Bird’s eye view: asset tracking and anti-theft technology

By Murray Pollok23 April 2014

Volvo CE is offering some of its excavators with augmented anti-theft features incorporated into its

Volvo CE is offering some of its excavators with augmented anti-theft features incorporated into its CareTrack telematics system.

The impetus behind asset tracking and theft-prevention technologies is fast growing, with more and more options available to rental companies. Murray Pollok reports for IRN magazine.

Asset tracking technology is starting to take centre stage in the construction equipment market - that much is clear from the number of telematics specialists and manufacturers offering tracking systems.

It was notable at Conexpo, for example, that Caterpillar president Doug Oberhelman made the company’s CatConnect system one of the key messages of his presentation to the world’s press, calling it a “game changer for customers”.

That system goes way beyond simple asset tracking – encompassing the integration of multiple machines on a site and productivity improvements – and it is clearly a key strategy for Cat and other OEMs.

Of course, most rental companies have a narrower view of such technology than do end users. Rather than looking at how systems can increase a customer’s productivity – although that will surely come – many rental companies are instead concerned about how they can manage their equipment and how they can efficiently monitor a mixed fleet using different OEM or third party telematic systems.

There are now definite signs that the market is adjusting to these particular needs by making the technology more open, either by agreeing on what data to collect or by creating systems that allow fleet owners to manage multiple data streams.

For example, just before Conexpo a group of global heavy equipment manufacturers, fleet managers and industry associations announced an agreement on a defined set of asset data that, when communicated via telematics, can be sent to the end user or rental owner.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) and the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) – both based in the US - announced that 19 data points will be part of a standard being developed and maintained by the two Associations and their memberships.

The organisations said data will be provided to end users via an Application Program Interface (API) server to server data sharing standard. That will allow end-users and rental companies to use their own business software to collect and analyse asset data from mixed equipment fleets.

That push towards integrating data streams from different telematics systems is evident also in some of the OEM and third party systems being developed.

One example is a new web-based telematics portal being introduced by Navman Wireless USA. The system is designed to streamline the management of mixed heavy equipment fleets by consolidating machine data from all OEM and Navman Wireless-tracked assets into a single interface.

The solution complies with the AEMP Telematics Data Standard, provides one-stop fleetwide visibility without adding third-party hardware to machines that already have factory-installed OEM technology, and supports integration of data into an existing ERP system for broader business use.

Fleet operators can request data access credentials from each OEM represented in their fleet, with data from each reporting source securely transmitted to operators’ servers and then aggregated for use in the portal’s dashboards, maps and reports.

Information available from the portal ranges from machine location, fleet utilisation, fuel burn, and geofence and curfew violations to equipment use by jobsite, as well as preventive maintenance schedules.

Other features is the ability to sort reports by OEM, analyse data by machine category, and click to access real-time weather reporting from each jobsite to help fleet managers and equipment rental companies interpret low utilisation rates.

“For the past decade, contractors with mixed fleets have been increasingly handicapped in their use of telematics by the fractured nature of the reporting”, says Steve Blackburn, vice president North America, Navman Wireless, “Only the largest fleets with exceptional budgets and large IT teams have been able to afford to consolidate the data from each OEM website.”

The portal is scheduled to begin testing in April, with availability by subscription and priced according to the number of assets tracked.

Manufacturers are also working to make their machines easier to link up to telematics systems. Terex AWP is introducing a ‘plug-and-play’ system that it describes as the “the industry’s first telematics-ready connector” to enable third party devices to be plugged into its Genie boom lifts. The telematics-ready connector is available on the Genie S-80, Z-80, S-100, S-120 and ZX-135 boom lifts, with the connector added to smaller booms over the coming year.

“Our customers have many brands of equipment to manage, and many proprietary types of telematics solutions to go along with them,” says Christine Zeznick, associate product manager, Terex AWP. “The last thing many of our customers wanted was another OEM providing a proprietary solution for fleet management. Our solution provides a unique and open approach to help our customers”.

The connector – factory installed and available worldwide - is capable of providing machine hour meter reporting, location, utilisation and security capabilities such as geo-fencing, alarms by movement, and remote machine disabling.

The growing interest in telematics is benefitting third party suppliers such as Denmark’s Trackunit. The company reported that its sales in 2013 grew by almost 60%, and the company pointed out that the potential for growth is enormous; “Analyses show that only 5% of the total global market use online fleet management systems like Trackunit. It is, thus, a market in an early growth stage, and Trackunit sees untapped potential in the rental industry as rental companies”.

