Telematics: The Story Behind the Machine

Many construction companies have been reluctant to embrace technology and favor paper-based, manual processes—but that is all beginning to change.

The cost of labor, fuel, and materials continue to grow and construction companies can no longer afford to make mistakes in their records. Telematics offers the chance to improve data accuracy by telling the story of the construction project.

“Telematics presents a huge business opportunity when making bids and future profit projections. The fluctuations of materials and fuel costs cause many businesses to lose money due to the inability to accurately estimate costs during the bidding process. Telematics software, however, measures expenses almost in real time. Managers are able to see the amount and cost of fuel and materials utilized daily and submit that data electronically so they can adjust cost or time projection in a timely manner,” explains Andrew Hintz, director of business development, Teletrac Navman.

This hasn’t happened over night though, it has been a journey. It has been one where construction equipment has evolved from mechanical, to hydraulic, and now electronic systems.

“When it was primarily mechanical, clutches and belts and things like that, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of data that the machine could tell you,” explains Brad Ausman, product manager, Vermeer. “As we got to hydraulic, we started to get more technology with that, and sensors that were monitoring (it) … As we continue to move into more electrically driven systems, we have a lot more data and a lot more sensor information on that.”

He adds that there is a lot of information that the machine knows that the people in the back office want to know, or the operators want to know. Thus, the telematics is really the culmination of a lot of those technologies coming together.

In the last 10 years, telematics has experienced significant advances, both in vehicular devices and in communication methods that send data from the vehicle to the back office or end user. At the same time, there has been an evolution in communication methods.

In the past 10 years, the construction industry has seen the move from manual data download, to Wi-Fi and 2G to 3G/LTE with satellite back haul, allowing greater connectivity.

“There has also been a massive increase in data points collected from fleet equipment that has provided comprehensive, real time analysis of incident investigation and accident reconstruction, harsh vehicle usage, fuel use, and a deeper level of CANbus information, including vehicle health and fault information,” adds Hintz.

He continues that the user experience has also been enhanced, with richer data sets, intuitive user interfaces, extensions to platforms with apps, and software integration, which removes manual client processes to save both time and money, while streamlining productivity.

Perhaps the biggest challenge today is not the inability to gather data from equipment, but rather the amount of data at the construction jobsite is increasing at an exponential rate. The good news is the data from equipment can tell the tale of the fleet, offering insights to equipment operators and managers.

Driving Value Through Machine Analytics

As the volume of data  continues to expand, construction professionals are faced with the challenge of driving value through analytics.

Hintz explains that client expectations have evolved from ‘just show me where my asset is,’ to the desire for telematics data to enhance efficiency and productivity throughout the business.

He points to several key areas where construction professionals can now get data:

  •   Asset visibility
  •   Real-time engine hours
  •   Work vs. idle information
  •   Engine temperature and oil pressure
  •   Haul cycle reporting

“Each of these data points adds its own value to the operating process—essential in this era of expanding amounts of data and increased client expectations,” he says.

As one specific example, real-time engine hours contribute to a proactive maintenance program, while work vs. idle information allows equipment utilization to be measured and mapped against targets. Also, haul cycle reporting allows construction professionals to understand when the right equipment is deployed, when it is running efficiently, and if the job is on target for completion.

Some other key areas where construction professionals get data related to how the machine is operating, include wear cycle, faults, check engine lights, and more.

“Telematics allows you to start to interface with that information, but if we can get it off the machine without having to actually physically connect it, then we have the opportunity to share that back effectively through the Internet to anywhere in the world,” adds Ausman.

However, Ausman makes the point that there is a difference between having data and having information—and it is an important distinction to make when talking about telematics.

“We are inundated in our culture and in construction right now with data,” he explains. “We can get all sorts of sensor reports … and track things to a tenth of a second interval … So what we need to do is move as an industry from having data to having information and from information to action.”

An example of this would be oil pressure. People generally don’t care what the oil pressure on their machine is, but rather they care about the machine’s health. They care about the costs and the action that is needed. They care about avoiding unwanted downtime, he explains.

The good news is construction companies are able to better manage data through integrated solutions. More often, companies are feeding equipment data directly into an enterprise-resource planning (ERP) system to automate work order generation for proactive maintenance, as one example.

“This type of integrated data flow allows total cost of ownership modeling to be carried out on a per machine basis,” says Hintz. “Other companies who elect not to run an integrated software solution can leverage an analytics platform to highlight the meaningful trends the data presents to drive critical decision making. Additionally, companies can choose to build their own report structure for a more customized view of data, while still driving down costs and increasing machine uptime, productivity, and jobsite profitability.”

In the end, Ausman suggests the goal should not be to say what sort of information do construction workers get, but rather, what are those prescriptive actions they should take because of what the machine is telling them. It is all about the story that the telematics is telling them.

Connecting the Unconnected

While most think of telematics as it relates to large, heavy equipment, telematics can also help tell the story of smaller assets as well.

Philip Poulidis, senior vice president and general manager, BlackBerry Radar, points to the example of generators, which can have the BlackBerry Radar-L device mounted to them.

“Actually generators are an interesting example because generators that are used sometimes get hoarded, and this concept of hoarding in the construction industry is actually fairly problematic where at some point you find yourself lacking certain assets,” he says. “Having someone back in operations know exactly when an asset is being used, how it’s being used, and whether it’s being hoarded, then they can redeploy it, and make more efficient use of the assets they have on hand.”

While this is only one example, this device can be mounted to any type of construction equipment, giving workers insight into their fleets. It can pinpoint the exact location of an asset or track mileage.

“So you want to be able to manage or track the mileage of a fleet so that you can do preventative maintenance on that fleet, whether it’s changing tires or visual inspections,” he adds.

At the end of the day, construction companies can derive a lot of value from telematics—it is simply a matter of being able to understand the story that it is telling.

“Even if you don’t know exactly what you want out of it, start collecting data now so that you can have more informed conversations later,” explains Ausman. “But all of those conversations really only matter once you answer what type of question do you want to solve.”

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