The New Promises of Construction Equipment Telematics

Jun 12, 2017 | Construction Technology

The new functions coming to construction equipment telematics promise to make life easier for owners and equipment managers. Sure, they’re reducing waste and lowering costs, but the real transformation on the horizon is one where advanced streams of data combine to create entirely new ways managing machines. 

By Clive Winward

There are some big shifts taking place in the field of construction equipment telematics. Starting with the integration of telematics devices in vehicles right from the manufacturers, to the standardization and integration of telematics data across various business functions, the future of telematics has never seemed so full of potential for fleet based businesses. Perhaps more than any other industry, the construction industry is set to reap the benefits of the seismic shift taking place in construction equipment telematics.

In this article, I want to look at some of these changes and what they mean for the construction and the equipment management industry.

Idling Makes No Sense

Contractors and equipment managers can realize huge savings from improved telematics systems when they collect and analyze idling times. They can cut fuel costs, extend vehicle warranty periods and encourage better attitudes and behaviors about idling. 

Speaking at the Association of Equipment Management Professionals Symposium in 2014, Barth Burgett, vice president of equipment and support for Kokosing Construction, was unequivocal in the cost savings telematics can provide.

“With excessive idling, you find that you are throwing money out the door,” he said. “Fifty percent, is not uncommon.”

Another speaker, John Meese, senior director of heavy equipment at Waste Management Inc., echoed this, citing a cost saving of $17,000 for the company when it cut idling time of a single Caterpillar 966 wheel loader.

Get The Real Idling Facts

The vast majority of original equipment manufacturers say to avoid excessive idle time, and idle only as necessary. Excessive idling produces sulfuric acid, which eats away at the engine and other components.  “Additionally, idling results in lower in-cylinder temperatures combustion, which can produce additional soot, creates buildup in the engine, and causes unnecessary engine wear.” – Argonne National Laboratory, Transportation Technology R&D Center


Construction Equipment Telematics Data Makes A Lot of Sense

Construction equipment telematics aim to take the wear out of machines
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Construction equipment telematics aim to take the wear out of machines
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Construction equipment telematics aim to take the wear out of machines and make equipment operations more efficient.

So many of the changes in telematics are about empowerment, and with this comes not just one-off cost savings but a new and more efficient way of working. With companies that are operating thousands of vehicles across hundreds of sites this data is beginning to improve operational decisions. That’s because telematics captures data that many people across the company can analyze and use to improve outcomes. 

The telematics data stream is also allowing more collaboration, and is helping people join-up their work practices and processes. One example is how telematics data can influence financial decisions at site, regional and business-wide levels. This information could give new insights into utilization rates, procurement and right sizing equipment. It also informs decisions on insurance, rental rates, depreciation and gains or losses made on disposal.

The API Data Revolution is at Hand

Aggregation of data is key to understanding the changes construction equipment telematics are bringing to company strategies. Cutting idling times really is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential that application programming interfaces have to liberate telematics big data. APIs allow any user to access or feed telematics data to their dashboard. Once there, construction equipment managers can integrate the data into their own workflows and systems. Telematics vendors will likely introduce new pricing models to incorporate this more tailored and customizable approach to data access.

But Who Owns the Data?

Right now, the equipment vendors own and oversee much of the telematics data, and that will no doubt continue to worry some people about the potential for an emerging big brother culture. John Meese dismisses such claims as missing the point.

“We want big brother watching out for us. The question I would have is why aren’t you watching our machines.”

OEMs and telematics providers are quick to highlight the importance of working closely with construction companies and contractors.

“I was demonstrating to a customer last week that they had almost 50% idling time on a machine,” says Martyn Brawn, engineering manager with Volvo. “It’s good money for us, but it’s not efficient. One of the things we preach is that we use the power and torque in the engine the way it’s designed to be used – it’s not designed to be used flat-out. We can educate customers and operators into working more efficiently.”

As Volvo and other OEMs like Caterpillar and JCB see it, there’s simply no commercial interest in keeping this data from the construction companies and contractors they do business with, nor is there incentive to make the data punitively expensive. That being said, a collaborative approach will be needed as this data becomes more integral to keeping these companies in profit.

Putting Real Time Into Decisions

High speed mobile internet and GPS are allowing construction management applications to capture more data in the field, and we can see telematics playing a big role in this development. Site managers or foremen are able to receive notifications and alerts in real time and then investigate the causes, whether it be excessive idling time or low utilization of equipment.

Equipment manufacturers can get an overview of these issues as they occur and see how quickly the owner deals with them. That brings greater collaboration to the site level.

Smarter Systems on the Horizon

Although equipment managers have increasingly sophisticated construction equipment telematics utilization data at their fingertips, they still need to act on that data in making day to day operational decisions. Over time though, we will see telematics systems becoming more adept at interpreting this data themselves, which leads us to an inevitable increase in automated scheduling and dispatch. 

Computer aided scheduling and dispatch systems have been around for years, but with such unprecedented volumes of data these are beginning to make the leap towards fully automated systems. That’s not to say the job of the equipment manager is set to go the way of the Dodo, but the role, like the technology that goes with it, is certainly changing fast.

Clive Winward

Founder of iTracking

Based in Bradley Stoke in Bristol, Clive is an expert on vehicle tracking systems and has a large customer base across the West Country and South Wales, with in excess of 6000 tracking units fitted using the TomTom WEBFLEET system.

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