Aiming to improve regular machinery maintenance checks, while enhancing health and safety, one Aberdeenshire farm manager has come up with a new phone-based system. Ewan Pate finds out more.
Paper-based systems for recording the serviceability and safety of farm machinery could be a thing if the past if a new cloud-based mobile phone app takes off.
The system, known as Smart Farmer is the brainchild of Marc Skivington, arable manager with John Forbes at Slains Park, Kinneff.
Over the years Mr Skivington had realised that checks on machinery were rarely recorded properly, simply because they were too time consuming and fiddly. He was sure a better way forward would for all pre-work checks to be carried out using only the operators’ mobile phones.
He explains; “I knew that such systems were used in the oil and gas industry and that it was worth finding out more. I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant which funded a lecturer and two students for three months. This gave me a proof of concept which an Aberdeen-based designer Isiso then developed with the support of a £10,000 business grant from Aberdeenshire Council.”
This gave Mr Skivington a prototype ready for testing. The app is intended to be used before starting work with any tractor or implement. He says; “There are ten checks for a tractor which should only take a couple of minutes in total. A tractor and trailer should only take five minutes. It does put some onus on the operator but it could save their driving licence if it means all the lights, brakes and mirrors are working as they should.”
Information is all stored in an accessible cloud based system. It allows the farm manager to see any issues that should be rectified. Serious defects show up as ‘red’, meaning the machine should not be used. Other issues, for example nearly worn out share points on a plough, can simply be noted allowing time for replacements to be ordered.
The plan is to develop a servicing page which will include such details as oil filter numbers. The Smart Farmer app is seen as being particularly relevant to machines such as loaders or forklifts which can a have a number of drivers without any one of them having responsibility for daily checks.
“The scope for saving costs and improving health and safety is obvious, but it is also great information to have to hand for quality assurance audits,” says Mr Skivington.
He has proven the value of the Smart Farmer app in his own job at Slains Park which is the base for a 1,800ha (4,446 acre) enterprise. The ten full time operators in the arable team can often be 15 miles from base using a wide range of equipment.
“Primarily this has enhanced our communications which is really important given the multiple enterprises in the business. These include cereals, potatoes, bulbs, peas and beans, pigs and dairying as well as renewable energy.
“The app is still being developed and by next month we will be able to print out individual maintenance records for each machine,” says Mr Skivington.
By the beginning of this year the Smart Farmer system was ready to be commercialised. It was launched at the LAMMA Show in Birmingham in January and so far 38 farm businesses have subscribed. A seven day trial is available with the subscription priced at £495 plus VAT per year. This includes the cost of cloud access and data storage with no limit on the number of machines or operators.