Max Your Capital Assets? Productivity
Smart companies are deploying software to maximise returns on their investment in construction and mining equipment, finds Charu Bahri.

A new wave of cost consciousness is picking up in the construction and mining sector. To maximise their return on investment, nowadays, companies want to ensure that their capital assets perform optimally. Software can greatly help achieve this aim.

Solutions that go by the name of Asset Performance Management, Enterprise Asset Management and Fleet Management, the latter, especially for mobile construction assets and vehicles, are designed to keep tabs on capital assets.

?With fleet management solutions, fleet owners can monitor each vehicle/piece of equipment as an individual profit centre. They can track its expenses and income to determine its profitability,? says Senthilkumar Sampath, Managing Director, WinStrata Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, providers of eFleetAdmin.

?Extending the lifecycle of machines and saving fuel is another important objective that fleet management software can help achieve by ensuring fleets travel on optimised routes and the nearest equipment fit for the terrain is deployed,? adds Samar Chatterjee, Head - Sales, SITECH, TIPL.

?Infor Enterprise Asset Management provides the tools to monitor and manage the deployment, performance and maintenance of company assets, including alerts that help eliminate operational downtimes and reveal hidden profits. It can help ensure an optimal lifespan for assets,? says Atul Sareen, Managing Director, Infor, India.

Fleet management can also be included in solutions facilitating other business/related functions. ?VisionLink Software Solution, an offering of SITECH India North & East, a global distribution channel of Trimble Navigations in partnership with TIPL, integrates site productivity, material quantities, and materials movement with asset and fleet management to give companies a holistic view of their construction site for better decision-making,? says Chatterjee.

Some companies are using the machine maintenance management module of their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to good effect for tracking the performance of their capital assets.

Fleet management for everyone
Traditionally, the use of fleet management technology necessitated investment in a server and in software-operating system software as well as the business solution, the purpose-built software, which was installed on the server.

Additional costs were incurred on monitoring equipment, if the company wanted to capture live data directly from the machine, to rule against the possibility of operators feeding in incorrect data or manipulating data.

Given the high upfront costs and expenses on system support and server maintenance, it was commonly believed that only companies with large fleets could justify the procurement of a fleet management solution.

Today, however, businesses can avail Software as a Service (SaaS), a deployment mode wherein the solution is hosted on the provider?s server and accessed via internet. SaaS eliminates the need to invest in an on-premise server, monitoring equipment (if so desired) and software. Instead, companies can rent the monitoring equipment and subscribe to the software.

?With the advent of SaaS, equipment management and monitoring services can be made available with a single piece of equipment,? explains Dhananjay Kulkarni, COO, Maven Systems Pvt Ltd.

SaaS is a pay-as-you-use solution deployment mode, which increases its appeal for smaller concerns. ?Provider-hosted applications are associated with a one-time set-up fee and monthly charges depending on the number of vehicles,? says Duraisamy S, Partner, Murugan Oil Corporation.

With SaaS, companies can test the solution and gradually expand their deployment. ?Most of our larger clients with wide installations started small-installing the solution on one to five equipment,? says Kulkarni. ?They scaled up after they got convinced of the cost benefits.?

Which to choose? Online or offline software
Accessing a solution via internet (online software) makes data updates instantly available to users across a wide geography. ?Anytime (24x7) anywhere access is one of its biggest advantages,? adds Duraisamy.

Online software is useful where operating staff is not trustworthy, provided the owner/supervisor is in a position to act upon alerts within minutes of untoward happenings. However, it entails recurring costs on net connectivity.

Online solutions are of limited use in remote areas or underground where cellular coverage is absent. Companies opting to pick up data from machines via equipment monitoring devices must ensure these are capable of caching (store) data until it can be transferred to a supervisor?s smartphone by Bluetooth during a site visit. As and when the supervisor comes into an area with cellular coverage, data gets uploaded to the server.

Made in India or Made Overseas?
Both solutions made in India as well as best-of-breed global solutions are locally available. ?Leading Indian solutions offer good value for money; some are even in demand overseas,? says Kulkarni.

Domestic solutions are easier to customise and integrate with existing business software or SAP, and these are more likely to offer support for local languages, an invaluable feature as many machine operators do not speak English, according to Kulkarni.

