While still a relatively new advancement in the construction industry, asset management technology (telematics) is achieving rapid acceptance as more contractors experience the productivity gains and cost savings it can provide. And while once viewed as the domain of large fleet owners, the technology has since become more readily available, and practical, for even small fleets.
That said, it?s important to find a system that fits both your budget and your business objectives. A common mistake first-time users make is to base selection primarily on price. But while a $300 investment for basic hardware and $11/month for messaging can be tempting vs. an $800 system and $35/month messaging fees, you may find the more expensive package actually costs less when you break down what you get in return.
?It?s in how you derive benefit from it more than the initial price of the hardware,? says Bud Sims, director of OEM business development, Qualcomm Enterprise Services. ?If you can?t use the data, it?s worth nothing. If it?s very valuable and helps you to run the business, then $35 a month may be inexpensive.
?A contractor should take his time and do his due diligence before purchasing to make sure he?s buying the right product,? he advises, ?then develop business systems around it.?
The three basics
A basic asset management system typically lets you track hours of operation and equipment location, as well as set virtual boundaries (geofences). The core hardware consists of a small monitoring device ? covertly positioned on the machine ? that uses cellular and/or satellite technology to automatically transmit real-time operating and location data to a secure web site or, in some cases, directly to your business systems.
According to Sims, as many as 80% of contractors today would benefit from the three basic functions provided.
For example, hours of operation can be used to plan and schedule maintenance, improve billing accuracy, extend equipment life and avoid downtime due to engine failure, says Bob DeAngelis, senior director, LoJack Commercial Division.
?We have [companies] who use our products that were previously monitoring 200 vehicles with just spreadsheets,? notes Jennien Yarmie, vice president marketing support, Longview Advantage. ?You don?t have an accurate reading of the hours on those assets. The operator must provide the hour reading. Populating the hours directly into your business system means less recording and transcription effort, less errors and an audit trail.?
Using an asset management system enables you to efficiently manage your entire fleet, reducing costs and increasing productivity. ?Automating service alerts means less downtime... while optimizing fleet utilization,? Yarmie adds.
?It makes the whole process of maintenance timing much more efficient,? Sims agrees. ?You?re much less prone to under- or over-service machines if you have accurate hours to work with ? and that means cost savings and better equipment management.?
Operating hours can also be used to more effectively track equipment utilization. ?In other words, [you know] if the machine was on the job and worked a full eight hours today, as opposed to it sitting idle,? says Sims.
Real-time location data can offer further benefits. According to DeAngelis, it can help you to manage equipment availability, secure accurate location for equipment pickup and improve workforce productivity.
?The ability to know exactly where the machine is so you don?t spend time searching for it is really valuable,? says Sims. ?It?s not uncommon to have a large jobsite where the machine could be a half a mile from where it was dropped off, and have a technician spend an hour or two looking for it just to change its oil.?
Geofencing capability lets you to set pre-defined radial boundaries around equipment and receive alerts if the equipment leaves the area. ?[It] allows users to minimize risk of loss due to unauthorized use, enforce restricted areas and be notified immediately of theft incidents,? DeAngelis explains.
In other words, it lets you take a proactive approach to theft prevention. ?You?re not waiting until the next day to realize that a valuable piece of equipment has left the job,? says Sims. ?It tells you immediately that the machine is being moved and sends you an alert over either your pager system or an e-mail.?
For maximum protection, some asset management systems can be coupled with an equipment recovery service. For example, LoCate by LoJack can be purchased with the Stolen Vehicle Recovery system. If a theft occurs, the police activate a hidden onboard transponder, which sends a signal that enables them to track and recover the stolen item.
Qualcomm?s GlobalTRACS system offers advanced equipment locating via active geofencing. ?If you had a machine that was being stolen, you could call our hotline 24/7, which will put the machine on an every two-minute reporting cycle,? says Sims. ?This means the machine will send in its position every two minutes.?
Longview Advantage works with ?Commissionaires? to provide a 24/7 recovery center as an add-on feature to its standard system. The Commissionaires manage the center, which is staffed with all ex-military and law enforcement. ?Because they have the background, they have the ability to speak the same language,? says Yarmie. ?They tend to get a solution much faster when they?re dealing with the police.?
The next level of asset management technology utilizes digital or analog sensors to monitor critical operating data.
?You have the ability... to attach sensors to areas of the machine to monitor critical health problems or productivity information,? Sims explains. For example, with the GlobalTRACS system, sensors can be used to monitor engine temperature, oil pressure and other critical functions. ?Now you have not only basic operating data, but you have emergency-type data, as well, so you can shut a machine down and have it taken care of before it becomes a high-cost problem.?
