Telematics 101: How to use equipment data to track fuel, plan routes and diagnose problems

Updated May 31, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the third part in our ongoing Telematics 101 series of articles. To view the other articles in this series click here.

Telematics LeadTelematics data is a lot like a map to buried treasure. The information does you no good unless you act on it.  The gold is there. But, if you don’t pick up a shovel and start digging, you’re never going to find it.

In our previous Telematics 101 article, we looked at some of the things you can do with three different types of telematics data: location, run time/utilization and fuel burn data. This month, we’ll look at idle time, driver monitoring and diagnostic codes.

Keep in mind that if you’re running equipment that’s three years old or newer from most of the major OEMs, you can probably get this telematics data for free from their websites. If your equipment is older, or if the OEM website route doesn’t fit your needs, you can also wire up almost any machine with third-party telematics products from a wide variety of vendors.


Idle time

How would you like to cut your diesel fuel bill by 10, 20 or even 30 percent?

A lot of smart contractors are saving money by using telematics data to find excessive idle time. This is probably the most widely used data set in the heavy equipment telematics field for one simple reason: Accurate measurements of machine idle time are saving small earthmoving companies tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. Big companies are saving millions.

There is no good reason to keep modern diesel engines idling more than a few minutes at a time. By tracking idle time by machine, truck or operator, you can quickly see who is wasting fuel versus who is diligent about saving the company money. When you find excessive idle time, you can use that information to see if the job is structured wrong or to show operators and drivers how wasteful the practice is.

Coaching better behaviors is the best approach to take, rather than criticizing or reprimanding employees. Some companies will offer operators bonuses (based on the fuel cost savings) through anti-idling programs.

Another cost savings associated with cutting idle time is that it reduces wear and tear on engines. If you’re not putting those extra hours on the engine, it’s going to last longer, stay in warranty longer, require fewer service intervals and bring a higher resale value at trade-in time. Excessive idling also generates extra soot, which can prematurely clog diesel particulate filters, requiring more maintenance and regenerations.


Driver issues and public image

In earlier articles, we talked about how telematics location data can help you set up geofences and curfews to prevent unauthorized use of trucks and vehicles. You can also track, and plan, the routes of your trucks around traffic jams to save time. These are the most popular uses of telematics location data for heavy trucks and pickups. But there’s another important safety benefit to having your equipment wired for telematics.

Truck telematics not only report on the whereabouts of your vehicles, but most will also calculate their speed. Many truck-specific third-party telematics products will also record things like harsh braking, sudden stops or acceleration, swerving and other undesirable driver behaviors. Some of these systems even use driver-monitoring cameras (as we reported in the October 2015 issue, page 37).

But, you can harvest a lot of useful data from truck telematics without a camera system, using just location and tracking data. For example, many large construction companies have fleets of hundreds of vehicles, both pickups and vocational trucks. Inevitably, this means that the company will occasionally field complaints from  concerned citizens regarding poor driving, or perhaps gravel, dirt or debris blowing off the top of a loaded dump truck.

Smart contractors, especially those who do a lot of public funded work, know that a good public image is important. But, in the absence of telematics data on a truck, such a complaint can often become a he-said/she-said situation.

Using telematics, you can check the truck in question, see if the driver was in the area or not, and better engage the citizen who complained. If it wasn’t your truck, tell them. If it was your truck and your driver was driving carelessly, you can apologize and assure the person that corrective actions will be taken. If there were extenuating circumstances, such as an injury or emergency, you can explain that as well.

In either case, right or wrong, you’ve taken action to respond responsibly to a citizen’s complaint. This course of action is much more productive than casting aspersions on an innocent driver, or being unresponsive to the concerns of the public.

Telematics-driven examples like this aren’t big money makers, but they can help lower insurance costs, encourage your drivers to be safer, and demonstrate to the public that your company is responsible and responsive.


Remote vehicle diagnostic codes

In the dark ages before telematics, if you got a call from an operator who said a machine was down and he had no clue as to why, you had only one option: Dispatch a service tech to investigate. The technician logs whatever travel time is necessary and then discovers he needs a part, which means another trip back to the shop or dealer, and then a return trip to make the repair. At a minimum, you’ve blown a half-day (if not two full days).

Most OEM telematic data feeds will provide a huge amount of information about machine operating parameters like engine temps, hydraulic pressures and fluid levels. The Association of Equipment Management Professionals is putting the final touches on an updated version of a standardized telematics protocol that will identify more than 40 fault codes and parameters, and every OEM we’ve talked to is going to adopt this standard when it’s finalized by the ISO.

With this kind of information, you can diagnose equipment problems from your desk or any connected mobile device before the service tech ever hits the highway. In some cases, if the problem is simple, there may be a quick work-around for the operator. But, in almost every case with available telematics data, the tech can have the problem generally diagnosed and the parts in hand before he even leaves the shop. This generates huge cost savings and increases uptime.