However, there is a caveat associated with buying indigenous software. ?It is better if both the software and the associated hardware are made in India. Some vendors sell Indian software with Chinese hardware. While the software is good, Chinese hardware is usually unreliable and has a typical life span of less than 18 months. It can neither sustain the voltage fluctuation that happens by default in operational machines, nor the harsh environment of mines and construction sites in India,? explains Kulkarni.

Indian or overseas, solutions may need customisation to best fit a company?s processes. Large companies can afford highly qualified IT teams (see box on Simplex). Others must rely on the provider for customisation.

Ravishankar Periasamy, Director, P&C Constructions Pvt Ltd, has deployed eFleetAdmin to monitor and manage trucks transporting construction material. ?Prior to this solution, we spent a lot of money on several others but none worked out. Customising a solution to suit your business processes is the key to successful deployment. Make sure the vendor can deliver,? he recommends.

?Infor understands the ?one-size-fits-all? approach will not address the key business challenges of different clients. With our deep domain expertise, we are committed to help enterprises adopt purpose-built, micro-vertical focused solutions,? says Sareen.

Features to look out for: GPS
GPS allows end-users to set up a virtual ?geofence? around the work site. The owner or supervisor gets an SMS alert the moment the equipment is taken out of that geographical area. ?GPS acts as a deterrent to the unscrupulous use of mining or construction site at other locations after office hours or on weekends,? observes Kulkarni.

?Increasing mechanisation and the use of high-value high-capacity equipment is boosting demand for GPS-based tracking solutions assuring owners of equipment safety. If GPS is not built-in to equipment, it may be retrofitted,? observes Ranjan Sathish, Director, Atic Data Systems Pvt Ltd, a provider of a cloud-based fleet management solution.

Most fleet management solutions incorporate GPS, but some come both with and without it. ?GPS is worth it, users pay barely about 10 per cent more for GPS functionality,? adds Kulkarni.

Features to look out for: fuel monitoring
Fuel monitoring is one of the most important features of fleet management software. ?It tracks the fuel filled, removed (if any) and the consumption per hour of operation. Fuel usage can be plotted against different parameters such as hours of use (for excavators), number of trips made (for wheel loaders), kilometres travelled (for trucks/dumpers), kWh energy generated (for diesel generator sets), and so on,? explains Kulkarni.

Comparing the fuel mileage of different equipment/vehicles, operators/drivers can help determine operator/driver efficiency and identify training needs. Industry estimates show that fuel theft alone amounts to 6 per cent of the fuel cost. In a large concern, this saving itself pays back the cost of the solution in a couple of months.

Other features to look out for
Time fencing can be set up to ensure that the equipment is not operated outside the normal working hours. A camera takes a photo of the operator every 20 minute to help ensure that only the authorised person uses the equipment.

A dashboard showing the machine?s operating parameters (oil pressure, coolant temperature, engine temperature, RPM, etc) can help ensure these fall within the acceptable range, and alert the user to the need for engine maintenance, oil change, air filter change and so on, thus reducing downtime. Machine travel logs can enable analytics like tyre cost analysis.

Future prospects
Growth in the infrastructure support for fleet management solutions, typically the provision of stable mobile networks, has made these more popular. ?Current takers for fleet management software hail from the oil and gas distribution, goods and passenger transportation, ready-mix concrete, construction and mining sectors,? observes Sampath.

In future, scope to optimise logistics and enhance the productivity of mobile machines will boost demand. ?Logistics accounts for 12 per cent of the Indian GDP while the average in developed nations is 7 per cent,? says Sathish.

Innovations in machines and in fleet management solutions could drive its adoption in new areas. According to Sathish, ?Telematics is becoming more relevant in the space of Internet of Things (IOT) because many sensors in any moving machine would produce valuable information. Insurance telematics is an upcoming trend globally and is expected to catch up in India soon as most general insurance companies make huge losses in the vehicle insurance segment. More sensors in construction equipment could also help companies track their performance per unit of fuel consumed.?

What would also help India move ahead in its adoption of technology to manage assets and maximise their productivity is greater analytics capabilities.

?Data crunching is the key to making the most of investment in tracking technology. While Indian companies have crossed the first fence of data collection, they still need to acquire analytic capabilities,? says Sathish. That is something to look forward to.

