As part of a series of interviews with earthmoving equipment manufacturers, Derek Betcher, marketing manager, rental, John Deere Construction & Forestry, talks about the key features rental customers want, new breakthroughs in technology and the role of drones on a construction site.

RER: What are the latest technological developments with your equipment?

Betcher:  Interest in and usage of integrated grade control machines continues to grow daily. Our 700K, 750K, and 850K SmartGrade dozers improve jobsite accuracy and quality of work through their complete integration of the Topcon 3D-MC2 Grade Control System. The system is fully integrated into the machine cabin, structures, and software – delivering precise grading performance while eliminating vulnerable external masts and cables.

By combining the power of Topcon technology with the John Deere track load sensing system, the SmartGrade dozer offers an easy setup, highly productive grading machine intended for road building, site development and residential building customers. These purpose-built machines are ready to work the moment they leave the dealership, and the complete system is sold and fully supported by the world-class John Deere dealer network.

Machine monitoring is a hot topic today as well. Located inside the mile-long Dubuque Works facility, the newly minted John Deere Machine Health Monitoring Center is changing how John Deere and its dealers analyze data and proactively support customers through mainstream technology. The Machine Health Monitoring Center is situated in close proximity to product engineering teams, as well as the men and women who build many of John Deere’s construction and forestry machines. It is also the home to John Deere WorkSight solution engineers and product support experts. Within the Machine Health Monitoring Center, specialists with a deep understanding of the equipment and expert analytical capabilities develop solutions that nourish the manufacturer’s monitoring services by analyzing aggregated machine data, identifying trends that warrant a closer look and then developing new and improved preventive maintenance and repair protocols.

Working in tandem with the Machine Health Monitoring Center are Machine Monitoring Centers at dealerships across the Americas. These centers feature trained dealer specialists who use advanced telematics and alert management tools to stay on top of potential issues. When necessary, they can engage trained technicians who are armed with the capability to read and clear diagnostic codes, record machine performance data and even update software — without ever visiting the machine in the field. Response time is quick, and, many times, problems can be addressed before they cause downtime. When technicians visit the machine, they can often arrive with the parts in hand to make the repair.


What trends do you see and do you expect to see in earthmoving equipment in the near future?

Betcher: As mentioned previously, John Deere SmartGrade dozers are gaining traction in the construction market, and we continually evaluate whether this technology would be useful for customers in other dozer sizes. The 950K is one such example. Customers are interested in machines of this size class – 265 horsepower – not only to move earth, but for precise grading on large projects.

There was a lot of interesting technology at the Conexpo show, such as use of drone technology in earthmoving equipment, virtual reality training and more sophisticated use of telematics. What were some of the new technological advancements you have made?

Betcher: With the Kespry Drone 2s now available across the John Deere network, customers can easily create a mission with the touch of a finger, then capture, analyze and share survey-grade data and insights. The post-processed data is accessible from anywhere in the world via an easy-to-use web interface, allowing customers to access real-time 3D renderings, volumetric analysis and data export features with the click of a button. The drone-collected data can then be exported from the Kespry cloud to a number of common modeling packages including AGTEK Earthwork 4D, another endorsed John Deere solution to perform 3D model overlays, cut/fill maps, bidding and takeoff procedures.

     As described above, the John Deere Machine Health Monitoring Center and Machine Monitoring Centers were a big part of our ConExpo presence as well.

It appears that hybrid machines are now more popular than in the past? Do you find more of a demand for them in the rental market?

Betcher: While the interest in hybrid machines is growing, compact equipment tends to be a more popular option in the rental segment, and these machines don’t burn as much fuel compared to their larger counterparts. We think there’s a place in the market for customers interested in hybrid machines, and for customers that want the extra productivity advantages and operating cost advantages.  Customers that closely track their operations will most appreciate the benefits of lowering operating costs. However, a short term renter will have different value drivers, and many prioritize equipment reliability, versatility and ease of use.  A higher acquisition cost for the increased productivity and fuel savings of hybrid machines may appeal less to the rental market, which has focused on traditional powertrains.

Are you finding increased demand for any particular kinds of machines from the rental market?

Betcher: We’re seeing a strong, steady growth in demand for mini excavators and CTLs in the rental market. Both of these product families are at record high industry levels in North America. In additional to the continued strength in the compact equipment market, we’re seeing good activity in the excavator market, and notable growth in the six to 10 metric ton range where John Deere offers the 75G and 85G models.

What kind of knowledge of technology is necessary for rental companies to help their contractor customers?

Betcher: The feedback we’ve received from independent rental companies is that their rental customers often prefer simpler machines. The independent rental companies rent to such a broad group of customers. It’s not just earth moving contractors, homebuilders and roadbuilders, but institutions, industrial sites, electricians, plumbers and other tradesmen, and even homeowners. Many customers who choose to rent equipment have only a short term need for it and may not be in the main business of operating or maintaining equipment, at least not compared to those who work with machinery as part of their fulltime job.  We have seen product features like simple, intuitive controls, good visibility and easy transportability are preferred.

     And rental companies prefer equipment that is easy to keep on rent.  We know they have a huge variety of manufacturers and powertrains in their fleets, and their technicians need to be jacks of all trades. Extended service internals, excellent maintenance and repair access, easy to use onboard diagnostics, and overall product quality and durability are important must-haves for many rental houses.

How have machines improved (or not improved) with the advent of Tier 4 technology?

Betcher: The advent of Tier 4 brought several advances and improvements to equipment along with meeting the required emissions regulations. For one, we extended service intervals on many models of Deere equipment to maximize uptime and help lower operating costs. But like many improvements, also comes the need for customer education. DEF may be new to someone who is renting higher horsepower diesel-powered equipment for the first time and some renters may not be aware DEF needs to be added to certain machines the same as other daily fluid checks like fuel.

       Other models may require regeneration.  While Deere equipment keeps operating during this automated exhaust filter cleaning process, the regen notification light on the monitor could mistakenly alarm a new operator. It’s important for the rental house to educate the user about these functions. To help fleet owners manage these features, machines equipped with telematics can help alert the rental company if regen has been overridden or other operator or maintenance issues are popping up on the machine.