One of the next big things in construction is telematics. Telematics is a technology that combines telecommunications and a variety of other tech including GPS and on-board diagnostics and monitoring sensors on construction vehicles and equipment.The promises of telematics are broad, encompassing the ability to track, log, and report real-time data about the performance of your construction machinery.
What is telematics, again?
The word itself, telematics, is a mash-up of telecommunications and informatics. (Informatics is the science of processing data for storage and retrieval.) Put together, telematics is the processing of GPS and other equipment data which is acquired and retrieved through telecommunications.
GPS devices, diagnostics programs, and monitoring sensors are becoming ubiquitous in construction equipment; telematics is a remote retrieval technology allowing owners, contractors, and others to keep track of different aspects of the lifecycle and use of construction equipment.
Commonly acquired data points include:
- GPS location of vehicle
- Fuel consumption
- Idle times and down times
- Machine alerts and warnings
- Developing problems
Where, before, someone had to use several different systems to track all assets, telematics provides a single information clearinghouse.
Using telematics in construction
As managers, planners, and other onsite professionals track incoming information from each piece of equipment, they can make changes to increase performance and efficiency, increasing long term profits.
For example, telematics provides data pertaining to the idle time of a specific construction vehicle. If there is too much idle time recorded, the user may wish to reallocate that resource to get more production out of it for the fuel consumption.
Data from engines, braking systems, and other components carry messages about overheating, overwork, and other malfunctions early. Maintenance and repairs can be performed while the problem is still small.
GPS tracking data is helpful for deterring theft and tracking and recovery of stolen vehicles. Or just to keep track of where all your toys are.
Telematics has the advantage of accuracy. You can use accurate data to inform your estimates and bids for future projects. You have access to information on variable costs like fuel consumption. You get a handle on the total cost of ownership to guide your decision between renting or owning a piece of equipment.
Asset maintenance and repair
No question that the better you can maintain your equipment, the longer it will last. With sensors and onboard scales incorporated into modern construction equipment, you can capture performance data and fault codes that could indicate a problem brewing.
Maintenance recording is easier, too, because you can accurately track engine hours, working and idle, as well as performance levels. Knowing exactly how a vehicle is performing helps you determine the best time to pull it out of service for maintenance and repair, extending the life of the equipment. You can reduce repair and labor costs as well.
Improved asset allocation
The information you gain from telematics also helps with asset allocation. If you see that one of your backhoes is sitting idle a good deal of the time on one site, you can redeploy it quickly to another site where it will be put to better use.
You don’t have to wait for a late report that might tell you the backhoe stood off to the side for three days on the Smith project while the Jones project was delayed because it needed the backhoe right now.
If you routinely see overuse or underuse of an asset, you can make better decisions on equipment purchase versus rental. You can divest yourself of ownership when equipment is not used much; you can save money by renting when you need it. Overuse indicates you may need another one of those. Otherwise, the one you have is going to die an early death.
Operator performance: big brother is watching?
It may feel a little Big Brother-ish, but you can track operator performance using telematics. Operator performance is a large part of optimal equipment performance.
You can identify bad habits, including:
- Erratic movement
- Prolonged idle time
Documenting and correcting poor operational behavior can make your jobsite safer, reducing accidents and insurance premiums. It can also avoid wear and tear on the equipment while reducing labor costs. Fuel consumption should also optimize as driving habits improve.
Reduced insurance costs
Telematics data helps reduce insurance cost in two ways.
- Operational performance tracking can be used to improve skills and get rid of poor habits. The improvements result in fewer onsite accidents such as tipping and roll-overs.
- Telematics reduces the threat of theft as well. You may receive reduced deductibles if they are not eliminated entirely. You may even get a discount from the insurance company.
Combine GPS tracking and geo-fencing and you have a terrific deterrent for theft of your very expensive equipment. Using both technologies easily alerts you to equipment leaving a jobsite when it isn’t supposed to. Time-fencing can refine your system so that you won't get false alarms.
Some equipment will even let you shut it down remotely or keep it from starting during set hours. Even if it does get stolen, it is easily tracked and recovered.
With a better understanding of how, when, and where each piece of equipment is used you can ensure each jobsite has the assets it needs at the time it needs them. Over and underutilization is corrected, allowing you to deploy more efficiently.
You can improve operator performance which translates into better productivity as well. Better driving habits improve fuel consumption and keep downtime due to accidents and rework to a minimum.
Create accurate estimates and bids
As you develop historical data, you can begin to see the difference in costs between projects and environments. Your estimators can use the data in their calculations, so you don't underbid and lose money. You also won't overbid and lose the contract.
Telematics gives you machine operational hours, fuel consumption levels and expenses. If you combine it with labor costs, you can more accurately bill for your services.
Taking advantage of telematics devices
Telematics will continue to improve and provide rich diagnostic data sets for each OEM. The AEM/AEMP is working with major manufacturers to standardize the data being shared by their heavy equipment. Such stalwarts and heavyweights as John Deere, Caterpillar, Volvo, and Komatsu are already onboard.
Eventually, those companies that do not leverage telematics information data will fall behind due to lower productivity and higher costs. The trend is for telematics devices to become standard in equipment of all sizes. Take advantage of it to improve your financial position through savings in fuel consumption, labor costs, and insurance savings and gains in productivity and safety.