Attention to detail
John Deere Electronics customer training boosts product development confidence and increases speed to market
When Keith Lehmeier and Mike Corona arrived at the John Deere Electronics building in Fargo, ND, they came prepared. Their briefcase contained a detailed user manual and CAN specifications overview with extensive notes, and they were pulling a Pelican™ case loaded with their controller wired up and ready for lab tests.
The duo from Colorado-based Lightning Systems was in Fargo to spend the week tapping into the collective expertise of the Deere Power Electronics engineers who would be instrumental in helping them integrate the PD400 single inverter for the power train of an electric shuttle the company is designing.
These types of one-on-one, in-person training sessions are a staple at the Fargo facility, and one of the many ways the John Deere team helps its customers build confidence in their system and accelerate time to market.
"Training sessions here at our lab give our customers the confidence they need to get their product commissioned faster," said Kent Wanner, Senior Staff Power Electronics Engineer at John Deere Electronics. "By talking through everything at the beginning of the process and reaching a mutual understanding of the goals and objectives, we're able to alleviate many issues that would otherwise occur further down the road."
It's all in the details
While each training session is catered to the unique needs of the customer, most consist of three key phases: technical discussions, a tour of the Deere facility and time in the testing lab.
For the Lightning Systems team, the week started with an overview of their company and details about the application for which they would be using the PD400 single inverter.
Next up was a detailed discussion of the inverter's Installation Guide, CAN Spec and User Manual. This "meeting of the minds" between both parties spanned two full days and consisted of many rapid-fire troubleshooting discussions, electrical engineering theory lessons and whiteboard graphs.
"Reviewing these documents with the customer in the room is a very important step in the process because it allows us to gauge their understanding and ensure that the features they want will ultimately enable them to do what they want to do," said Wanner. "It's really a way to make sure we are all aligned with how the inverter will perform."
Lehmeier agreed. "Being able to run through the technical documentation with the Deere team and fully understand what the device does and how it's controlled gives us a much higher level of confidence in the product and that it will work the way we want it to," said Lehmeier, who is Lightning Systems Director of New Product Development. "We have had a similar type of interaction with suppliers during our component vetting process , and this was definitely the most thorough. We were very impressed with the engineering competency of the JDE engineers."
With an agreement of the technical details, the Lightning Systems team was then able to tour Deere's electronics manufacturing facility and Power Electronic Systems (PES) lab, giving them the opportunity to see firsthand where their inverters would be built and tested.
The highly automated electronics manufacturing facility supports both batch and continuous-flow capabilities for medium- and low-volume production. It is set up for both through-hole and surface-mount designs and has a full range of test and stress screening capabilities at both a printed circuit board level and final assembly levels.
Deere's PES lab is in its own dedicated building and can be broken into three key phases. The first is research and development testing. This involves the use of inverter stands and dynamometers, which are used to verify performance of the inverter and electric motors. The second phase of the lab is more of a whole-system or motor testing footprint. The final phase is centered on validation – the verification that the design meets requirements and quality assurance.
"The facilities were very impressive," said Lehmeier. "Deere is unique because it doesn't just develop electronic components – it develops the full piece of equipment. Buying a component from a vehicle company gives us a lot of confidence because we know they have already done a lot of testing and troubleshooting in the field for their own products. That means we can talk through all those potential bumps at the front end versus in the field, and the payback for that is enormous!"
Final step: testing
The final step in the week-long training session with Lightning Systems was a lab test on Deere's dynamometer. While many customers take some time to digest the technical documents before heading into the lab, Lehmeier and Corona decided to connect the visit to help speed up implementation.
Deere opens its lab to customers to enable them to go beyond theoretical discussions and test the merits of their own system controller design in a very controlled environment.
To support the lab testing, Deere was able to quickly design hardware that simulated a vehicle's accelerator pedal and cruise control buttons. This enabled the Lightning Systems team to use the hardware as an input for its controller and successfully run actual vehicle test scenarios.
"By using our dyno tester, our customers are able to isolate and test their hardware and rule out all other variables," said Wanner. "That is a big benefit and ultimately cuts down the overall development process."
For Lehmeier, the lab time was another huge confidence builder.
"Being able to test in a controlled environment and having such quick, iterative feedback is very beneficial," he said. "We were able to vet and adapt some processes right there and continue to build our understanding of how our inverter will work."
With a week of electrical engineering theory, technical discussions and testing under their belt, the Lightning Systems team left Fargo with a new level of assurance in their Deere inverter.
"It was a very valuable experience for us," said Lehmeier. "The ability to have these types of conversations up front gave us a lot of confidence for what's ahead."