Plantium in Santa Fe, Argentina, is a full-service provider of precision agricultural guidance systems to some of Argentina’s largest farming operations, writes Angus W. Stocking on PrecisionAg.com. The company makes its own guidance and control devices, installs them, and offers farmers real-time, remote support if required. Precision agriculture is a very large market, and to compete with multi-national firms in this space, Plantium has to be competitive primarily with outstanding customer service and end-to-end attention to detail. In 2015, Plantium switched to the Atlas GNSS Global Correction Service as the primary means of providing precise, real-time location corrections to their customers, and the receivers they design and build themselves are based on Atlas-ready OEM (original equipment manufacturer) boards from Hemisphere GNSS.
The Atlas GNSS Global Correction Service, developed and administered by Hemisphere, is a subscription-based global corrections service delivered by L-band satellites. “L-Band” is a 1 to 2 GHz frequency band allocated to satellite navigation and telecommunications, and Hemisphere builds L-band capability into Atlas-ready receivers and OEM boards to provide worldwide, scalable, real-time kinematic (RTK) location accuracy with corrections based on all modern satellite constellations — GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, etc. — and approximately 200 reference stations around the world. Corrections from the reference stations are transmitted to Atlas-enabled receivers via L-band and strategically located geostationary satellites. L-band distribution coverage ranges from 75°N to 75°S, excluding only the extreme polar regions.
“We design, manufacture, and sell precision agriculture systems, including automatic pilot/steering, spraying control, seed metering, etc.,” says Plantium Robotics Engineer Federico Baulies. “We also design and build our own monitors, controllers, and autopilots into existing machinery. Our autopilot and mapping functionalities absolutely require robust positioning in difficult atmospheric conditions, low convergence times, and very high reliability — as close to 100% uptime as possible. We have been using Atlas for well over a year now, and on all these factors it is absolutely a better solution for our applications, and our clients. And Hemisphere has been better in ways we did not expect as well, like their support and the attention they give to their OEM boards that we build into our equipment. Atlas is the best option in our region.”
Providing a better and more reliable location service is critical to Plantium’s business model. “There are some very big, multi-national companies in this market, names like New Holland and John Deere,” Baulies explains. “The only way we can be competitive is to focus on the local market, be competitive on price and quality, and provide much better customer support. As a part of our SBOX7 + DirectDrive + VADER system, Atlas really helps with all of these — it is a well-priced service and very reliable in terms of uptime and accuracy. And from our point of view, the tools it gives us to diagnose and solve problems in real-time are probably its best feature.”
As of early 2017, Plantium had about 600 Atlas-enabled devices (monitors and smart antennas) placed with customers and in operation around Argentina. “In operation” means that the devices are installed on tractors and other agricultural equipment to guide operations like harvesting, spraying, and seeding. Depending on the time of year, Plantium has hundreds (growing into thousands) in use at once. “During the harvest, September and November here, it is very likely that basically all our installed devices will be operating at the same time,” says Baulies. “And it is also during harvest that automatic steering is most important — farmers need to work long hours during this brief window, and our equipment, plus Atlas corrections, let’s them keep working after the sun goes down. That used to be impossible.”