Telematics: Making Knowledge Into Power

There’s an old joke told by politicians that if you take all of the economists in the world and lay them all end to end they still point in different directions. It’s a funny joke, to be sure-well, depending on whether you’re a politician or an economist-but to a really great degree it describes an important point when discussing the growth and development of telematics. In fact, prior to beginning nearly all of the interviews conducted for this story, company representatives asked one question to clarify the author’s goal for a discussion, “What are you calling telematics?”

Something told me that they weren’t just clarifying my level of knowledge of the subject. Instead, they were determining where the knowledge that I did have had taken me. It is also interesting to note that with the diverse backgrounds of those interviewed for this story, there came to be one common thread: connection.

Connection is a word that in recent years has been overused to the point of being trite. Being connected means that you’re in the know. Being connected means that you’re not an outsider. Being connected means that you’re operating intelligently, and who doesn’t want to be operating intelligently?

What modern day car owner doesn’t fanaticize about the feeling of getting behind the wheel of an old classic car? My favorite is the 1939 Packard Super 8 sedan. There’s a story that the one I got to drive was owned by the mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, but that’s another story. The only problem with this, one of my few brushes with fame, is that beyond the speedometer, gas meter, and temperature gauge (which was conveniently mounted on the top of the radiator), there is nothing. There are no more gauges. No idiot lights. Nothing. I know how fast I am going and how much gas I’ve got. Oh, and the radio works great. The trouble is that when the oil pressure falls or there’s another issue with the engine, you might as well have Triple A on speed dial, because you’re gonna need it.

Unfortunately, there are many of those in many industries that use telematics that are still struggling with the whole concept. There are even those who would be considered adopters who still debate its usefulness. The usual problem is with trying to understand how they should implement the technology in such a way that it not only proves useful, but also quantifiably increases efficiency and effectiveness of machines.

When this problem is considered objectively, an examination of the issues involved helps the user understand the concept of telematics. The bottom line is that telematics allows many different types of machines the ability to self-report, whether it be hours worked, location, fault codes, fuel levels, or maintenance histories. Whether the equipment is installed by the OEM or an aftermarket service, the objective is the same: Using the GPS inherent in the telematics system, the machine is identified as to its location and relevant data is sent by the machine to various interested locations for use.

The types of information that are collected, organized, and sent to decision-makers depends largely on the manufacturer. This information is in turn used by those in the field as well as the manufacturers themselves in order to evaluate the applications and advise the end users.

This is the main objective of an illustration of the benefits of telematics for Trimble. Telematics is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Just ask Chris Richardson, software solutions segment manager for Trimble’s heavy civil construction division.

“I would have to say that telematics is defined as a number of different levels,” he explains. “So we’d start at the basic, which is what I would call traditional telematics, so that is basically [a] device on an asset, location of the asset, hours of operation, run time-so is the asset actually operating, or is it turned off, or is it idling, or is it working? So that’s what I would call basic telematics.

“The next layer is what I would call”¦let’s call it telematics plus, where you have additional systems on the machine, such as we have a solution called TirePulse which plugs into our telematics devices and feeds data back to the back end. That measures tire pressure on rubber-tired vehicles. You have the hours and utilization and health of your vehicle, but as part of the health you actually track the health of the tires so there’s additional telematics which feeds into the health solution.”

A third level of telematics, according to Richardson, is utilization of the Payload Stealth System from LoadRite, another Trimble company, which also augments the utilization part of the telematics solution. These include data such as hours housed, maintenance, location, and utilization for a loading asset.

“But one of the things that Trimble’s really working on is using telematics to support productivity monitoring,” Richardson says. “This works on two levels as far as what we call 2D project monitoring. This means not only targeting a haulage asset, so monitoring the performance of an asset hauling materials from a load site to a dump site. That means how long does it take to load, how long does it take to transit between that load to the dump area, what the cycle time is, so that you can use that sort of information to track your overall project productivity, so now using telematics as far as project monitoring.”

Approaching the telematics business from a different angle is Telogis, whose vice president of asset and security solutions spoke about his company’s approach to the field.

“We are at opposite ends of the telematics business from a company like Trimble, which uses a very application-specific model to build their telematics business,” he explained. “At Telogis we believe that a more broad-brush approach is more appropriate for creating a telematics product, as we have with our product. Telogis is built with customization in mind so that not only can a greater number of users from different applications use it, but it can be customized to meet everyone’s needs. When things are as mobile as they are today, it’s critical that an organization have tools that they can make as closely to their business needs as they can. Even within a given organization, different people have different needs. I believe that only with a customizable product can everyone who is using it win.”

Credit: Volvo
Telematics in action

Just the Facts
According to Peter Robson at Komatsu America, connectivity of information allows managers to evaluate the way business is done with the ultimate objective of making it perform better. “It’s for this reason that his company works closely with GPS maker Topcon to ensure seamless connection with data provided by machines with information received by the management of a company.