Monitoring equipment on-the-fly
Solution/customisation: ABC Infra Equipment deployed Maven System?s fleet management solution two years ago to monitor its aerial work platforms. The company asked for some customisation at the time of deployment. ?We have experienced no further need for customisation nor do we employ any in-house IT staff for the sake of the solution. Our regular employees use the solution, which is user-friendly,? says Navin Talreja, Purchase and Marketing Head, ABC Infra Equipment Pvt Ltd.

What does it do? ?We rely on the software to track the time the equipment is in use, the horizontal and vertical distance it covers per day and its fuel consumption. We also use it to track operator performance,? shares Talreja.

Advantages: Monitoring is essential to improve bottom lines in the equipment rental business. ?Some customers are genuine. But some try to act smart, by using the equipment for more time that has been agreed upon and they try to hide the overtime use. Only meticulous tracking can help differentiate between the two types of customers. Data monitoring equipment can provide sufficient proof to ensure accurate recoveries are made. Monitoring fuel consumption helps contain pilferage,? explains Talreja.

ABC Infra Equipment

Key takeaways

  • Software can help maximise ROI in construction and mining assets
  • Purpose-built fleet management solutions can help monitor the deployment of machines, and perform analytics like fuel tracking, operator performance, equipment usage, etc.
  • Most ERP solutions have an in-built maintenance module that can help monitor assets
  • Customisation is the key to successful deployment
  • Purpose-built solutions are cheaper than ERPs, including the cost of customisation and system support
  • Fraudulent or incorrect data entry by operators can be eliminated with equipment monitoring devices

Oracle-based ERP with maintenance module
Solution/customisation: Oracle?s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, heavily customised by Simplex?s in-house highly qualified IT team. It has modules for accounts, purchase, finance, stores, civil, mechanical, electrical, safety, planning, human resource, administration and equipment operation and maintenance.

Advantages: ?At any point in time, a list of owned and hired P&M at a certain location can be made available; as can details of items in use, purpose of use, hours in use; routine maintenance logs; expenses incurred on each item of P&M, and spares and other materials available on site,? says Samar Ghoshdastidar, Technical Director, Simplex Infrastructures Ltd.

How is this helpful? ?Progress of the project largely depends on the availability of the right equipment at the right place and at the right time, in proper condition,? adds Ghoshdastidar.

Real-time access to information describing the availability and location of equipment and spares helps plan equipment deployment and de-mobilisation more methodically. It helps check the improper use of equipment and avoid any idling of the equipment. Access to the expenses incurred on each piece of equipment and the outcomes thereof helps track the health and productivity of each asset. Maintenance breaks can be scheduled in a timely manner.

Simplex Infrastructures Ltd. RFID-based fleet loading within a plant
Solution/customisation: SPEED, an ACC-owned and purpose-built RFID-based vehicle tracking logistics management system with fleet planning as one of its deliverables. RFID can track vehicles from the parking yard to gate-out truck exit from plant after loading.

What does it do? ?SPEED offers real time visibility of the fleet available at the ACC parking yard, including the carrying capacity of each truck, its preferred route, transporter and their statutory compliance status with respect to insurance, goods permit and fitness,? explains Mayur Tolia, Deputy General Manager, Central Logistics (Projects), ACC Ltd.

Advantages: Access to this data allows the cement despatch team to assign ?right orders? to the ?right trucks? based on ageing and plan the loading sequence. SPEED also ensures only the optimum number of trucks enters the plant at any point in time thus ensuring vehicular and traffic safety and optimal utilisation of the packing house through continual flow of trucks for loading.

Reducing the truck detention time inside the plant for loading by 50 per cent has improved transporters? asset utilisation, according to Tolia. ?Also, ACC has achieved freight rationalisation of 1-5 per cent at various locations with SPEED.?

ACC Ltd

The cost of monitoring construction assets
Solution subscription (SaaS): Rs 5,000-8,000 per annum per equipment monitoring device Equipment monitoring device (outright purchase): Rs 25,000-40,000 per device depending on the features desired and parameters to be monitored Rental cost of equipment monitoring device: Rs 3,000-4,000 per month including the software subscription cost

Maven Systems Pvt Ltd