Remote Fleet Monitoring System

Sept. 28, 2010

Today’s remote fleet monitoring systems continue to become more technologically sophisticated. Advanced wireless equipment monitoring systems such as Komatsu’s KOMTRAX provide not only location and hour-meter updates, but additional invaluable information about machine health and productivity.

Today’s remote fleet monitoring systems continue to become more technologically sophisticated. Advanced wireless equipment monitoring systems such as Komatsu’s KOMTRAX provide not only location and hour-meter updates, but additional invaluable information about machine health and productivity.

"We didn’t realize all that KOMTRAX could do for us until we sat down with our distributor Columbus Equipment and really took a hard look at the information that is available through Komatsu’s fleet management system," says Hugh Brown, fleet manager of Beaver Excavating Company. A 55-year-old mass excavation and highway construction company, Beaver Excavating has recently begun to use KOMTRAX. And thus far, they are very pleased with the results, according to Brown.

Factory-Installed System Is a Big Plus

The KOMTRAX system was designed to give owners and managers the information they need to make strategic business decisions regarding machines and their operations. The intended payoff is increased productivity and machine availability, as well as smarter management. The system comes installed on almost all new Komatsu construction equipment including excavators, crawler dozers, wheel loaders, articulated dump trucks, smaller dump trucks, and motor graders.

The factory-installed aspect is a big bonus as far as Brown is concerned. "It was a huge benefit that the machines came with the system installed and ready to go," he says. Currently, Beaver Excavating is using it on three sizes of excavators – the PC300, PC400 and PC 800 – as well as the HM350-2 articulated dump truck.

Critical Performance Data a Key to Productivity

The monitoring system relays basic and critical performance data from the machine to the manager’s computer. At the same time, this same information is sent to the local distributor, who is readily available for expert analysis and feedback. Utilizing this information allows distributors to align manpower, processes and inventories to support customers’ parts, maintenance and service needs. By receiving accurate and timely information, distributors have improved their response time, which in turn has lowered owners’ costs and downtime.

"The best feature of KOMTRAX is the ability to see how much time the machines are working and idling," Brown says. "This has been a great benefit for us, because we can see if the machines are being utilized to their full capacity or if a machine could be used elsewhere to help out on another project."

Machine cautions are transmitted to owners and to authorized distributor technicians so that the latter can troubleshoot the machine even before arriving at the job site. This allows distributors to provide a higher level of support by reducing travel expense and ensuring a prepared mechanic arrives at the site – ultimately reducing an owner’s expense and unscheduled downtime.

Brown continues, "With KOMTRAX, we use the same information that our distributor Columbus Equipment utilizes. This information-sharing has created a sense of teamwork and comfort that we think helps increase our uptime and productivity on jobs."

Machine operation monitoring can facilitate proper maintenance scheduling and can help identify a potential problem before failure occurs. Kinds of information that the system can relay include:

Service Meter Reading

Equipment hours can be tracked for a variety of uses including service and maintenance scheduling. This eliminates the need to be at the job site or to rely on another party to log and call in current hours.

Operation Maps

These maps tell owners what times of day their machines are operating and whether they are working when they should be.

Fuel Level

Fuel level information helps owners better manage fuel service scheduling and can help determine which machines are working hardest. A bar graph shows how much fuel is in the tank at the end of the day.

Average Hourly Fuel Consumption

Taken from the fuel injection valve, owners can get a true reading of the actual fuel consumed and an average over the operating period.


Owners will know if a caution light flashes in the cab. The caution explanation and time it occurred, as well as number of occurrences, are displayed on the website for owners’ review.

Working Hours

Detailed operation information tells owners how and when the machine is being used and how productive machines and operators are. Easy-to-follow bar charts show engine-on time, and actual working or non-idle time.

Load Frequency

Knowing how hard the machine is working can help owners more accurately schedule component replacement and prevent major failures. Load frequency also works as an early warning sign for potential overload or underload situations and can tell the owner whether the proper-sized machine is being used for the task at hand.

Machine Operating Info

Key operation information like excavation, travel, dig, relief, and hoist times can help monitor operator performance and assist with the training of new operators.

Brown sees the greatest return on investment on the maintenance side. "Being able to get warnings and errors right away is a huge advantage for us because we are able to get to the problems before they become catastrophic," he says.

Easy to Read and Easy to Search

Owners and managers receive detailed information in easy-to-read daily, monthly and annual summaries or reports about both basic and more advanced aspects of machine performance. It is Web-based and provides a wealth of information in a user-friendly format. The system also allows managers to enter and assign their own equipment numbers, job sites, operators, machine specific notes, and more.

A variety of charts, maps and graphs, as well as useful search and filter parameters, make it convenient for managers like Brown to find what they need quickly and easily. He can search for information about specific machines based on key factors such as utilization rates, age, various notification messages, and more. Data can also be provided for custom office applications or downloaded directly into spreadsheet applications. In addition, access and viewing rights can be controlled so that the right people see the right information.

Effectively Managing Fuel Costs Through Idle-Time Monitoring

With fuel costs at an all-time high, finding ways to effectively manage fuels costs is a priority for owners.

Over the life of a machine, idle time typically accounts for nearly 20 percent of the machine’s total fuel burn. By eliminating 50 percent of non-productive idle time, fuel costs can be reduced by 10 percent, a significant reduction and savings in today’s environment of rising fuel costs and increased concern about engine emissions.

Reducing idle time obviously saves on fuel costs, but one of the chief hidden costs of excessive idle time is reduced residual value of a machine. Because KOMTRAX measures idle time, users with multiple machines doing similar work can compare machine-to-machine idle times for insight into how much improvement is possible.

For example, if two machines actually work 600 hours per year doing identical work, but one idles 40 percent of the time and the other idles 20 percent of the time, these machines will accumulate service meter hours at a different rate. After five years the machine that idles 40 percent of the time will register 5,000 hours, while the one idling 20 percent will have less than 4,000 hours. All other things being equal, the machine with fewer hours is obviously worth more. In addition, the lower-hour machine likely will have avoided two maintenance intervals, translating into increased availability, less operating expense and more time to move dirt.

Knowledge is power, and owners who have knowledge about their machines at their fingertips can make better daily and long-term strategic decisions. An equipment monitoring system should provide answers to critical questions about their machines: what they’re doing, when they did it, where they’re located, how they can be used more efficiently, and when they need to be serviced. If owners and managers can monitor machines on the Web anywhere, anytime, they have the power to make fact-based decisions that directly affect their bottom line through increased efficiency and productivity – while lowering owning and operating costs.

Brown says, "KOMTRAX is talking to every aspect of the machines through the on-board computer and diagnostic system. We see that as a big plus because we know where to start looking for the problems before we even send a tech to the job."

Beaver Excavating Company is a Canton-Ohio based company owned by brothers Mark and Jeff Sterling. During their peak season, Beaver Excavating typically retains 450 employees.