Standardized Telematic Systems Help Manage Diverse Fleets Efficiently

Finding better ways to track and transmit equipment data has become a popular topic in recent years. As fuel costs continue to skyrocket and crews are asked to operate as efficiently as possible, fleet managers are looking for better, more efficient ways to collect, manage, and use equipment data.

Traditional methods of data tracking present fleet managers with many challenges affecting efficiency, productivity, and cost. They take significant time, and their accuracy is often a concern. For example, if a fleet manager wants to track the operating hours of his or her machines, someone must read each machine’s hour meter, then manually record the info on a tracking log or spreadsheet.

Although the data is commonly recorded at the end of each work week, it may be required every day, depending on the individual company’s methods. Before the data can be analyzed or used in a report, it must be given to a member of the office staff, who then enters it into the company’s unique data-management system. Inefficient, certainly, but perhaps the greatest problem is that this method opens the door for major errors.

Need for sophistication leads to telematics
The need for more sophisticated and efficient data collection and transmission has led many manufacturers to introduce telematic products. These devices offer tremendous benefit to fleet managers in terms of efficiency and accuracy. Topcon is one manufacturer that has really taken notice of the power of telematics. While many of Topcon’s products have traditionally helped equipment work smarter and faster, the company has also been developing products that help monitor critical functions on equipment. Topcon is also leading the way in telematics by helping fleet managers implement telematic programs.

“We have recognized the value telematics can bring a company,” says Tom Hansen, Topcon’s director of telematics. “It has become part of our mission to do more than just supply the tools. We also help fleet managers implement the program across the entire fleet, regardless of what type of products.”

As more equipment manufacturers have begun to offer telematic products, the benefit to fleet managers has been invaluable. But for those who manage fleets of mixed equipment, telematics can present a challenge in terms of efficiency.

Because each equipment manufacturer has a separate system for accessing info from its products, a separate set of guidelines and websites must be accessed for each. Fleets tend to operate dozens of different makes of equipment. Using a different program for each brand is time consuming, to say the least.

 

Standardized system needed
The need for a standardized data collection and transmission system has been recognized, companies are trying to find a solution, and systems are emerging to help address the challenges faced by fleet managers.

One example is a system recently launched by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP). Created in cooperation with equipment manufacturers, the AEMP-led Telematics Standard offers a way for fleet managers to receive crucial equipment data in a standardized format. It allows fleet managers to accurately and efficiently track and analyze equipment cumulative operating hours, total miles traveled, fuel consumption, current location, and other vital data from many kinds of equipment.

A standardized system helps encourage more fleet managers to take advantage of the benefits of telematics. The time saving is certainly a plus, but the program’s accuracy is perhaps the biggest advantage—and things just snowball from there.

For example, assume a company requires machines to be serviced every 500 hours. By knowing a machine’s exact operating hours, a fleet manager can identify the precise time a machine is due for maintenance and schedule servicing in advance. Not only does this increase efficiency, it ensures timely maintenance for optimal equipment performance and longevity.Though a few hours may not seem crucial, even the smallest slip in preventive maintenance can lead to big problems—as well as significant time and cost investment to fix.

The ability to accurately track fuel consumption saves time and boosts productivity. Precise fuel tracking allows fleet managers and crews to properly schedule fuel refills and delivery trucks. Equipment with an empty tank won’t be left idle, waiting for a fuel refill. Nor will a productive machine with half a tank left need to stop working to fill up just because a fuel truck arrives on site.

The greater availability of telematics and standardized systems is giving fleet managers the power to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Very few fleet managers, however, have actually implemented telematic systems. A survey conducted by AEMP shows that fewer than 10 percent of fleets are currently using telematics. With the benefits clearly evident, it raises the question of why the adoption rate has been sluggish.

According to Topcon’s Hansen, there are many reasons. “In the simplest terms, telematic systems change the way fleets are managed, and it’s a large investment in terms of time and adapting a new way of doing things,” he says.

Hansen also points out that the significant initial investment required to install and set up a telematic system is typically viewed as the major reason every fleet manager hasn’t jumped onboard. But he counters by pointing out how quickly telematics can deliver a return on investment.

Quick ROI possible
“One of the biggest things I communicate to customers is the ROI that can be achieved with telematic systems,” says Hansen. “I feel that’s one of the toughest sells on implementing a new system, the up-front cost. But it’s amazing how quickly ROI can be achieved, and evident in even the smallest examples.”

First, Hansen points out the concept of working versus idling. This is one of the biggest problem areas for fleets, yet one that’s easy to change for nearly all equipment, with a few exceptions, such as cranes. For safety, cranes are typically exempt from idling policies. But on most other equipment, reducing idling time by just one hour per week can significantly boost a company’s bottom line.

Doesn’t sound like enough to make a difference? Consider this example. Assume diesel fuel costs $3 per gallon, and a machine burns about two gallons of fuel every hour its engine idles. Cutting the rig’s idling time by one hour per week might only save $6 – but keep in mind, that’s on just one piece. Applying the one-hour-per-week reduction to a fleet with fifty pieces of equipment would save $300 per week. That’s a savings of $15,600 per year, just by reducing each machine’s idling a mere hour each week.

Telematics systems come into play by tracking equipment and giving fleet managers an accurate depiction of idling hours, as well as a way to track reduction. The systems are often a real eye-opener for fleet managers, who honestly aren’t aware how much their machines are idling.

“The studies we’ve conducted show an average of 35- to 50-percent idling time on machines out in the field,” Hansen says. “And that’s the average. In the most extreme cases, there are companies whose equipment is spending more time idling than actually working.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Equipment use, accurate maintenance tracking – the list goes on for all the areas telematics can help fleet managers run a more efficient and cost-effective fleet.

Tracking can improve equipment reliability, life
While still in its primary stages of use, the AEMP-led Telematics Standard has been well-received, not just by fleet managers, but also by the manufacturers who helped develop the system. It’s allowing them to better understand how customers use their equipment, and they’re applying the info to drive design improvements on new products. Especially in the case of companies like Topcon, it’s also helping them as they continue to offer more telematic products. Although only a small percentage of fleet managers have started using AEMP’s system, those who have are finding it valuable, and are asking for even more info to be added.

Even though the concept of telematics is still relatively new, there have already been some advancements. Hansen points out one example from Topcon: sensor inputs that can help managers remotely monitor crucial functions on a machine.

“A crane outfitted with sensors on its LMI can alert a manager of problems on a job site and allow him or her to correct before the problem becomes major,” says Hansen. “This is great from a longevity standpoint for the equipment, as well as for the safety of the operator.”

Hansen also mentions that cranes and aerial work platforms require regular inspection, and that telematics provide a way to track when those crucial inspections need to be done and ensure they aren’t missed. Telematics can also electronically store certificate numbers to prove that the required inspections have been done.

From helping to reduce costly idling time to improving preventive maintenance, there’s no question telematic systems are offering great benefit to fleet managers. There’s also no doubt the industry can expect to see more advancements coming to telematics in future years, with more equipment manufacturers producing telematic-capable products and more fleet managers taking advantage of all they have to offer.