Telematics Nears the Tipping Point

Oct. 25, 2018
Telematics is helping rental companies prevent theft, improve delivery, service and maintenance, and even help customers track performance.

Durante Rentals had just begun to rent some backhoes with telematics systems installed by JCB when one day John Durante got a call from a JCB technician regarding a machine that was on rent in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The technician tells me that someone just put water in the fuel tank of a machine,” Durante recalls. “He supplied the serial number. I went into our Point of Rental software and found who had it on rent. I immediately contacted the customer and made him aware and his response was, ‘I know. It just happened.’ We were able to swap the machine and charge him for the work performed to drain, flush, dispose and fill.”      

Durante says prior to having that telematics system, the company might have caught it, but might not have. “This is what the future holds for rental companies,” Durante says.

Matt Hopp of software provider InTempo tells a similar story: “One of our customers told us a story where his telematics system alerted him about a piece of equipment on a jobsite that had an overheat fault code,” he says. “He had already sent out a mechanic by the time the superintendent called in to report that he blew a radiator hose. When rental businesses are considering investing in telematics systems, this proactive approach to maintenance can be a major plus.”

For many rental companies, the future has arrived. Telematics systems are being supplied and factory installed by many manufacturers as well as third-party suppliers. Rental companies are using them to prevent theft, locate equipment on jobsites, perform remote diagnostics, keep track of hours and a range of additional benefits.

However, there are challenges involved and while telematics systems are not brand new to the rental industry, many rental companies have yet to start using them or figure out what they want to use them for. And once they begin the telematics journey, they aren’t always sure what they want to do with the data.

Rod Lentino, rental fleet manager of Cooper Equipment Rentals, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, says CER has only recently embarked on the telematics journey. And while the company is still figuring out what information is most important to it, and how to process the data, it already has recovered more than $150,000 in stolen equipment.

“The next wave is going to be what do we do when we have water in the fuel, and what do we do when we’ve got engine coolant exceeding certain thresholds of values,” says Lentino. “How do we integrate that into our system? And then how do we report on it, how do we make it actionable?”

Lentino says the company may require a dedicated tech expert to figure out the best way to sift through and process the wide range of data coming its way.

Wes MacDonald, general operations manager, Cat Rental Stores, for Ring Power says his company faced the same issue and recently hired a dedicated person “to handle that connectivity for our rental fleet, making sure it’s reporting correctly, making sure we have the right subscriptions, and the right reports.”

“We use telematics for providing asset tracking for security and logistics purposes, utilization, accurate billing, and machine alerts based on criteria that we have built into our system like low on urea, low battery, or low fuel,” says Todd Turner, vice president of PDQ Rentals, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.  “When we are notified of alerts we contact the customer to let them know that a machine is low on fluids or to schedule a field service call. We have also built all the manufacturer service intervals into the machines, so we get emails as services are due. In building the service program it has a checklist for what needs to be done with fluids, a timestamp of completion, and which technician completed the service. You can put as much information or as little as you would like. We are in the midst of installing more units on our machines daily and as it develops it will become a more intricate part of the business.” 

Telematics usage is also being driven by the expectations of rental customers. “We are starting to see some large contractors that require telematics on machines they rent to help them track location, usage, and they want to see we are keeping up on maintenance,” Turner says. “We can create logins allowing only the machines they have on rent to be visible which is some administrative work but easily implemented. This doesn't guarantee us business from these contractors but lets us keep the dialogue going and allows us to compete with some of the larger nationals that offer this.” 

"Our rental coordinators are spread out, so we use [telematics] for geofencing as a backup to confirm the time machines left and return in the yard,” says Jamie Carson of Phoenix-based Road Machinery, a Komatsu dealer with a rental program. “Additionally, we use it for trouble codes to dispatch technicians and location of machines, especially on larger jobs. It is most helpful regarding call-off disputes, which are common in the rental industry. We can quickly determine when and where the machine was last used. Sometimes the customer is correct, and we quickly correct the contract, and sometimes the customer continued to use the machine for days or weeks after the claimed call off date. Telematics have been extremely helpful locating machines, verifying call-off dates, and responding to minor issues before they become major issues. If we did not have manufacturer-provided telematics, I would seriously consider adding it to our fleet as it eliminates so many emotional issues related to rental equipment.”

