PlugfestMost engineers have similar traits. They want to provide new and better designs and the best possible products. How do you get a group of ag software engineers excited?

Put them in a room and let them connect their software and hardware together and check if they function as intended.

The Agricultural Electronics Industry Foundation (AEF) came up with a way to make that happen. The event is called Plugfest, and it provides a chance for friends and competitors alike to come from around the globe to put aside that competition and work together for the good of their companies and customers.

In a remarkably beneficial version of round robin, partners pair their new applicable software to the machines that receive them, checking for communication problems and potential miscommunications. A custom matrix created for each Plugfest ensures that every testing attendee has a chance to connect with everyone at the event. At the end of the conference, both those making the machines and those developing software for them walk away with new data and an invaluable understanding of how to better their respective products.

Plugfest 2Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both Plugfest events (spring and fall) were cancelled. However, because of the partnership between AEF and AEM, Plugfest will be a premiere part of the Commodity Classic trade show in 2021. The partnership will be a great opportunity for farmers and all attendees to see the cooperation that goes on between manufacturers in solving problems and creating better software solutions.

“As precision farming technology grows in importance for producers, so do the semi-annual Plugfest events that help manufacturers ensure product compatibility,” said AEM Technical Director Mark Benishek. “In setting aside their competitive differences for a few days, companies are able to leverage industry expertise to optimize their products’ capabilities and positively impact customer satisfaction.”

Plugfest, inspired by the AEF, was started in 2001 by a small group of engineers with the intent of ensuring that manufactures of tractors, implements and components were interpreting the ISOBUS standard (ISO 11783) the same way. ISOBUS, a communication protocol for the agriculture industry was meant to standardize the communication systems on ag equipment. However, with a standard comprised of over a thousand pages, each manufacturer interpreted the standard differently, so the communication problem wasn’t solved.

The solution? A bi-annual event held in the United States and Europe to test the protocol defined in the ISO 11783 standards. Fast forward to 2019, Plugfest is now a three-day event in both locations, with hundreds of attendees and participants every event. 

Here's what some past participants and AEM member company representatives have to say about their involvement in AEF Plugfest events:

Milligan

It may be the most valuable data and feedback on your work that you get all year. These few hours can help save hundreds of future man hours or machine down time. Take the opportunity to network and explore all of the great work of your colleagues and find out the latest information on precision farming.  -- Ryan Milligan, business development manager at Powell Electronics

 

Olliver

If you have an ISOBUS product on the market, or are considering releasing an ISOBUS product to the market, then Plugfest attendance is essential. In the space of three days, it allows you to connect your ISOBUS product with numerous other ISOBUS products to understand how compatible it is. Sometimes issues can be resolved straight away. In other cases, CAN logs and business cards are swapped as further analysis is required.” -- Andrew Olliver, Product Manager - Precision Farming & ISOBUS at CNH Industrial

 

“No amount of in-company testing is going to approximate the real-world experience your ECUs will encounter. Even the best “test environment” brings to it the electronic perspective of those that created the test. It may be very good, but it won’t provide 100% coverage, or the type of combinatorial coverage that a PlugFest can bring. -- Dave Smart, former senior staff engineer at John Deere - Enterprise Electronics Group

 

Waggoneer

Customers depend on reliable connections between tractors and implements- often from different manufacturers. The ISO 11783 standard does a good job of defining the design requirements for successful communication, but companies still need to work together to resolve issues before they reach the market. I think the time that Engineers spend discussing and troubleshooting issues together is incredibly valuable to the companies involved. Engineers learn from one another during tests and take that knowledge back to improve their organizations.  --  Robert Waggoner, Functional Safety Manager – Hesston Engineering, AGCO

The world of precision agriculture is no stranger to competition. Advancing technology creates a need for cutting-edge products to amaze buyers and surpass opponents. In the end, the goal is to provide equipment that will benefit the farmer. That’s the purpose of the AEF Plugfest, to test new functionalities and compatibility before it reaches the field.

For more information on the AEF Plugfest event at Commodity Classic, contact Mark Benishek at mbenishek@aem.org

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