Telematics offer plants managers so much more than just theft detection.
Telematics is the use of wireless technology to transmit information.
Some construction equipment manufacturers have been using telematics on their machines for 10 years or more. Others are only just starting to use it. As it becomes increasingly mainstream and standard fitment, more fleet owners appear to be gradually realizing the advantages that it offers.
At the most basic level, telematics systems offer a tracking system for stolen machines.
A desire to reduce plant theft – and insurance premiums – is a significant driver in the take-up of telematics, but it is really only the starting point. Telematics also offers the ability to monitor machine use and operational data remotely, even from across the other side of the world, if necessary. All kinds of detail can be accessed by computer or smartphone, pumping out daily, weekly or monthly reports, or in some cases real-time live data. Fuel efficiency, engine output, fluid levels, brake pad wear, utilization, productivity, error code tracking and much more can all be included in reports in widely varying formats.
How that information is used also varies widely. Some equipment owners do absolutely nothing with it. Others use it for preventative maintenance planning or even to determine their investment plans. For contractors, telematics can be useful; for plant hire firms, for whom the machinery is the core asset, the revenue generator and the center of the business, the information that is increasingly on offer really should not be ignored any longer.
Professor David Edwards of the Off-highway Plant and Equipment Research Center thinks that the construction industry is proving too slow on the uptake. “I don’t think telematics is being used as widely as it should be,” he says.
Some OEM systems, like Lynx Telematics in Cincinnati, Ohio, use satellite communications and some use cellular communication. JCB, for example, uses cellular, which it says allows for better coverage in built-up areas and indoors. Satellite, on the other hand, provides a signal when out of cellular coverage in even the most remote places. As cellular co improved, the tendency has been for manufacturers to move from satellite-based systems to GSM.
The only problem is that every OEM has its own different system – a point that has been picked up by the European Rental Association (ERA). At the Construction Equipment World Economic Forum last month ERA secretary general Michel Petitjean called for more standardization, saying: “Many OEMs have implemented telematics to their lines of equipment, and it is very cumbersome to make rental equipment compatible with all of these. The rental market is calling for standardization in some data feeds such as geo-fencing, immobilization, safety devices and alerts.”
For A-Plant, its investment in telematics has been driven by security concerns. It has GPRS (general packet radio service) devices attached to some 10,000 items of plant and equipment. The system proved itself in January last year when a tele-handler was stolen from site after hours. As soon as the customer reported the theft from its site, the telematics providers local service center manager logged onto the system from home through the internet system on the company’s website to locate the position of the stolen machine. He generated an aerial photograph of a transport yard where the equipment was being hidden and got on to the police.
Before the police got there, the machine was being moved. The movement was tracked and, eventually, the thieves were caught red-handed on their way out of the country with the stolen machine. More than 98% of stolen A-Plant equipment protected with telematics is recovered, compared to an industry average of just 5-10%. Aside from being used to track the location of a machine, many OEM telematics systems can be used to aid security by programming in ‘virtual walls’, setting perimeters outside of which the machine cannot and will not operate.
These can either be physical boundaries, typically restricting the machine to the site or quarry in which it is meant to be working, or time restrictions, perhaps to prevent unauthorized night use, for example. Like many larger hire firms, A-Plant is moving beyond the security aspects and, along with its customers, starting to exploit the operational opportunities.
With any telematic equipped machine, the customer can access the system via the internet to check not only that the machine is at its intended location but also that it is operating – and being operated – as desired. With a Geo-Fence / virtual wall, if the machine strays out of bounds the customer receives an e-mail or text. They can send text messages to remotely immobilize and/or release equipment.
The ability to monitor running hours is one of a number of sensor options that can be provided by using the information ports available on the device at the center of the telematics system. Functions that can be monitored also include towing speeds, fuel level, battery level, coolant, engine on/off, ignition on/off, engine covers open/closed and so on.
