Location tracking is only a part of what telematics can offer to operators of construction equipment and vehicle fleets
There’s a lot more data that can be acquired to manage the entire operational costs of vehicle or equipment fleets used in construction or logistics, provided they are measured accurately with the appropriate sensors and visualised on a centralised platform to enable faster decision-making. Charles Azrak, regional business development manager, Location Solutions talks to PMV Middle East about the evolution of telematics systems and their applications in the Middle East.
Telematics is often associated with a black box comprising a GPS antenna, SIM card, and integrated with software to measure vehicle location and other parameters as well as driver behaviour in order to ensure uninterrupted movement of people and material.
There’s a lot more potential in these systems that haven’t been explored by fleet owners, according to UAE-based telematics service provider Location Solutions, which has been in this business for about 15 years. The company established itself in the field of location-based services (LBS) in 2004, starting with consulting services for the Dubai RTA to develop mapping solutions. The transition from consulting to software integration and trading happened in 2009 with the acquisition of 360Locate, a Netherlands-based software development company, along with its development team based in Rotterdam. Since then, Location Solutions has been operating as a consulting, software development, system integration and trading company to provide a range of fleet management solutions, location-based services and machine-to-machine remote communication through GPS/GSM and satellite-based online tracking and monitoring solutions for vehicles, assets and workforce. Location Solutions maintains its R&D and software development team in Rotterdam and handles integration, sales and services from its Dubai office.
Location Solutions is expanding the scope of telematics to incorporate advanced, real-time analytics tools to manage the entire operational costs of vehicle fleets by measuring every parameter using sensors. Currently, the telematics service provider has over 35,000 connected assets across the GCC, including light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles and construction equipment. Among these assets are more than 5,000 diesel trucks equipped with capacitive fuel sensors.
Charles Azrak, regional business development manager, Location Solutions
Location Solutions supplies capacitive sensors that can be inserted into the fuel tank of a truck. Initially, the tank is emptied; then, diesel is added in steps of 20 litres at a time to calibrate the sensor. The length of a sensor is adjusted according to the size of the tank. The data collected from fuel sensors and monitoring systems include fuel logs indicating fill ups and consumption, unusual changes in tank fuel level, and fuel quantity filled or removed at any location.
Truck manufacturers have been launching their new models with integrated fuel sensors that are plugged into the electronic control unit (ECU) and communicate data via the controller area network (CAN) bus protocol. This doesn’t apply to older truck models running the GCC that do not have fuel management systems, and therefore, need standalone capacitive fuel sensors.
Charles Azrak, regional business development manager, Location Solutions, points out that standalone fuel sensors, currently, have significantly higher accuracy than OEM-integrated versions using the CAN bus network. According to him, the calibration technique followed by Location Solutions ensures minimum accuracy levels of 95%.
“We ensure the highest levels of accuracy through linear calibration of our sensors. As a software company, what sets our solution apart is our fuel algorithm, which provides more accurate information compared to proprietary OEM systems. We also have the flexibility to upgrade our systems faster than vehicle and construction equipment manufacturers,” says Azrak.
Locations Solutions acquired its first client in the region for fuel sensors in 2011 when Arabian Construction Company (ACC) required a solution to monitor diesel consumption on its fleet of trucks and take preventive measures against diesel theft.
“At the time, such solutions were not available in the local market. We sourced sensors from all over the world and conducted several trials on the ACC fleet before we customised the solution specifically according to the needs of this market,” says Azrak.
Diesel theft remains a concern for fleet operators in the Middle East, except in countries such as Saudi Arabia where fuel prices remain low. Although fewer diesel theft incidents have been reported in the past few years, fleet managers remain cautious and employ telematics to deter drivers from any theft including concrete and other goods transported in medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
A more common problem is vehicle idling by truck drivers. Every hour of idling consumes 5–12 litres of diesel per hour for trucks of different sizes. The engine size determines fuel wastage during idling. For example, the diesel consumption due to idling on mixer trucks is about 4.6 litres per hour.
“A rule of thumb is that a fleet of trucks with similar loads should consume more or less the same amount of fuel. If any truck in the fleet consumes a lot more fuel than the others or if a pattern out of the ordinary is detected, the telematics system should raise a red flag. For example, long-haul truck drivers sleep in their vehicles, but when accommodation is provided to drivers and they continue to sleep in their trucks or leave the engine switched on, then the same pattern is detected as idling and reported. We create systems to detect such patterns and alert fleet owners,” says Azrak.
