Taking Advantage of Telematics

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While telematics adoption has been slowly on the rise for utility contractors, the majority of fleet owners are primarily using only its most basic functionality to manage service intervals and react to alarm codes. Although helpful, this basic use is only scratching the surface of the technology’s capabilities and profit potential.

Challenges remain for many fleet owners who may see the benefits of more advanced telematics use, but may not be properly staffed or trained to take on the analysis themselves. Through more in-depth machine utilization reporting at the dealer or OEM level, a fleet manager can use telematics to identify areas of improvement for operator training, develop a comprehensive predictive maintenance regimen and even identify inefficiencies in fleet sizing.

Making Telematics Work

Jim Strigle wouldn’t measure the effectiveness of a preventive maintenance program in customer recognition or acknowledgement. In fact, he says, if he’s doing his job well, the customer isn’t calling him to talk about the service at all. He just knows when to show up and get the job done.

Strigle is the director of customer support at Vantage Equipment LLC, a Volvo Equipment dealership located in Syracuse, N.Y. He says proactive monitoring and predictive maintenance have become the most important services he can offer a customer — he also says that, if his team is doing it well, the customer may not even notice they’re receiving that service.

“We’re actively monitoring customers’ machines, and when one of the machines has a hiccup, we engage the customer to try and keep the machines from going down,” he says. “The customer might not even know the name of the service they’re receiving,” Strigle says, referring to Volvo’s ActiveCare — one that puts telematics monitoring responsibilities in the hands of the dealer. “But that’s not the point. He knows his machine is working. He knows more about those machines so he can make better decisions — call an operator, stop a problem before it starts. That’s what matters. That’s telematics at work.”

Vantage Equipment is the perfect example of how staffing with experts like Strigle can push the needle from basic telematics support to advanced telematics support for customers. Just as with contractors, however, some equipment dealers are still in the early phases of adoption. That’s where OEMs can help bridge the gap.

Rising to the Challenge

Ryan White, connected service data analyst at Volvo Construction Equipment, is part of a team that provides real-time fleet monitoring of customers’ machines throughout North America. Data comes from machines directly to the OEM, and analysts are made aware when any red flags are triggered in the system. Beyond reacting to machine alarms, Volvo can also provide machine utilization reporting to point to areas of improvement for operator training, fleet sizing and more — it all depends on the customer’s needs and preferences.

“Offering this from an OEM level, we’re able to leverage all of our technical support knowledge, our parts department, and our engineering teams within Volvo, which really gives this program added value,” White says.

White is referring to Volvo’s ActiveCare Direct program, a unique service enabled by Volvo telematics system, CareTrack.

When a machine’s data triggers a code and creates a case for the machine, analysts at Volvo systematically contact both the customer and the dealer with actionable items.

“The dealer really is the pivotal piece in this entire program. We provide the dealer and the customer with specific recommendations,” says White. “Then, it’s up to the dealer and customer to take action.”

Today’s telematics programs lend themselves to a big challenge, but when used best, they provide an entire team — from owners and fleet managers to operators and now dealers and OEMs — information they can use to make positive changes that impact a jobsite’s profitability, machine uptime, controlled cost of ownership and efficiency.

Predictive Maintenance

Strigle spends the vast majority of his time playing detective inside the pages of machine utilization reports, searching for clues to help customers. Sometimes the fixes are easy, like when he spots idle times hovering above 40 percent.

“The best way to prolong warranties is obviously to get that idle time down, but the most important part of that is setting a goal with operators,” Strigle says. “Make sure they know what you’re working toward, and let them know how the idling data is progressing and if they’re getting close to that goal.”

Sometimes, though, the data provides clues to a less obvious mechanical problem.

“When we’re able to predict these machine down conditions, that allows us to schedule service with our customers rather than having a situation where you’re getting a frantic call from your customer and having to schedule emergency service,” says Strigle.

And that is where Strigle says the money and time savings can be made.

He says taking those insights and ensuring issues are addressed early can save thousands upon thousands of dollars. Not to mention hours upon hours of time through consolidated service trips.

According to White, ActiveCare Direct customers are averaging anywhere from 5 to 10 percent increases in uptime.

“If we can manage the uptime of these customers’ fleets, they’re going to be much more apt to get the job done on time and under budget,” White says. “The cost savings implications are immense.”

The data doesn’t just empower the fleet manager and owner, however. When you know what to look for, the data can help shape an entire operator training program.

Empowering Operators

Operators can make or break profitability and productivity gains on a jobsite.

“I’ve seen situations where we have two different operators in a machine, and it can make a 50 percent difference in fuel use,” Strigle says.

The trick lies in taking those good practices from the operator who’s realizing high-productivity/low-cost operations and sharing them across other operators. Cost control influence runs well beyond fuel efficiency into site safety, machine wear and tear and more.

When Strigle pulls machine utilization reports for customers, he’s looking for flags that show when a specific operator may be in need of additional training due to the way the machine is responding during those hours of operation.

“It gives me information like how many times an operator over-sped, how many times he used a retarder, how much idle time is taking place and, dependent on machine, how long he sat in different work modes — the list goes on and on. These operators hop in that cab to do a good job — sometimes they just haven’t had the information in hand to know what they need to change.”

Fleet Management and Structure

With machine activity reports, it’s easy to see which machines are being over- or under-allocated on a jobsite. It can highlight machines that may be sitting idle too long that may better serve the team if they’re deployed to another site; or, by showing that machines are being overused to keep the job on sch0edule, highlighting the need to add another machine.

Finding a Fit

Whether an owner is looking to control costs by minimizing service visits and repairs, increase the productivity of a machine or develop the most efficient fleet structure to meet business growth plans, telematics can provide intelligence that will answer most of these needs. And even better, it meets those needs in a way that helps everyone in the company feel empowered to take a stronger role in contributing to the company’s profitability — regardless of company size. As dealers and OEMs take the lead on deciphering telematics, one thing is certain: Contractors will see large gains in efficiency and profitability.

John Krantz is a features writer for Two Rivers Marketing.

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