Manure-Processing Equipment Maker Employs NFC

By Claire Swedberg

Nutrient Control Systems is adopting NFC RFID technology to make it easier for farmers and its other customers to access information about its products.

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This summer, Nutrient Control Systems (NCS) is using radio frequency identification technology to market its agricultural and industrial waste-handling equipment, including the Cri-Man product line of separators, pumps and mixers. By applying Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tags to the products it sells (initially comprising pumps, mixers and separators on display at trade shows and fairs), the Chambersburg, Pa., company says it will be helping potential users to learn how the systems work in farm operations, and to watch videos and access brochures. In addition, the NCS plans to employ NFC technology later this year to help farmers access operation instructions, or to learn where to order parts or service their machines.

Mobile platform technology company Purple Deck Media, based in Scotland, Pa., provides the NFC tags, as well as software for managing the collected RFID data.

Nutrient Control Systems is attaching an NFC RFID tag to each piece of equipment it sells, such as this Cri-Man screw-press separator, designed to remove liquids from cow manure.

NCS distributes sustainable-agriculture solutions, including the CowFibre Bedding System, by which cow manure is processed in an NCS separator machine. The resulting material can then be used as bedding for cows, thereby reducing the amount of manure waste requiring disposal, as well as the sawdust otherwise used for cattle bedding.

Since the solution is still a new concept for many farmers, much of the company’s sales efforts are centered on education and simply making farmers aware that such a solution exists, according to Alyson Kemp, NCS’ marketing coordinator. The firm mails out brochures to farmers, and also exhibits its equipment at trade shows. Since the actual process cannot be demonstrated on the show floor, employees must describe the process and direct farmers to online videos.

Kemp had sought new ways in which to engage with potential customers regarding her company’s products when she came upon the idea of utilizing NFC technology. Purple Deck Media, a startup based in NCS’ local geographic area, had already provided NCS with an app, in March 2016, enabling customers to access videos and other content about the equipment manufacturer’s products. Purple Deck Media also offers an NFC-based solution known as TapLive, and Kemp says she intends to use NFC RFID tags at trade shows, beginning next week, before adding them to all products as they are manufactured, as well as retrofitting systems already being used by farmers.

NFC technology makes the entire process more automatic, says Nathan Neil, Purple Deck Media’s COO.

Nutrient Control Systems will use its RFID-based system three times during the next few weeks—at the North American Manure Expo, in London, Ohio; Empire Farm Days, in Seneca Falls, N.Y.; and the World Dairy Expo, in Madison, Wisc.

At each show, NCS brings some of its separating equipment onto the floor so potential customers can view it. The company cannot operate the machines at the events, however, since the separators are dewatering presses that require slurry (manure) to be loaded into them as they run in an agricultural or industrial setting. By instead placing an RFID tag made with NXP Semiconductors‘ NTAG213 chip (compliant with the ISO 14443 standard) on each piece of equipment, Nutrient Control Systems can enable its customers to view videos on their smartphone via the TapLive content-management software platform. Users need only have their phone’s NFC functionality activated—they do not need to download an app. When they tap a phone against the NFC RFID tag, it accesses the TapLive software on Purple Deck’s server via the internet. The phone’s web browser then displays a variety of content options, including a video showing the equipment in use.

The TapLive system not only lets users view information and store links about a particular product on their phone, without needing to carry paperwork (brochures or flyers), but also allows NCS to view how much interest there is for the equipment at each location, and when. Kemp says she can then determine how well specific machines are attracting attention, along with where this occurs, and thus plan the marketing of those products, as well as future trade show exhibits, based on those results.

Beginning this fall, the company intends to begin applying NFC RFID tags to all equipment that it sells. Moreover, it plans to ship tags to existing customers, to be applied to the NCS equipment they use at their facilities.

NCS’ Alyson Kemp

The ID number encoded on each product’s NFC tag will be linked to that machine’s serial number (which would be entered into the TapLive software at the time of manufacture, or by the farmer when he or she attached the tag to an NCS machine). When an individual taps the tag with an Android phone equipped with NFC functionality, that person will then be able to access online content, such as a user’s manual, parts-ordering information, or the locations of authorized service and repair businesses within that user’s area (based on the phone’s GPS data).

Without the NFC system, a farmer would need to search for a serial number printed on a piece of equipment, find the company’s website or phone number and then seek out the information. “NFC provides a seamless experience,” Neil says. “Just tap the tag.” The latest generation of farmers nearly all carry a smartphone with them, he notes, and thus respond well to technology. As such, Neil adds, these younger farmers tend to like the idea of using NFC to access data quickly.

The tags cost NCS less than a dollar each, Kemp reports, so the company can provide the technology to its customers for no added cost.

Purple Deck Media has provided its NFC RFID solutions to several retailers and restaurants, as well as to Franklin County Veterans and 9/11 Memorial Park (see Purple Deck Media RFID-Enables Veterans’ Trail of Service). The company also provides postcards and brochures with embedded NFC RFID tags for direct-marketing mailings.

Harshbarger’s Sub ‘n Malt, which operates two diners in Pennsylvania, uses the TapLive system to promote its desserts and other products. The restaurant’s owner has attached an NFC sticker to each menu at one of the diners. When a patron taps his NFC-enabled phone to a menu’s tag, he can receive promotional offers, such as two banana splits for the price of one at the ice cream shop connected to that eatery. According to Purple Deck Media, Harshbarger’s has reported that sales are up significantly since the NFC system was taken live, and the owner is now installing the technology at the other diner.

In the meantime, NCS is in conversations with a supplier of bags for packaging CowFibre bedding, about the possibility of embedding NFC tags into its bags so that customers could access data regarding the product before or after making a purchase. Kemp says her company is still discussing how the tag would be embedded in such a way that the bedding would not damage the tag or block transmissions.