Remote Equipment Monitoring

By Greg Sitek

This is one equipment related cost that deserves your serious consideration, especially when the economy is tiight

Equipment maintenance is one investment that gives you a healthy return. Nothing is more costly than having a machine fail in the middle of a job.  When this happens the cost include the actual dollars spent on the repair itself  – parts, labor, travel and/or transport –and the revenue lost because of the unscheduled downtime. Don’t forget to include lost production, operator wages and benefits and everything else attached to owning a piece of equipment.

There are a variety of maintenance programs you can implement and use to minimize the risk. Daily inspections, on-board monitoring systems, well-trained operators are a few. Today, thanks to technology and wireless communications, there are remote monitoring systems.

Many years ago the equipment manager of one of the country’s top highway construction contractors, stood in front of an audience of the country’s top equipment manufacturers maintenance engineers and told them that what he needed, for his multimillion dollar equipment fleet, was a system that could monitor the equipment’s functions, in real time, and send this information back to his office.

Meeting attendees looked at him and laughed, really.  A couple responded and told him that Buck Rogers was a fictional comic strip character, some asked questions and a couple told him that this dream would become reality in the foreseeable future.

Buck Rogers has faded from the memories of most and the prognostications of yesterday’s equipment Nostradamus have come to pass. You can monitor equipment function, real time, wirelessly, from an office located miles away, as many miles as you want.

There are costs involved. In most cases these cost are outweighed by the benefits. If you prevent a catastrophic engine or transmission failure how much have you put in the bank? If you can correct bad operating habits or practices how much would that be worth long-term? There is an extensive list of preventive maintenance tools, systems and practices that can help you manage your fleet but you have to have access to this information. With a remote monitoring system you do.

What’s available?

There are a number of remote monitoring systems on the market that have been introduced to the market. When these programs were first introduced they were focused on larger machines. It’s a lot easier to justify the investment when total repair costs rival the national debt. These costs have come down significantly and will continue to do so as they did with on-board diagnostics. I remember when they were available only as an option. Today some form of on-board diagnostics is available on almost every machine and in most cases is standard equipment. Next year, 2012, watch for announcements on remote mentoring systems being offered by several non-equipment manufacturer suppliers.

Technology is changing the way to do things. Some of it is positive and some negative. On the positive side, advances like Autonet WIFI – “Make your pickup truck a wire- less hot spot with available dealer-installed Autonet Mobile WiFi, the first wireless Internet service provider designed for automotive use. It allows up to 10 people to connect to the Internet at once, using any combination of smart phones, laptops, or WiFi-enabled devices.”  This technology makes it possible to not only monitor your equipment from a remote location; it enables to monitor your equipment while you retain your mobility.  That’s exciting!

Recently Catannounced that the CT660 Vocational Truck Features Product Link Remote Monitoring System. Cat’s Product Link remote monitoring system—featuring robust new cellular hardware and an intuitive web-based user interface called VisionLink — provides the information owners need to efficiently and effectively manage their machines and trucks, including the new Cat CT660 Vocational Truck.

In addition to the conventional benefits of Product Link, CT660 owners will have access to valuable truck-specific information. New functionality includes management of maintenance by mileage, engine and transmission PTO usage updates, alerts for loss of main battery power, notification of non-authorized movement during “key-off” intervals and access to odometer readings and VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers).

The 12-volt CT660 Product Link system, provided at no cost for three years, features new factory installed hardware that adheres to the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) public J1939 network standard and incorporates GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cellular technology for data transmission to and from the truck, accommodating more data more frequently.

Established asset management technology

The CT660 Product Link system also provides all the benefits of established Product Link technology to help owners improve fleet efficiency, optimize use and control operating costs.  Through Product Link’s user-friendly web interface, VisionLink, users will have the information needed to effectively manage fleet usage, schedule preventive maintenance and monitor truck health indicators to avoid unanticipated downtime.

VisionLink’s intuitive asset details view provides a quick, comprehensive overview of each asset, including location, engine hours, mileage, fuel level, utilization over various time intervals and event and diagnostic code summary. Customers can also monitor all assets via fleet-level view or select any group of assets for analysis, for example, vehicles on a particular jobsite or certain asset make and model types.

