We're watching you: the growing benefits of machine tracking

By Maria Hadlow06 February 2012

AFI has developed  Key Zone, a keypad that provides a cost effective method of preventing unauthoris

AFI has developed Key Zone, a keypad that provides a cost effective method of preventing unauthorised use of MEWPs.

According to Dr Peter Harrop chairman of IDTechEX 2011 was a momentous year for RTLS (real time locating systems). That is systems than can remotely locate tags on things, animals and people usually in 3D and near to real time.

In the previous decade Dr Harrop says that the technologies had good penetration in healthcare and heavy logistics, but 2011 saw greater penetration into oil and gas, mining, aerospace and manufacturing. New technologies are being developed too: UWB (ultra wide band) which some believe could be as big as GPS, new forms of WiFi with RTLS and RFID (radio frequency identification) focused on sensors in mesh networks for example.

Knowing where your equipment is located is, of course important, particularly if it's smaller and easier to lose on a large construction site or vulnerable to theft.

EQTrace Finder from German telematics specialist Roesler is one system that can help you locate lost equipment. Provided with its own accumulator battery, the EQTrace Finder can help to find equipment that does not have its own power supply because it keeps transmitting the current location every day for several months. The EQTrace Finder is vibration-proof and IP65-protected and can be mounted e.g. to recycling containers, cable drums, mobile tools without own power supply.

Roesler can also help you prevent powered equipment from going walk-about with WEB-Basic, which prevents the machine being started with the ignition key once it is switched off and the end of a work day. Attempted theft is alerted by an SMS.

The use of telematics, or asset tracking, in the plant rental business has been gaining traction in the past 10 years.

Simon Keam-George account manager at Enigma Vehicle Systems said, "Mostly the deployment of this technology was driven by the increasing tide of theft within specific machine ranges. Compressors, generators, mini-diggers, backhoe loaders and telehandlers were, and still remain, the most popular items of the plant theft shopping list.

"During this period tracking technology and customer demands have changed considerably with many large contractors now insisting their equipment is supplied with tracking for stolen asset tracking installed as standard."

Theft and theft recovery have dominated the tracking agenda and Mr Keam George believes that additional benefits as demonstrated by A-Plant (see box story) have passed largely unnoticed.

"For this reason," he says, "Equipment, such as aerial access, has not formed any significant part of the installed base."

Of course there are many systems available: from software and control specialists, from machine manufacturers themselves and then there are the system developed in house by rental companies.

J.J. Shea, chief operating officer of Solutions by Computer, said, "We have a longstanding history of integrating our systems with leading third party providers to deliver telemetry functions to our customers. Our CounterPro system's integration with Qualcomm is a good example of how rental businesses can pull GPS meter readings off equipment in the field and use it manage the work order process. It's more proactive to have a tech perform field service, or schedule the unit for service on contract close, than wait until it's returned.

"With our Enfinity system, we're integrating with partner DPL America to extend the benefits of GPS tracking by updating the database in terms of both contract and maintenance functionality. This opens the door to more user benefits, such as tracking overtime usage in real time, which can be useful for periodic invoicing. The rental operator will also be able to track equipment movements that raise a red flag: for example, a machine that travels outside of an expected perimeter or is over-stressed by continuous shifting between jobsites. The goal in every case is asset protection."

Roesler too can interegate the machine to discover more about its use. The device data such as location and running time determined with the EQTrace Finder, WEB-Basic and EQTrace Track can be queried on the Obserwando Portal and with Android or Apple smartphones.

Obserwando also makes day-to-day work processes easier. For example, machine transport search times can be minimised as the employee or forwarder can check the location of the machine on his smartphone. Moreover, mechanics can access the information required for repair (wiring diagrams, assembly notes etc.) at any time by checking the machine file available on the portal using their smartphones. Photos of damaged machines are available immediately via the Obserwando portal for further processing in the office.

It was also Roesler which worked with IPAF (International Powered Access Federation.) to develop the smart PAL (Powered Access Licence).

The PAL card, is internationally recognised proof that the holder is trained in the use of the access equipment listed on the card. Roesler took this a stage further by imbedding a transponder and a special ID number.

Rental companies can equip their machines with a small transponder reader and the necessary electronics to restrict use of that piece of equipment to only personnel who have been properly trained. A machine operator will present his PAL card to the transponder reader and if he is trained and has the necessary clearance he can then start the machine.

The electronic PAL card not only restricts machine use to qualified users it can trace hours worked to a particular operator as well as any accidents or damage to the machine.

In a not dissimilar effort AFI-Uplift Ltd has launched Key Zone, a keypad that provides a cost effective method of preventing unauthorised use of MEWPs (mobile elevating work platforms).

Key Zone is a stand-alone unit, which locks and unlocks the machine's upper control functions. It is now available as a pre-fitted option on all machines in AFI's rental fleet.

While traditional keypads only have four digits, Key Zone can take eight digit password codes, allowing for 100 million possible combinations. Operators do not have to share codes because the unit can be set up to take individual codes for up to 200 MEWP operators.

Key Zone has a hardwearing, waterproof keypad, is vandal resistant and has an auto lock time out facility.

AFI carried out field trials for Key Zone over three months with four different customers. One of the companies that took part, MGS Electrical Installations, said: "It was very easy to use and we never had any problems with it. It was good to know that no one could use our machine when we were not around and it would always be where we left it. The other benefit is never finding your machine's battery was flat because someone else had been using it."

MEWP manufacturers too are helping their customers keep track of their machines by imbedding tracking in the controller. Niftylift can set its machines up to track five different inputs and says that the most commonly asked for are: green button activation (machine being used); key switch activation (machine switched on); battery charger activation (machine being charged); engine activation (engine hours) and cage overload warning

The system can basically track anything that the machine can output information on, so some machines offer oil alerts for low oil levels and other similar engine monitoring signals which can be tracked. Customers can use this information to for example: plan maintenance, gauge usage and respond to recurring problems.

Italian manufacturer Bluelift has gone a stage further and uses its Centralized Server System via LAN, WIFI, GPRS or GSM to communicate with individual machines and thus support its authorized dealer's technicians or customer's technicians everywhere in the world directly from its Technical department based in Italy.

This system allows Bluelift itself, distributors or companies with large Bluelift fleets to see all inputs and outputs and , for example, analyze problems, monitor machine usage and download upgrades remotely. The company is also working on a cheaper version based on SMS for doing diagnosis of the machine remotely.

Remote tracking is not the reserve of manufacturers of self propelled machines either, Alimak Hek has had the A3 system for remote monitoring of construction hoists and industrial lifts for a few years.

The company said, "We have recently updated the design in the A3 web system to be much more user friendly and we also have a smartphone App available for the A3.

"All new Alimak construction hoists are now prepared with A3 at delivery as standard. This means that A3 will be available during the warranty period free of charge and after that our customers can choose to continue on different service contract levels.

"We believe that the main benefits for rental companies are that they can monitor exact usage time of the hoists and actually increase rental revenues. They can also solve any problem that may occur much faster, often with just a phone call instead of costly and unnecessary service tracing on site. preventive maintenance and so on.".

Mr Keam-George says, "The benefits [of tracking]to supplier and customer alike are considerable with additional Health and Safety options like user control being readily available. Some of the key features have been mentioned and these together with the ability of hire companies to monitor, and charge, for excess use and schedule maintenance make for a compelling case to consider deployment seriously."

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