The Telematics Solution

The hum of heavy equipment, service vehicles and back-up generators is the sound of a thriving construction business. But with diesel prices hovering between $4 and $5 per gallon, fuel costs have a significant effect on profitability. It’s estimated that fuel accounts for 40 to 50 percent of an asset’s operating costs. In addition, contractors must be concerned about fuel-related issues including carbon emissions, penalties for excessive idling and the environmental certifications required for bid eligibility.

This concern is one reason telematics solutions are taking hold in the construction industry. By monitoring and reporting on a range of operating parameters, fleet tracking systems have been shown to reduce fuel consumption and associated costs by 10 percent or more. From detecting excessive idling and unauthorized equipment use to eliminating unnecessary mileage for on-road support vehicles, these systems provide a powerful tool for discovering and eliminating hidden fuel waste on and off your job site.

And that’s just the beginning. From better fleet utilization to theft prevention, telematics can provide efficiency benefits that go well beyond the gas pump.

Savings from Every Angle

According to manufacturers, idling can account for as much as 20 percent of a typical construction machine’s lifetime fuel burn. While not all idling is avoidable, letting machines run all day to keep the cab air conditioning or heating running is a habit worth eliminating. Telematics systems can pinpoint idle start and end times and the duration and location of each vehicle, thereby providing at-a-glance identification of vehicles, operators, sites and circumstances where idling is causing the most waste. Using GPS technology, most fleet tracking systems can differentiate idling from normal operation by accounting for the time the equipment is not moving and whether the ignition is on or off. Adding sensors that connect to oil pressure switches or other machine components makes it possible to distinguish between a machine’s idle and working time.  With this level of data, job foremen can intervene on the spot or take more holistic actions to modify operator behavior site-wide. Contractors have successfully used these strategies to cut idle time by as much as 75 percent, easily paying for the cost of their telematics systems.

Geofencing provides another weapon against waste by ensuring that equipment is not being used for unauthorized or after-hours activities that consume costly fuel and add to wear and tear.

While machinery is often the biggest fuel burner within a construction operation, support vehicles and transport vehicles that support the off-road fleet also offer opportunities for fuel savings. Fuel use in on-highway vehicles can be minimized through the use of telematics system maps for route and dispatch optimization – finding the closest available resource for a particular job – as well as by idling detection and geofencing.

Optimizing Asset Utilization

Fleet tracking solutions can also deliver big efficiency benefits by automating utilization records to help contractors get more work out of their assets as well as ensure that they get paid for every scoop of a backhoe. With accurate data feeding reports, contractors have a clear picture of unused and underused assets, as well as precise documentation for costing purposes, chargeback and future bids.

Telematics solutions can also help identify underutilized assets on one job site that can be put to better use on another, in some cases avoiding the costs of an additional rental. This kind of fleet management can be an enormous cost-saver. Examining telematics reports can help determine the optimal mix of rented and owned assets; forecast future equipment needs based on projects in the pipeline; evaluate capital expenses for fleet expansion or upgrades and weigh the pros and cons of selling underused assets.

Raising New Barriers to Theft

Most contractors take anti-theft measures on their jobsites ranging from removing keys to marking machinery so that it can be traced.  Placing GPS-based tracking devices on each piece of equipment can do far more to prevent theft than many of these methods. With $400 million in heavy equipment theft reported in 2010 alone (and less than 20 percent recovered), taking a second look at theft prevention is worth it.

GPS-based telematics systems can show where equipment is located at any given time. It can help determine if a machine is missing, and if so, which one – information that may otherwise be hard to come by in a large operation.

Systems can also be configured to alert fleet managers to a theft in progress. Geofences can be created to mark the boundaries of a job site and trigger alerts when equipment leaves the area. Motion sensors can alert designated personnel when equipment is moving without ignition (i.e. a machine being loaded onto a flatbed). Both of these capabilities speed discovery and reporting of theft, thus dramatically increasing the chance of recovery.

Recovery efforts also can be simplified with systems that offer an emergency mode to increase the frequency of GPS transmissions if the device’s power is cut or the machine moves without being turned on. Fleet managers can watch movement in near real time on system maps and report precise GPS coordinates to law enforcement officials. With these and other capabilities ranging from tracking equipment location in real time and optimizing preventive maintenance to feeding data to back-office applications for purposes such as accurate job costing, telematics technology is becoming a crucial piece of job site equipment.

Renaat Ver Eecke is vice president and general manager of Navman Wireless North America, a leader in GPS-based fleet optimization products and services serving more than 14,000 organizations on five continents. For more information, call 866-527-9896 or e-mail [email protected]

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