Technology Accelerates Evolution

By G.C. Skipper | March 5, 2015

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

The fleet manager’s job continues to evolve, and technology has given them more tools to accomplish excellence. That was the basic assessment presented to an audience of fleet professionals during the recent Asset Management Symposium in Nashville, Tenn.

Technology, such as telematics, has greatly affected the human element and thus the propensity for delay, inaccuracy and mistakes that have always blocked the overall informational flow resulting in an output of questionable data, says John Meese, senior director, heavy equipment for Waste Management.

For instance, not every fuel-delivery truck may have a metering system on it to measure the gallons of fuel put in every day, he says. Questions such as, “How many gallons did you put in the machine?” are often answered by, “The same amount I put in last time.” So an approximate number is entered.

By comparison, technology that eliminates human error tells you the amount of fuel burned in idle time and the gallons burned in operation. That information is made available to the fleet manager with just a few clicks of a mouse rather than having to wait for next month’s report, Meese says.

“The fleet manager today gets more information faster than he would if the data were processed by having a person read it, put it on a piece of paper and pass it on to a clerk who enters it into a computer, after which the equipment manager gets a report three days later, not instantaneously,” Meese says.

Technology has given the fleet manager a different format that allows him an opportunity to manage a broader spectrum and a larger population of equipment since he can see multiple fleets and multiple brands of equipment, says Meese.

Meese says Waste Management has one of the largest fleets in the world. Within his fleet, they deploy many pieces of equipment from one of the leading equipment manufacturers, but overall Waste Management leverages equipment from many different manufacturers. Seeing the data on his articulated dump trucks (ADT) from manufacturer A requires him to pull up one report. If he wants to see telematics data on his ADT fleet from manufacturer B, he has to pull up a report specific to that equipment manufacturer. “Now we are rapidly reaching the point where I can look at all my ADTs on one report and see the same type of data—such as idle time, fuel burn and fault codes—on one dashboard,” he says.

When the development of the single dashboard is completed, he will be able to see mixed fleets. “That keeps me from having to toggle back and forth between the two reports,” he says.

To illustrate just how much the fleet manager’s job has changed, Meese holds up his company’s oil-sampling program. “[It] wasn’t just fractured, it was shattered. Sometimes technicians pulled oil samples using tools that had been laying around collecting dust on top of the toolbox. That contaminated the sample before it was even pulled.” Other times, oil samples were collected on a shelf until they filled a box, then they were shipped off. “By that time, the information was too late for management to react to a bad sample,” he says.

For example, if an oil sample told him he had high iron and dirt along with bearing failure and gears starting to come apart on the final drive of a crawler dozer, it was too late for him to make a proactive reaction.

“I could have had that final drive pulled apart, replaced the bearings and the seals for $6,000 or $7,500. If I run the machine and let it fail it would cost an easy $25,000. With today’s technology, that $15 oil sample and the 20 minutes it took for the technician to pull it, label it and box it just saved me a world of money,” Meese says.

The same dramatic savings using technology now occur across the board and can be shown with warranty, service intervals and operation data, he says.

“The fleet manager’s role now includes safety, procurement, the technical role to keep the machines running and the responsibility to take care of the equipment so it will run longer. It’s all part of our sustainability role,” he says

Dave Gorski, CEM, shop administrator, K-Five Construction, also refers to the past, describing the fleet manager’s job as “hard, time-consuming and laborious.

“If you have a mechanic working eight hours a day, you would rather have his hands on a piece of equipment for as many of those eight hours as possible, not writing reports, having to go to a file cabinet to pull files or anything else.”

In the past, he says, technicians had to obtain equipment information by writing down what they wanted, radioing the parts department or someone at the shop and having them pull specific equipment files. Technicians also used to help populate the equipment work records with repairs completed and parts used.

“If a field mechanic needed to know past maintenance on a piece of equipment, somebody had to pull that file and read it to him over the phone or the company radio,” Gorski says. “Most all your traffic was carried over the company two-way radio and you were walking all over people.”

Today, armed with laptop computers, technicians can pull up any piece of equipment by the equipment number, look at the past six days or six months or six years and see what corrective action has been taken. Through the use of laptops, the technician has a more efficient way to access the repair history on a machine and the parts used.

