Telematics is the use of wireless technology to transmit information. Some construction equipment manufacturers have been using telematics on their machines for 10 years or more. Others are only just starting to use it.
As it becomes increasingly mainstream and standard fitment, more fleet owners appear to be gradually realising the advantages that it offers.
At the most basic level, telematics systems offer a tracking system for stolen machines. A desire to reduce plant theft – and insurance premiums – is a significant driver in the take-up of telematics, but it is really only the starting point. Telematics also offers the ability to monitor machine use and operational data remotely, even from across the other side of the world, if necessary. All kinds of detail can be accessed by computer or smartphone, pumping out daily, weekly or monthly reports, or in some cases real-time live data. Fuel efficiency, engine output, fluid levels, brake pad wear, utilisation, productivity, error code tracking and much more can all be included in reports in widely varying formats.
How that information is used also varies widely. Some equipment owners do absolutely nothing with it. Others use it for preventative maintenance planning or even to determine their investment plans. For contractors, telematics can be useful; for plant hire firms, for whom the machinery is the core asset, the revenue generator and the centre of the business, the information that is increasingly on offer really should not be ignored any longer.
Professor David Edwards of the Off-highway Plant and Equipment Research Centre thinks that the construction industry is proving too slow on the uptake. “I don’t think telematics is being used as widely as it should be,” he says.
Some OEM systems use satellite communications and some use cellular communication. JCB, for example, uses cellular, which it says allows for greater data volumes and better coverage in built-up areas and indoors. Satellite, on the other hand, provides a signal when out of cellular coverage in even the most remote places. As cellular co improved, the tendency has been for manufacturers to move from satellite-based systems to GSM.
The only problem is that every OEM has its own different system – a point that has been picked up by the European Rental Association (ERA). At the Construction Equipment World Economic Forum last month ERA secretary general Michel Petitjean called for more standardisation, saying: “Many OEMs have implemented telematics to their lines of equipment, and it is very cumbersome to make rental equipment compatible with all of these. The rental market is calling for standardisation in some data feeds such as geo-fencing, immobilisation, safety devices and alerts.”
For A-Plant, its investment in the A-Trak system, developed with Enigma Vehicle Systems, has been driven by security concerns. It has GPRS (general packet radio service) devices attached to some 10,000 items of plant and equipment. The system proved itself in January last year when a telehandler was stolen from site out of hours. As soon as the customer reported the theft from its site, A-Plant’s local service centre manager logged onto the A-Trak system from home through the extranet system on A-Plant’s website to locate the position of the stolen machine. He generated an aerial photograph of a transport yard where the equipment was being hidden and got on to the police. Before the police got there, the machine was being moved. The movement was tracked and, eventually, the thieves were caught red-handed on their way out of the country with the stolen machine. More than 98% of stolen A-Plant equipment protected with A-Trak is recovered, compared to an industry average of just 5-10%. Since A-Trak was launched seven years ago, it has led to the recovery of machines valued at more than £100m, APlant says. Aside from being used to track the location of a machine, many OEM telematics systems can be used to aid security by programming in ‘virtual walls’, setting perimeters outside of which the machine cannot and will not operate.
These can either be physical boundaries, typically restricting the machine to the site or quarry in which it is meant to be working, or time restrictions, perhaps to prevent unauthorised night use, for example. Like many larger hire firms, A-Plant is moving beyond the security aspects and, along with its customers, starting to exploit the operational opportunities. With any A-Trak tagged machine, the customer can access the system via the extranet to check not only that the machine is at its intended location but also that it is operating – and being operated – as desired. With an A-Trak virtual wall, if the machine strays out of bounds the customer receives an e-mail or text. They can send text messages to remotely immobilise and/or release equipment. The ability to monitor running hours is one of a number of sensor options that can be provided by using the information ports available on the device at the centre of the A-Trak system. Functions that can be monitored also include towing speeds, fuel level, battery level, coolant, engine on/off, ignition on/off, engine covers open/closed and so on.
Even the simple tracking system function of telematics has benefits beyond the recovery of stolen machines, however. Sussex-based access hire firm Facelift, has no telematics system at the moment but it is in discussions with a couple of providers for installing trackers on its delivery vehicles. Operations director Paul Standing explains why he is keen to start using it. “The latest software can monitor driver behaviour. We hope that this will not only assist us in controlling our diesel spend but will also assist us with reducing unnecessary maintenance work caused by driver abuse and may well also reduce our accidents.” He adds: “We will be able to see how far away from site our trucks are when customers are asking what time their machine will turn up and we will also be able to prove what time our machine arrived on site.” He is also looking to fit trackers to mobile engineers’ vans “so we can easily see who is closest to either a breakdown or average has customer’s machine that requires a repair, thus hopefully minimising unnecessary downtime and also giving our customers a quicker service”.
On the same basis, Hewden has the Masternaut system fitted to its HGV delivery vehicles. This is a web-based system that can be accessed via a PC or smartphone so that it can track delivery progress. If a customer wants to know where his delivery has got to, Hewden knows.
HE Services, which reports a 99% success rate on recovering stolen plant thanks to GPS, also finds that tracking technology on its diggers aids collection of the machine at the end of a job on remote or hard-to-find sites. “Although security is the main benefit of the systems we find that it also benefits our customers in other ways,” says HE Services’ Chris Holloway. “It allows quicker reporting of machine faults. This allows us to respond to breakdowns more efficiently with the correct service parts. Human error on fuel measurement is eliminated in many cases meaning customers are not over charged for fuel/oil when returning a machine. And it reduces customers’ insurance in many cases, where a professionally fitted GPS unit is available.” He adds: “We use our systems to remotely monitor our plant and advise our customers where general maintenance can be made. We also keep track of hours worked and engine levels.”