With Product Link, customers have the ability to maximize fleet availability through efficient preventive maintenance scheduling and visibility to current health conditions.  Product Link provides real-time fault code alerts via text and e-mail, as well as built-in Cat maintenance intervals, checklists, service due notifications and quick access to Cat S-O-S(see June 2011 issue of your favorite ACP publication for an article on oil analysis) fluid analysis results.

Through Product Link’s alert notification feature, can select the type of alerts to be received and to whom and when they are distributed to ensure that the individuals actually needing the information can take action.  Additionally, you can setup notification alerts to be advised when an asset or group of assets enters or exits a user-defined geographic fence, or when an asset is turned on or off during a specified period of time.

Product Link, Cat’s comprehensive remote monitoring and asset management tool available to assist CT660 owners in realizing optimum return on their truck investment and has been available for equipment applications  for several years.


John Deere’s WorkSight

Deere responsed to customer requests for fleet management and maintenance solutions by bringing JDLink, John Deere Fleet Care and Service ADVISOR Remote together into John Deere “WorkSight” to streamline efficiencies and make smarter business decisions.

“With John Deere WorkSight, customers can literally manage their fleet from their seat,” said Liz Quinn, product-marketing manager for telematics at John Deere Construction & Forestry. “The services under the WorkSight umbrella work together to help contractors automate their business processes and stay on top of machine health.”

John Deere’s proprietary JDLink telematics fleet management system collects key machine data such as engine hours and idle time and transmits it to the customer via Internet.

Fleet Care interprets that data, as well as machine inspection information and fluid analyses, and advises customers and dealers on proactive steps to maintain machine health.

Service ADVISOR Remote enables dealers to read diagnostic trouble codes, record performance data and update software remotely, without requiring a jobsite visit.

WorkSight also has a remote recording mode. If something is malfunctioning when an engine is running at 1,000 rpm, for example, it can record machine data for a technician to analyze when then engine is running at that specific engine speed.

“With all this technology brought together under WorkSight, John Deere dealers can proactively provide machine health recommendations to customers before downtime occurs,” Quinn said. “Customers get a valuable heads-up and not only avoid downtime, but also save on the drive-time expense of having a technician come out. Customers can schedule maintenance when it’s most convenient for them. WorkSight can turn separate pieces of machine data into uptime solutions.”

Volvo Construction Equipment’s Caretrack Telematics System


Volvo Construction Equipment includes its remote monitoring telematics system on larger machines along with a free three-year CareTrack service subscription in the U.S. and Canada as standard.  Wheel loaders over 10 tons, articulated haulers, excavators over 12 tons and motor graders are included in this offering.

“Volvo Construction Equipment understands the importance of maximizing machine uptime, while controlling maintenance costs,” said Kenneth Silverman, vice president customer support for Volvo Construction Equipment North America. “Remotely, CareTrack facilitates mapping and tracking, monitors machine use and fuel consumption; and manages maintenance costs through its service planning feature.”

CareTrack communicates using a GSM/GPRS mobile network and/or satellite technology to send comprehensive, real-time proactive reporting. Data is available securely and instantaneously to any remote online connection. CareTrack is Volvo CE’s state-of-the-art telematics system used to manage a machine’s productivity and maximize its availability for work.  Using GPRS (mobile network) or satellite technology to send information, data is available securely and instantaneously to any remote online connection. Through fault reporting and activity warnings and by facilitating remote diagnosis, machine problems will be identified quicker. Machine operation and deployment can be optimized via functions that monitor fuel consumption, location, hours of operation, speed and approaching service intervals. Combined with Volvo’s remote self-diagnostics (VCADS) and software productivity tools (MATRIS), CareTrack provides comprehensive uptime and productivity solutions.

“Volvo also supports telematics equipment through a dedicated CareTrack Solution Center located in our North American headquarters in Shippensburg, Pa..,” explains Silverman. “Collectively, Volvo and our dealers in the U.S. and Canada monitor customer machine data and provide solutions to improve uptime and lower total cost of ownership.”

Customers can check on the state of their machines and see when they are being used, at what speeds they have been driven, fuel consumption, time remaining until next service, and much more. Or, they can simply check to see exactly where they are.

