There are many names for it but telematics, also known as GPS tracking and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, has come a long way in the past 20 years. Hardware units used to be the size of bread boxes with large overt antenna, costing more than $1,000 each and a monthly subscription north of $30 for location and daily runtime reports.
Like any technology, the size of the device, capabilities and cost have come down dramatically. It has evolved so much we even see customers track their rental deep fryers, since some trackers are now so small, self-contained and use AAA batteries. There no longer is a limit to what you can monitor and track.
|Using off the shelf batteries and no wiring, the portable AssetView series is small enough to track rental deep fryers and stump grinders — among other things.
|A hardwired device, DPL Telematics’ AssetCommand Max now offers tipping and rollover alerts becasue of direct feedback from rental customers.
|Smaller than GPS devices, Bluetooth tags are a cost-effective way to track lower value asset inventory.
There are plenty of options available today for nearly every application and budget, with the biggest challenge being how to get started with the “right” solution for you. To that end, it is helpful to think of telematics or GPS tracking in three general groups: GPS location tracking, location and usage monitoring, and engine direct data. Each group delivers specific benefits, so it may be easier to look at your goals for the technology and match the product type accordingly:
GPS location tracking simply is access to your asset’s location at scheduled and on demand times. Though simple, this data has multiple benefits including theft protection, improved dispatching and driver safety, inventory management, logistics and rental management. Products are simple to install or “zero install” with completely self-contained battery-powered units.
Location and usage monitoring adds in the runtime and/or mileage of the host asset which also delivers more timely maintenance and capturing “lost” rental revenue. Sometimes a remote starter disable/enable feature is found in this type of telematics, which further reduces theft and empowers the rental house to lock out any nonpaying renters.
The engine direct category connects to the machines CANBUS port and captures data coming off the engine such as runtime, idle time, fuel consumption, temperatures, fault codes and pressures to name a few. This data drives an enhanced level of service management by helping to remotely diagnose a nonworking machine as well as identify potential renter abuse. Regardless of which road you take, most telematics and GPS tracking deliver a full return on investment (ROI) in six to 12 months.
In addition, with the growth of internet of things (IoT) there are even more tracking options becoming available including long-range Bluetooth, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Wi-Fi. These technologies are the most cost-effective options, but also have limited coverage range, often requiring a gateway to be within range of the device or tag.
Since that range maxes out at about a football field, these solutions are best suited for automated inventory tracking such as determining which attachments are in which yards. The three preceding telematics categories generally use cellular or satellite communications to provide asset visibility just about anywhere it goes.
So where to start? With many OEMs offering engine-direct telematics as factory standard, it is seductive to reply, “I want as much data as I can get.” This information can be incredibly valuable. However, the reality is many rental customers are not yet set up to properly digest it all and it ends up creating more work than benefit.
There can be an advantage to know a red stop lamp is showing because a piece of their equipment is on rent and the customer is driving it to failure. Does knowing 100 fault codes help you or is it noise? If your goal is to improve billing and service scheduling, then you may really only need location and usage monitoring — which is available in many telematics products. If you are concerned about theft or suspicious customers, you probably do not need a data-intensive hardwired product, but rather something you can “slap and track” to make sure the rental asset returns.
Take your entire fleet into account when beginning your evaluation. It is natural to begin a telematics deployment on either the rental fleet or the vehicle fleet, and then add in the other side downstream. As part of your evaluation, determine if you want best of breed using several telematics providers, or a single provider that covers all your fleet needs.
As part of the planning look at everything you may need to track both immediately, and in the future, including rental assets, trucks, trailers and more. The list may be longer than you think and confirm your selected provider(s) can cover and grow with your fleet. More often than not, it will be a mix of different device types that will properly address all your needs and potentially supplemented by other IoT technologies for a complete deployment.
While looking at a complete deployment, do not overlook your rental software. Many rental programs are now able to consume application programming interface (API) data from various sources and some telematics providers make collected data available in the same API format. If one of your deployment goals is automatically pulling rental information such as runtime and location from your telematics into your software, be sure to confirm both sides have integration or import options. This also allows you to utilize multiple telematics providers if necessary, with all the captured data flowing into your rental software.
Like most technology deployments, it makes sense to pilot the selected solutions for a period of time to let your team members get familiar with it and gather their feedback. This is a critical stage as many questions or concerns that were never considered come to light and must be addressed. If the required team members cannot or will not use the technology, then it has no benefit to the operation. Once everyone is on board and the roadmap is clear, begin the larger deployment.
It goes without saying, some of the best research is what your peers have already done. As you begin exploring telematics be sure to inquire at industry events and regional meetings what others in your industry are already doing.
As a telematics provider, some of our most intriguing products are customer-driven developments. We will sometimes get a call, “I hear you are doing X with this customer. Can you tweak it a bit to do Y for us?” As an example, we recently introduced a rental asset “tipping” and “rollover alert” based on this exact type of customer conversation, as our customers described to us their frustration with their renters quietly returning equipment that had rolled over but could not be proven.
Tony Nicoletti is vice president of business development for DPL Telematics, Los Altos, Calif. DPL Telematics is a leading supplier of advanced asset monitoring and telemetry technologies for the construction and rental industry. For more information visit dpltel.com.