Fleets More Adept at Using Machine Data: Komatsu

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Construction Telematics

Komatsu TSE in his office.
Remote access to cab functions offers real-time opportunities for coaching.

Manufacturers have long been ahead of equipment managers in analyzing the data from sensors placed on their machines. They’ve used it to guide design and life cycle decisions for many, many years. Only the largest fleets—such as those operating in mines—and those with managers who were data-focused were also using the technology to improve asset management. These so-called early adopters evangelized others to the potential.

Now, the sophistication among equipment managers has risen to a level where they can make changes that not only affect maintenance, but also productivity. The equipment manager’s influence has moved beyond managing repairs to helping operations do jobs more quickly, safely, and efficiently

Komatsu has been on the vanguard in this area, loudly beating the drum for using data to manage idle time in the early days and more recently, promoting integrated technology across an organization. In a recent interview with Construction Equipment, Komatsu data experts explained how in-cab remote monitoring, deep dives into machine data, and intuitive machine control are giving equipment managers—and their organizations—ways to empower their equipment operators to better use the company assets they control.

Machine data leads the way to improvement

“We see our customers becoming smarter in their approach to utilizing data available to them,” says David Yim, Komatsu’s Business Solution Group. “Customers also believe that good data has a tendency to tell a good story.”

Yim cites a production metric—cost per ton—than can be boosted by examining more deeply machine data such as idle time. The company has monitored idle time for all its machines in the United States, and it publishes an annual Fuel vs. Idle scattergram that distributors can use with their customers.

“If a customer is expecting a certain fuel burn number or they’re idling at a certain rate, then we work directly with our distributors to see what type of telematics data we can tap into,” Yim says. “Whether it’s engine idle, or hydraulic relief, or excessive burn rate, we typically use telematics to build the story to present to our distributors and we can communicate that to the customer to see how we can improve overall.”

Komatsu also presents data in-cab, so the operator can see in real time how their behavior is affecting machine performance and—ultimately—productivity.

“Data provided to operators is also important, because ultimately it’s the operators who are affecting that fuel burn,” Yim says. “Eco Guidance...notifies operators of an action or potential action that is leading to possible excessive fuel burn. Whether it’s engine idle time, hydraulic relief, or some other example, there’s a notification that comes up on the monitor screen to notify the operator that the action is leading to excessive fuel burn.”

Such in-cab notifications can be used to coach changes in operator behavior. The alerts carry no consequences, nor are they designed to disrupt the function of the machine or to overwhelm the operator, says Michael Salyers, senior product manager, smart construction solutions.

“The operator has to press a button to remove the alert,” he says. “You’re giving him the chance to read the message, notice it, and then have to clear it out. In a way, it’s a bit subliminal....”

“These alerts have a subliminal effect,” he says. “The operator is notified of an improvement/modification and if he wants to remove that notice he must push a button to clear it out. The operator must read and understand the message prior to clearing.”

Machine control improves operator control

Salyers says machine control, specifically Komatsu’s Intelligent Machine Control (iMC), also opens opportunities for operator coaching. “We are able now to start looking at how the operator was operating the machine,” he says.

“We are able to understand how the machine is working at the instance it is working: what’s happening at the blade, how much load is on the blade, what kind of operator input the operator is using,” Salyers says. “Understanding the load on the blade can help us and our customers understand track slippage.

“With all of the data the machine can provide, a number of improvements can be determined.  With respect to track slip, customers have told us that approximately 50 percent of a dozer’s maintenance cost involves the undercarriage. Using automatics more can reduce track slip, which is a substantial cause of undercarriage wear, and the increase in automatics use can in turn increase production anywhere between 30 and 70 percent, depending on the job site conditions. Reducing undercarriage wear prolong its life and thus extend the life of the dozer itself.”

Machine operation data such as this is accessible to customers through the MyKomatsu portal. By looking at track slippage, for example, the customer can see how often automation is being used.

“That’s huge,” Salyers says, “because now the customer can see the percentages of time each operator is using the technology that they’ve made that investment in. It’s in their own best interest to start asking the question, ‘Why is one operator performing better than another on the same job site?’ What is the difference here? The difference may be training, coaching, or the operator just needs more information to make better decisions.

“Operators are being asked to do more on the job site,” he says. “By coaching them and showing them ways to be more efficient in the tasks that they have, then they can do more and they can be better at their job.”

Remote coaching in real time

Remote access to cab functions offers real-time opportunities for coaching. Cellular bandwidth and availability allow Komatsu dealers’ Technology Solutions Experts (TSE) to access on-board cellular modems. They can dial in and take control of the onboard monitor, Salyers says, even miles away in their office.

“[A TSE can] take control of that monitor (with the permission of the operator), if necessary, and activate on-screen menus to solve problems,” he says. “If they are on the phone with operator at the same time they have accessed the monitor, they can explain what they are doing so the operator can solve the problem themselves in the future.

“Now we have real-time learning; we have instant learning.” Equipment managers or site supervisors can do the same thing. They can be anywhere on the job site, remotely connect to the machine wherever it is on the job site, and then instruct his operator on what he needs to do.

“I’ve even had an instance where I brought up Notepad on the screen, because I couldn’t talk to [the operator] on the phone; typed in exactly what I was doing and then did it for him; and then asked him to repeat it,” Salyers says.