Even the simple tracking system function of telematics has benefits beyond the recovery of stolen machines, however. Sussex-based access hire firm Facelift, has no telematics system at the moment but it is in discussions with a couple of providers for installing trackers on its delivery vehicles. Operations director Paul Standing explains why he is keen to start using it. “The latest software can monitor driver behavior. We hope that this will not only assist us in controlling our diesel spend but will also assist us with reducing unnecessary maintenance work caused by driver abuse and may well also reduce our accidents.” He adds: “We will be able to see how far away from site our trucks are when customers are asking what time their machine will turn up and we will also be able to prove what time our machine arrived on site.” He is also looking to fit trackers to mobile engineers’ vans “so we can easily see who is closest to either a breakdown or average has customer’s machine that requires a repair, thus hopefully minimizing unnecessary downtime and also giving our customers a quicker service”.
On the same basis, Hewden has the Masternaut system fitted to its HGV delivery vehicles. This is a web-based system that can be accessed via a PC or smartphone so that it can track delivery progress. If a customer wants to know where his delivery has got to, Hewden knows.
HE Services, which reports a 99% success rate on recovering stolen plant thanks to GPS, also finds that tracking technology on its diggers aids collection of the machine at the end of a job on remote or hard-to-find sites. “Although security is the main benefit of the systems we find that it also benefits our customers in other ways,” says HE Services’ Chris Holloway. “It allows quicker reporting of machine faults. This allows us to respond to breakdowns more efficiently with the correct service parts. Human error on fuel measurement is eliminated in many cases meaning customers are not over charged for fuel/oil when returning a machine. And it reduces customers’ insurance in many cases, where a professionally fitted GPS unit is available.” He adds: “We use our systems to remotely monitor our plant and advise our customers where general maintenance can be made. We also keep track of hours worked and engine levels.”
Some companies that are embracing telematics don’t even regard security as their primary motive. UK Forks runs the country’s largest fleet of tele-handlers, with more than 1,110 machines – prominently JCB and Manitou brands. Managing director Shayne Wright says that in the region of a third of his fleet has a telematics system. He doesn’t regard it as an anti-theft device at all, but as an aid for planning preventative maintenance schedules. “It’s a useful tool,” he says. His machines are routinely out on long-term hire. By keeping tabs on their use, UK Forks knows the optimum time to service the machines. “I think theft is only a small part of it,” Wright says.
Ambrose Plant Hire managing director Richard Sykes is another enthusiast. “Increasingly, the customers we work with look for outfitters to provide more than just basic machines,” he says. “With demanding service level agreements it is essentially a fleet management and total support solution that is required – ensuring the best equipment is continually available at peak performance – exactly where and when the customer demands it. As such, telematics systems help us to deliver to those exacting standards. We can track our assets and monitor their performance to minimize downtime and maximize performance for our customers – presenting an extremely professional approach.” On many machines, the latest Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim engines have more electronic technology, which has made additional telematic functions possible. Telematics does not just help equipment owners and end-users. It can also help manufacturers and their distributors offer an improved level of service.
Komatsu, for example, offers its Komtrax system as standard on all machines and for larger machines has Komtrax Plus that collects data from the engine, transmission controllers and other major components. Ed Prosser, marketing manager of distributor Marubeni-Komatsu, says: “We regularly run ‘energy saving reports’ for a customer’s machines. We can use these to identify areas for concern and suggest a change in working practice. For example, a machine could be idling excessively, working too hard in an application. We can use this data to suggest better working practice that will save fuel and offer increased productivity.”
Liebherr, too, emphasizes the enhanced service that it can offer with remote diagnostics through its LICCON system on its mobile cranes. If an operator has a problem with the crane, be they in Birmingham or Bermuda, a techno-boffin down the line in Germany can see what has gone wrong and perhaps either fix it remotely or figure out what part to send.
Prosser says that the extent to which telematics has been embraced varies from customer to customer. “Some have taken to the technology more than others. However, with fuel becoming an increasing burden, customers are using the system more to keep track of their costs.”
For the major construction contractors, there is another benefit that is starting to become significant. Whether they own the machine or simply make use of it on a site, there is an impact on the corporate carbon footprint. For those companies that wish to or need to record their CO2 emissions, telematics is the answer.
Re-posted by Lynx Telematics in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Lynx Telematics is a full service Telematics solution with an OBD2 plug and play connection.