Managing the fleet as a production system
By Jacob StollerConstruction Equipment Technology Software
Telematics used to be about optimizing performance of individual machines. Today, it’s also about efficient jobsites.
As environmental performance becomes a common qualification for construction projects, contractors are increasingly faced with requests to “show the numbers.” The trend is helping drive the evolution of telematics from a fleet manager’s tool to an essential source of enterprise data.
“A big telematics driver for us is the environmental side,” says Tim Giggee, construction equipment maintenance and repair manager at Blattner Company, a contractor that specializes in alternative energy projects, and a board member at Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP). “That includes idle time, equipment utilization, drive distance, and not letting machines burn fuel for no reason – things that allow us to really sharpen the pencil on the that side.”
The trend is also pressuring equipment OEMs to move telematics from add-on to essential feature.
“In the past, telematics was a nice-to-have, and the aftermarket would fill that void,” says Michael Granruth, business development director at Trimble and AEMP board member. “But today, it has become fairly standard. Every major OEM in the construction space offers factory-fitted telematics. The underlying trend here is that it’s all about the data.”
Equipment managers are getting requests for data from parts of the organization that until recently had little interest in what the equipment was doing.
“There are really three stakeholders here,” says Granruth, “the OEM, the dealer, and the end-customer. The OEM is looking at data for product performance and regulatory issues. For the dealer, it’s about parts and service. For the end user, it’s about productivity and utilization.”
The latter category is by far the most difficult because it involves not only single machines, but the entire ecosystem of machinery on a jobsite. To reduce fuel consumption, for example, it’s necessary to understand what all the equipment is doing so that workflows can be adjusted.
“Telematics used to be all about what a machine is doing,” says Granruth. “Today, you have to look at adjacency – what equipment is nearby, what attachment is the machine running, who is operating the equipment? So, it’s not just about the machine; it’s about the site and ultimately about the business.”
MIXING AND MATCHING
The need to see the big picture is forcing the industry to meet the challenge of consolidating data from multiple equipment and machine control vendors. How to manage mixed fleets is, in fact, one of the top web queries at SMS Equipment, a Canada-wide Komatsu dealer and service provider.
“Contractors didn’t operate mixed fleets until fairly recently, but today it’s considered normal,” says the company’s smart-construction sales representative, Jeff Martin. “As technology changes and you want different features on different machines, and with the integration of more and more machine control, companies have no choice but to mix now.”
Martin explains that, until fairly recently, mixed fleet management required expensive and cumbersome workarounds.
“The problem with mixed fleets has been that the control vendors use different file types,” he says . “But the industry is standardizing that now, and once this gets figured out we’re going to see a massive increase in mixed fleets.”
“AEMP worked closely with the construction OEMs to develop the ISO 15143-3 telematics standard, which allows aggregators, including companies like Trimble, to present machine data in a unified way to the end customer,” says Granruth. “This was done because the end customer was saying, ‘I want to make decisions based on what’s happening across my mixed fleet.’”
Availability of data, however, is only the beginning. Companies have to be prepared, like their predecessors in manufacturing, to develop comprehensive strategies for sharing and analyzing that data.
“The equipment manager is responsible for the second largest cost for contractors after labour,” says Granruth. “But oftentimes that person doesn’t have a seat at the table for C-Suite level decisions that affect the whole company.”
The Association of Equipment Management Professionals has a certification program for equipment managers that gives them the technical and financial skills to bring telematics decisions into the boardroom. It’s not just executives that need the numbers, however. Data can be a powerful tool for encouraging field personnel to pay more attention to their own impact on the environmental footprint.
“The data can be educational,” says Giggee. “You can tell people not just how much they’re idling, but how much fuel that’s wasting and how that’s impacting the company’s carbon footprint. Once they’re aware of what they’re doing, that’s when the behaviour starts to change.”
Jacob Stoller is principal of StollerStrategies. Send comments to email@example.com.