John Deere’s Virtual Reality

To ensure the continual improvement of its line of compact equipment, John
Deere gets extensive input from operators and owners — the ones who know best
when it comes to machine features that make them more productive. To gather the
input, the company formed Customer Advocate Groups (CAG), made up of
owner-operators who run a variety of brands and represent many industries and

“We want to find out what they like and dislike about their machines,” said
Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager of skid steers and compact loaders for
John Deere. “We then build features into the next generation of Deere machines
based on their input.”

Recently, Deere convened a CAG to gather input for skid steer loaders.
Participants drove competitive models through an obstacle course, then were
paired with engineers to evaluate serviceability, steering, stability,
hydraulics, transmission, engine and visibility. CAG members consistently rated
loader size, controllability, pushing power and lift capacity as important. The
product team will use this feedback to produce a next-generation skid steer that
has the performance advantages needed to attract owners of competitive machines.

A virtual reality simulator was used to show CAG participants a preliminary
design of the next generation of John Deere skid steers, according to Zupancic.

“Today we can get customer input on a proposed design in a virtual
environment before a prototype is even built,” he said. “With more direction up
front, our engineers won’t waste time designing a machine that doesn’t meet
customer needs. We don’t have to go back to the drawing board anymore.”

Virtual reality also allows CAG members to take a virtual tour of the
operator station. A special three-dimensional headset and gloves are used to
track head and hand positions.

“Operators get a good sense of a proposed cab,” Zupancic said. “They can see
where the monitor is or where they have to reach to push specific buttons. They
also can see the impact on visibility of raising or lowering the boom.”

After a physical prototype is built, the CAG will meet again to provide
feedback, according to Zupancic.

“They come back and run the machine, and then tell us if we need to refine
any specific areas. It’s a unique opportunity for them to see the influence
they’ve had on the design of the machine,” he said.

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