“It might be true that telematics makes a lot of data available to the users, but people see the rich volume of data that they’re getting,” he says. “It’s not the quantity. And then they realize, “˜Well, hang on, I need more of this information so I can get a better understanding of what’s happening in my operation to save money.”

Another company with its finger on the telematics pulse is Volvo Construction Equipment, whose spokesman, Bill Sauber, discussed the subject.

“To me, telematics is connectedness, and with connectedness comes power,” he says. “There was a time in the not too distant past when machines were sent out in the field, and to a great extent they were operating in the dark, as far as the office was concerned. In the field, everything might have been fine, but where the information really counted as far as the job and the machinery, there was a serious disconnect because there was no information about either of these that would get to the office until the end of the day or in some cases, the end of the project. It’s as simple as that.”

Sauber likens the progress available to managers to the new generations of automobiles as they make their way to showrooms each year.

“Anyone who likes cars can hardly wait until the new models show up in the dealership showrooms,” Sauber says. “And in a very real sense, telematics is just like the new models of cars in terms of new things that it does with each new generation of equipment. The diagnostics and technological developments that help us do things better with each generation, and even between generations, is nothing short of astounding.”

With the development of equipment features, Sauber says, it’s important to understand what is included in the telematics umbrella, and how to use the technology to make smart decisions that will lead to benefits in a contractor’s fleet-and ultimately-their business.

The Telematics Umbrella
This leads back well to the initial question brought up at the beginning of this story: “What are you calling telematics?”

Telematics in construction equipment can vary widely, from monitoring the five critical categories as outlined by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), to advanced systems designed by differing OEMs. Among all the available functions monitored by telematics, however, nearly all agree that there are three areas-location and hours, maintenance, performance and productivity-from which fleet managers can gain the most insight. If you keep only those issues in mind, this is how telematics can improve your bottom line.

“Today, approximately 40 percent of our customers who received JDLink with their new machines are actively using it in conjunction with dealer monitoring, diagnostics, and support services.”

If you ask someone at John Deere what they call telematics, the answer might come in the form of their own product, WorkSight, a suite of technology, data, and dealer services that optimizes machine performance, boosts uptime, and increases productivity on the job site. The connectivity is contributed to the product by another, JDLink, which allows partnering between users and dealers to make efficiency better and make the experience of John Deere equipment better.

According to Liz Quinn, product marketing manager for John Deere WorkSight and John Deere construction and forestry division, “When we initially offered JDLink as an option from the factor in 2007 [about a year prior to the economic downturn], customer take rates were relatively low, about 5%. It was seen as an added cost to the machine, without much understanding what the technology could do to improve a customer’s business. Also, a typical first owner was keeping his or her machine about three years at the time.

“Today, approximately 40% of our customers who received JDLink with their new machines are actively using it in conjunction with dealer monitoring, diagnostics, and support services.”

Hours, Integration, and Consolidation
Mention telematics to Daniel Miller, account manager for Caterpillar’s construction division, and the four main talking points will quickly become location, hours, integration, and consolidation.

Caterpillar’s core business has been heavy equipment from the beginning of the company’s history, which makes it a natural in the telematics business.

“Knowing where a piece of equipment is and what it is doing are probably two of the most important factors in the telematics equation,” Miller says. “If you know only two factors in a machine’s operation, location and hours are probably the most important as well as the two components that can lead to so many more factors, such as refueling, servicing, and theft prevention. As the size of a contractor’s fleet increases, this becomes even more important, exponentially so, since when you have more there are more possibilities of things slipping through the cracks. With good telematics data, the possibility of this being a problem is minimized.”

Minimizing fleet problems is a great goal for telematics, but other basic systems provide geo-reference and time fence functions that control the location and hours of operation for a machine. If the machine travels outside the location parameters or operates during restricted hours, fleet managers receive a text message, e-mail, or an alarm on the homepage site where the fleet is monitored. Knowing when, where, and how a fleet’s machines are operating helps to maximize uptime and increases profitability.

Fleet managers also need to be able to access information about the total operating hours for each of the machines under their authority. For example, if a machine has not been serviced within a given period of time, telematics data can keep the fleet manager informed of the problem or the potential of a problem.

Another important factor taken into consideration with more advanced telematics systems is equipment utilization, or is that machine doing what it should be doing, and if it is, how efficiently is it being operated? There comes a point where machines can idle too much and too often. Excessive idling can also be an indicator of fuel waste. At $4 per gallon for fuel over a 10,000-hour lifespan for a machine, when it idles for half of that time, it can add up to more than $20,000 for unproductive fuel, not counting other fluids and maintenance costs.

Another heavy-equipment maker, Case, is also heavily into the telematics business as another part of its offerings.