Sensors can also be used to track productivity. For example, a sensor could be positioned on a paver?s augers to track material flow. As the auger turns, a signal is sent back to the telematic device, which records how much time the machine actually worked in the paving mode.
Even more data can be captured by OEM-supplied asset management systems. The more advanced electronics found in new, low-emission machines enables ready communication between major operating systems (engine, transmission, hydraulics, etc.). This, in turn, is collected via CAN bus (Controller Area Network) technology, and select data is transmitted to a company-sponsored secure web site.
OEM-supplied systems offer several advantages. ?Komatsu?s tracking system, as with most other OEMs supplying their own system, will have access to more of the data being monitored and recorded by the machine?s controllers and sensors,? explains Chris Wasik, manager, Equipment Monitoring & Applications, Komatsu America Corp. ?At the basic level, most all our equipment where KOMTRAX is standard will report daily location, engine-on hours, residual fuel quantity, machine maintenance reminders, cautions and abnormalities, as well as allow various types of engine restart prevention.
?As the technology in the machine increases, so does the information you are able to view on the web site,? he continues. ?The machines with our 7-in. in-cab color monitor panel are so advanced, the KOMTRAX logic is self-contained, allowing much more data to be transmitted from the various onboard controllers through the external modem. This allows you to see data such as yesterday?s idle time, actual fuel consumption, hours spent in the various operating modes, work load charts, time spent traveling and more.?
This data lets you to track both operator and machine performance. ?More importantly, [it provides] the data you need to measure the effect any fuel consumption or idle time reduction strategies have on the equipment?s actual operation,? Wasik asserts. ?Being able to implement and gauge the effectiveness of idle time reduction measures doesn?t just lower the hours on the machine each day and week. It also keeps the machine?s residual value high, lowers fuel expenses and decreases PM costs by reducing the number required each year.?
Added dealer support is a further benefit. ?Some of the more critical information sent from the machine is tied to our Service Management and Troubleshoot Support Systems, allowing the dealer to know the problem, its solution and any parts and tools that may be needed before even visiting a machine,? says Wasik.
The downside of OEM systems is the inability to communicate between equipment brands. This can make data management difficult for mixed fleets.
The volume of data received can also be overwhelming. ?Almost too much data is being created off these systems,? Sims claims. ?Right now, only the most sophisticated user can really take full advantage of the information that comes from these new machines.?
As such, it?s important to adjust business processes to use the data effectively. ?If you?re expecting to add telematics to your fleet and the data is just going to miraculously come to you in a way that you?re able to use, you will probably fail,? Sims states. ?What you need to do is look at... who controls the information so that reports are done correctly and sent to the right place.?
Does fleet size really matter?
Determining which level of asset management technology is the best match for your fleet requires not only an evaluation of the features provided, but a determination of which features you really need.
?If a contractor has a very small fleet and is also an operator of his equipment, in most cases, the data he requires is far less and, in fact, tends to shift more toward security than anything,? Sims notes. ?In this case, every one of his machines is extraordinarily valuable. The loss of a single machine could put him out of business.? Consequently, a basic system would likely be sufficient.
As the fleet increases in size, data requirements tend to grow with it. ?The larger the machine fleet gets and the more valuable the inventory... then it?s absolutely critical that you get the greatest amount of productivity out of those machines,? Sims comments. ?In that case, you need devices that are completely reliable and give you critical operation and utilization data every day.?
Larger fleets can benefit by knowing not only machine location and hours, but the daily operating situation and any alerts received. ?Scheduling PM or fuel delivery, as well as identifying efficient operators and potential training needs, also reduce downtime and overall owning and operating costs,? Wasik states.
Yet, he adds that even small fleets can benefit from such data. ?An owner-operator with one machine will enjoy the added security of the engine lock and movement-based location report capability,? he says. ?He can also see, graphically, the effect of fuel burn and work hours while operating an excavator in the different operation modes, such as Economy vs. Power.?
Before deciding which system is right for your business, ask yourself how different areas can benefit from the information provided.
?The question is actually pretty simple,? Sims states. ?Internally, upper management needs to ask: ?How will our business run better with the information that comes to us automatically? If we get hours automatically, where in my business does that impact us? If we get location of the machinery, where does that impact us? From a reporting standpoint, what kind of reports would my foreman or my job superintendent need to run jobs better??
?If they go through that exercise,? he adds, ?it?s actually pretty easy for them to look at the systems and the companies that are available out there that could satisfy this.?