Warwickshire-based P Wright & Sons is another company that appears to exploit telematics more fully than most. It has Volvo’s CareTrack telematics system on its EC140C excavators and L70F and L120F loading shovels. This system provides on-going live machine data and systems status. Director Tony Wright is able to carry out remote spot checks on each individual machine’s fuel levels, particularly on the excavators that are vulnerable to fuel theft and vandalism while out on remote sites.
Some companies that are embracing telematics don’t even regard security as their primary motive. UK Forks runs the country’s largest fleet of telehandlers, with more than 1,110 machines – prominently JCB and Manitou brands. Managing director Shayne Wright says that in the region of a third of his fleet has the JCB LiveLink telematics system. He doesn’t regard it as an anti-theft device at all, but as an aid for planning preventative maintenance schedules. “It’s a useful tool,” he says. His machines are routinely out on long-term hire. By keeping tabs on their use, UK Forks knows the optimum time to service the machines. “I think theft is only a small part of it,” Wright says.
Ambrose Plant Hire managing director Richard Sykes is another enthusiast. “Increasingly, the customers we work with look for hirers to provide more than just basic machines,” he says. “With demanding service level agreements it is essentially a fleet management and total support solution that is required – ensuring the best equipment is continually available at peak performance – exactly where and when the customer demands it. As such, JCB’s excellent LiveLink telematics system helps us to deliver to those exacting standards. We can track our assets and monitor their performance to minimise downtime and maximise performance for our customers - presenting an extremely professional approach.” On many machines, the latest Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim engines have more electronic technology, which has made additional telematic functions possible. Telematics does not just help equipment owners and end-users. It can also help manufacturers and their distributors offer an improved level of service.
Komatsu, for example, offers its Komtrax system as standard on all machines and for larger machines has Komtrax Plus that collects data from the engine, transmission controllers and other major components. Ed Prosser, marketing manager of distributor Marubeni-Komatsu, says: “We regularly run ‘energy saving reports’ for a customer’s machines. We can use these to identify areas for concern and suggest a change in working practice. For example, a machine could be idling excessively, working too hard in an application. We can use this data to suggest better working practice that will save fuel and offer increased productivity.”
Liebherr, too, emphasises the enhanced service that it can offer with remote diagnostics through its LICCON system on its mobile cranes. If an operator has a problem with the crane, be they in Birmingham or Bermuda, a techno-boffin down the line in Germany can see what has gone wrong and perhaps either fix it remotely or figure out what part to send.
Prosser says that the extent to which telematics has been embraced varies from customer to customer. “Some have taken to the technology more than others. However, with fuel becoming an increasing burden, customers are using the system more to keep track of their costs.”
JCB says that it tends to be the larger rental organisations that are using the technology as a full fleet management tool, linking into their existing IT systems. For smaller companies and owner operators, the benefits are more about increased security.
For the major construction contractors, there is another benefit that is starting to become significant. Whether they own the machine or simply make use of it on a site, there is an impact on the corporate carbon footprint. For those companies that wish to or need to record their CO2 emissions, telematics is the answer.
LiveLink is standard on 80% of JCB products sold across Europe. Introduction of the latest Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim engines in many JCB machines and increased electronic technology has made additional telematic functions possible. While some systems update once or twice a day, LiveLink broadcasts information every few minutes, providing real-time data. An internal back-up battery means it continues to report even when disconnected or if the machine battery has been removed. An internal antenna protects against damage or theft.
LiDAT is Liebherr’s data transmission and positioning system that it offers for tower cranes and earthmoving equipment. A GSM-based system, it is offered for both Liebherr machines and other makes. It provides information on the location and operation of machines, enabling efficient management, optimal operation
scheduling and remote supervision. Depending on chosen subscription level, data are updated several times a day and can be accessed at any time using a web browser. For mobile cranes, Liebherr offers remote diagnostics and monitoring of crane operation data, but no black box data or tracking of the chassis vehicle.
Komtrax, Komatsu’s GPS satellite-based system, has recently been upgraded for machines with the latest EU stage IIIB engines with more data and new detailed reports, including diesel particulate filter (DPF) regenerations, and the time spent doing them. In addition to total fuel consumption, Komtrax now provides fuel consumption during actual working hours as well as idling. For bulldozers and excavators, it sends data about the throttle dial position and, for EU stage IIIB wheel loaders and articulated dump trucks, it monitors travel distance and payload data.
Case Fleet Connect/New Holland Smart Fleet
Case and sister company New Holland are latecomers to the telematics scene and will officially launch their new systems at the Bauma fair in Germany next spring. Their telematics systems use GPS satellites to transmit information about machine location and operating data. Machine location is displayed through Google Maps. The basic version is installed on compact machines and delivers the signal every two hours. The advanced version is on heavy machines, updated every 10 minutes and offers additional features such as engine load reports, hydraulic pressure and Canbus alert signals for instant machine checks.
CareTrack is a telematics system that has been developed to work with a Volvo machine’s own diagnostic system. CareTrack combines two independent systems: GPS and the mobile phone network, or data via satellite. It is available in Basic and Advanced formats. Basic includes tracking, real-time machine data, geo fence, timefence, usage reports, service reports and wear parts change notification. Features of the advanced version include an alert if an operator does something bad for the machine, such as ignoring low oil pressure and/or high temperature warnings.
Cat Product Link
A new version introduced last year offers choice of satellite or cellular connectivity. The VisionLink web-based interface lets the user focus on specific equipment through maps and customisable views. A clickthrough feature allows the user to contact the Cat dealer online. VisionLink automatically generates ‘to do’ checklists for common preventive maintenance procedures. Customers with service agreements can allow the dealer to monitor some or all of their equipment. VisionLink was developed by VirtualSite Solutions, a joint venture of Cat and Trimble.