By Bill Stramer03 February 2015
Applying telematics to crane fleet management has been an evolving process among crane manufacturers. Link-Belt has tackled telematics with a new approach to the industry.
To explain the concept of telematics you need to understand how it started. It didn’t start in the construction industry or even the automotive industry. Telematics actually started with space exploration – remember the telemetry units on the surface of the moon?
The term telematics describes the process of long-distance transmission of computer-based information. Telematics components move information from point A to point B. In the case of NASA, telemetry units were sending information back to Mission Control in Houston. In the case of cranes, wherever they are, owners have the ability to know everything there is to know about their machines.
Today telematics is well established in a whole host of industries that include the transportation of goods and services around the globe, be it a ship on the ocean, a truck on the road or a package to be delivered. It also can aid in steering a combine in a field, recording yield and determining next year’s fertilizer’s needs. Telematics is here to stay, I think we can all agree.
It sounds simple, but the movement of the information is the easy part. Where the debate begins, is how much data can be seen, who sees it, how is it being compiled to view, and perhaps the most critical debate: who owns the data?
Link-Belt was definitely not the first in the construction industry to get into telematics, or even the first on the crane side. We watched closely how customers, dealers and other manufacturers developed and adopted their technologies. There were plenty of Links, Nets, Stars and TRAX, literally firing data across the horizon. And this is how the debate ensued.
My experience is that when you ask 10 customers what they want to do with their telematics data, you will get 10 completely different answers. As a crane manufacturer, we are in the business of meeting our customer’s expectations through our “Voice of the Customer” quest. But opinions among end users were not at all consistent.
We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes we could have made would have been to develop something too specialized or too complicated and therefore less friendly to use.
We determined early on to reach out to a trusted vendor, A1A Software. Along with Link-Belt’s sponsorship, A1A had developed the lifting industry’s leading lift planning software – 3D Lift Plan. A1A is led by folks who know the crane industry through years of working for both OEMs and contractors in the lifting world.
Our relationship began back in 2007, when 3D Lift Plan was co-launched by A1A and Link-Belt at Con-Expo 2008. Today this software has thousands of users world-wide. Numerous crane manufacturers have their products represented on the 3D Lift Plan website. It’s a one-stop shop for crane owners with multiple lines in their fleet.
When we contacted A1A, we found out that they were in the infancy stages of planning an “all-encompassing” crane management solution. They had answers to questions their thousands of crane customers had requested in terms of fleet management. The missing piece for A1A was an OEM with the same vision.
With the commission and subsequent success of 3D Lift Plan, it was only natural to again partner with A1A with our telematics initiative. This development began in earnest in 2012 as we strategically looked at the state of telematics for the crane industry and planned for the future. What did we uncover?
1. There is not standardization among crane telematics programs.
2. Customers and equipment dealers do not see the benefit of the technology, and adoption rates were low.
3. Ownership of data was left to interpretation. Our system needed to be able to satisfy and respect the rights of our crane distributors/owners and their information, and yet also be able to share data when product support assistance by telematics data could provide valuable data to get them up and running or avoid a developing issue.
4. Our telematics program needed to be flexible and offer choices that would range from a very simple program with basic information, to the comprehensive needs of those customers with expanded detail requirements.
5. We wanted to ensure the valuable resources of the Link-Belt Distributor Network were optimized in the process.
What about standardization?
The Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), along with assistance from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) announced their Version 2 Standard draft of their “Telematics Data Standard” for construction industry customers in September 2014. Today, the standard is in draft form, awaiting ISO adoption. The big point to make here is no specific crane data or crane OEMs have been included in the Standard. In short, non-crane OEMs are agreeing to “provide data to the equipment owner in a standardized format for the use and convenience of equipment owners with mixed fleets of equipment.”
The AEMP/AEM Version 2 Standard will include 19 data fields and 42 fault codes points. Included in this version are the basic data fields released in Version 1 including operating hours, location, fuel consumed and odometer reading. Again, no crane OEM was included in the development of these standards, but Link-Belt’s telematic data points would easily map to the AEMP/AEM standards, and we are in discussions with the groups right now for inclusion in the next release.
Link-Belt and A1A’s dashboard provides a higher degree of standardization through its website named iCraneTrax. Like 3D Lift Plan, crane owners do not want to use a Link-Belt-only or any other OEM only telematics dashboard. They want a tool that will allow them to use any of the cranes in their fleet, regardless of their origin.
