Canadian Contractor

Keeping track

Telematics and remote tool tracking is making equipment maintenance, theft prevention and data collection easier for everyone involved.


August 8, 2021
By Andrew Snook

Maintenance is easy and on time with telematics-equipped machinery. There is also no need to crawl under dirty equipment to check how well it is functioning. Real-time tracking can provide that data to users in an instant.

No matter the number of pieces of equipment in one’s inventory, a contractor wants to know where it all is, at all times. Of course, the larger a fleet and crib of tools grows, and the more jobsites a company works on simultaneously, the harder it becomes to keep track of that equipment.

To counter these challenges, manufacturers, equipment dealers and rental houses are increasingly adopting various types of wireless tracking tools integrated into the equipment’s electronics suite.

Being able to track equipment in real time offers contractors the ability to know where their vehicles are located on a jobsite and how efficiently they are being used. Telematics are also an excellent theft deterrent.

“Some contractors have multiple divisions within them and will have smaller child companies that will use all the assets [from the parent company] but will get billed for them. For example, the excavation division has an asset right now for X amount of time and will be billed X for that asset,” explains Peter Gibbons, regional technology manager for Finning Canada in Surrey, B.C., adding that he has one customer with 16 different companies under one parent company. “Part of using it is just keeping track of where all these different types of assets are.”

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Equipment can be tagged with locators that can be tracked via cellular or satellite. Gibbons says it typically takes three to five minutes to ping the location of a piece of equipment, depending on the reception in a geographic area.

“They can ping their location to know where those devices are at,” he says, adding that being able to track equipment can aid in its recovery. “If they can’t find it when they ping it and find out it’s in a far-off area, they can contact the police, send them over that data and they can go have a look and investigate.”

Connected monitoring
Gibbons says insurance considerations are another important aspect of being able to track equipment use, especially in the case of a rental house.

“If an accident happens while in possession of a company, it goes on their insurance,” he says.

With equipment tracking, the ability to collect data has gone up manifold, and so has the quality of data collected. For instance, use and load profiles can be made to optimize generator efficiency.

At Finning Canada, customers can set up telematics subscriptions at various levels for reporting purposes. “You can have reports every 10 minutes, every hour, every week… we can change a subscription and see every 10 minutes and track a machine as it goes down the highway,” Gibbons says, adding that customers can start with very basic telematics packages and add on various reports as they need them so they do not get bogged down in unnecessary data.

“Contractors will set up their job sites and have all sorts of different devices on that site, and we can geofence them. There’s lots of applications for geofencing these days. I can tell when a machine leaves one geofence to go into another geofence. It’s important because they’ll have different groups running the different parts off the site, so when one machine goes to another part of a site, it’s under the responsibility of someone else. It’s basically taking paperwork and turning it into digital and making it much faster.”

Tracking the operation of heavy equipment can be especially handy for preventative maintenance purposes.

“We don’t have to call the customer to know the hours. We know your service is coming up,” Gibbons says. “We can call and say, ‘Are you okay with us coming to do the service?” Before we had to call or drop by, it just wasn’t very productive – and this helps customers stay on top of it.”

Just don’t expect older equipment to offer the same level of quality data as the newer gear.

“An older generator from the ‘90s or ‘80s, we’re really only going to get hours and location, but when you get into newer machines, you can see engine codes, fuel burns, machines telling you transmission temperatures, the operator running the machine,” Gibbons says.

Emissions targets
Gibbons says that by tracking utilization and fuel burn, Finning has been able to establish the emissions being produced by vehicles in a customer’s fleets and help them understand the sustainability targets they are trying to meet.

“Sustainability is a big part of the construction industry. A lot of contractor clients want to be a part of the solution,” Gibbons says.

A few years ago, Milwaukee Tool introduced a solution for tracking smaller tools across multiple jobsites called One-Key, an inventory management, security and smart tool solution. Currently, the technology is
offered on more than 40 Milwaukee Tools products.

“This targets the whole construction industry, provides inventory management and tool theft solutions,” says Casey Roberts, senior key account manager for Milwaukee Tool.

Tracking devices are often small and even removable. Manufacturers have clever ways to hide them from thieves.

One-Key is a Bluetooth-based technology with customizable settings that allows the user to track the performance of their tools and keep track of where they are on various jobsites for assistance with inventory management.

“What makes this so cool is that you can be as custom and granular as you like, or as generic as you like. It has the ability to tailor to the needs of whoever that user is. It’s not just a user with a crib full of Milwaukee Tool products, it can be anyone in the construction space,” Roberts says. “You can manage excavators, compressors – they can be incorporated into this software, not just Milwaukee Tools.”

While a contractor can use the app on their phone to input all of their tools into the One-Key inventory management software, Milwaukee Tool products equipped with the One-Key Bluetooth solution comes with additional advantages. For example, with a drill, the user can program through the app whether they want to ramp up the RPMs or ramp them down.

“It can get the performance of the tool, provide reports, accuracy of your work… you can actually go in and make sure it reads full hydraulic pressure,” Roberts says.

When a tool goes missing, One-Key takes advantage of its network made up of hundreds of thousands of tools to help locate it. Signals from devices in range of your tool pings you its location, even if its battery has been removed. Bluetooth-enabled tool and equipment trackers offer updates of he most recent date, time and location for a tool in your network when it comes within 100 feet of the network.

“It’s constantly pinging looking for a tower or app and gives updates to where a tool is within about a 100-foot range inside buildings and up to around 200 feet outdoors,” Roberts says. “With One-Key technology there’s a little bit of a premium cost in the cost of the tool, but nothing more than that.”

The One-Key system also acts as a theft deterrent, as the user can lockout their tools making them useless for the thieves.

“This makes it a lot less attractive to steal the tool,” Roberts says.


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