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Mind shift: Using telematics for data management

By |  October 2, 2015

Machine hours, location and health. Fuel consumption and idle time. Emissions. Payload.

The number of areas telematics covers grows with each new generation of the technology. Aggregate producers are among those positioned to benefit from telematics, but the amount of data available can be overwhelming to those diving in for the first time.

“I would say, in general, that construction machine owners and quarry machine owners are scared of the amount of data available,” says Liz Quinn, product marketing manager of John Deere Worksight, the telematics package John Deere offers. “They don’t want to be swimming in data. They feel like it kind of goes outside their skillset, and they’re not sure how to leverage it. They feel like they have to hire someone to take advantage of it.”

Hiring a dedicated person is one route aggregate producers can take to capitalize on telematics. Other routes can be taken, though.

One starting point is to simply develop a data strategy, says Ken Calvert, director of Komatsu America’s business solutions group. Which data can your operation benefit from? Which can it do without? Who manages and reacts to the data you’re interested in?

These are questions producers must sort out as they formulate telematics strategies.

“If you want to benchmark idle time, then manage that statistic to improve,” Calvert says. “That will lead to other improvements. Or, if you want to tighten up maintenance intervals, manage that.”

Engagement

More sophisticated producers employ a data integration strategy, Calvert adds, pulling raw data into existing systems. For example, say a producer is charged so much per hour to run a piece of equipment. Why not take the hours used from telematics and put those directly into an accounting system?

“Then, the data becomes helpful,” Calvert says. “We talk to our clients about a data strategy, whether it’s ‘keep it simple’ or an integrated data strategy. Some of that’s based on their vision or their appetite for telematics.”

Of course, not everyone has an appetite for telematics. According to Calvert, about 15 percent of Komatsu’s customer base actively uses Komtrax, the company’s telematics package. Komatsu defines an active telematics user as a person who has a Komtrax account and logs in to access provided data.

Still, Calvert estimates about 40 percent of Komtrax-capable machines are actively being monitored. Bigger producers tend to operate more equipment, he says, and they’re the ones largely analyzing and reacting to telematics data.

“We’ve got 8,000 or 9,000 customers set up with machine alerts,” Calvert says. “If the machine has a certain activity that they wish to be notified of, they’ll get an alert to their phone. We call them passive users, and they’re by far the greater percentage of users.”

Kawasaki Marketing Administrator Sam Shelton reports similar telematics engagement among her company’s customers.

“At this time about 20 percent of our loaders with telematics have customers actively engaged in the system,” Shelton says. “We find the size of the company does help to determine what role telematics has in making operational decisions.”

Shelton adds that producers with multiple sites, purchasing boards and regional managers tend to review telematics data more than producers with onsite managers who are involved in day-to-day operations.

“There are typically two groups of managers who audit [or] review information through telematics – the fleet or service managers, and the purchasing [or] regional [or] operations managers,” Shelton says. “Both look at the same information but evaluate it differently.”

Aggregate producers tend to approach telematics differently than other heavy equipment users, adds Brad Stemper, a solutions marketing manager at Case Construction Equipment.

“They seem to be a more mature workforce behind the wheel,” he says. “On that level, I think there’s a little hesitation of how people are accepting what telematics can provide them.”

John Deere’s Quinn agrees aggregate producers approach telematics differently than others.

“Aggregate companies don’t own as many mobile assets as a guy doing pipeline or underground utility work,” she says. “Quarries don’t own thousands of loaders. From that standpoint, maybe they are not as high on adopting telematics from a fleet management perspective than some other applications.”

Still, even the most veteran equipment operators can adapt and improve their daily performance by analyzing and applying the data telematics provides, Stemper says.

“Whether it’s quarries or municipalities – another group with a more established operator set – you can teach them about the basics,” he says. “Get them to understand that the info is there. Then, have a conversation about how the job went today. Have those conversations and try to relate it to how telematics may give them information.”