All the information at your fingertips

CareTrack data can demonstrate opportunities to improve machine operating efficiency. It can also tell if operator’s technique needs correction in order to lower machine stress and extend component life.

CareTrack uses GSMGPRS to communicate directly with the on-board computers in your machine – giving you a constant connection. Using a combination of the GSM/GPRS communications network and GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites to locate and connect with your machines, CareTrack moves information instantaneously from your machine’s CareTrack computer to your log in terminal.

Each machine is equipped with a small CareTrack control unit (W-ECU), an integrated GPS receiver/modem, and an antenna. This is connected to the machine’s onboard systems, giving you access to the relevant instrument panel readings and much more. Once CareTrack is active, when the machine is on, it’s always online. You can locate it anytime you like, from wherever you are. If your machines are out of range of GPRS, data can be sent via an optionally fitted satellite transmitter.

By logging onto your secure CareTrack portal every operating machine in your fleet will be online, in real-time. Even when machines are not operating, detailed information about the previous day’s work will always be available, updated every 24 hours.

Every 24 hours, CareTrack makes available the previous day’s machine operating information in a manner that’s easy to understand. It’s like getting a complete daily technical update on each machine from the operator – only more complete and more accurate.

CareTrack can email you the same information, collated once a day, once a week or once a month – as you determine. The specific information provided varies according to machine. For example, CareTrack can tell you how many hours an excavator has spent working in the different work modes, or it can show the percentage of time an articulated hauler has been using the retarder or differential lock.

Any machine in your fleet can be equipped with CareTrack Basic, Volvo or any other including service vans and cars.

Komatsu’s Komtrax

KOMTRAX is a wireless equipment monitoring system and a secure, web-based, application used for reviewing the data KOMTRAX collects and sends.

It is installed on most Tier-3 Komatsu construction equipment—and ready to run the first five years without communication service fees. This technology can also be installed in almost anything using a 12V or 24V electrical system to collect basic operating information, making it possible to retrofit KOMTRAX on older machines and non-Komatsu equipment.

KOMTRAX uses a network of low earth-orbit satellites to relay basic and critical performance data from your machine to your computer as well as to your local Komatsu distributor—who’s readily available for expert analysis and feedback. It collects detailed information from your machines on a daily basis and through event-driven occurrences. You are then provided with daily, monthly, and annual reports on both basic and more advanced aspects of machine performance.

Through the web application, a variety of search parameters are available to help you quickly find information about specific machines based on key factors such as utilization rates, age, various notification messages, and more. KOMTRAX data can also be pulled into your existing management and office applications or downloaded directly into spreadsheet programs for further analysis.

KOMTRAX gives you the power and knowledge to help you make fact-based, basic and strategic business decisions regarding your machines and their operations. This pays off in increased productivity and availability, proactive support, smarter management, and much more.

KOMTRAX allows you and your local dealer to be more proactive in scheduling informed, intelligent preventive maintenance for your machines. Each day, the KOMTRAX Web site displays information on each machine’s performance, including service meter readings, cautions, and engine performance details such as working and idle times. Maintenance reminders coupled with the abnormality codes your dealer receives allows you or your dealer to identify and address potential future issues during routine maintenance checks—and to ensure parts availability for faster repairs and greater machine availability.


KOMTRAX allows you to locate equipment on large jobsites or around your territory, monitor machine movement, determine which operators are more efficient in which situations, track fuel consumption, identify operator use and habits, and chart daily hours of operation. With dealer provided operational reports you can see how many hours your machine spent in various modes of operation such as digging, traveling, hydraulic relief, power mode, economy mode, lifting mode, and more.

With the touch of a button, you have all the information you need to manage your fleet at your fingertips—on an easy-to-use, secure Web application that lets you analyze the data through maps, graphs, lists, and charts.

This is not the complete list of this technology. There are other products available. Check your equipment dealer to see what is available for your equipment. Talk to other contractors or equipment owners who are using remote equipment monitoring and see what they think of it.  Remote equipment monitoring is definitely work looking into if you’re interested in getting the most out of your equipment investment.

This article appeared in the November 2011 issues of the ACP magazines

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