Precision Tech the ‘Backbone’ to CNH’s Digital Strategy

The ag and construction manufacturer bolsters its tech stack to accelerate development of precision and autonomous solutions.

Full automation and autonomy solutions will boost productivity throughout the entire farming cycle. (CNH Industrial)

When CNH Industrial executives stressed at its recent Capital Markets Day that the company is fast-advancing its offerings in precision technology and accelerating autonomous solutions – particularly in farming – it was more than just lip service. Just three months prior, the “new” CNH Industrial, recently spun off from truck maker Iveco to solely focus on Agriculture and Construction, made the largest acquisition in its history – of Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Raven Industries for $2.2 billion.

“There are some opportunities with sensor technologies and the perception stack where we can always add more sensors and more capabilities to make it stronger,” said chief digital officer Parag Garg. (CNH Industrial)

“Precision agriculture and autonomy are critical components of our strategy to help our agricultural customers reach the next level of productivity and to unlock the true potential of their operations,” said Scott Wine, CEO of CNH Industrial. “Raven is a true pioneer in the precision agriculture space, and their technology is a perfect strategic fit that will differentiate us from our peers and significantly improve our competitive position.”

Raven’s tech culture was another draw, a streamlined, trend-adopting approach that optimizes execution. “That’s driving what we call ‘reverse integration,’” Wine said. “That’s not easy when you’re this big global conglomerate to let this little company have their culture and their influence come back [on us]. That’s what we’re striving to do.”

Raven, Augmenta and CNH Industrial team to advance precision sprayer technology that can reduce the application of fertilizers by up to 40% while increasing yield. (CNH Industrial)

Bringing Raven into the fold is “not quite plug and play, but darn close,” Wine said, noting that the tech company has been a long-time supplier to CNH Industrial. New technology is already being deployed by joint teams. The first in-house products featuring fully integrated Raven precision agriculture systems are expected to become available in 2022.

The newly formed CNH Industrial Ventures will help the company build additional growth opportunities, enveloping existing partnerships and exploring further collaboration with promising digital and technology start-ups operating in agriculture and construction. For example, other current partnerships include work on electrification and autonomy with California-based start-up Monarch, and on real-time AI (artificial intelligence) vision analytics with Greek company Augmenta, which has a U.S. base in Dallas, Texas.

Scalable tech stack

CNH Industrial is pursuing a “plug-and-play” approach that allows technology partners to bolster its tech stack and accelerate product delivery. (CNH Industrial)

Farmers need to meet rising demand for crops while utilizing fewer resources – fewer workers, decreased irrigation and reduced chemical usage. “Precision Technology tackles all of those concerns by uniting data analysis and machine automation and is the backbone of CNH Industrial’s long-term strategy,” said Parag Garg, chief digital officer who joined the company about a year ago after spending 20 years developing consumer tech products such as Microsoft Windows and 5G products at T-Mobile.

Auto-Cart allows the farmer to monitor and operate a driverless tractor from the cab of the harvester while it offloads on the go, then return the tractor to a predetermined unloading area. (CNH Industrial)

A robust “tech stack” that offers flexibility and a plug-and-play architecture is at the core of CNH Industrial’s path to greater automation and eventual autonomy. The tech stack is defined across five dimensions: architecture, connectivity and data platform, guidance, automation and intelligence, and autonomy.

“Raven bridges our autonomous gap and adds tremendous automation capabilities as a leader in sprayer applications and their expanded suite of guidance technology,” Garg said, also touting Raven’s V2V (vehicle to vehicle) expertise. “We are testing future-forward solutions to be ready for market, such as enhancing our V2V communication so machines don’t overlap work areas.”

The new Case IH 50 Series sprayer utilizes precision tech from Raven, including the automated boom height leveling, rate control monitoring, the Hawkeye 2 individual nozzle control and VSN vision steering guidance. The system allows sprayers to cover 20% more acres per day and avoid respraying the same area. Environmental benefits include reducing nitrogen usage by 9% and plant growth regulators (PGR) usage by 20%, while aiding harvest by 15%, according to Derek Neilson, president of the Agriculture segment.

CNH Industrial also is working with Augmenta on “See and Act” real-time AI vision analytics for fertilizer and pesticide control on sprayers. The vision system can reduce the application of fertilizers by up to 40% while increasing yield, Garg said. Augmenta and CNH Industrial are currently testing this enhanced system in Texas. “In Q2 of this year, we will start testing See and Act capabilities with customer validation,” he said, adding that they’re exploring other applications for the vision AI as well.

Combines are another segment that greatly benefits from automation, Neilson said. “An automated combine increases productivity by fully 30 to 40 percent,” he said. The technology helps to protect the soil, preserve grain quality and reduce impurities to obtain higher grain prices, and allows a semi-skilled operator to fully optimize the machine’s output. “We will launch automated features across all our combine product ranges. We are already well advanced in the development of the next iteration of automation,” he added.

Software engineers needed

The Raven acquisition, while a significant step in buttressing CNH Industrial’s tech stack capabilities, does not completely close all the gaps from the get-go. “What we want is an industry-leading solution across precision and autonomy,” Wine explained. “Just because we closed the acquisition doesn’t immediately close the gap in terms of where we want to be. It’s mostly plug and play, we can go rather quickly, but it needs more software engineers, we need to [further] advance the stack. So, there’s work to do, but it’s a clear path to get there.”

“We’ve built a lot of it but there are some opportunities with sensor technologies and the perception stack where we can always add more sensors and more capabilities to make it stronger,” Garg added. Precision Technology is now a dedicated team responsible for product development of precision applications. CNH Industrial has made strides in infusing new talent by hiring engineering and technology experts, Garg said: “In 2021, we insourced five times more tech talent compared to the previous year.”

“We’re starting to bring more [tech talent] in-house, and we’re diversifying it,” he continued. “When you think about where our engineering centers are located for our iron, we’re getting smarter about putting our software development teams right next to them. The type of engineers [we’re looking for include] embedded firmware engineers, electrical engineers, hardware engineers, cloud engineers, backend database, machine learning, AI – it’s everything.”

The ultimate goal of CNH Industrial’s strategy is to deliver a fully autonomous farming cycle, while increasingly extending its expertise and enhanced capabilities gained from the Ag business to the Construction segment. The autonomous journey is already underway at CNH Industrial. Since 2020, it’s been commercializing Raven’s Omni-Power platform, an autonomous power platform that interchanges farm implements and allows the farmer to remotely operate the unit from a tablet.

In 2021, the first Auto-Cart commercial sales began, and customer testing of Auto-Tillage commenced. Auto-Spread and Auto-Spray will begin customer testing on sprayer platforms this year. “We have all the ingredients and all the tools necessary to be leaders in autonomy and help our customers throughout the entire farming cycle,” Garg said.