An equipment manager's life would be much easier if he could go to a single data collection point and extract data on the Caterpillar excavator he has at one work site, the John Deere unit at another location, and the Komatsu backhoe that has been working on a pipe-laying project just across the state line.
The data needed from each machine are the same: it could be machine location, idle time vs. operational time, preventive maintenance schedule, and fuel consumption, for example. The problem is that each manufacturer has proprietary systems unique to their machines that protect their intellectual property. Simplified, that means Cats "talk" a different language then Deeres, which makes complications for humans.
The language machines use to transmit information is called communications protocol. When fleet managers have to scramble from one screen to another just to collect the same data from each OEM's piece of equipment, it becomes "very cumbersome," says Stan Orr, executive director of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP). "There are really good systems out there for tracking the health of a machine, hours, location and fuel consumption, but for an asset manager to collect that data, he almost has to manually transfer the data over to an Excel-type spreadsheet format and track it that way."
Boh Bros. does manually collect data, according to Chris Ryan, vice president of equipment. In order to obtain weekly hours, Ryan has fuel trucks that visit about 60 percent of the jobs, but for the others he relies on hour-meter readings reported by the jobsite.
"Are we in the space age? Not so much," Ryan says. "We have a lot of things we would like to do better. We've had four different manufacturers of fuel distribution equipment try to capture hours off a machine and the gallons of fuel introduced into the machine. That has been a struggle to get something that is reliable and something that did, in fact, what it was purported to do." One software-development company has a name for all the jumping around that goes on during the chase for data.
"We call it the swivel-chair technique," says Will McFadyen, president of McFadyen & Associates. "The problem is that the same data is needed by multiple systems at the contractor level. Most end-users face the difficulty of getting that information in a hands-off format that they can use routinely. Without aggregated data in a useable format, the contractor is at a disadvantage than he would be if that data was available."