Application Tips: Theft deterrents

With organized theft rings and professional thieves taking advantage of the booming construction economy – and contractors’ insurance rates rising accordingly – theft deterrents are becoming more of a necessity than the wouldn’t-it-be-nice option they once were.

According to vehicle-tracking device maker LoJack, more than $15 million worth of its customers’ construction machines were stolen last year, up 23 percent from 2004. The National Equipment Register, which operates a database of heavy equipment ownership and theft records, estimates the total value of off-road equipment stolen in the United States each year is $300 million to $1 billion.

“A lot of contractors are starting to realize they need to take a more aggressive stance toward asset management,” says Forest Williams, chief executive of Vehicle Location Systems Technology. Williams says awareness of and demand for equipment tracking devices has skyrocketed during the past six months.

And while deterring theft is just one function of many asset-management-type devices, makers of theft deterrents have listened to the needs of smaller contractors and are now offering less expensive products that only thwart theft or aid in recovering stolen equipment and supplies. A stolen machine could be 10 percent of your fleet if your business is small, so theft is often more disastrous for you than it would be for a larger company, says Tony Nicoletti, national sales manager for DPL America. And since you’re not likely to own a replacement for a missing machine, you’ll immediately have to rent or buy one to complete your job. You’ll also have to worry about your insurance premiums increasing, unlike larger companies that sometimes can afford to self-insure.

Bigger companies, on the other hand, often use tracking technology primarily to find out where and how machines are used, monitor machine systems and get maintenance alerts, Nicoletti says. Being able to locate a stolen machine is a peripheral advantage. If it’s financially feasible for you, tracking machine usage and health in addition to keeping an eye on your equipment offers many benefits.

Another plus to most theft-deterring technology is that it will save you time by helping you locate misplaced equipment and tools or those that have been “borrowed” from one of your jobsites for use at another.

Here’s a sampling of the products currently available to help you keep track of everything from a nail gun to a half-million-dollar machine.

National Equipment Register
With its Heavy Equipment Loss Prevention Technology service, the National Equipment Register lists the serial numbers of your heavy equipment in a database so that police agencies across the country can identify you as the rightful owner 24 hours a day by calling NER’s hotline. You also receive warning decals for your machines that let potential thieves know their chances of being caught while moving, storing or selling the equipment are greatly increased.

How it works: If you discover a HELPtech-registered machine is missing, you notify NER by phone or online to mark the piece stolen. NER sends an alert to police and industry specialists including equipment dealers and rental companies in the area of the theft. The service works with any item that has a serial number. If an officer discovers your property in suspicious circumstances, he calls NER’s hotline and finds out it has been stolen. The identification system works even in the absence of a theft alert. For example, a customs officer was unable to find a theft report for a backhoe being exported into Mexico recently. He called NER and the owner, who was not aware the machine had been stolen, confirmed it should not be crossing the border.

Cost: $40 per unit for lifetime registration; $75 per year for five machines, less as the number of machines increases

Monthly fee: $0

Bonus: Most equipment owners get a 20 percent discount through their insurer; some insurers offer a $10,000 theft deductible waiver for registered equipment .

Keytroller
This company’s products make starting a machine a frustrating and time-consuming task for thieves by preventing hot wiring or the use of a standard key. The system is available in four models that consist of a wireless relay and a keypad, a long-range wallet card, a radio frequency identification card or a keychain fob.

How it works: You split the wires between your machine’s power supply and starter or between the power supply and fuel pump, then hide the wireless relay, which is the size of standard relays, such as those for lights. Contractors often hide the relay inside an overhead guard. Your operators then use the keypad, RFID card, keychain fob and wallet card to activate the wireless relay, which will allow the starter to work. Depending on which model you have, operators punch their personal identification number into the keypad, wave the RFID card near the relay, press a button on the fob and or keep the wallet card in their pocket since it enables the relay if it is within 10 to 15 feet. In addition to its anti-theft function, the keypad model can also collect usage data you can download to a computer or digital memory stick. Software lets you filter and graph the data. For example, you can ask it to show who used a truck during a particular day, week or month, or track a machine’s usage. You can program up to 750 codes or RFID cards into the keypad, so the number of operators you allow to use a machine is virtually limitless. The relay will work with only four cards or fobs.

Price: $149 with four cards or keychain fobs; $400 for keypad; $650 for keypad with operation data

Monthly fee: $0

LoJack
The LoJack product is a small device that can be hidden on any drivable or towable item, including generators and air compressors. It emits a radio frequency signal computers in select police vehicles and helicopters can trace. LoJack is offered in 26 states, and the company says its coverage areas match those where the highest number of thefts occur. For a list of states and metropolitan areas where LoJack is available, go to this site.

How it works: If you choose this option, you most likely won’t get to see the device and won’t know where it is on your equipment. That’s because LoJack has its own installers who plant the device in a random place on the equipment and take extreme care to hide it, sometimes even painting it to blend in with the machine. Because the product was developed by a police commissioner for law enforcement agencies, the company doesn’t want thieves to be alerted to its presence. That way, if the machine is stolen, there’s a good possibility the device will lead them to other swiped goods.