It says rental companies are well placed to benefit from telematic systems because they allow them to bill their customers for the exact use of the machines.

Trackunit installs a small GSM/GPS hardware unit in a machine and gathers information on use, location and the identity of the user. “The data is transmitted to a web portal where the customers can use the information to optimise fleet operations. As the system uses the telephone network, Trackunit not only sells the hardware units but also offers data traffic subscriptions covered by a yearly fee.”

The company is now building a stronger presence outside Denmark, recently opening sales and service offices in Germany and the UK.

Ctrack is another tracking company with global coverage – its parent company is in South Africa but has offices all over the world. Richard Lane, Ctrack’s European distribution and partnership manager, tells IRN that it has products covering tracking of equipment – including non-powered units like trailers – as well as lone worker products.

With technology on asset tracking having developed over decades, companies like Ctrack are able to offer a wide range of products, including asset tracking, immobilisation systems, RFID technology and, most recently, a smart card systems that can integrate with a company’s existing employee cards.

The company’s enhanced Driver ID system allows companies to take advantage of their existing workforce identification systems – employee or building entry cards – to determine which driver is operating a vehicle. With Driver ID, it is possible to separate driver and vehicle data to better understand the movements and actions of individuals in real-time or historically, irrelevant of how many vehicle they have operated within the reporting period.

The company has also launched a ‘plug and play’ telematics system targeted at plant and equipment where hardwired tracking systems may be unsuitable or too expensive. The device connects to a vehicle’s OBD II onboard diagnostic port.

Mr Lane says Ctrack is also looking further at RFID technology as a way of keeping tabs on equipment attachments or ancillary equipment – if a piece of equipment comes back and the associated attachment isn’t with it then the system will alert the user.

Ctrack is well aware of further opportunities in the construction equipment sector and Mr Lane says the company is talking to potential OEM partners who could badge its technology. “It’s quite likely that you’ll see us taking a part of that market”, he says.

There are other trends in the sector, not least a focus on driver behaviour, mainly for delivery truck drivers. DPL Telematics, a US-based provider of asset monitoring and telemetry, has launched the Skyhawk OBDII vehicle tracking system designed to increase driver safety and productivity while reducing fleet costs.

The system allows managers to wirelessly monitor all their vehicles continually on the internet, with managers able to receive alerts on air bag deployments, driving without the seatbelt, harsh braking, rapid acceleration, speeding, towing and more.

The Skyhawk ODBII also looks at the vehicle’s operating data such as engine temperature, pressures and diagnostic fault codes, “thus empowering the fleet manager to proactively take immediate corrective action instead of reacting to a catastrophic failure.”

Tony Nicoletti, director of strategy and business development at DPL Telematics, says a key benefit of the solution is that it is wireless and easy to install, “allowing anybody to perform an installation in seconds without any wiring or external antenna.

“The market has been asking for a true ‘plug and play’ GPS tracking solution to reduce installation time and cost, and we are excited to provide it…Having access to real time and historical diagnostic and operational data delivers fleetwide visibility needed to drive down service and fuel costs while improving logistics and driver accountability.”

Another telematics specialist, Telogis – a US company with operations in Europe, South America and New Zealand - has introduced a telematics system for heavy equipment, including commercial vehicles, construction plant, non-powered assets or a combination of all three.

The system incorporates the now-common geofencing option, as well as tracking the operation of equipment.

“By the year 2020, there will be more than 26 billion mobile devices connected to the Internet of Things, and nowhere will that be more important than in the management of mobile resources,” says Jeff Cohen, vice president, asset solutions at Telogis. “Customers who connect their vehicles, assets and heavy equipment to the Telogis platform benefit from actionable intelligence that drives profitability, productivity and safety.”

Telogis makes the point that its system adapts to standard ‘AEM/AEMP’ feeds, giving it the ability to receive and evaluate data from any make or model of equipment, including Caterpillar, Komatsu, John Deere, Volvo and more.

Theft prevention continues to be an issue, with rental companies presented with a choice between asset tracking systems incorporating geofencing – alerting the owner of a potential theft – to more proactive immobilization systems of the kind developed by Kosran.

