Why Telematics has Become the New Darling of the Construction Industry

The application of telematics on construction equipment is not a new concept, but only recently have equipment buyers begun embracing the technology. Telematics is the science of sending, receiving, and storing information via telecommunications devices.

Back in July, our publishing company hosted a Telematics Showcase in Kansas City, Mo., which allowed participating manufacturers to present the features and benefits of their telematics products. We were inspired to have the event after seeing how many new telematics products were introduced last March at ConExpo. We wanted to know why this technology, which is not new, is suddenly the darling of the construction industry.

We discussed some telematics trends during a round-table discussion, which included JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa., MicroLogic, Westboro, Mass., Iowa Mold Tooling, Garner, Iowa, and JCB, Savannah, Ga. Publications in attendance included Rental Equipment Register, Underground Construction, Lift and Access, Crane Hot Line and Industrial Lift and Hoist.

According to one participant, about seven years ago several telematics companies began approaching construction equipment OEMs with the technology. “But they were a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “Customers weren't looking for a solution then. At that time it was viewed as technology for technology's sake.”

So what's changed since then? There's more than one answer to that question, but the truth is that the timing is finally right. The economy is part of the equation. “When times are good, controlling cost is not the biggest concern for equipment owners,” said one. Another added that as the fleet per mechanic ratio has become unmanageable, equipment owners have seen how they can maximize their existing staff by using the technology. It's also generational. Often the younger you are, the more technologically savvy you are, and so as fleet management passes to the next generation, employees are more accepting of the technology.

And thanks to greater familiarity through consumer products, such as automotive navigation systems, the masses are becoming more comfortable with the idea. This summer I replaced my almost 10-year-old car. For the first time ever, I bought a car with all the gadgets, including a navigation system. I remember a time when I thought I would never own a car with one of those things. I didn't like the idea of a satellite up in space being able to know exactly where I was at all times. Perhaps the 1998 Will Smith/Gene Hackman movie, “Enemy of the State,” made too big an impact on me. But the reality is it came in really handy on our family vacation.

The same paranoia I felt about navigation systems is still present when it comes to telematics and construction equipment. The worry I hear voiced most often is whether the information gathered will be shared with the OEM, thereby affecting an equipment owner's ability to make a warranty claim.

Another hurdle to get over is the lack of commonality of systems. If you own several different types of equipment from several different manufacturers, an equipment owner may end up buried under data from several different telematics systems. Instead of reducing the cost of ownership, it creates more paperwork to be analyzed.

Recently, the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) held a technology summit specifically addressing this issue. At the summit, representatives from Caterpillar, John Deere, Komatsu, Manitowoc, Qualcomm and Volvo agreed that standardized file transfers of non-proprietary information to end users will allow them to more effectively manage heavy equipment fleets.

Initial planning calls for development of a standard file format to allow end users to pull certain data streams directly from a server for potential integration into the company's enterprise solution programs, eliminating the need to access information manually from each OEM. This "off-board" approach will allow the end user to access data from machines of multiple OEMs without having to install any additional hardware. In simplest terms, it will feed data from the OEM website directly into the customer's database.

The data being considered would include, in most instances, machine location, machine identification, time stamp, date stamp, fuel usage, hours and run/idle time. The coming months will focus on how the information will be delivered and encouraging other manufacturers to consider participating in the initiative.

“The willingness of these manufacturers to partner with end users to address this issue will turn the tremendous promise of telematics information into a reality for today's fleet manager,” said Dick Brannigan, president of AEMP and equipment operations manager for John R. Jurgensen Co.

Asked whether the technology is here to stay, one participant in our Telematics Showcase was hopeful. Right now outside forces have created a greater need for telematics. She speculated that by the time the economy turns around and the desire and the need for telematics is less insistent, using the technology will simply have become habit.