Product Report: Qualcomm’s GlobalTRACS Lite System

In the middle of any day can you say for certain where every single piece of your equipment is? And whether or not it’s working? And whether or not it’s due for maintenance?

With telematics systems like Qualcomm’s GlobalTRACS and its recently introduced GlobalTRACS Lite, that information is a mouse click away. The Lite model is smaller (roughly 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches), and at $495 almost half the cost of the original. The monthly service plan is also less expensive. Access to GlobalTRACS Lite costs a flat fee of $18 a month. The original GlobalTRACS costs $25 a month and goes up depending on usage. GlobalTRACS Lite also comes with a built-in antenna and can easily be moved from one machine to another.

What makes GlobalTRACS Lite and the original GlobalTRACS useful is how they organize and present this information.

After you’ve wired the device to the machine and signed on for the monthly service, you can choose how to view your equipment information – through the standard GlobalTRACS Web or an enhanced web application called Equipment Management Center, which works with the GlobalTRACS or GlobalTRACS Lite system to present an easier-to-read view of whatever it is you need to know about your equipment. Choose the maps screen and you get a visual display of the current location of all your machines on the system and information about whether they’re running or not. You can see all the machines on a single jobsite or the machines on multiple jobsites spread over a wide geographic area. “Many customers are getting big plasma TV screens installed in their office and hooking them up to the web so they can have a macro view of where all the equipment is,” says Satish Ram, GlobalTRACS product manager.

Digital report card
Drill deeper for information and you can find out how many hours each machine has worked today, this week or over any time period, says Larry Cleary, vice president and general manager for the construction equipment group at Qualcomm. If you need to change the oil or do other scheduled maintenance tasks you can set the number of machine hours as a parameter and the system will notify you when a PM is coming due. “By knowing exactly where your machines are located and when they are due for their next service, you can better schedule your service trucks and make more efficient use of your technicians’ time,” Cleary says.

The system works with most fleet management software products and is structured for third party data sharing. Additional tools enable you to calculate machine utilization and analyze the numbers to develop more accurate cost justifications. If the numbers show you that a telehandler or another piece of auxiliary equipment is logging only a couple hours a week, you may decide to reconfigure the work flow to get better utilization or sell the machine and use a rental unit on an as-needed basis.

Fleet owners and managers can also set up what Qualcomm calls “curfews.” If somebody cranks up a machine late at night an alert can be sent to management via phone, e-mail or pager. Likewise, if a thief disconnects the device, an alert can be sent automatically. With the GlobalTRACS Lite system, a built-in backup battery will continue to send out alerts and provide location information for up to five days. Should a machine go missing, Qualcomm’s Theft Protection Network, which includes a 24/7 customer service and support phone line, assists law enforcement officials in tracking it down.

GPS indoors and out
A new technology introduced with the GlobalTRACS Lite product is what the company calls Assisted-GPS or A-GPS. “On traditional GPS systems, buildings, deep woods and terrain can sometimes block the GPS satellite signal. When this happens with GlobalTRACS Lite, the A-GPS kicks in and re-calculates the machine’s location by getting assistance from the nearest cell phone towers,” says Ram.

So what does the original GlobalTRACS offer that the Lite version doesn’t? First, is the ability to use both digital and analog wireless transmissions. “GlobalTRACS Lite is digital only, but most of the country now has digital wireless access, and the technology is rapidly replacing analog,” Ram says.

Second: the original GlobalTRACS interfaces with the engine’s CAN-bus and can also be integrated with digital sensors and transmit information such as engine temperature and rpms, coolant temperature, oil pressure and the like – wirelessly to the website and equipment manager.

Cleary says the CAN-bus and sensor connectivity of the original product makes it a good choice for larger, more expensive pieces of equipment, those for which temperature and other critical health and performance issues need regular monitoring. GlobalTRACS Lite is more appropriate for compact equipment or machines like backhoes when you want the location, security and utilization information but when temperatures, pressures and other detailed reports aren’t necessary.

The Lite version and the original product can be used in a mixed fleet scenario. The systems and website reporting are mutually compatible and deliver the information in the same format so that the entire fleet, whether equipped with GlobalTRACS, GlobalTRACS or a combination of both, can be viewed together.

Telematics defined
Telematics systems use GPS receivers to locate trucks or equipment and wireless signals (essentially cell phone transmissions) to send this information back to a website or computer.

Over the past two decades telematics systems have revolutionized the trucking industry. With them, fleet managers were able to pinpoint the exact location of every vehicle the company owned, eliminating bottlenecks and scheduling problems. Early adoption of telematics helped Wal-Mart become the most successful retailer in the country.

Telematics systems like Qualcomm’s GlobalTRACS and GlobalTRACS Lite also help locate and schedule off-road equipment. But even more important to construction contractors, they tell you if and when a machine is working and help you evaluate machine utilization.

“Contractors use it to win bids. It gives you a competitive advantage,” says Larry Cleary. By giving you an idea of how much utilization each machine gets on a particular job you have a better idea of what your true job costs are and whether or not it might be more advantageous to lease or rent that machine. And you can compare utilization from one jobsite to the next or one crew to the next. If you have two roughly equal jobs and one compiles more machine time than the other, you’ve identified a problem that needs further investigation, he says.

“On a lot of jobs a three percent difference can make or break a bid,” Cleary says. “With telematics you can realize greater efficiency and outbid competitors who don’t have that level of information.”