Beyond the Telematics Numbers

By Frank Raczon, Senior Editor | July 31, 2012

Although telematics systems and the data they provide fleet managers are a great leap forward in monitoring machine condition, numbers alone without interpretation and action usually aren’t enough to prevent downtime.

That’s why manufacturers are increasingly marrying telematics with other elements such as diagnostic services and dealer interfaces to give managers a leg up on seeing and stopping problems before they happen.

The result is a greater number of maintenance-related features for managers to take advantage of while equipment is out in the field.

In one of the latest examples, John Deere has packaged its telematics product, JDLink, with a number of other maintenance management-type offerings as a suite of services it calls WorkSight. The company also sees maintenance and productivity features like grade control existing hand-in-hand.

“Our customers are looking for ways to better manage their businesses using technology,” said Liz Quinn, product marketing manager for John Deere WorkSight.

“That not only means telematics, but also technology on the machine like integrated grade control and onboard payload weighing to help them work smarter. As we better connect the features, like telematics, machine control, and our rules engine, they are living in the same product space and representing a harmonious product development plan for us.”

To get a feel how WorkSight can function as a unit, it’s necessary to look at the individual elements.

First, JDLink, Deere’s machine monitoring system, delivers data, such as machine location, hours, fuel usage, and idle time, to a laptop or smartphone via the Internet. There are also maintenance management tools that indicate when service is due, or when a trouble code has been thrown.

“Today, JDLink is tracking temperature, how hard the machine is working with engine load, and also looking at things like emissions performance,” Quinn says. “It can see the soot level, say if an operator has bypassed DPF cleanings and the soot level is 25 percent too high, someone who’s monitoring JDLink can get on top of a problem before it happens. As a contractor, you can also have JDLink in a maintenance management program, a maintenance tracker, to keep a log.”

JDLink data can then be used by a second element in the WorkSight suite, Fleet Care, which combines the data with fluid analysis, and results from technician inspections, interpreting everything using proprietary logic (a rules database) to “think through” the data and prescribe a course of action.

“Fleet Care proactively looks at some items in JDLink data, like excess idle time, but it also looks for existing issues,” Quinn says. “If the dealer knows there’s been a problem with oil and an oil sample comes back with metal in it, Fleet Care will e-mail the dealer with a recommendation for preventing downtime.”

Deere likens Fleet Care to a health care wellness model for fleets, providing advanced analysis and uptime recommendations.

A third element in WorkSight brings dealer action further into the equation. Service Advisor Remote (SAR) enables a John Deere dealer to read diagnostic trouble codes, record performance data, and update machine software remotely on John Deere machinery, all without requiring a job site visit.

Service Advisor Remote is designed so that the dealer can not only warn the fleet manager of problems before they happen, but initiate solutions.

For example, if the dealer receives an alert through JDLink or Fleet Care that the transmission on an ADT is overheating, the dealer technician can check JDLink and see that the transmission retarder is being used just 1 percent of operating time.

The technician would then call the fleet manager and ask to establish an SAR connection to the machine to read trouble codes, record temperatures, speeds, pressures, brake usage, and payload information. (Readings can be taken while the machine is working and fully functional.)

The technician might determine from the readings that there is nothing physically wrong with the machine, but rather that the operator should be trained on proper transmission usage to prevent a major drivetrain failure. Total diagnostic time and costs are minimal, and the manager can learn something about a key job site behavior without being there.

Some caveats: while JDLink, Fleet Care, grade control and payload weighing (the latter two on machines so equipped) can work with mixed fleets, Service Advisor Remote is currently available on Deere machines only. “In Fleet Care, you can enroll a non-Deere machine, but you don’t get as rich a package of information,” Quinn says. “If a machine ships with JDLink, it’s also SAR equipped. It’s up to our dealerships at this point to package Fleet Care and SAR into a preventive maintenance plan contract. Our dealers are also there to help the customer realize the value of the technology.”

JDLink is standard equipment on all Deere iron and is free for three years.

Deere’s not alone in bringing more diagnostic capability to telematics. Volvo’s CareTrack telematics system provides service reminders and service history, including information on how the machine is used (engine load), as well as the use of brakes and differential locks.

