OEMs, Dealers Keep Up with Technology

By Walt Moore, Editor | January 20, 2017

With the advent of such technologies as telematics, automated grade control, and all manner of electronically based machine systems—payload management and object-detection, for instance—equipment manufacturers are challenged today with developing an approach, first, to market the technology and its benefits to customers, and, second, to assist customers in understanding the technology well enough to use it advantageously. In this endeavor, the well-trained equipment dealer is the manufacturer’s indispensible partner in reaching the customer.

”There is responsibility on the dealers’ part to recognize that they are the local support for the customer,” says Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager at CNH America. “But as a manufacturer, we have an obligation to train and encourage dealers to be consistent in what they do for the customer.”

In this regard, says Stemper, helping dealers understand and practically apply grade-control technology is a major emphasis in Case’s training effort at present and has resulted in the company’s developing its Precision Construction Certification Program.

“We recognized early on,” says Stemper, “that dealer experience with grade control varied widely, so our goal was to create a common baseline of knowledge for the technology among dealers. When customers visit a Case dealer having Precision Construction certification, we want them to know that the dealer has a certain level of knowledge about the application, installation, calibration, and use of various systems.”

To this end, Case has developed a three-level curriculum for grade-control technology, which takes the dealer through the basics of off-machine technology (surveying concepts and lasers, for example) and then to on-machine systems, including 2D guidance systems and 3D GPS- and total-station-based technology.

The training eventually reaches a “4D” stage, says Stemper, in which dealers become conversant with the “time” aspect of grade control—how changes in the plan over time are accommodated and how these modifications are integrated into on-machine systems.

Case offers the curriculum for Precision Construction certification online, but also brings the training face-to-face during regular visits to the dealer from a specialist with the Case Precision Solutions and Telematics team.

This group is separate from the product marketing groups, explains Stemper, and has specialists who focus on technology employed across product lines, working one-on-one with the person the dealer has designated (and that Case mandates) to be the in-house grade-control specialist. The training culminates with the specialist and dealer technicians installing an on-machine system.

As we train the dealer specialist,” says Stemper, “we also ask for the dealer’s sales people, technicians, and parts people to be involved, so that they understand, in a limited aspect, perhaps, what the solutions involve. We want to grow the dealer’s knowledge as a whole.”

Developing skilled operators

As open-trench installation of utilities becomes more difficult in congested urban areas, and as markets for underground infrastructure expand, the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) continues to grow. The supply of skilled drill operators, however, has not kept pace, and a severe shortage of experienced operators is the result.

According to Greg Wolfe, director of training, Ditch Witch, the situation caused the company to re-examine its approach to training, much of which was instructor-led at company headquarters in Perry, Okla.

“We realized that as sound as the training might be in Perry,” says Wolfe, “we couldn’t always duplicate the exact soil type and conditions where our customers are working, and it was difficult to give specific training on the most effective way to bore in these situations. We also realized that training wasn’t consistent across the industry, or even across our own dealer network.”

Recognizing these shortfalls, Ditch Witch, in partnership with its worldwide dealer organization, early in 2016 launched a new training program: “We Get Crews Ready.” The program requires that novice operators first be certified as having completed a series of six online modules (and a seventh evaluation module), which address basic HDD topics.

The next phase of the training takes place at a dealer location, where dealer trainers, schooled by Ditch Witch, lead students through a formatted 40-hour program that involves extensive use of simulators, cycling drill pipe through plastic pipe already in the ground, and, finally, setting up an HDD rig and actually drilling in a “non-dynamic” (no hazards) situation. Then, adhering to guidelines established by Ditch Witch, dealers coach students on a working job site.

“We’ve found that attrition among applicants who receive the online training and complete the 40-hour dealership-training phase is much lower than that for  novices not taking the training,” says Wolfe.

“I’ve looked over the shoulder of many operators, attempting to coach them on proper operation as they try to master an HDD machine,” says Wolfe. “It doesn’t do justice to place operators in that situation. We’re convinced that operators need training before they get into the seat, and in partnership with our knowledgeable dealers, that’s our goal.”

Mapping training success

John Deere has been on the “telematics journey” for the past seven years or so, says Jena-Holtberg-Benge, director, John Deere WorkSight, and during that time the company’s approach to dealer training on the technology has matured, as has its approach to a second major technology, grade control. The company has learned, says Shawn Riley, training manager, John Deere WorkSight, to take the long view of its educational efforts.

“With technology evolving as fast as it is,” says Riley, “our dealers need as much support and training as possible. Ultimately, though, it’s our customers who need to be trained in order to get the most value from the technology built into their machines.”

To that end, says Holtberg-Benge, the company has developed its “Channel Roadmap” program, which approaches capabilities and training in a structured manner, and was, in fact, developed in collaboration with dealers.

The program’s steps or “phases” become increasingly advanced as training progresses, says Holtberg-Benge, in terms of both content and the percentage of dealer personnel in the sales, service, and parts organizations required to be  involved. The company also requires dealers in the program to have an on-staff JDLink (the company’s telematics system) administrator, as well as a technology specialist, who often serve as training coordinators for both internal personnel and customers.