Eliminating “emotional issues” is not an insignificant benefit. When Acme Lift first began experimenting with telematics years ago, one of the first benefits noticed by CEO Woody Weld was that monitoring usage by the customer “eliminated arguments” when customers tried to deny after-hours usage of a machine. Customers quickly learned there was no argument with the data the system provided.

National benefits

Unsurprisingly, large national companies with well-established IT departments are far ahead of the curve. They have had the resources to get started early and dedicate staff. For example, Home Depot Rentals has equipped its entire fleet with telematics systems and its IT staff has integrated the reporting systems from telematics to its ERP systems.

Home Depot Rentals has location tracking availability for its Contact Center when scheduling deliveries and contracts, as well as location tracking with theft or breakdown recovery and response. It utilizes geofencing at its locations to see movement after hours or during contracts, and it studies where equipment is being used in relation to its stores. It tracks usage hours and communicates the information into its ERP for usage tracking and preventive/predictive maintenance service. It tracks battery voltage, which heads off potential service calls and customer complaints, and it allows the company to see when a GPS device has been removed in a potential theft incident.

And it tracks fault codes and operating data on OEM-suppled devices allowing its service department to troubleshoot before emergency service visits, and proactively repair units prior to true downtime.

“Our whole fleet has been GPS-equipped for five-plus years now and it is an important factor for so many of our internal operations,” says Vinny Ianne, head of the product support department for Home Depot Rentals. “We have been able to move the needle substantially in terms of delivery efficiency and truck routing along with emergency technician response during customer ‘emergency/down situations.’ Our ERP and service management systems have also benefited from real-time data transfer, meaning more proactive call generation versus waiting on manual ‘hour meter reading’ updates to come in after contract closures. As the level of thefts have increased dramatically across North America, our devices have been a saving grace for us allowing a good percentage of recovery to the tune of $6 million or more. As the theft rings have gotten more sophisticated, we have also had to look into new technologies and secondary or decoy devices to help maintain our recovery run rate. Overall our theft recoveries alone have paid for the program (devices and communication fees) and then some with many other added operational processes improved because of it.”

Aggreko worked with a partner to develop a bespoke remote monitoring system, deployed across multiple product lines including generators, chillers, compressors, and fuel tanks. Aggreko monitors its global fleet on a 24/7 basis from the Aggreko Remote Operations Center in New Iberia, La.   

“Our Site Watch system is integrated with all critical aspects of our ERP system,” says Terry Dressel, vice president, central operations, Aggreko. “This allows us to provide support to both our customers and our field operations. Our system is capable of facilitating fuel management, load optimization, PM service scheduling, and environmental monitoring. We also provide our customers with valuable data for their own internal operations. It’s important to note that our system is complemented by a team of qualified technicians that are capable of analyzing the data points and diagnosing symptoms and preventing failures.”

Dressel says reliability has improved dramatically and Aggreko’s overall value proposition to its customers has been enhanced. “We offer a mobile app and live support from our Remote Operations Centers,” adds Dressel. “We put a lot of emphasis on minimizing risks for our customers and ensure their operations run at the highest level of efficiency. This service has been a real differentiator for our customers.”

The value to the customer is playing a major role in driving telematics.

“We are early on in our telematics journey,” says Jeff Vance, senior vice president of operations, Sunstate Equipment Co. “We have interviewed many customers about their needs as well as looked internally about how we can use the data to our advantage. From a customer’s standpoint they want to understand how to better utilize the fleet they have on rent as well as eliminate the possibility of their fleet being used by other contractors after leaving the job. Customers are very interested in geofencing. From an internal standpoint we are looking to benefit on our maintenance programs by capturing usage. Location can also be important when we are trying to track down a piece of equipment on large jobsites.”