Starting with our Con-Expo announcement in March 2014, through our Tier IV engine updates, which will be completed in the next 18 months, all Link-Belt cranes will be telematics capable. More than 170 data points and virtually unlimited fault codes will be viewable on the iCraneTrax site. Of course, the basic information – location, operating hours, odometers, fuel etc. – will be included, but tons of crane-specific data will be at the customer’s disposal on an easy-to-use dashboard.
This advanced information for Link-Belt cranes was built into the iCraneTrax dashboard exclusively for Link-Belt customers, but other OEM cranes can also be viewed from the same dashboard when chosen from their fleet. The telematics unit output installed by the OEM, or a third party like A1A Software, will determine the amount of data point information for non-Link-Belt cranes.
If you are like me, you’re saying, “170 data points?” Why worry about telematics? In some ways it just seems like it would be another electronic way to lose a day of constructive work.
It takes some level of commitment and understanding of what works best for each individual customer, but with the amount of data provided, one can determine what best fits their individual needs and reporting mechanisms. Following are a few examples which reporting mechanisms are important to the bottom line for crane owners:
Predictive Maintenance. With “real time” tracking of individual machine components you can have iCraneTrax send you an e-mail alert based on OEM-recommended hydraulic fluid or other componentry change-out intervals. Set the trigger to notify you when you are 90 percent into your oil life, and perform the maintenance correctly at appropriate down times for the machine.
What about eliminating unnecessary change-outs or inspection? What if the OEM says to disassemble and thoroughly inspect your winch drums – main and auxiliary – after 2,000 hours for damaged or worn parts? Before telematics existed this was all based on operation hours – with telematics you can actually determine the hours or cycles of individual winches and trigger the maintenance based on individual drum use.
The same principal can be applied to boom hoist and swing lubrication. Depending on the application the crane actually performs, broad operating hours are not the determining factor with regard to lube and maintenance; telematics information gives the owner detailed information on real use of components and the ability to perform the maintenance based on individual machine applications.
Telematics data can help determine the amount of time your machine is idle. This has multiple impacts for the owner, including identification of fuel-wasting behaviors such as excessive idling and aggressive driving, which can save thousands of dollars a year. Carbon footprint is not just a buzzword anymore. Telematics and calculations delivered on the iCraneTrax dashboard can track your machine’s C02 emissions that are being mandated in some eco-friendly regions.
Tracking idle also increases the value of the machine. Fleet owners can now segregate machine use from idle time for a clearer picture of equipment wear-and-tear when it comes to selling the machine at any stage of its product life.
Insurance Savings. In a recent article in Engineering News Record, a contractor stated, “Our insurance provider waived six deductibles because we had telematics on it. At $10,000 per machine, it created a $60,000 savings. We no longer have to factor theft into our bid costs with telematics.”
This cost may vary upward based on the value of your crane – something tangible to look into for every crane owner. Obviously, the simple GPS tracking of a machine allows the owner to see where his equipment is at all times. In the case of more mobile truck and all-terrain cranes, carrier speeds can be measured and alerts set if drivers are going too fast between jobsites.
A big question for a crane owner is this: Is my operator making good decisions? Identifying risky driving and operation behaviors early on may help prevent future incidents and potentially give you hard facts to reduce your insurance premiums.
Measuring Productivity. How productive is your operator? Is he taking his time getting to the jobsite? Does he boom up excessively or use the winch more? Was the 100-ton crane necessary for this job or could I have sent out my 80 tonner? Telematics reporting can answer all these questions.
These are a few commonly used items to defend the use of telematics of equipment and fleet vehicles and again, with your investment in cranes of all sizes, these items can be magnified based on the hourly cost to operate.
Some may think that telematics technology is a little like Big Brother, but in this scenario you are the Big Brother. It is your company, your equipment and your liability at stake.
Today, telematics data is being provided to crane owners by many fine crane manufacturers. Most have been in this game a lot longer than Link-Belt. So why is Link-Belt different? You own your own data.
From day one, both privately and our public announcement at Con-Expo last year, we determined that the crane owner owns the data.