If your equipment is stolen, you call the police and, as part of filing a report, an officer will enter the theft into the national crime computer system. This activates the LoJack device, which will begin sending out its signal. If a police vehicle with a tracking computer is within 12 to 25 miles, the computer will operate like a compass, telling the officer which way to go and whether he is getting closer or farther away from the machine. Police helicopters will pick up the signal if they are within 60 to 80 miles, depending on weather. Within the areas LoJack services, there is a sufficient number of law enforcement vehicles equipped with signal-receiving computers for the company to guarantee coverage, says Kathy Kelleher, national manager for LoJack’s commercial division.

Price: $795 for one device; $695 each for two to four devices; $595 each for five to 15 devices

Monthly fee: $0

Bonus: Insurance companies including St. Paul Travelers, Hanover and Liberty Mutual have either waived deductibles for stolen machines equipped with LoJack or have purchased a large number of the devices at a discounted rate and are passing the savings on to their customers.

EquipLocate
EquipLocate makes GPS tracking devices that have an internal antenna and battery and don’t tie into your equipment’s electrical system, so they can be transferred among machines and used on non-motorized products. For less expensive assets, such as tools, generators and pallets of material, that don’t justify the costs of GPS tracking, the company offers a radio frequency identification product that works like E-Z Pass on toll roads, letting you know what items are at particular jobsites and alerting you when they move.

How it works: The EquipLocate tracking system uses the GPS satellite network, the wireless cellular network and the Internet. GPS satellites establish your machine’s location, speed and direction of travel. When you need to see where your equipment is or want to change a system parameter, you go to the EquipLocate website, log in and click the appropriate icon. The system then uses the cellular network to send a message to the EquipLocate device, which takes the appropriate action and displays a response on your computer screen. If the location of the device on your machine prevents the internal antenna from picking up enough GPS signals to provide accurate data, an external antenna is available. (See the sidebar on page 82 for tips on mounting GPS devices.)

Price: under $500 per device

Monthly fee: $14 to $15 per unit

EquipLocate recommends its RFID product, TrimTrac, for machines and tools worth less than $10,000. To use it, you set up one or two RFID receivers at your jobsite and put tags on your equipment. The short-range radio frequency receiver will read the tags, which identify the equipment and are about the size of a card deck, only slightly slimmer, if they are within 600 feet. At the company’s website you can find out what you have at a given jobsite. And if something that should be there isn’t, you can find out when it left. A motion detector in the device will also send you an e-mail or text message when the tag moves, making it a good option for tool storage trailers as well as individual pieces of equipment. Put the device on the inside of a storage container door and you’ll know when someone opens it. You can set hours of operation for both VLST products so you aren’t bombarded with text messages during the work day.

Price: $2,500 for RFID reader; $30 each for tags

Monthly fee: $150 to $200 for two readers and 100 tags

Qualcomm
If you’re looking to monitor equipment health and usage as well as guard against theft, Qualcomm’s GlobalTracs may be the way to go. The product collects, transmits and manages equipment data on demand or at user defined intervals. The system provides GPS positioning data, engine hours reporting, a virtual security fence and machine health monitoring. All this information can be integrated automatically into your office computer network, reducing manual entry errors.

How it works: Because GlobalTracs’ uses GPS technology, you can always find out where a machine equipped with it is located. You can also set invisible fences around jobsites and equipment yards and the system will alert you if a machine moves outside its designated area.

Cost: contact Qualcomm – website or (858) 587-1121

Monthly fee: contact Qualcomm


The Equipment Lock Company
This company makes products for heavy equipment, trucks and trailers that mechanically lock the drive controls so the equipment cannot be driven. The hardened steel locking devices work with all brands of equipment and can be installed in seconds.

How it works: Barrel-style keys unlock the devices and are not duplicated unless you special order extra keys. Some of the products are available with combination locks. The devices are customized for different types of equipment and work in the following ways: the Skidsteer Lock immobilizes both drive control levers, while the E-Series Skid Steer Lock immobilizes one drive lever; the Attachment Lock holds attachments’ locking arms in place; the Backhoe Lock immobilizes the steering wheel and drive control; the Stabilizer Lock secures the stabilizer in the down position and is also available for the steering cylinder on articulating equipment; the Excavator Lock immobilizes compact to large excavator track drive control levers in opposite directions; the Ball & Ring Hitch Lock secures both ball and ring type trailer hitches of any size; the Cargo Door Lock and Heavy-Duty Cargo Door Lock fasten both doors of containers; the Jobsite Office Door Lock secures 32- to 40-inch doors; and the Heavy Duty Wheel Lock prevents the wheels of trailers and trucks from moving.

Cost: $89.50 to $199.50

Monthly fee: $0

Bonus: Your insurance provider may offer a discount or incentive for using TELC products.