“With this integration of the laptop, parts ordering is made more efficient,” Gorski says. “From any location, a mechanic can look up the parts history in the files or go into the manufacturer’s parts book, find the parts needed and place the order. The mechanic can then phone, text or email the parts manager to let him know what has transpired. The parts manager follows up with a purchase order, sends a parts runner to pick up the part and gets it expedited to the mechanic.”

The fleet management process is and will continue to evolve, he says.

“For each individual equipment manager, it is like playing cards,” says Gorski. “You look at the hand you’ve been dealt, look to see what cards you are going to trade and what cards you are going to pick up.” It is an effort to keep adjusting your sites to the ultimate use of telematics with the computerized maintenance management system, he says.

What awaits fleet managers in the future, says Barth Burgett, equipment vice president for Kokosing Construction, is a workplace of expanded responsibilities that reach into financial management, speed of business and internal collaboration.

That’s a far cry from the role fleet managers used to play when they were considered, in Meese’s words, “just someone who made sure equipment started every morning, that it would run through the shift and, if necessary, jump into his coveralls and fix whatever didn’t get completed.”

On the financial-management front, technology will help equipment managers deal with the onslaught of numbers coming daily, weekly or monthly from a highly competitive industry, Burgett says.

“Often the data we get makes us more reactive instead of less reactive and more timely in dealing with a change in equipment behavior,” he says. “That change might be with operations or with outside sources, with warranty or any type of change that affects the balance sheet or the equipment department.

“What we are trying to do with telematics is find a way to respond to the financial effects of those changes,” he says. “With the old process used in the past, it took too long to get financial data. You want to be as close as you can to remain competitive.”

For instance, utilization reporting connects to rental companies. Outside rental companies are now providing that data so you can better manage your utilization of equipment, he says. That type of service was unheard of in the past but now rental companies are saying they can do that based on what you do with your fleet. That puts them in a position to be the supplier of choice since they are helping you manage your cost.

Burgett explains how utilization affects item cost, or depreciation of outside rentals and a gain or loss on disposal.

“If I’m not utilizing a property, it’s going to affect my depreciation,” he says. “Not using a machine on your job site will drive your cost up to sixfold because you are renting it and not putting any hours on it.”

Data points can affect asset decisions, he says, citing this example: “Fuel expense is linked to machine health areas. There are a lot of things that can be tied to fuel expenses. It might be fuel consumption when a unit is suddenly giving you some type of different data. It could be that the unit is working harder or it could be because of its health, such as injector problems.”

Investigating a situation like that will show you, for example, that the machine is not working harder, but idling 60 percent of the time. That translates into a fuel system problem, he says.

“Because today’s technology gives us so much data, the speed of business has increased significantly,” Burgett says. “We have to work off priorities so we’re not jumping at everything, only things that affect our item costs, things that are costly expenses and not just minor low-hanging fruit that might not be very costly.”

Technology enables the system to sort out high-priority situations to allow the fleet manager to bring in the unit now or postpone the repairs. “The variations help me manage,” he says.

Technology is also changing the fleet manager’s job in the area of internal cooperation, Burgett says.

“This is getting information to our customers so that they are part of the solution instead of not helping in the solution,” he says. “The data you’re getting now pretty much recognizes behavior on how things are occurring. The equipment is actually talking to you. It’s not just the word of maintenance. It’s almost like proving the system isn’t lying. It’s factual, therefore you can’t deny it.”

Never before could the case be made so you could say, “You have to be part of the solution,” in resolving the issue, he says.

“You can bring them in and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to work together on these issues—and to be honest with you, you are going to be the point man on monitoring some of these alerts because, for instance, it is operations causing it, not a fuel-injector system.’”

Some of the alerts, he says, can be directed at operations, foremen, superintendents or project managers to identify where the responsibility lies.

“Each step we take going forward is another step that gives fleet managers the opportunity to better utilize the points of information and all those ones and zeros they get from technology,” says Gorski. Through AEMP’s efforts on the telematics standard, he says, “we will soon have at our fingertips additional data points as well as fault codes to help us better manage and maintain the equipment. And since the standard has been submitted to ISO, the AEM/AEMP telematics standard will soon be recognized globally.”

This will help enable each asset manager to implement processes and repairing to the highest and best use within each of their companies, he says.

“I don’t see the evolution stopping,” Gorski says. “It won’t be easy, but everything worth having is worth working for.”