Volvo CE, for instance, has recently introduced an integrated anti-theft system for its D-Series and new for 2014 E-Series excavators in the 13 – 49 t category. The anti-theft option is fully integrated in the Volvo CareTrack telematics system and offers machine owners “extra peace of mind and over the standard CareTrack offering”.

The anti-theft functionality features multiple triggers including such as machine tampering, movement sensors and time and geo-fencing to detect unauthorised use or transport.

Product manager aftermarket and customer solutions at Volvo CE EMEA (Europe – Middle East – Africa), Jimmy Lundberg, says; “The business case for activating the Volvo anti-theft functionality is clear to see. The rules and levels may vary between markets but we’ve seen discounts on insurance premiums of up to 40% as a result of anti-theft activation in the CareTrack system.”

He adds that the system also facilitates remote tracking and even machine immobilisation; “We have left no stone unturned in developing an integrated anti-theft package that is highly effective. Furthermore, machine owners have full control of the anti-theft system via their CareTrack web portal, so the flexibility is built in to meet the changing demands of their business, such as an extended rental period or use of the machine on a secondary site.”

In the UK, Kubota says it is leading the theft prevention charge with its standard equipped anti-theft system. Its standard one-key technology includes one master ‘Red’ programming key, plus two ‘Black’ operational keys - up to four Black keys can be programmed to any of one master. Only programmed keys will start the engine, which Kubota says distances it from the ‘standard key’ approach often adopted in the industry.

Kubota UK says even identically shaped keys cannot start the engine, unless they are programmed. “In fact, attempting to start the engine with an un-programmed key will activate the system’s alarm, which will continue even after the un-programmed key is removed and only stop once a programmed key is inserted into the ignition and switched on.”

Third party suppliers of anti-theft systems include Strattec Security Corp in the US, whose latest theft prevention device, the i-Guard, has been developed specifically for the construction, fleet and rental industries.

i-Guard is a radio frequency identification (RFID) electronic immobiliser system, which has a unique electronic code that is programmed into the engine module and into a chip in the machine’s key or fob key. The code is transmitted between the two components by a small antenna over what Strattec says are difficult-to-mimic radio frequencies.

When a key is inserted into the ignition or a fob used with a push-start button, the vehicle requests authorisation. If the engine and key or Fob codes don’t match, the vehicle will not start. Strattec says the majority of criminals do not have the skills to disable such a system, “unlike easily hacked GPS technology”.

“Deploying robust security is becoming increasingly critical as equipment theft rates rise year after year,” said Fred Kosloske, aftermarket sales manager, Strattec. “The i-Guard system not only can help keep costly equipment from being stolen, it can help lower insurance costs, while reducing workforce downtime and project delays.”


Access control

Powered aerial platforms require well trained operators, which is perhaps why it is the access rental sector that has been leading the way in developing systems to prevent unqualified or unauthorised people from using machines.

Major access rental specialists in the UK, including Nationwide Platforms and AFI, are both marketing access control systems, and others are starting to follow suit.

Nationwide has adopted technology developed by Irish anti-theft specialist Kosran – the Kosran Safety Access control System (SAC) – that prevents non-qualified operators from using lifts.

Under the system, which has evolved from the Kosran ECV electronic coded valve, anti-theft immobilisation system, operators are given a PIN code that relates to their IPAF Powered Access Licence (PAL card). The rental company can add or delete PIN codes – up to 100 on each machine - providing authorisation for a specific operator on specific machines. Authorisation can be done on site or via a remote laptop or PC or using Kosran’s App.

It can also be used to control access for specific time periods, and the system will automatically determine if a PAL card is out of date. An optional ‘plug and play’ telematics reporting system provides a rental company with additional information on the use of the machine.

The system has been adopted on certain sites by Nationwide Platforms – rebadged as SkySentry - and was last year rolled out to the wider rental sector by Kosran, and not just in access. For example, the system has been adopted by contractor BAM Nuttall for its crawler crane fleet.

AFI, one of the biggest UKL access rental firms, has meanwhile implemented its SmartZone system, which is very similar in concept, relying on a smart card and PIN codes. AFI says the latest version of the system has completed trials with BAE Systems at the Portsmouth Naval Base.

In addition to preventing unauthorised use, SmartZone is small enough to be used on most aerial platforms. It will prompt if familiarisation training is required, and will also highlight the need for pre-use checks to be made if a machine is being used for the first time in a 24 hour period.

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