core North Dakota and South Dakota customer has been loyal to our brand. Even in times when we weren't looking like a safe bet, as a company.

I just wanted to say thank you to all of your customers and the customers in the Dakotas for sticking with us, and also because, that's what lets me do what I need to do. It's the customers that stick with you and are there with you over the years. My father's retired, and we're getting to the second generation of guys. I have relationships with some clients that now are multi-generational relationships that go back so far. I would just tell you guys thank you for what you do, and thanks to all of your customers for really being the backbone of support for our company.

Tony: We thank you too, Joe. For offering the products that Dawn Equipment brings to market and giving us the opportunity to promote and sell those products. Now, any of the products that we talked about today and even some of the products that we did not mention in this podcast. If one of our listeners wants to learn more about Dawn Equipment and what you guys have to offer, where can they go? Who can they talk to?

Joe: They can go to or pick up the phone and call me at 815-899-8000 at the office. To this day, I love talking on the phone with customers. It's a major part of what I do. It's a critical part of what I do in order to stay connected to them. Just feel free to call me and ask for Joe.

Tony: Great. I want to thank you, Joe, for sitting down with me today and talking about all of the technology and the advancements that Dawn Equipment has made. It was a really cool history lesson on, not only your company, but also the row cleaners and the extensive knowledge you have when it comes to downforce and all of that type of stuff. Thank you very much for doing this, Joe.

Joe: Hey, thanks a lot, Tony. Thanks for having me on.

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