Azrak points out that it’s even more important to monitor construction equipment for idling, because it not only results in fuel wastage but also wear of parts, increase in maintenance and labour costs and depreciation of assets.
“A stationary construction equipment may appear to be idling but still working from a fixed position. In such cases, we measure the engine RPM levels to determine whether or not the equipment is idling,” says Azrak.
Location Solutions faces increasing competition in the telematics industry from OEMs of construction equipment and vehicles; brands such as Caterpillar, JCB, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz are supplying proprietary telematics solutions and upgrades with every new model. Furthermore, public and private organisations in the UAE are launching their own telematics solutions for vehicle rental, logistics, waste management and other commercial vehicle applications.
The company is driving its product and market development by focusing on its core competency of software development, to offer solutions customised for markets such as construction.
“We’re a software company, and our unique selling proposition is the development of customised applications. Our solutions have advanced to such levels that we are now offering white-labelling services. Due to our technology expertise and market leadership, our customers will require our services in addition to proprietary telematics systems or other systems that are mandatory as per government regulations,” says Azrak.
The company’s product differentiation strategy has resulted in the development of a telematics application for management of mixer trucks during their round-trip journeys between concrete plants and construction sites.
“We launched a telematics application called ReadyMix Tracking for mixer trucks in early 2018, and since then, we’ve started pilot testing it with several readymix companies in the UAE,” says Azrak.
The ReadyMix Tracking application enables monitoring of mixer trucks, concrete mixer drums, truck-mounted concrete pumps, driver behaviour and various other parameters by using different types of sensors. Rotation sensors measure the rotation speed and direction of the concrete mixer drum, and discharge sensors measure the readymix discharge quantity. Fuel sensors installed on truck mounted concrete pumps monitor fuel levels of the pumps and indicate when the diesel quantity of the pumps reduced to 20%. Location Solutions supplies an application called Fleet Health to monitor the status of all the sensors including fuel sensors.
The ReadyMix Tracking application is integrated with the concrete plant’s control system for real-time tracking of concrete production; driver details and behaviours; concrete delivery schedules, quantities, and routes between plants and construction sites; truck statuses before, during, and after deliveries; number of trips per truck, trips per day, trips per driver; volume of concrete delivered per trip, and other parameters. The dashboard of the telematics system provides a visual representation of the vehicles, plants and construction sites involved in a project along with detailed information about times, routes and distances involved in delivery of readymix. The data can be filtered by date, plant, vehicle, driver, project, and so forth.
The status of a mixer truck in transit is indicated with different colour codes; for example, the distance to the construction site is indicated in blue colour and the distance to the plant during the return trip is indicated in green colour. A situation that needs further investigation is indicated in red, such as when a driver stops for a period of time that’s not acceptable during readymix delivery trips. Drivers on mixer trucks are not supposed to idle during their round trips; however, some drivers may stop for emergencies or food after deliveries. In such cases, the system sends an alert to the fleet manager to take action. The system also detects concrete theft by drivers if they attempt to sell small quantities of concrete illegally to other buyers on their way to their designated delivery locations.
“What cannot be measured cannot be improved. Displaying such comprehensive data enables the fleet manager to analyse all inefficiencies in the operations, identify their causes and rectify them through better selection of vehicles, routes or drivers. They will also be able to plan better and improve vehicle utilisation to increase revenue with the same trucks,” says Azrak.
The dashboard of the ReadyMix Tracking application provides a visual representation of the vehicles, plants and construction sites involved in a project along with detailed information about times, routes and distances involved in delivery of readymix.
According to Azrak, the pace of telematics evolution will depend on how soon OEMs open their APIs for third-party developers. He suggests that OEMs create marketplaces with a revenue sharing model, such as Google Play, which would give opportunities for software developers such as Location Solutions to create apps that run on top of their proprietary systems with enhanced features.
“Our clients have requested solutions that will enable them to view all their data on a single platform. However, OEMs have been hesitant to share their data. Propriety telematics systems offer comprehensive data about vehicles and equipment that no third-party supplier can match. The benefits for customers if OEMs give developers access to APIs is that they could use both the OEM and third-party telematics solution with a single dashboard to monitor all their fleet data without requiring multiple user names and passwords to access different systems. They would not need to worry about using different hardware, SIM cards, technicians, or integration methods. As a result, they could get the best of both worlds,” says Azrak.