Some equipment operators will realize the data is there to benefit them, Stemper says.

“You see the light bulb turn on for some of these operators,” he says. “A lot of people approach telematics as an anti-theft device, or that it allows them to track location. They don’t recognize the prognostics behind it or the ability to perform trend analysis of what the machine has been doing.”

Telematics data can provide operators insight about a machine, as well as those operating it.

“A good example is you have two wheel loaders running in a similar operation, and they’re similar machines,” Stemper says. “One operator burns less fuel and requires less maintenance than the other operator. You can perform a trend analysis.”
Kawasaki’s Shelton echoes Stemper’s sentiment.

“Often it is easy to identify changes in operators by evaluating data based on the power mode versus standard mode operation, idle time, brake or axle temperatures,” Shelton says. “Patterns develop and opportunities for operator training arise.”

Data managers

Still, sifting through pages of data can be a time-consuming exercise. Managers who oversee a site’s daily activities might not have time to add telematics data analysis to their list of responsibilities. In a few cases, Stemper says producers have explored adding analytics experts.

“Bring in a college intern for the summer or expand someone’s role and give them the analytics responsibilities,” he says. “We see people increasing their staff. It isn’t something that’s regular or commonplace, but we’ve seen people identify the payback.”

An effective data management plan doesn’t always require a new hire. According to Quinn, John Deere has organized focus groups that determined equipment managers and their teams are largely the ones in charge of telematics.

“This is the individual who is in charge of procuring the equipment,” she says. “A large organization has a couple of folks who report to that person, and one of those folks typically mans the telematics capabilities of their equipment. They’re looking at what machines are doing.”

If producers don’t manage telematics in house, they can always outsource data management.

“I think telematics will become so important that [users] will either bring them in house or contract with an outside firm to manage that for them,” Stemper says. “It’s not necessarily foreseeable in the immediate future, but I could see the movement progressing that way toward the end of next year.”

According to Stemper, telematics is changing the nature of some aggregate-producing companies.

“They’re starting to recognize, in a sense, that they need to start treating themselves like a dealership rep, having staff on hand or an organization to meet their fueling and fluid requirements,” he says. “They’re becoming more of an operation that outsources some of their core competencies. They need to focus on their core production, and that means they’re going to farm out needs for support, maintenance.”

Dealers also play a pivotal role in data management, according to Shelton.

“Our dealers have seen an increase in maintenance contracts with customers,” Shelton says. “Customers would rather focus on production than on training technicians to keep up with this technology. The dealer also manages parts inventory rather than the customer having to worry about stocking these items. The customer experiences less unscheduled downtime and increases production and efficiency.”

As Volvo Construction Equipment’s Blaine Pressley says, telematics is about improvement.

“It’s a new way to monitor efficiencies, fuel usage and utilization of your machines,” says Pressley, Volvo’s director of product sales support. “What percentage of the time is a machine working versus idling? You can monitor error codes so you’re on an issue. It’s a much smarter, proactive way to manage your fleet.”


Great strides

Telematics has addressed a number of areas, but in which areas have aggregate producers achieved the most efficiency gains?

“Probably what the industry has embraced the most from telematics is unnecessary idle time,” says Ken Calvert, director of Komatsu America’s business solutions group. “The average off-highway machine idled almost 50 percent of the time. That’s half the machine’s appreciation and half of its maintenance absorbed by idling. You’d be hard pressed to find a production-type quarry manager who isn’t aware of machine idle time.”

The latest generation of telematics is production driven, focusing on payload.

“This involves load weigh scales on articulated haulers,” says Hilton Wood, senior telematics specialist at Volvo Construction Equipment. “Load cells are collecting data. There’s kind of a learning curve there because customers are used to using their load weighing scales. It’s kind of a mind shift, and not everyone has accepted that yet.”


Take note

Telematics data can provide operators insight about a machine, as well as those operating it.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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