On Record: Five more years?

In 2001, we surmised we were on the cusp of the following advances in machine information:

  • Location and hour meter readings
  • Fuel consumption data
  • Bystander protection
  • Pressure readings
  • Oil condition sensing
  • Position sensors
  • Two-way communications
  • Overload alerts

Five years later and all of the above are either in field operation or will be within a few years. GPS, with its wireless location and hour logging capabilities, is now in full bloom. Bystander protection, as represented by rear-vision systems, just might get a federal boost this year on certain trucks. Position and oil condition sensors are here, just not at a price and durability that’s yet attractive to manufacturers.

“We’re getting over a threshold,” says Rich Hall, vice president of engineering, Case Construction Equipment. “We’re seeing the fear of electronics subside.”

I started out in this business using an IBM Selectric typewriter with a backspace correction feature. (Anybody out there remember loading the spool of correction tape?) A few years later, the company I worked for graduated to a typesetting machine so massive it didn’t sit on a corner of my desk, it was the corner. I can’t help but think the construction industry is at a point that compares with that old typesetting machine. We haven’t even begun to see where this all is leading us.

What’s happening with today’s rental fleets provides some excellent cues, however. With their constantly on-the-move fleets, rental companies are leading the way in fleet management systems. The equipment has to get out to the jobsite in prime condition, perform its job to expectations, and be rushed back to the rental center to be serviced and restart the cycle. And rental companies know there are some tricks out there – such as contractors calling a machine off rent on Friday, knowing it probably won’t be picked up until Monday, and then continuing to use it. Now, using GPS-based systems, they can find out if the machine logged any additional hours after it was called off rent.

Rental companies are also using software systems that combine the machine specifications, parts manuals, training documents and ordering systems of several manufacturers into one system. At this point, however, primarily smaller manufacturers have signed on, letting their information be downloaded to this type of get-everything-in-one-place system. Large manufacturers, on the other hand, usually have their own internal Web-based systems in place. I wonder how long this silo approach can last, however. Wouldn’t it be grand if you could check on the hours of your Volvo excavator, get a part for your Wacker compactor and dispatch your Cat artics, all with a few clicks from one Web portal?

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Maybe all it will take is five more years.