“We have units that come with telematic devices installed from the manufacturer that give us access to telematics data (e.g. Bobcat Machine IQ),” says Ed Radel, director of technology and marketing Leppo Group, Kent, Ohio. “We use a different vendor for our delivery and service trucks that require ELD (Electronic Logging Device) that uses a separate web interface. We also have a third-party solution for the bulk of our larger equipment (telehandlers, boom lifts, dozers, etc.), but are currently in the process of switching to a company that shows promise to integrate all the different GPS data streams mentioned above into one platform that also integrates with our ERP system.”  

Radel points out that telematics is an essential in the oil-and-gas industry.

“In this division, everything that has a battery on it has GPS from boom lifts to light towers,” he notes. “The equipment moves from well site to well site frequently, and is transported by either us, the customer, or another third party. The communication from the customer updating us when they move the equipment is inconsistent at best, therefore without GPS it would be impossible to keep track of exactly where the equipment is located.”  

Leppo also uses GPS for hours and usage, which also helps settle disputes with customers. And, Radel says, there is an added benefit that customers appreciate.

“It also tells us if the machine has been dormant for an extended period,” he adds. “For example, if we see a rental unit not being used, or we are tight on a specific asset class, we can call the customer and ask if they are still using it. Our customers usually appreciate us calling because they see it as Leppo looking out for them, and it also saves time on disputes later.”

Todd Howe, global generator products manager for Doosan Portable Power, has seen a big increase in the usage of telematics system on oil drilling sites, which he views as particularly crucial because of their remote locations.

“Telematics makes it possible to know almost instantly if a generator stops operating,” Howe says. “But perhaps more importantly, it can communicate the potential for a shutdown that can then be averted. Without telematics, a generator could shut down and it may be several days before it’s discovered, resulting in huge productivity and revenue losses.”

It wasn’t that long ago that even medium-sized rental companies found telematics too expensive. Increasingly rental companies find it affordable and that as Cooper’s Lentino says, a couple of theft recoveries and it more than pays for itself, not to mention the other savings it can provide. “This is new technology we’ve recently implemented in our process and we feel it is very affordable,” says Lance Renzulli of High Reach Co. in Sanford, Fla. “Based on what it offers we believe it will be a very valuable component to our rental fleet going forward.”

“As telematics is becoming more common in the industry, we’re seeing smaller operations understanding the need to track their equipment, and deciding that the investment is worth it,” says Kara Longmire Lawrence, Alert Management Systems. “As the industry matures, the cost is coming down and implementing telematics is more affordable for the smaller rental operator. Some insurance companies offer a discount to rental companies that implement telematics.”

Charles Desroches, vice president of rental equipment for Montreal-based Location d’outils Simplex, agrees.

“Many insurers are covering equipment theft only if the equipment is marked or GPS-enabled,” he says. “Not necessarily the largest equipment will be targeted for GPS, but very often the mid-sized equipment such as mini-excavators, compactors and others are targets for equipment theft.”

Cat’s vision

Warren Cat is one of many Caterpillar dealerships and rental organizations using Caterpillar’s telematics solution VisionLink.

“The Warren CAT Rental Stores utilize Caterpillar's telematics software called VisionLink offers a unified view of machine health, location, and productivity for an entire fleet, regardless of the equipment manufacturer,” says Michael Wood, general rental operations manager for Warren Cat in Oklahoma. “Some key components of this software include four task-focused applications which include:

  • Unified Fleet: hours, location, asset status, asset operations and fuel utilization
  • Unified Service: equipment health, fault codes, fluid analysis, inspections and maintenance functions;
  • Unified Productivity: cycles and payloads
  • Administrator: asset settings users, reports, notifications groups and projects.”

Warren Cat uses a rental software called Integrated Rental in which machine hours automatically update within the company’s rental and work order system as machines are being utilized at the customer's jobsite, thus allowing staff to monitor and schedule needed service.

