Equipment Type

Data Drives Construction Success

Telematics help contractors make timely decisions
with positive results.

January 24, 2011

In the early 1960s, and again in the mid-1980s, a popular television show portrayed a future with incredible technology that saved time, made life easy, and gave the characters access to incredible amounts of information.

Those hallmarks of the Jetsons’ incredible future are playing out today. Technology innovations are here and available to the construction market.  

Think about it: At this moment, a construction company executive with a laptop computer is sitting in an American office building, maybe high atop the American Express building in Minneapolis. On his laptop is real-time access to his construction equipment and site information. Oil pressure, idle time, fuel usage, maintenance records, and even an in-cab view of the jobsite, are all available. It could be a motor grader in South Dakota; dozers in Devils Lake, N.D. and Duluth, Minn.; or an excavator working two blocks away. With global positioning technology and sophisticated software utilized in a remote asset-management system, such as Topcon Tierra, a web-based communication tool, a contractor can literally keep tabs on machines, sites and personnel.

Remote asset-management systems, or telematics, can change the construction contractor’s business model. Sending and receiving information via telecommunications has increased and dispersed the notion of control. Equipment operators have greater control over the performance of their machines and the assigned task. Site superintendents have greater control over the project with the data they receive in the job trailer or on their laptop in their pickup truck. And the home-office manager, wherever he is around the globe, has information about all the jobsites and how work is progressing.

How does it work?
Remote asset-management systems typically have three components:
1. Its hardware is the communications device installed on the machine;
2. The service plan enables the features needed and configures how often the unit communicates and can be configured to the user’s specifications; and
3. An internet-based user interface where the user configures alerts and generates reports.

A jobsite-management system is designed to empower construction contractors to make informed decisions based on current information. They can eliminate slow, inaccurate and labor-intensive data gathering; sift through all that data; and provide immediate alerts and useful reports. Managers can focus on important items that are timely, with minimal effort and maximum positive results.

Telematics jobsite management system is designed to address improvements specifically in security, maintenance, utilization and job costing.

Security improved
For security, the system offers:
• Geofence is a virtual fence drawn with a program such as Google map interface. The geofence can be up to a 30-point polygon. The system can be set up to text message and/or e-mail managers whenever a machine is leaving or entering a geofenced area. When a machine moves outside or inside its specific boundaries, it can be tracked for recovery. Additionally, the security feature has a motion sensor and internal backup battery allowing detection and reporting on unauthorized machine movement, even if the machine is turned off and/or on a trailer;
• Lost Machines can happen when contractors have several active jobsites occurring at once and have difficulty keeping track of equipment that are moved between jobsites. Typically, users can locate their machines at the touch of a button instead of eating up payroll and gas because employees are on a search-and-rescue mission;
• Curfew is typically used to alert managers of unauthorized machine use. Systems can often be configured to provide a text message and/or e-mail alert when a machine is running outside of a customer’s normal hours of operation; and  
• Remote Anti-Start can be used to prevent thieves from driving unattended machines onto a transport or off a jobsite at any time, day or night. A manager can remotely re-enable the machine if a service crew requires after-hours access.

In-tune maintenance
With a remote asset-management system, the software can be configured to automatically monitor engine hours and send out an alert when machines are due for maintenance. This feature is designed to reduce the chance of machines failing and diminish the likelihood of warranty claim rejections.  

Contractors can maintain machines within a much tighter window of the specified service intervals. The bonus is service technicians will no longer have to search for the machines they’ve been sent to service.
Not only will the service technician benefit from the jobsite management system’s ability to locate equipment, but also contractors are expected to have a better sense of when equipment is not being used so it can be redeployed to a more appropriate job site. With Tierra, users can remotely pull up a report in about 30 seconds that can show, for instance, all of the backhoes with less than three hours operating time in the past week. That level of detail can help contractors control equipment rental expenses because they have real time information on machine usage.

Improve job costing
Most contractors gather machine operating time data for costing out jobs. The data-gathering process can be expensive, labor intensive, subject to clerical errors and, even more likely, guessing at numbers when in a time-crunch situation. With the telematics system, this type of information can be provided daily, and reports are available with a few simple keystrokes. In addition, with integration into contractor software, the cost of human data entry can be minimized. Some users even configure geofences so that a machine sends an alert when it arrives on the jobsite to trigger the internal machine billing to begin for that job.

Construction contractors are always searching for that competitive edge. Years ago, the traditional thinking was to buckle down and work harder. The contractors who started earlier and worked later seemed to do better. In today’s market, especially with the economic downturn, companies are seeing technology as a way to help them be more productive and profitable.

Technology innovations, such as remote asset management or telematics, are here today and available to the construction market. They might be bringing us closer to the futuristic utopia of the Jetsons, where workers arrive in aerocars and aerotrucks to put in their three-hour workday. Certainly, telematics will be there to keep tabs on the equipment and track the progress of the job.

Jeff Winke is an independent construction writer and works with Topcon.

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