DPL America
DPL America’s Titan Equipment Monitoring System uses GPS technology and is slightly larger than an ashtray – 4 inches by 4 inches by 1 inch. Your mechanic or a DPL installer can position it almost anywhere on your machine, even in the engine compartment. A cable leads to the antenna, which is installed out of sight.

How it works: The Titan system helps you keep track of your machines three ways. First, GPS location data can show you where your machines are at any time. Second, you can set a curfew around your operating schedule and the system will automatically disable the equipment at that time as well as call telephone numbers you’ve programmed into it if someone tries to move or start a machine after curfew. The system will also flag a machine any time it is in transit, which may indicate unauthorized use or theft from a jobsite. Finally, you can remotely disable a machine through the Internet if it is stolen. The system will also give you information such as hours of operation, maintenance reminders and other asset management data not related to deterring theft. If a thief finds the unit and disables it, the machine won’t start.

Price: $550 to $800 per unit, depending on quantity

Monthly fee: $6 to $14 per unit, depending on how much information you want.


National Equipment Register
With its Heavy Equipment Loss Prevention Technology service, the National Equipment Register lists the serial numbers of your heavy equipment in a database so that police agencies across the country can identify you as the rightful owner 24 hours a day by calling NER’s hotline. You also receive warning decals for your machines that let potential thieves know their chances of being caught while moving, storing or selling the equipment are greatly increased.

How it works: If you discover a HELPtech-registered machine is missing, you notify NER by phone or online to mark the piece stolen. NER sends an alert to police and industry specialists including equipment dealers and rental companies in the area of the theft. The service works with any item that has a serial number. If an officer discovers your property in suspicious circumstances, he calls NER’s hotline and finds out it has been stolen. The identification system works even in the absence of a theft alert. For example, a customs officer was unable to find a theft report for a backhoe being exported into Mexico recently. He called NER and the owner, who was not aware the machine had been stolen, confirmed it should not be crossing the border.

Cost: $40 per unit for lifetime registration; $75 per year for five machines, less as the number of machines increases

Monthly fee: $0

Bonus: Most equipment owners get a 20 percent discount through their insurer; some insurers offer a $10,000 theft deductible waiver for registered equipment.


Installation tips for GPS devices
Devices that rely on GPS satellites are limited in that they need to pick up signals from three to four satellites in order to give you accurate location data. “People should understand these GPS signals are very weak,” says Forest Williams of EquipLocate. “They won’t pick up inside a building, under a carport or even under a leafy tree. A lot of tall buildings could block out the satellites you need.”

While you can’t do much about these obstacles, you can install the device or its antenna in a place on your machine that will ensure maximum exposure to satellite signals.

Install the antenna (or the device if it has an internal antenna) in a concealed area with as little metal surrounding it as possible since GPS signals will not penetrate metal. Try not to install the antenna on one side of your machine because you risk blocking out half the sky and several satellites. Good installation locations vary according to machine type. For example, under the seat is an excellent place on backhoe loaders, but not on skid steers since the seat is deep in the machine and there is metal on both sides. With skid steers and similar machines it’s better to route the antenna up to the cab roof. You can also peel back the vinyl pad covering an area behind the seat that’s meant for an air conditioning unit and secure the device above the metal level of the machine, Williams says. A location under the control panel or levers will work well for many machines, including compact excavators.


With organized theft rings and professional thieves taking advantage of the booming construction economy – and contractors’ insurance rates rising accordingly – theft deterrents are becoming more of a necessity than the wouldn’t-it-be-nice option they once were.

According to vehicle-tracking device maker LoJack, more than $15 million worth of its customers’ construction machines were stolen last year, up 23 percent from 2004. The National Equipment Register, which operates a database of heavy equipment ownership and theft records, estimates the total value of off-road equipment stolen in the United States each year is $300 million to $1 billion.

“A lot of contractors are starting to realize they need to take a more aggressive stance toward asset management,” says Forest Williams, chief executive of Vehicle Location Systems Technology. Williams says awareness of and demand for equipment tracking devices has skyrocketed during the past six months.

And while deterring theft is just one function of many asset-management-type devices, makers of theft deterrents have listened to the needs of smaller contractors and are now offering less expensive products that only thwart theft or aid in recovering stolen equipment and supplies. A stolen machine could be 10 percent of your fleet if your business is small, so theft is often more disastrous for you than it would be for a larger company, says Tony Nicoletti, national sales manager for DPL America. And since you’re not likely to own a replacement for a missing machine, you’ll immediately have to rent or buy one to complete your job. You’ll also have to worry about your insurance premiums increasing, unlike larger companies that sometimes can afford to self-insure.

Bigger companies, on the other hand, often use tracking technology primarily to find out where and how machines are used, monitor machine systems and get maintenance alerts, Nicoletti says. Being able to locate a stolen machine is a peripheral advantage. If it’s financially feasible for you, tracking machine usage and health in addition to keeping an eye on your equipment offers many benefits.

Another plus to most theft-deterring technology is that it will save you time by helping you locate misplaced equipment and tools or those that have been “borrowed” from one of your jobsites for use at another.