Image courtesy of Case.

Image courtesy of Case.

At a Glance

Telematics systems allow government fleet managers to:

  • View how many hours a piece of equipment has gone between various maintenance requirements
  • Monitor operator behavior in detail
  • Analyze data to identify negative maintenance trends before they become bigger problems.

The experience of one county’s solid waste district is a good case study for the benefits of telematics on fleet vehicles and equipment. The district uses five John Deere 644K front loaders located at five different transfer stations, where it moves trash from consumer dump sites into large semi-trucks to be dropped at the landfill. The district’s equipment dealer recently spent time with the district’s fleet manager reviewing the loaders’ activity on the John Deere telematics Website, JDLink. While the dealer showed the district’s fleet manager how much time each machine was spending in different gears, the fleet manager noticed on the system that some of his operators were using the loaders at higher speeds than policy allowed. He met with the operators to correct the issue, and this change will help the district minimize accidents.

The level of alerts has continued to improve in recent years. “If the machine is moved out of a predetermined boundary, a fleet manager will get an alert that it’s moved,” said Liz Quinn, product marketing manager for John Deere WorkSight, which includes various services such as John Deere’s telematics product, JDLink. Quinn was referring to a geo-fence feature that notifies a fleet manager if a vehicle goes outside a predetermined boundary. The JDLink system comes standard on John Deere backhoes and larger equipment.Situations like this are becoming more common as off-road equipment features more advanced telematics systems. All types of fleets have long used telematics to help track their vehicle and equipment location and the length of time that the equipment is in operation. Over time, telematics have evolved to include the ability to send alerts to fleet managers on various aspects of equipment operator behavior. They can provide data on equipment idle time and whether the equipment is on a low-duty or medium-duty cycle or the operator is pushing the equipment too hard. They can monitor tire pressure and fuel consumption or the average number of gallons the equipment is burning per hour.

Telematics have also evolved in the way they transmit information from the equipment to fleet managers back at the office. Many telematics systems are either cell phone-based or satellite-based. Hyundai’s Hi-Mate system offers both systems, and the company is testing its newest version of dual signal, which is two-way transition enabled. It chooses whichever system — cell phone or satellite — is best at that time, said Steve DePriest, product specialist for Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas. Hyundai offers the Hi-Mate system and its diagnostic data free for three years.

Telematics systems are evolving to show the fleet manager more detail on everything that needs to be done before the technician arrives on the scene to fix the problem.

Most telematics systems use a cell phone-based tower and send diagnostic data back to the office every two hours or any time a problem occurs, DePriest said.

“However, what happens when the machine is working in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t a cell phone signal? It doesn’t do you much good if it’s just cell phone-based,” DePriest said. “We can put it in so it’s satellite-based. Wherever you are, wherever there’s open sky, you get a signal. But you’re limited because you only get signals about six times a day. So your data could be lagged from when you want it. But you’re going to get data if you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

The ability to switch between satellite and cell phone notification is just one emerging trend as telematics systems and their value to government fleets continue to evolve.

Maintenance Made Easier

Telematics helps fleet managers with maintenance and helps them manage the logistics of their equipment. New Holland’s PLM Connect Essential telematics package provides the fleet manager with information such as equipment location, fuel level, hydraulic pressure, and engine hours so he or she can receive maintenance alerts. The package creates geo-fences and curfews. Government entities can use the system for just about any piece of equipment with a power supply, said Chris Carrier, PLM marketing manager, for New Holland.

“It’s good for fleets. Some places they want to know where their equipment is and what the engine hours are so they know when to perform maintenance on it,” Carrier said. “Our PLM Connect Essential package provides this information, or they can receive even more detailed information using our Professional package.”

Telematics systems are evolving to show the fleet manager more detail on everything that needs to be done before the technician arrives on the scene to fix the problem.

“For instance, it will tell you how many hours you’ve gone between every suggested maintenance interval,” DePriest said. “You can see, ‘In the next 40 hours you need to change the oil, the oil filter, etc.’ It gives you that whole list of diagnostic data for maintenance. So a maintenance man saves three trips going out to service the same machine.”

Trend Analysis Saves Money

Telematics are offering fleet managers more advanced data to identify negative maintenance trends before they become bigger problems. Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager for Case Construction, discussed an example of two similar-­sized excavators operating on opposite sides of town but performing similar functions. The fleet manager would expect similar maintenance performance from the two excavators, but after a few months of operation, the telematics might show that fuel consumption is increasing for one of the excavators and not the other. Or one of the machines is idling a lot more. Without telematics, a fleet manager might not see those changes until they cause a bigger problem.

