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Better Understanding Equipment Utilization Through Telematics

Remote monitoring of equipment via telematics gives owners insight into the availability and performance of their fleet – as well as long-term trend analysis.

Information is power. The data provided by telematics systems, at its most basic level, helps equipment owners make better decisions about how they run their business. But taking that basic data and adding some critical thinking to it can reveal new insights into the productivity and efficiency of your fleet. In this article, we’ll give you examples of how to better utilize your fleet for optimal productivity and efficiency.

1. Identifying Underutilized Pieces of Equipment This is the most common example we give, and is most applicable to companies with large fleets (regional or nationwide contractors) or decentralized operations (aggregates producers with numerous facilities). Equipment owning and operating expenses are too high to let a piece of equipment go unused or underutilized – yet, in large fleets, it’s easy to overlook equipment that may be sitting idle at a jobsite. Meanwhile, on another jobsite, crews may be short of a piece of equipment and are forced to go out and rent a machine to complete the job because they don’t know that another machine sits available.

By monitoring an entire fleet via telematics, fleet managers can identify those underutilized pieces of equipment and put them to work on the jobsites where they are needed, potentially reducing purchase and rental costs for new equipment. Similarly, companies may be able to consolidate and identify equipment for liquidation, helping to lower carrying costs.

2. Better Understanding Component Wear by How a Machine is Used Wear components – such as teeth on a bucket, cutting edges on a blade, or bristles on a hydraulic broom – are often replaced on an hourly schedule, regardless of how that machine is used. Telematics provides a unique opportunity to differentiate between different working situations for each machine. For instance, a fleet manager may know that a machine is doing its ground engaging work when it registers higher RPM, and is merely in a travel or carry mode when RPM is lower. Out of 500 hours of use, maybe only 425 hours are actually spent in ground engagement. This may allow the owner to extend that wear component replacement out further and reduce the purchase/maintenance costs throughout the machine’s life – all because they better understand how that machine is used. Differentiating between working and non-working hours may redefine maintenance intervals on some of these wear components.

3. Right-Sizing Equipment Based on Utilization Excessive idling can indicate any number of things – one of which could be that the equipment is not optimally size matched to the application. For instance, a wheel loader with a six-yard bucket may be matched with a hopper that can’t handle that much material at once. As such, that loader may be completing a fairly simple cycle but then sitting and waiting for the material to cycle through the hopper before it can dump the next bucket. This idling is not an efficient use of the machine and may indicate any number of possible improvements to your operation:

  • Do you need that large wheel loader with the six-yard bucket, or would a smaller wheel loader with a three-yard bucket be more efficient? Telematics helps determine the right machine for the job.

  • Are there improvements you can make to your plant to allow it to process material faster? This particular example may be an oversimplification, but identifying a piece of equipment not operating to its full potential can create other efficiencies that can be implemented upstream or downstream of that machine. Maybe the problem is not with the machine but with the workflow. This also applies to synchronization of machine activities on the jobsite. Contractors could be concentrating on one machine that isn’t performing when another set of equipment could be causing the slowdown/backup in the process.

Owning larger equipment – when larger equipment is not necessary for the job – leads to a number of inefficiencies: you pay more for fuel, you pay more for tires/undercarriage maintenance, and you pay more in lifetime owning and operating costs with a larger machine. Remote monitoring through telematics can help identify this and allow you to make better purchasing decisions.

4. Benchmarking Productivity & Performance

Fleet managers can set a trigger in the cab – a signal that tells the telematics system that an action has taken place. This allows for a tally to be kept and analyzed. How is this helpful?

Two excavators may be bench-loading trucks on the same jobsite. If the operator in each machine hits a designated button after each bucket load, that will give a total tally of buckets for the day – a gauge of operator productivity.

Similarly, if the truck driver also hits a designated button when the dump truck load is dropped, that will give a total tally of trucks loaded per day.

Fleet managers can compare the data between each operator to make a number of inferences on how that machine is being used. For example, telematics can help the manager understand that one excavator loads a truck in three passes, while another takes four or five. It can also help them determine why this is happening. Knowing that it is happening is the starting point. Is one operator under filling each truck, or is the other operator over filling? Are your operators trying to compensate for slow-downs in another area of the job by adding more per pass? Is one excavator moving more slowly, and if so, why?

Managers who see a discrepancy in operation between machines can begin to troubleshoot. There are a variety of reasons this could happen, like a poorly trained operator, worn teeth or cutting edges, a technical problem on the machine, or even another machine on the jobsite not keeping pace. Like a dozer at the other end of the jobsite not moving material away fast enough and slowing down the truck’s ability to dump and get back for another load.

Is the dozer at the end of the cycle idling too much? If so, does it make sense to add another excavator and truck to the cycle to speed up productivity and ensure that the dozer is being used optimally?

Basically: using remote monitoring via telematics in this way provides the opportunity to understand and implement operational improvements without having to actually sit at the jobsite and monitor activity all day.

5. Ongoing Trend Analysis and Better Understanding of Equipment/Operator Strengths

The data collected by a telematics system provides a historical view into the entire operation that was previously unavailable unless operators took copious notes or supervisors spent their entire day counting performance stats as if they were keeping score at a baseball game. Neither is very common.

Telematics affords the ability to understand trends, to create a baseline, and then use that baseline to learn more about the rest of your operation.

An example: Operator A/Machine A is as steady, reliable and consistent as they come. Historically, he always operates the machine within desirable parameters, he loads the right amount of trucks each day, the machine is well maintained and productivity on his sites is always acceptable.

Operator B/Machine B struggles a bit more, is not as productive, and the machine is consistently running hot.

Fleet managers can take Operator A and place him on Machine B for a period of time and see if the data changes. If it does, and the machine runs more smoothly and productivity is improved, then we understand that the issue is the operator. If the data does not improve, we then can infer that there are bigger challenges with the jobsite/location (access/difficult digging conditions, etc.) or even the machine itself.

This example may be a bit extreme – but it illustrates the benefit of long-term trend analysis and the ability to affect change because of it.

Telematics adoption and evolution has come a long way in recent years. As more contractors use the technology, and grow with it, suppliers and contractors alike will continue to find new ways to learn more about their own businesses than they ever thought possible. How each machine is used may be the key to future productivity and success.

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