Aaron Witt of BuildWitt hosts: 3 ways telematics can help you succeed

By Jenny LescohierMay 04, 2021

Hosted by Aaron Witt of BuildWitt and sponsored by Caterpillar, a recent installment to CONEXPO-CON/AGG’s Tech Talks series focused on making the most of machine telematics

Data can be overwhelming in today’s world and advancements in machine telematics is a prime example. How do you drill down for information that’s most valuable to your construction business? Input from industry professionals suggests the benefits of this technology center primarily on three areas: diagnostics, operational efficiencies and team coachings.

For a real-world perspective on this topic, we look to three contractors who were part of a recent installment to Tech Talks by CONEXPO-CON/AGG about how machine telematics can be used for maximum advantage. The talk was hosted by Aaron Witt of BuildWitt and sponsored by Caterpillar.

Watch the video here

“The first question you need to ask is, ‘What do we want to get from this data?’ And then, ‘How are we going to make our operation better as a result?’” said Chris Caldwell, equipment superintendent with Roanoke, Virginia-based Branch Civil.

1. Diagnostics are job one

When considering the biggest take-home value of telematics data, machine diagnostics immediately comes to mind. At Barriere Construction in Metairie, LA, they’ve used data to help the company move from reactive to proactive machine service.

“Fifteen years ago we were basically just chasing failures,” noted Lucian Wicker, equipment coordinator at Barriere. “We decided we wanted to get ahead instead of constantly putting fires out.

“We started doing PM120 files on equipment, making our superintendents and foremen audit each piece of equipment so we can have a set of eyes on it, making sure it’s getting taken care of properly. Also, we started doing ‘machine Mondays’ which are inspections by operators, making sure they’re looking at their equipment as well. All those things helped get us ahead of the game.”

It was a similar situation at Schlouch Construction in Blandon, PA. 

“In 2005, we were 100% fix-when-fail,” said Don Swasing, chief operating officer at Schlouch. “It was great for the fleet, because we got maximum life out of the components, and a horror for the operations guy. We came together in 2005 and established a common vision of condition-based maintenance. We started talking about what we could control and what really mattered, so all the things inside our operating costs is where we put our focus.”

The learning curve was slow at first, Swasing said, as dealers were trying to understand the telematics technology which OEMs were still figuring out along the way.

“There was a lot of what I call value extraction, where we were pulling information, pulling the folks along who were selling or packaging up the telematics,” he said. 

Natalie Kerschner, equipment asset data analyst at Branch Civil, said they’ve focused on automation.

“Anything that comes into our data aggregator, as far as codes from machines, is populated automatically onto our communications board in a situational awareness room. You can see everything that’s going on with the equipment and what needs there are, and then it’s assigned from there,” she said. “We also work hard to automate all of our preventive maintenance. Work orders are automatically generated whenever service comes due, and are assigned to a mechanic to take care of.”

2. Increase operational efficiencies

Telematics can also assist with increasing operational efficiencies, changing how business is done through the use of information and machine data. 

Kevin Reimert, fleet coordinator with Schlouch, related that fuel is the number one operating expense and should be the primary focus.

“Telematics was able to give us visibility to the site and to the pieces of equipment and get a better view globally, as far as what needed fuel and what didn’t need fuel,” he said. “The common practice before was to send the fuel truck to every job site, every day and fill up whatever needed it. It just wasn’t efficient.

“We really dove in deep with fuel levels and fuel burn percentages. We got to a point where we were scheduling our field trips based off of job site-specific machines’ fuel levels. We were able to manage our route, reduce our own site times and dive deep into getting those efficiencies out of the delivery of fuel.”

Reimert said they really focused on idle time and were able to reduce it by 10% to 15% across their entire fleet. With that, the company adopted a commitment to keeping the cost per hour down at the crew level. 

“The foreman can communicate with his crew saying hey, every minute, every hour that you idle this machine it’s costing this job or this production this amount of money,” he said.

Caldwell at Branch Civil noted the advantages of right-sizing fleets to keep utilization at optimum levels, and keeping staff at the most efficient level too.

“We use the fuel burn to determine our manpower for these job sites. We determine how much fuel we’re burning, and then how many people we’re going to need for that particular job, for maintenance and repairs, and also for our job site billing accuracy,” he said.

Josh Munna, who manages Barriere Construction’s Resource Optimization Center, said fuel and utilization are key, but from there, it’s about reducing downtime and increasing efficiency.

“How do we move those pieces around and cut that rental out? Let’s save that money that we’re going to spend on rentals,” he said. “And the older pieces, what do we need to do with with them as far as repair costs, things of that nature?

“We’re helping operations get more efficient with the information we’re getting about the equipment. How many feet per minute are they are they laying? What’s the problem there? Do we need to give more equipment or whatever it may be? We’re able to see that and help operations become successful, which in turn helps the whole company become successful,” Munna said.

3. Focus on team coaching

On a much less quantitative level, telematics can also help with team development and education. But does it come off as ‘Big Brother’ watching?

Kerschner said implementing change is always difficult, and communication is key to that end.

“You need to be really transparent with everybody involved, all the stakeholders, and communicate what you’re doing and why,” she said, noting that it helps to get staff buy-in from the beginning, so individuals feel part of bringing about that change.

“Whenever possible I share with them the dollar amounts and why we’re able to save with these measures. I just give them the reasons, there are no secrets,” she said. “There’s no ‘big brother,’ we’re not just watching to see what you’re doing. Here are all the reasons and here’s how you can help be a part of that.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, they’re better off, and it’s all about being better. We focus on training a lot, and whenever we have a training class, we try to make sure we bring up any new software program that we plan on starting or implementing, and try to get everybody up to speed,” Kerschner said.

When there’s resistance, she said it’s helpful to show the benefits of what what these new systems have to offer, and sometimes it’s personal. The numbers can show where an operator is failing and where they’re excelling.

Kerschner added that once you get buy-in from operations, it makes everybody’s life on the equipment side and the logistic side much easier because they’re able to see the cost effects.

“Before anything, you’ve got to get that buy-in from the operations side,” she said. “Keeping that customer mindset, if they’re happy and they’ve bought into what we’re doing, then it’s going to make our life much easier and bring great success across the board.”

To view a recording of the live Tech Talk or over 45 additional on-demand machine control and telematics education sessions, create a free account at conexpoconagg.com/techtalks.

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