How Contractors Can Cut Costs and Lower Bids With Telematics
May 03, 2021 – “First things first,” advise contractors who’ve managed to tame the telematics data coming off their machines and on-road equipment.
“The first question you need to ask is what do you want from this data and how is it going to make your operation better,” says Chris Caldwell, equipment superintendent with Roanoke, Virginia-based Branch Civil, which currently has a $70 million fleet, including around 100 pieces of heavy equipment.
Josh Munna, who manages Barriere Construction’s Resource Optimization Center agrees. “You need to understand what you’re looking for,” he says. The Metairie, Louisiana-based company has around 200 pieces of off-road equipment and 40 pieces of on-road equipment.
Focus is key, adds Kevin Reimert, fleet coordinator with Schlouch Construction out of Blandon, Pennsylvania. “There are so many data points that you can easily get distracted and go down a rabbit hole that doesn’t have any value,” he says.
These three contractors talked freely during a “Live Tech Talk” last week about what incorporating telematics data into their daily decision making has meant to their operations. (For the full video talk, go here.) The talk was sponsored by the ConExpo-Con/Agg trade show and Caterpillar.
“Ten years ago, we were basically chasing failures,” Munna says. “We found that after a certain point, it’s more efficient to purchase a new piece of equipment, so we now tend to keep equipment less than 5,000 hours, which helps us to be less reactive.”
“In 2005, we were 100% fix-when-fail,” says Don Swasing, chief operating officer at Schlouch, which manages about 150 construction machines and 150 pieces of on-road equipment. “Our vision then became condition-based maintenance. We started talking about what we could control and what really mattered.”
The Branch Civil team created a plan that outlined to company executives how incorporating telematics would make operations better, Caldwell says.
Fuel costs No. 1
Barriere Construction“Fuel is our No. 1 operating expense, and if you’re not focusing on fuel, you should be,” Reimert says. “Telematics gave us visibility as to what needed fuel and what didn’t need fuel.”
For example, a common but inefficient practice is to send a fuel truck to every job every day and fuel machines as needed. Using telematics data enabled Schlouch Construction to take a deep dive into fuel burn percentages and eventually schedule its fuel trucks based off machine fuel levels. This allowed the firm to better manage its routes and improve fuel delivery efficiencies.
Schlouch then examined equipment utilization. “We looked at the metrics, the key performance indicators that could drive utilization into a better place than we had with a manual process,” Reimert says.
Fuel burn and equipment utilization were also two key data pieces that Barriere Construction first wanted to control, Munna says. From then, there’s been a progression of information. The company coordinates its data through several suppliers, including Cat’s VisionLink (for construction machines), FleetWatcher (trucking cycle times), Samsara (service trucks) and B2W (production, PMs).
“We’re still finding out things today, and we’re 10-plus years into this,” Munna says. “You really have to know what you’re going for and what will satisfy your needs.”
“All of this information is designed to compel us to act,” adds Don Swasing, chief operating officer, Schlouch.
All three contractors can pinpoint cost savings as a direct result of incorporating telematics.
Branch Civil used its utilization reports to change its business operations. “When a machine’s utilization is low, we can move it somewhere and avoid rental,” Caldwell says.
The company also looks at fuel burn to help determine how many equipment maintenance workers will be needed on a job. It also gives Branch Civil more visibility into reported hours versus machine hours and increases billing accuracy.
Barriere uses its machine data to determine where older machines are in their life cycle and whether they need to be disposed of, Munna says.
Tracking this data also helps operations understand how much idling costs, Munna says, including the added DEF expense with Tier 4 equipment.
Barriere’s different data feeds from its telematics, tracking systems and software are put on six large screens in Barriere’s ROC, says Lucien Wicker, the company’s equipment coordinator. Also on screen: the weather.
“We combined the equipment and logistics department and put all in one area so we can share resources throughout the company,” Munna says. “It cuts down on the phone calls and emails.”