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The Challenge

Using modern technology to solve modern challenges

In order to improve farming efficiencies and processes, the agricultural industry has become more precise and technologically advanced than ever before. Now, technology companies are eyeing the agricultural sector with the intention of pushing back the boundaries to make farming more productive than ever before.

 

Enter AgTech

 
 

Enter AgTech Industries, a California-based startup founded in 2013. AgTech provides hardware and software products for farmers across the world. Founder Aaron Magenheim and his long-time associate Jesse Martin wanted to bring modern, user-friendly technology to the agricultural industry by harvesting real-time data from their fields to become more efficient, avoid crop damage and reduce costs.

 
 
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Aaron Magenheim

 

Jesse Martin

 
  AgTech 
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However, agricultural technology companies looking to build sophisticated field-based networks for sensors and other types of technology are faced with a fresh set of challenges. Agricultural environments are characterised by extremes in temperature, water, corrosive chemicals and plenty of dirt and dust – not an environment normally conducive to sensitive electronic equipment.

This was the challenge that AgTech encountered when embarking on the design of their smart infield telemetry system, AgriCapture™. In need of a reliable supplier of rugged connectors that could solve their problem, Bulgin worked closely with AgTech Industries to incorporate integrated electronics into their 400 Series Buccaneer range of rugged circular connectors.

In need of a reliable supplier of rugged connectors, Bulgin worked closely with AgTech Industries to incorporate integrated electronics into their 400 Series Buccaneer range

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The Need For An Intelligent Connector

When Magenheim and Martin started developing a new smart infield telemetry system called AgriCapture™, they realised they needed a special type of connector that wasn’t available off the shelf. AgriCapture’s mobile app was designed to enable farmers to easily connect and configure sensors from a smartphone, without the need for IT experts.

The connectors had to be able to stand up to everything from freezing cold to desert heat, with the ability to sit in wet mud and resist direct spray from sprinklers

What they were now looking for was not only an “intelligent” connector with a built-in integrated circuit that would allow the connector to be electronically paired with the correct sensor, but also one that could perform these functions in the harshest possible environmental conditions.“Our main intention currently is to extract data out of the field, assist clients in their growing practices from planting to harvest, trying to improve their operations, and allow them to make decisions quickly,” said co-founder and CPO of AgTech, Jesse Martin. The connectors had to be able to stand up to everything from freezing cold temperatures to desert heat, with the ability to sit in wet mud and resist direct spray from sprinklers.

We also needed them to connect very easily, to be cost-effective, sit potentially disconnected for months or years straight, and then be able to connect them again without dealing with issues like corrosion or unreliability

AgTech CEO Aaron Magenheim said that he and Martin had looked outside of the agricultural sector to find best in breed for each component that they were looking for, and this is how they came across Bulgin.

 

Our Approach

 
 

Collaboration and Testing

 

When Bulgin’s team was asked in January 2016 if it would be possible to mould the EEPROM device into the connector without causing any damage to the electronics, they first embarked upon a feasibility study to determine whether any issues could arise from moulding the device into the connector.

 
 
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We looked into the materials, what sort of temperatures we were hitting during the mould process and whether or not the EEPROM would actually survive the moulding process

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After establishing that it would, we started looking at PCB design, trying to make sure that the PCB that the EEPROM would sit on would actually fit comfortably inside  the mould tools

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The Solution

 
 

A Time and Cost-Saving System

 

Widely recognised as a leading manufacturer of environmentally sealed connectors and components, Bulgin has a long history of developing innovative products and services to cater for its global customer base across a variety of markets. Bulgin's popular Buccaneer circular connector range is well known in the industry for providing reliable, robust connections for power, signal and data in challenging environments.

 
 
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AgTech asked us if we could encapsulate an EEPROM device into a connector

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“This was specifically adapted for a certain range of Bulgin connectors because AgTech had a particular range in mind. They had already done some trials themselves with our self-assembly version of the 400 Series, which is why they had decided that this range was the one they wanted to go with after seeing the size of the overmould.”

- Christian Taylor

 

The 400 Series is one of the most compact series of connectors within the Buccaneer range, and is ideal for designs requiring a small footprint. The miniature power connectors take a selection of the best features and specifications from its larger Buccaneer family members and condense them into a compact form factor, giving engineers greater flexibility in the design phase.

 
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The PCB that the EEPROM sat on was actually only 7 x 5 mm in terms of footprint, so it worked well with the smaller 400 Series connector

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“The capture of such a small PCB and EEPROM enables serialization, reduced expenditure associated with physical marking, problems related to insufficient space, permanency, aesthetics, and legibility."

 

The Implementation

 
 

A Simplified and Future Proof Process

 

The ultimate result of this collaboration is that users of AgTech’s AgriCapture system can easily pair up each sensor to the correct connector on the harness, eliminating the possibility of misuse or incorrect cables plugged into sensors on the fields. The system has some obvious advantages over a low-tech labelling system for pairing connectors with devices.

 
 
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Labels are becoming fairly redundant for modern-day needs, because you can’t reprogram them

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“You can peel them off and replace them, but that’s labour-intensive. With intelligent connectors you could reprogram them from a distance and tell them to do something different.”

 

While the connectors were in the testing phase, Bulgin designed a test box that could be plugged into a computer to check the status of the connectors and determine if the EEPROM was connected and wired correctly.

 
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If for any reason connectors become unplugged or disconnected, it saves time to check on the system and know exactly where the problem is rather than having to deploy people into the field to physically check every connector to see if they are all working

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The Results

 
 

Changing Agricultural Practices for the Better

 

For AgTech, the intelligent connector project has enabled them to develop and deliver their AgriCapture solution in a cost-effective way – which has ultimately proven to be beneficial to their clients.

 
 
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Bulgin worked with us to find the connectors that we desired that were not only cost effective but suitable for our solutions

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“From what we’ve seen by using Bulgin’s connectors over the last couple of years is that they can withstand significantly more stress – as well as environmental conditions – than we’ve seen in any other product from competitors” said Magenheim.

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One of the best things [about collaborating with Bulgin] was the customer service. They helped us find the connectors that we desired and worked with us to make sure that they were cost effective as      well as suitable for our solutions

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Working with Bulgin to develop our smart cables could really revolutionise the agricultural monitoring industry



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