Maintenance Issues
Telematics is a big deal for Case Construction Equipment, according to Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager, for the company. “There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the big ones is maintenance. There’s nothing that can cut into a profit margin like a machine that’s out of action because of maintenance problems. Fortunately, today there’s telematics, which makes maintenance issues largely avoidable.”

Stemper elaborates by explaining that not only can telematics give everyone on a job site as well as in the office an accurate picture of what the maintenance situation is on any given piece of equipment, and even have help when evaluating routine maintenance schedules in order to avoid extended wear and tear on machines, but owners and managers even have the benefit of getting all of this information via a reminder sent to their e-mail and a text message on their phone.

Even with the best equipment, regular maintenance is an important factor in minimizing the effects of wear and tear. That’s inevitable, but today’s telematics technology can give owners and managers practically every way possible to let them know that maintenance is due on a given machine. Alarms, warnings, and other notices can appear onsite or remotely to make maintenance recommendations, whatever they may be.

If the unexpected happens, even outside of standard maintenance issues, owners and managers can get up to the minute information on what the problem is as well as where that piece of equipment is located.

Another important issue for Case is the ease of use of interface. “Not only must the interface of the equipment be something that everyone can use and understand, but there is also a good reason to have the interface be something that is highly customizable for the user of the equipment, ” Stemper says. “In some cases, an interface can’t use something that is canned. That benefits not only the workers out in the field, but offsite too.

“The bottom line is being able to get as much information as possible to get service to that equipment quickly,” Stemper explains. “Telematics allows us to get as much information as we need to fix the problem, whatever it may be, wherever it may be.”

Maintenance issues are also an important part of the telematics story for Doosan heavy equipment. Aaron Kleingartner, Doosan marketing manager, and Michael Reinhardt, telematics strategy manager stress that telematics data can be an important key in keeping a project on target, since it can be largely responsible for making sure that onsite equipment is providing the work that needs to be done instead of being serviced.

Another important player-one that is a big player when it comes to maintenance-is OEM Controls Inc., whose director of business development, Sam Simons, has been providing electronics products for mining, agriculture, and construction industries for more than 45 years.

“One of the most often-asked questions we get is from equipment owners who want to know the full story when it comes to their equipment and use of fuel and other maintenance issues,” Simons explained. “A huge focus of our business is fuel accounting and management of equipment. In fact, for certain of our products, such as EquipStatus, that’s the only thing it does, but in a more rugged format that is easier to use in the field.”

Newcomers Welcome

Credit: Case
Telematics keeps project managers in the loop…in real time.

Another relative newcomer to the telematics business is a company already well known in the telephone business: Verizon.

Chris Ransom, director of telematics business at Verizon, says telematics is a natural outgrowth of the business that Verizon has already been in for many years.

Just as is the case with many technological advances, data is important and the collection thereof is useful, but it is only as good as the application of it. This is the step reserved for the integration of telematics data into the equation. This is the step that has taken on some of the most exciting work in the field in recent years. This issue is compounded when users as well as the OEMs consider the use of several generations of telematics equipment that might not necessarily allow equipment to work together effectively or efficiently.

Bringing It All Together
Telematics, especially in the past few years, has become the standard for most new machines, regardless of the manufacturer. But even with the adoption of telematics technology by managers, acceptance by one group remains a challenge: the late adopter, regardless of where he or she might be in the grand scheme of things.

Fortunately, as different brands of equipment manufacturers, as well as OEMs, continue to produce equipment for users, although equipment may differ in brands, the uses will remain largely the same. That’s a good thing, and certainly an issue that will help in the acceptance of the technology by late adopters.

Obviously, it would be nice if all equipment featured the same equipment, but even among end users, this is not reality, nor should it be expected to be. Fortunately, equipment manufacturers have worked to create telematics systems that will work together, since as everyone knows a group of machines that don’t have the capability of talking among themselves or their office comrades, is as inefficient as a machine that isn’t working at all.

The interface that these pieces of equipment utilize is a huge part of the answer for these issues. Indeed, if the machines aren’t working in similar manners, perhaps the interfaces that these machines use to connect users can serve as a connectivity tool that everyone can agree on. Several equipment manufacturers have settled on industry standards that have been set forth by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP). The information accumulated to create these standards are from five categories identified as the primary monitoring focus and communicates with the native system and the Application Portal Interface (API). There are charges for using the API, but this is in addition to the subscription cost for the OEM system. Some equipment manufacturers, such as Volvo Construction Equipment, waive the cost of the OEM subscription for the initial three years on their equipment.

It might see obvious to some that the improved efficiency and lower cost afforded through access to these three key areas of critical machine data-location and hours, maintenance, and performance and productivity-will offset the investment and justify the case for implementing telematics technology in field equipment, thus making its benefits more practical and affordable for many years into the future.