“With telematics, you can see it,” Stemper said. “You can see the fuel consumption go up, the idle time change, the temperatures or hydraulics or warnings come across those machines. You know something has changed.”

The trend analysis will likely lead to the fleet manager investigating what might have changed. For example, a new employee might be operating one of the machines. If there haven’t been any changes, the manager can investigate what might be changing on the machine.

The manager might switch machines between job sites and operators to see if the same trends occur. Does the problem follow the operator or the machine? Perhaps more training is necessary, or maybe a mechanical issue is occurring.

“You may have an issue with the machine that the operator is not identifying,” Stemper said. “You’re able to diagnose a little bit more about that by watching the engine parameters or the hydraulic parameters or electrical parameters. With all that data coming through, since that person who is watching them is remote, they’re able to define or create a situation where they can now monitor the machine that might be a problem a little more closely.”

Standardized Telematics System: Working Toward ISO Certification

Two industry associations representing equipment fleet managers and heavy equipment manufacturers have continued to make progress toward a standardized telematics data system, and the two groups in recent months have made progress toward gaining International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification as part of the project.

Stan Orr, president and chief staff officer of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), said that until 2008, equipment managers with mixed fleets of equipment from different manufacturers had to go to the Websites of each equipment manufacturer to receive telematics data.

“And everyone has a mixed fleet,” Orr said.

In 2008, AEMP met with the major OEMs to develop a standard that would allow a government fleet manager to view all of his or her fleet’s assets on essentially one page of a computer screen. Caterpillar, John Deere, Volvo, and Komastu were the equipment manufacturers that agreed to assist AEMP, and the standards could be found at

The project gained global attention in 2013, when the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) joined AEMP to assist in expanding the standard. Since then, organizations such as German-based VDBUM have agreed to assist. With the emergence of a possible competing standard from Japan, and because the manufacturers’ software was so diverse in design, AEMP and AEM decided about seven months ago to seek a global standardization from the ISO.

Orr said the ISO standard should be completed and in place by the end of 2015. “At that point, the manufacturers can feel comfortable that they built their systems to meet this standard, and that the standard won’t be changing all the time,” Orr said.

Once this second version (with 19 data points versus the previous version’s five) is approved, fleet managers will be able to download the standard and work with their IT departments or third-party providers to pull the data onto the same screen.

Bill Depew, fleet manager for the Parish of Ascension in Louisiana, has been working with vendors on a solution to this very problem. He said once he obtains the API from the vendors, GeoTab, the county’s telematics vendor, will work with fleet to integrate heavy equipment telematics into its existing GPS monitoring interface.

What’s Current and In The Future of Off-Road Telematics

John Deere will soon launch the M­ portal that includes a new telematics-enabled operations center with a location history feature. Quinn of John Deere said showing a machine’s path over the last 24 hours will be beneficial to snow plowing operations.

Case Construction Equipment in April brought together its precision construction services, including all telematics and machine control technologies, under the name Case SiteSolutions. The company increased the number of machine parameters transmitted by the Case SiteWatch telematics system from 12 to 40.

What are some potential innovations in telematics for off-road equipment? DePriest of Hyundai sees a future where government entities can use telematics to operate basic features of the equipment from a remote location. Bi-directional operation is another trend he sees in the future. The fleet office would be able to send program updates remotely to the telematics equipment in the field, and when the operator turns on the machine the following day, the equipment will update itself.

Security, Durability Among Important Factors of Telematics Equipment

When choosing which equipment or vehicles to purchase, government fleet managers should also factor in the quality of the vehicle’s standard telematics equipment or the quality of aftermarket telematics equipment they are considering purchasing. Important factors to consider include:

  • Is telematics offered as standard equipment and for how long is it available? Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager, Case Construction, said many original equipment manufacturers include telematics as standard equipment on specific models.
  • Data privacy and security. Liz Quinn, product marketing manager, John Deere WorkSight, said government fleet managers should check telematics equipment’s infrastructure, firewalls, policies, and legal registration. “The customer who owns that machine controls that data,” Quinn said. “We take it very seriously at John Deere, having the infrastructure and processes to support proper data privacy and security.”
  • Durability. For off-road equipment, a durable box that will stay connected to the machine is crucial, Quinn said.
  • Comprehensive diagnostic data. Some telematics companies will provide basic data such as equipment location but will charge extra for diagnostic data, said Steve DePriest, product specialist, Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas, which offers all diagnostic data free of charge for three years.
  • System is easy to use, and the manufacturer offers strong dealer support. Quinn said government fleet managers should make sure they can easily log into a telematics Web portal and should be able to figure out what to do after logging in. And she believes support from a bricks and mortar dealer is vital to showing the fleet manager how to get the best value from the various available reports.