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Telematics Expert Gives Industry Outlook

Most construction jobs run on tight timelines and margins, and to keep everything running on schedule and within budget, fleet managers use telematics to give visibility into their equipment’s location and operating condition any time of the day or night.

Telematics has been around for quite a while, however, it continues to evolve. Below are insights from Jonathan Shapiro, Senior Manager of Business Development for JLG ClearSky telematics solutions, on how telematics today are used in lift equipment, including mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) and telehandlers, on job sites.

What has led to the growing use of telematics in the management of lift equipment?
The key to managing lift equipment is gaining regular insight into the machines’ operational efficiency, operational cost effectiveness, operator management, equipment maintenance, and equipment safety and compliance. But monitoring and tracking these five factors on each machine in an equipment fleet can be a daunting task. Through the use of telematics, fleet owners and managers find that it is easy to gather, read, and understand the information machines are providing.

Although telematics have been around for more than 20 years, the recent rise in adoption can be attributed to two main drivers:

First, the cost of telematics technology has decreased significantly over the past few years, including the hardware necessary on the machines, the software needed to gather and analyze the data and the portals or applications used to access the information anywhere, any time – even on remote job sites.

Second, OEMs are now supplying telematics devices factory-installed and form-fitted to the exact machine on new production models. This offers a huge convenience to equipment owners and fleet managers who in the past have had to evaluate, choose, and install their own telematics solutions or hire someone after the sale to do so. Now on new units with factory installed telematics, one just needs to connect the asset, the access the data via a mobile device or computer.

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Another advantage of OEMs taking the lead in telematics solutions for lift equipment is that with this “real-time” machine data, they can more quickly and easily help their customers solve issues or offer remote diagnostics. With this valuable machine data, many OEMs are now viewing telematics hardware and data as a tool to be used by both heavy equipment owners as well as the OEM.

What type of lifts is telematics most commonly being applied?
In the past, when accessing telematics data was more complicated and costly, this technology was only put on complicated, costly machines – in lifting equipment, that means it was used mainly on larger boom lifts and cranes. With telematics costs coming down, and becoming more user-friendly, combined with the value of it being realized in all aspects of fleet management, telematics technology is now being applied to all sizes of lift equipment – from smaller footprint, easier to use machines like push-around lifts all the way to the larger, more sophisticated models like Ultra Booms.

What types of operating data is currently being captured? How can it be used to manage and maintain lift equipment more effectively?
Today’s telematics systems typically combine GPS technology, diagnostics, and monitoring sensors to track, log, and report data on the performance and operation of an equipment fleet. The data can provide high-level or finite details on a number of machine systems, including equipment location, fuel consumption, idle times, and machine alerts. Right now, the most common data point for all machines is the machine hours, which are used not simply for reporting usage but are also for understanding maintenance and inspection intervals. 

With access to this kind of machine data, one way telematics can help aerial equipment fleet managers by more accurately managing their machines’ service needs. For example, appropriately timing regular and preventive maintenance of each machine in the fleet, in particular, is a challenge that fleet managers face every day. Equipment usage on job sites often lasts weeks or months. That equipment must be maintained while out in the field to ensure it operates as expected and without interruption to avoid unexpected downtime, lost productivity, and the related cost implications.

Telematics technology can also give visibility into the aerial equipment’s location on the job site, asset utilization metrics, including engine hours, as well as its operating condition, through fault and diagnostic codes – any time of the day or night

As machines get “smarter,” they offer even more data to equipment owners and fleet managers that improve insights not only into machine health but also into operator productivity. For example, today’s telematics has evolved so much that it is now being used to help equipment owners/fleet managers understand “how” machines are being used by operators to perform day-to-day tasks.

Beyond data capture, what other features can telematics systems provide and what are the benefits?
Telematics are the conduit between “smarter” machines and equipment owners/fleet managers. Beyond data capture, telematics can provide feedback on improving the way the machine is maintained. For example, knowing when the batteries need to be recharged or if there is a clogged filter or too much water in the fuel tank are common challenges that occur every day in equipment ownership and management that can be alleviated by accessing machine data through telematics.

And, because safety is the number one priority on job sites, using telematics to know how the machine is being operated and who is using it means the system can act as another set of “eyes” onsite. This is extremely valuable when used in an effort to promote safety on the job. The more safety related data that machines provide through telematics, the more knowledgeable equipment owners/fleet managers are in terms of understanding the types of training or retraining their crews may need to reduce safety incidents.

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Telematics also offers a lot of insight into equipment usage and utilization. Understanding not only how the machine is being used, but also how often it’s being used, and for what types of applications and tasks, can feed into a company’s bigger picture where it can contribute to long-range business strategies and fleet planning. Those strategies might include growing a customer base, offering better machine familiarization at the start of each rental, limiting the geographical radius in which machines may be used and decreasing the number of job site service calls, to name a few.

What long-term opportunities do you see in for telematics in lift equipment?
As I’ve mentioned already, today’s telematics technology is making it easier for equipment owners/fleet managers to access machine information and improve functionality. So, as we look to the future and long-term opportunities, I think it’s time for the conversation to change. I think that we should stop talking about telematics and talk about IoT in construction.

What’s the difference? The scope of telematics, primarily focused on the remote monitoring of an asset, is actually quite narrow when compared to what IoT can bring to the table, as the internet connects devices and allows them to communicate to each other. Look at the evolution from a flip phone to a smartphone. That's really the evolution of telematics to IoT.

For lift equipment, it becomes less about a single wireless device on a machine. Today’s machines are able to provide critical data on usage, safety, weight, and so on, and the telematics device is the conduit for this data – not only to get the right data, but also to integrate it into useful reports and utilize it consistently to help make critical fleet management decisions.

IoT technology is much more advanced than most realize, and it can have a significant impact on productivity across the entire construction project. Not just equipment performance.

For example, it can be a catalyst for keeping workers busy and meeting deadlines. Security features that establish geofences, or invisible lines drawn by GPS coordinates, can be set up to keep equipment from being operated outside approved areas of the job site. This technology improves efficiency on job sites, by eliminating “lost” machines. It can also provide fleet managers with the ability to control the aerial equipment’s on and off status based on an operator’s training and safety credentials.

The benefits of IoT in construction help equipment owners, fleet managers and contractors be more competitive and solve common problems – it's really changing the whole market.

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