“We have very specific learning paths for dealerships,” says Riley, “and try to make the training as convenient as possible with online instruction, webinars, and instructor-led training, either at the dealer’s location or at one of our John Deere training facilities. Within our training group, we have several telematics and grade-control specialists who are available to assist dealers with training and technical questions.”

Complementing these efforts, says Holtberg-Benge, are the company’s WorkSight consultants in the field, who work with dealers navigating the road map. And to facilitate the dealer’s conversation with customers, recently developed “explainer” videos present technology in easily understood terms.

In addition, she says, the quarterly reports generated by John Deere’s telematics-based Fuel Advantage program—reimbursing a portion of customer fuel expenses if usage exceeds a target limit—have served as a useful training tool as dealers discuss results with customers.

Grade-control training, initially, is primarily web based, says Riley, complemented by distance learning classes that involve a John Deere instructor on the phone with the student. But as training progresses, students are obligated to attend instructor-led classes to gain certification. A training aid new to the John Deere website for dealers is the GoPush application, providing short video clips that discuss various aspects of grade-control systems, including the SmartGrade system for dozers.

Also, says Holtberg-Benge, a monthly “SWAT” phone call between John Deere WorkSight experts and the dealer‘s grade-control specialist keeps the specialist informed of the latest grade-control developments.

OEM/dealer/customer partnerships

Volvo Construction Equipment approaches training for its CareTrack telematics system in a comprehensive manner, says James Bretz, director, services and solutions, region Americas. The company’s CareTrack training program consists of general computer-based courses, always available to dealers, says Bretz, and covers basics of the CareTrack system and its application. Supplementing this basic training are special, periodic, on-demand online training sessions lead by one of the Volvo CE CareTrack technical experts.

In addition, says Bretz, Volvo offers instructor-led CareTrack sessions several times a year at its Shippensburg, Pa., facility, where dealers can send their CareTrack administrators for more in-depth instruction. And, at any time, says Bretz, the dealer can request that a Volvo CareTrack specialist, from the company’s Connected Services group, visit the dealership and conduct a two-day training session.

“The advantage of face-to-face training sessions at dealer locations,” says Bretz, “is that the instructor can engage people from both the commercial and the technical sides of the product-support business. We’ve found that having a cross-section of dealer personnel attend the training encourages discussion among the various disciplines—whether sales, parts, service, or the telematics-support people—and that kind of dialogue is important, because it helps the dealership gain, and retain, a better overall understanding of the technology and how best to help customers apply it.”

Volvo also makes available a CareTrack training portal for customers, says Bretz, and an opportunity the company identified during customer training sessions was to develop a service that provides Volvo machine users with the benefit of telematics data, but without the need to access, interpret, and analyze the data. 

“Basically,” says Bretz, “our customers told us ‘all this telematics data is great, but it’s also overwhelming— we don’t have the resources or expertise to use the information and realize the benefit.’ They asked if Volvo could provide a service that gave them just the data they need to  to manage fleets, without having to access and understand volumes of telematics data.”

The result was Volvo’s ActiveCare Direct program, a service currently available to key-account customers that provides continuous machine monitoring and regular analysis reports directly from the Volvo CE Uptime Center. ActiveCare Direct frees the customer from the task of accessing telematics data themselves, says Bretz, by pushing “actionable” information directly to dealers and customers. 

Train the trainer

According to Komatsu America Corp.’s Tom Suess, director, training and publications, the company takes a number of approaches to training, depending on the distributor (dealer) audience. On the service side of the business, for example, Komatsu subscribes to the “train-the-trainer” model, with instructor-led classes for the trainer conducted at the company’s Cartersville (Ga.) Customer Center or at distributor locations.

“Our focus is to provide training for the technical trainers at the distributor level,” says Suess, “so that they, in turn, can provide training to their personnel. Our classes provide the distributor trainers with all the necessary materials and instruction needed to duplicate the training at their home facility.”

To assist distributor sales personnel in understanding the technology available on a particular machine, and then explaining it to customers, says Suess, Komatsu has developed video-based training. This approach, he says, uses You Tube-style videos to quickly convey a system’s function, for instance, a haul-truck retarder, a loader’s payload-management system, or the latest emissions technology.

Training for Komatsu’s KOMTRAX telematics system, he says, includes classroom training for the KOMTRAX administrator, which each distributor assigns as the point person for the technology and who also serves as a training resource for the distributor’s personnel.

“These administrators receive a range of training,” says Suess, “from basic system function to advanced-level instruction for using the KOMTRAX system to address maintenance issues, such as estimating undercarriage wear and formulating recommendations from the data, or using telematics data to assist in trouble- shooting by observing fault codes and key indicators that might reveal how a machine is being used—for example, repeated instances of the hydraulic system going over relief.”

Regarding grade-control technology, the company provides a comprehensive range of instructor-led classes having specific content for the distributor’s various personnel, says Suess, whether the technical solutions expert, service technicians, or sales staff.

“These classes range in content and complexity,” says Suess. “Technician classes, for instance, focus on system function, testing, and calibration, while those for the technical solutions expert focus more on marketing the systems and customer demonstrations for bringing the technology to the job site.”