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Experts Corner

Telematics: The virtual bridge to smart construction

In heavy construction, equipment utilization and performance directly affect the bottom line. Technology for collecting operational data from equipment in real time is nothing new. Still, as SMS Equipment’s telematics lead, Lacey McKay, explains, improvements in the technology have made it much easier to analyze that data and apply it to day-to-day decisions.

Consistent and reliable information is expanding the scope of telematics.

Consistent and reliable information is expanding the scope of telematics.

Lacey: In terms of equipment data, the factors contractors are most concerned about – cost management and time management – need reliable and consistent information. In the past, however, ensuring accurate utilization information was difficult, and you weren’t getting anything you could trust. For example, people tended to have all kinds of spreadsheets to track and analyze much of the information that was collected. That was very time-consuming and also introduced human error – people reversed numbers and things like that.

So, if you were using the information for job costing to decide how to bid on the next job, you could be way off. Another problem is that your maintenance gets thrown off without accurate information, and you’re exposed to downtime risks.

New telematics software platforms have enabled automating many of those manual processes. We’re seeing with the latest systems that many contractors use telematics in a wide range of business intelligence (BI) applications.
Telematics allows a proactive approach to prevent downtime.

Telematics allows a proactive approach to prevent downtime.

Lacey: The expansion of data available for the machine has changed things. In the past, people mainly considered the hour count on the machine. Now they can do a near real-time analysis based on all of the fault codes and critical health data flowing in from the fleet. They can also drill down and see, for example, what speed and gear the equipment is engaged in to evaluate operator training opportunities or deficiencies. These capabilities are essential with Tier-4 exhaust systems, where you must know how much DEF fluid is used and whether operators follow procedures.

The new systems also make automating customized e-mail or text alerts easy to inform support people in real-time. For example, a code might come in that shows a problem developing with the equipment, in which a fleet manager can arrange for the problem to be corrected in the field before damage occurs. In extreme situations, telematics can shut down the equipment to avoid downtime or avert an unsafe situation. (a remote engine lock can be applied to prevent engine operation) – that’s how I would word that.

Telematics makes it possible to manage costs in real-time.

The equipment can tell you a lot about what a job is costing, so you can make corrections on the spot. It tells you how long each task takes, how much fuel you’re burning, or how many trips are being made. A lot of systems now can track tonnage moved, so you can use telematics to help make real-time decisions to make a job more profitable. Do we have enough trucks on the job? Are we keeping trucks waiting because we should be using a bigger excavator? Is the excavator configured with the proper attachment?

You can also use the system for training opportunities. Are operators idling the equipment above the industry standard, and if so, what are the potential cost increases such fuel we will incur? There are many opportunities to change behaviour that can improve a job immediately rather than waiting until the end of the job to evaluate it.

Telematics can provide a single view of a multi-OEM fleet.

Lacey: Komatsu’s telematics platform, myKomatsu, can support all-makes equipment. Many of our customers are using that functionality to gain the efficiency of a single fleet-wide view without having to go to multiple telematics platforms. We actively support this at SMS Equipment and help customers set up and support the required data infrastructure.
Ease of use is streamlining the adoption curve.

Ease of use is streamlining the adoption curve.

Lacey: The OEMs have recently figured out how to make their platforms super intuitive. They’re also accessible from a computer in the office or a smartphone in the field. There’s also a lot of consistency of data between different brands.

We’ve created a training resource at SMS Equipment and make it a point to make training available whenever and however our customers need it – in person or online. The training lets them follow along with the trainer on a live site, allowing them to try things and get comfortable. Once they start to get confident using that data, they start exploring and trying things out. It’s a real eye-opener for them to see how much information they are just a couple of clicks away from.

The Bottom Line:

Advances in telematics provide significant opportunities for contractors to improve equipment uptime, streamline workflows, and train operators in real-time to utilize equipment more efficiently. SMS Equipment has a team in place to train and support users of this game-changing technology.

Learn more about telematics here.

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