“Our rental preventative maintenance and condition monitoring group utilize the VisionLink website / app for in-depth monitoring,” notes Wood. “Dashboards may be setup and utilized for various functions based on the how each unit is uploaded in the system.

For its rental fleet, Warren Cat focuses on machine hours and location tracking, preventive maintenance alerts / scheduling and S-O-S fluid analysis of assets, as well as the equipment health and fault code options on our larger equipment offerings such as dozers, scrapers, excavators and articulated trucks.

Wood says using VisionLink has greatly improved the company’s overall efficiency and customer service satisfaction.

“Maintaining quality equipment that is well serviced, maintained and monitored throughout its life cycle within our rental fleet is a top priority of Warren CAT Rental,” Wood says. “With an extremely large fleet stretching across Texas and Oklahoma, preventive maintenance is key. VisionLink allows us to track and schedule preventive maintenance services based on equipment hours, location and condition. VisionLink also allows us to view and address issues as they arise. In fact, this software has allowed us to observe, diagnose and address issues prior to customer phone calls or trips to a jobsite location. Over the past years, the VisionLink software has enhanced our business model and reduced customer down time. The VisionLink option may also setup to include customer owned equipment with plans and options that best fit an individual customer's business needs.”

Wes MacDonald, general operations manager, Cat Rental Stores for Ring Power says Ring is also putting telematics on all if its fleet, focusing on the Caterpillar product line but including allied products. Since Caterpillar has been installing the system from the factory, including compact equipment, MacDonald expects to be fully connected by the end of this year. The company uses GeoTab for its over-the-road vehicles.

MacDonald says serviceability is the primary focus of Ring Power’s telematics efforts.

“With our Caterpillar products, the main reason is for serviceability, and to make sure that we’re not missing anything,” he says. “It does recording of hours, there’s different subscriptions that we subscribe to, based on the product itself. For our larger items we’re able to see fuel consumption and alerts for over-heating."

​VisionLink options may also be set up to include customer-owned equipment.

Manufacturers’ systems

Most rental companies got their introduction to telematics through programs provided by manufacturers that installed systems on their machines. JCB, JLG, Case, Komatsu, Caterpillar, Deere, Genie and Volvo were just some of the early manufacturers who developed their own telematics systems for their customers and themselves to use. Skyjack, Bobcat and Takeuchi have been among recent arrivals.

“We started ClearSky 10 years ago,” says Phil Howell, senior director of engineering at JLG. “Rental companies and the customers needed actionable data that was clear and relatively simple for them to handle. They certainly got benefit from the physical location and the actual run hours of the machine. They got better utilization and usage; and realized some of the revenue that perhaps they weren’t recognizing when machines were being used outside of the time or geographics that had been agreed. We learned a lot from our early years deployment of ClearSky. We went standard with ClearSky with our ultrabooms for a couple of reasons. They were a much more sophisticated product with the envelope control on them, and significant asset investment for our customers as well. And we believed that the access to more data by accessing the machine data remotely would really help with managing that asset.”

“Using JDLink customers can improve operations by tracking and improving machine idle time, fuel consumption, utilization or even tons of material moved,” says Paul Garcia, product manager, John Deere WorkSight. “JDLink data is also used to increase machine uptime. Diagnostics Trouble Codes alert service personnel when a machine needs attention. There is also a suite of Ultimate data measures that provide product specific information like time in gear for motor graders. Time in gear lets supervisors know if a motor grader is working or roading. Tire pressure monitoring for wheeled machines like 4-wheel drive loaders helps customers maintain the proper tire pressure to extend tire life. Reducing the time a crawler spends traveling in reverse can reduce undercarriage wear. These are just a few examples of the many Ultimate data metrics available in JDLink.” 

“Over the last couple of years, we have seen the global adoption of telematics in the aerial industry,” says Christine Zeznick, Genie senior product manager and business development manager. “No matter what size of aerial equipment fleet you have — from 100 to 100,000 machines — equipment management is something our customers do every day. Machine data can provide a lot of insight to our customers’ businesses — from knowing how equipment is performing to how often a piece is utilized. Or, where each unit is when it is ready for maintenance. Today’s technology can help our customers gather, read and understand the information their machines are providing.”

