Telematics is proving to be a versatile tool among fleet managers who recognize the technology’s potential. As hands-on experience puts a damper on the noise initially caused by a deluge of too much useless data, interesting truths are surfacing.
For one, reining in idle time is becoming a standard success story. Yet fleet executives have now found that the dramatic savings occurs only one time, when the system “comes out of the gate,” says Tim Truex, manager of electrical/midsize equipment at Kokosing Construction.
“Our fleet went from an average of more than 40 percent idle time to less than 20 percent when we implemented telematics,” Truex says. “Rock trucks on excavation jobs went from 20 percent idle to less than 10 percent on average. But the big savings are a one-time thing. From that point on any savings will be reflected by individual operators who need coaching, not from your whole fleet. You start to see idle time improvement in small increments.”
And it is well-trained equipment operators and others, with access to the right tools and guidance from top management, who make Kokosing Construction “head and shoulders above our competitors,” Truex says.
The company’s telematics system was designed in-house six years ago when Truex, along with Barth Burgett, vice president of equipment, and Brian Gott, who heads field operations, met with the embedded systems experts who are “literally right down the road,” says Truex. Truex, who has been with the company for 22 years and has degrees in electronics engineering and business, was named project lead.
Experience and education, he says, allow him to “see the project at a little higher level and bridge the gaps between the technical side and turn all the data coming back to our central system into information.” Of course, he points out, he doesn’t do this alone, but has much needed help from his support team.
About a year into the project, Truex says, skill codes and proper training to limit access to the equipment were written and implemented.
“As we started developing reports, we asked for feedback from operations on how they wanted to see the information. We discussed how to verify accuracy of the information and those kind of things,” he says.
All this feedback was critical, he explains, “because we wanted to make sure the information would be used. Today, we’re still finding new ways to use the basic information available to us.”
Truex says the Kokosing telematics system is unique in that the core of everything the system does is a security card assigned to an individual. For instance, technology within a dozer is wired to the telematics box. The box also is wired into the ignition system on the machine.
“In order for the machine to start,” Truex says, “the operator has to swipe a valid card. The card is assigned to an employee number, which lets us know who started the piece of equipment and when the equipment was turned on; and along with other data like load counts or idle time, we are able to take all those different pieces of data and turn them into information uniquely tied to that operator.”
As a result, the site superintendent or project manager can go straight to the individual who needs coaching in how to improve idle time or who doesn’t understand the policy of the company, whichever that may be. And, Truex says, it saves time by identifying a specific individual rather than having to canvass all operators. This method prevents what Truex calls third-grade finger pointing.
“You ask someone how a machine was damaged, and you hear, ‘I don’t know. It was like that this morning, but Joe Smith used it yesterday.’”
Equipping the equipment operator
In short, telematics information produces operator accountability, whether in a negative situation, such as equipment abuse, or in a positive situation, such as singling out an operator who has a history of excellent performance, Truex says.
“By identifying the operator who is consistently fantastic with idle time or super-productive with loads for the day, [they] can be recognized and rewarded by the company. We have championship incentive programs, such as Idle Champion of the Month, that recognize outstanding performance and, at the same time, add dollars to the bottom line. We work with people to improve them and help them get better. And that only helps the company get better,” he says.
The second benefit for Kokosing is that telematics helps people work safer, thus reducing accident risks. Forklifts are a good example, Truex says. Forklifts running around a work site, in the yard, or in and out of the shop, can only be operated by trained personnel. No one can just jump on a forklift and start unloading a truck, he says. The operator’s equipment swipe card is the only way an operator can log into Kokosing’s ERP system. The card swipe also identifies whether or not the operator has the appropriate skill sets to run the machine, Truex says.
“As an example, the forklift is a 025 category that requires a skill code, call it FL for forklift. The system looks at who has the required skill codes for that category and only the card that has been assigned to that operator who has proper training can operate the machine. Unqualified people are locked out,” he says.
Kokosing’s telematics protects the equipment—and the lives—of people not qualified to run the machine, and at the same time, acts as a security tool by throwing obstacles into the paths of would-be thieves.
Graders, excavators, wheel loaders and any number of other types of vehicles and heavy iron are often parked overnight at work sites, making tempting targets for both curious bystanders and thieves. The former is particularly true if the work is going on in a residential area, says Truex.
“I know what I would have done as a 10- or 11-year-old boy if I saw a backhoe parked in the neighborhood,” Truex says. “Curiosity takes over and I would have crawled all over it, pulling levers, punching buttons, turning switches, and whatever else I could find. From a safety standpoint, having that extra layer of security (preventing the machine from starting) may prevent a child from getting hurt or damaging the machine or hurting someone else.”
Truex has such confidence in the swipe card core of Kokosing’s telematics system that the company, when it comes to theft and vandalism, doesn’t even use geo-fencing for theft prevention. “We feel our equipment is extra secure to start with, and if thieves have trouble starting the machine, hopefully, they will move on to easier targets. The swipe card concept has certainly improved the security of our heavy iron,” he says.
However, he cautions, anytime you add a layer of security you want to be certain that everything is “hitting on all cylinders. The last thing you want to do is hold up the job. The equipment has to be available when it is needed.”
As with most rules, there are exceptions. Not only can card-carrying, qualified operators start and operate the equipment, but also technicians. When a machine is repaired, Truex says, the technician has to start it to troubleshoot and diagnose the problem. After the repairs, he has to operate the machine, similar to a road test, to make sure it will function as expected.
To ensure that swipe cards don’t fall into unqualified hands, a four-person team, working directly with Kokosing’s IT and human resources departments, has the responsibility of assigning cards to appropriate individuals.
Unlike measuring the impact of telematics on fuel consumption, productivity and efficiency, measuring the impact of improved operator safety is a tough thing to do, says Truex, “because you are trying to measure nonoccurrences. Who knows how many incidents have been prevented when an unqualified operator has been unable to start a machine?”
In looking back at how Kokosing’s homegrown telematics system has evolved and how his own responsibilities as “lead guy” have grown, Truex says, “I like to joke that our department touches anything with wires.”
That’s about as good a summation as you can find.