A three-year subscription is free with machine purchase, but it can be extended to five years free if you purchase a minimum one-year preventive maintenance “Customer Support Agreement” on a larger general-purpose machine.

Customer Support Agreements offer service and maintenance ranging from regular inspections to complete repair, service and maintenance programs.

The agreements come in four levels. The Gold agreement is a total repair and maintenance program; the Silver is repair on selected items and a maintenance program; the Blue is a maintenance program; and, the White is an inspection program covering vital parts and functions. The company also has a flexible approach that allows the addition of specific services to an individual agreement.

A specific window in CareTrack is a service-planning tool that can also be used by Volvo dealerships, allowing them to plan and manage machine services.

Volvo dealers also have the ability to troubleshoot machines remotely. By using CareTrack, technicians can get onsite in a more timely way and be better prepared than if problems go undetected until failure and a diagnosis has to be made onsite.

All functions are available in CareTrack Basic and CareTrack Advanced, except remote troubleshooting, which is available in Advanced only. All larger Volvo general purpose machines (wheel loaders over 10 metric tons, articulated haulers, excavators over 12 metric tons, and motor graders) will now come equipped with the CareTrack Advanced standard.

Within Caterpillar’s Product Link telematics system, the VisionLink web application feature enables the user to quickly select the types of alerts desired at the times desired, and distribute them to others in the organization.

Product Link generates a wide range of alerts, including fault codes that warn about equipment issues (such as high coolant or oil temperatures, fuel filter bypass and more) and operator-generated alerts that might indicate a need for additional training (such as coasting in neutral or recurring over-speed events).

To avoid sending too much information, VisionLink allows the manager to program the hours a particular alert will go out (for example, nights and weekends only for “Site Exit” geofence alerts). Plus, alerts can be customized to go out to a single e-mail address or cellular number, or to any combination of e-mail and text addresses.

Cat Product Link can also connect with Cat dealerships to make it easier to order parts and supplies. The VisionLink web application features a direct click-through to an online parts store. VisionLink can then automatically populate the fleet’s parts list into a parts store, saving the time and effort of looking up and entering parts numbers for routine orders. It can also be programmed to receive results and reports from oil sampling service.

In the Komtrax system from Komatsu, Komatsu dealers, utilizing the system and the machine abnormality data it reports, can link to the company’s Troubleshooting Support System to find potential solutions to fleet problems.

Komtrax, which is included with a new machine purchase, is designed to help managers stay proactive in scheduling informed, intelligent preventive maintenance. The system displays information on each machine’s performance, including service meter readings, cautions, and engine performance details such as working and idle times. Maintenance reminders coupled with the caution or abnormality codes the manager or Komatsu dealer receives allows the fleet, or the dealer, to identify and address potential future issues during routine maintenance checks—and to ensure parts availability for faster repairs and greater machine availability.

“Our dealers have been able to diagnose a machine from a distance because of the information supplied by Komtrax and its links to the Troubleshooting Support System,” says Ken Calvert, director of product support systems for Komatsu America. “We improved machine availability and reduced the repair cost because the technician attending the machine knew exactly what to search for and what parts were needed as a solution to the problem. He had everything he needed to get the machine up and running on the first visit.”

The pro-activity—and preparation—is a marked departure from the past.

“In the past, we would wait for the customer to call and report that their undercarriage was ready for a turn; usually by that time the undercarriage was too worn and would need to be replaced,” Calvert says. “By monitoring machines on Komtrax, we began to plan for an undercarriage inspection every 500 hours and adjusted that interval based on our findings during each inspection, and by using Komtrax-reported crawler travel hours.

“Now we’re able to catch a problem before the ‘point of no return’ and we’re also able to help the owner choose a convenient time to schedule the service once the parts are on the shelf, ready to go.”

Managers are getting used to implementing convenient and time-saving features into their fleet strategies.

“Contractors are going from wanting to know only the basics, such as hours on machines, to wanting every type of information they can get their hands on,” Calvert says.

Manufacturers are helping managers go from an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality to being able to predict and schedule downtime for services and more involved jobs like overhauls or rebuilds, embracing a future beyond raw telematics numbers.