Despite the latest data-capturing technology, what surprises many OEMs and telematic providers is the wide-sweeping array of data an equipment manager must have to operate his fleet efficiently and profitably, says Dick Brannigan, equipment operations manager at John R. Jurgensen Co. Among those data needs are parts management, oil samples, emissions management database, asset management history, depreciation, and regulatory compliance — not to mention the basic machine data such as run time, idle time, unit location and fuel consumption.
The off-road industry may have a possible advantage to solving this communications problem: It does not have to reinvent the wheel. On-road trucking faced the same communications protocol issues years ago and solved the problem. The difference between trucking and the off-road industry, however, is that trucking was under federal mandate to come up with a solution. The off-road industry is under no such requirement.
Reaching a solution that every off-road industry segment can accept (OEM, telematics providers, fleet owners, distributors) could take years, but some of that time could be whittled down if technology used in the trucking industry can be transferred to the off-road industry.
"The trucking industry standardized a bus technology," McFadyen says. "They also use APIs to consume data provided by telematics. The telematic units have a common interface to the bus. It is a system that has a standard bus reader that enables it to plug into the bus. At some point, there might be opportunities for a common file format in the off-road industry. But right now I don't think that is a realistic goal."
The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association was one of the groups that led the trucking industry in resolving the communications protocol challenge.
"We have study groups that tackle different problems," says Jack Poster, one of TMC's service managers. "Those groups create a task force that brings in different parts of the trucking community from OEMs to fleets to suppliers and even owner operators."
The diverse group succeeds, Poster says, because the members "put away their insignias" and do the work for the benefit of the entire industry.
After that, TMC publishes a Recommended Practice and sends it to TMC members. Nonmembers can use it as well, he says, because "the RPs are from the industry, not one particular company or organization."
Poster suggests several communications protocol solutions that could be applied to off-road applications. One, 1201, was written with the Society of Automotive Engineers and deals with serial data communications between microcomputer systems in heavy-duty vehicle applications that is meant to promote serial data communications compatibility among microcomputer-based modules.
Another, 1214, provides guidelines on event data collection, storage and retrieval. This RP "delineates commercial vehicle event data collection, storage and retrieval to ensure compatible event data parameters are generated by all vehicles," Postner says. A third possibility, 1212A, recommends PC-to-user interface for electronic engines. This provides a common foundation for service tools and software packages used to diagnose, program and repair electronic engines used in commercial vehicles.
Boh Bros.' Ryan says he thinks the evolution of technology eventually will solve the problem for the off-road market segment. "It's like water finding its natural level between two containers, he says. "I think there will be some common things that 90 percent of us (contractors) want. Once that common need has been identified, a solution can be found."