But how can we guarantee that ownership, if we are collecting the data? Our answer is that Link-Belt’s role in this is to install the communication devices, transmitter and antenna to transmit the data on all of our models. A1A’s iCraneTrax collects the data. The crane owners determine who they share it with, as they see fit.
With our telematics solution you can decide from the very first moment if you want to share your data or not. And, of course, at any point you can also change it. There are several options you can choose from to best control your data:
1. Share all data with Link-Belt and your distributor. (We, the manufacturer, don’t see the data unless the crane owner wants us to see the data. The distributor doesn’t see the data unless the crane owner wants us to see the data.)
2. Share all data with Link-Belt only.
3. Share all data with distributor only.
4. Share only diagnostic data with distributor or Link-Belt.
5. Do not share any data.
However, sharing diagnostic data is a cool feature that our system incorporates. Let’s say your crane is at a jobsite and is having an issue. First you can logon to iCraneTrax.com and tell your crane operator to go into the Link-Belt Pulse system and set the crane in Diagnostic mode. What happens then?
Diagnostic data from the crane (more data points/information than normal operation) are sent or “burst” to the iCraneTrax dashboard every 10 seconds for 10 minutes. Data from the RCL, on-highway engine, off-highway engine and boom can be sent at this time.
With this information, you can then collaborate with your service tech and see if you can determine the issue by analyzing the data coming in. If you still can’t figure it out, call your dealer’s service representative. He can login to his company’s iCraneTrax.com account, and if you enable data sharing, he can look at the same data as you from his account.
One step further, the crane owner, dealer service tech and Link-Belt’s in-house service department can all collaborate on the issue to determine a solution. You can always set your data back to “not share” if you choose.
Imagine the time and money saved by not having to send a service tech out first to try to figure it out. Everyone can be on the same page at the same time from any location. What if the repair requires a part and you have to send your service tech back to the shop to get it? The faster you can get your repair done, the faster the crane can get back to work, making you more money.
The burst technology I described above is the “mother lode” of data that our system can send, but based on the type of telematics unit installed on your crane (assuming it’s not a Link-Belt) will determine how much data your machine can feed into a system.
Next, let’s look briefly at different reports based on the type of telematics unit utilized.
Basic GPS System. These systems usually report location only, and there are units out there that you can install on non-powered equipment like trailers and even boom sections, so you can track their location and be alerted in case of theft.
Basic Telematics System. These systems report location and report some basic operation information like engine hours, ignition on/off, and odometer.
Intermediate Telematics System. These systems report location and more advanced operational data. These systems can report diagnostic data from the ECM of your equipment, track speed and location, detect hard braking, cornering, acceleration and capture pre and post impact data. They can also report operational data like engine hours, ignition on/off, and odometer.
Advanced Telematics Systems. These systems report location and advanced operational data. These systems can connect to CAN bus and can report engine RPM, vehicle speed, coolant and oil temperature, coolant levels and pressures, engine fuel consumption and economy, crankcase pressure, idle hours, fuel used while idling, engine hours, odometer and much more.
OEM Installed Telematics Systems. These systems report all of the same things the previous systems report. OEM installed systems usually use a more sophisticated telematics communication device and are engineered to provide more operational data that generally would be difficult to achieve in the aftermarket. We can integrate it with our wiring harness, hook it up to multiple CAN systems and provide hundreds of data points. Link-Belt’s Pulse telematics system gives you more than 250 different data points. You can see operational times, monitor C02 emissions, engine loads, warning lights, and load-on-hook, just to name a few.
Most telematics programs only store your data for a short period of time, usually six months of operation. iCraneTrax will store the data for the lifetime of the crane. You can monitor, measure and compare data over the life of the crane. This enables you to track and improve reliability to achieve maximum profitability. It will allow the user to track the condition of the machine and provide information on and when maintenance needs to be performed.
What about cost?
Link-Belt installs the telematics hardware at no cost to owners. Just like our regular cell phone plans, “standard data-rate air-time usage rates apply.” In other words, the customer will be charged for the air time it takes to move the data from the crane to the telematics dashboard. The “data burst” diagnostic feature would drive the air time costs up, but this would be a small price to pay compared to service calls or wrongly diagnosed service calls.
We believe this new telematics tool is so important that we didn’t add additional costs for our new cranes to be telematics-equipped. We also offer our customers one year of the light version of iCraneTrax for free in hopes they will try the system and understand its benefits.