In addition to providing factory-installed telematics systems on their equipment, OEMs can help rental companies manage the information telematics provides.

“While telematics is a very valuable tool, not all rental business owners or fleet managers have the time to take full advantage of the data gathered from the systems,” says James Bretz, director, uptime & connected services, Volvo Construction Equipment, Region Americas. “That’s why some manufacturers offer OEM-managed telematics programs that help cut through the additional work that telematics can create. Manufacturer programs such as Volvo ActiveCare Direct help filter machine alerts to only what’s important, pairing them with specific action recommendations for the fleet manager. Additionally, monthly fleet reports provide a much more in-depth analysis of the entire fleet, helping to spot machine misuse issues and better plan for service schedules.”

Seamless integration?

For many rental companies, integration of the data provided through telematics into its ERP system can be a challenge.  Some rental companies are opting for a third-party software to facilitate integration. Software companies are improving their capacity to integrate that data.

“Most of our customers offer equipment from multiple manufacturers, so they have different sets of telematics data coming back to them,” says Hopp. “Some of these customers use third party software to bring disparate data points into a single system. InTempo Enterprise can integrate with individual manufacturers or with an intermediary source that aggregates and reconciles data from multiple suppliers. Currently, common data points we bring into Enterprise are engine hours, miles, and GPS coordinates.”

“As equipment becomes more intelligent, the most important part will be having a software that can help you analyze and take advantage of all the information you’re capable of getting. That’s why we’ve been integrating with telematics for years, and we’re constantly working to ensure our customers are able to take advantages of new developments,” adds Point of Rental’s Harris.

“Alert integrates with any telematics system that uses the AEMP telematics standard, including companies that do nothing but telematics, as well as telematics offered by equipment manufacturers,” adds Alert’s Longmire Lawrence.

“Even the smaller customers are starting to get to the point where the software available in the marketplace is more sophisticated and can import data a lot easier, so what we see is that as the telematics solutions have advanced they are starting to be more of a right-size fit for the customer,” says JLG’s Howell. “But as machines become more complex from the technology standpoint, and control systems and engine ignition systems and the engine requirements on machines become more advanced, they are driving technology onto the machines, and that means more and more useful data is available to them. Over the next few years it will become more and more apparent that the valuable features and tools that can be provided off a connected machine become far more significant to the customer. And getting a connected machine that can have the data transferred off it to your point of choice becomes far more straightforward. So rather than a company try to decide on one of several telematics solutions, they are going to look for a solution from the manufacturer that comes with the features and benefits of that integration to the machine and they expect to get their data where they want it, how they want it.”

Tipping point

“Telematics has been adopted in ways similar to other technologies – you’ll have a few people that are early adopters, eager to get their hands on the newest technology,” says Harris. “Then there’s a slow growth for a while, until you hit a tipping point and it becomes so affordable and available that it’s something businesses can’t do without. Right now, I think we’re edging toward that tipping point.”

“The promise and potential of telematics is enormous, but the sheer amount of data the technology can provide can be overwhelming,” says InTempo’s Hopp. “Before investing in telematics, it’s important for rental businesses to do their homework by defining their goals. For example, is the goal to guard against violations in a rental agreement? Or is to reduce repair costs through preventative maintenance? Setting goals can help facilitate a cost-benefit analysis to determine the appropriate investment in telematics systems. Rental businesses also have to consider how far down they want to go in their fleet. While it might be beneficial to track a scissor lift, less valuable equipment may not be worth the investment.”

Telematics is nearing the tipping point where it will be as common as allowing customers to reserve a rental online or even having rental management software.

“What we really want is to be a better rental company,” says Cooper’s Lentino. “What we really want to do is show and demonstrate value to our customers and demonstrate ways in which we can become more efficient, in the way we turn gear over and get it rent ready, or the way they manage their business. That’s really where our greatest value-add is, when we can put this all together.”