Interview: Trackunit VP on telematics and MEWPs
By Euan Youdale10 February 2022
AI finds out what Trackunit’s recent acquisition of ZTR means for the world of telematics and the access equipment industry.
In the fourth quarter of last year, it was announced that telematics specialist Trackunit had acquired the Industrial IoT division of competitor ZTR to create a single business, with one million items of connected equipment on construction sites worldwide.
The combined business is led by Soeren Brogaard, CEO of Trackunit, with ZTR’s president and CEO Sam Hassan taking an executive role as head of strategy, with a focus on OEM relationships.
The deal is a significant change to the telematics landscape in construction and rental with the two largest players becoming one. The two said the combination would allow them to accelerate the digital transformation of construction.
Speaking to AI about the acquisition and the dynamics of the partnership, David Swan, vice president of products at Trackunit, says it was an amazing opportunity.
“Looking at the journey towards maturity, that we’ve all been on with machine connectivity; if you go back far enough, you’ll find telematics companies and OEMs trying to do the coolest thing they could.
“The name of the game is to do something that people thought was ‘neat’ and as we’ve moved forward, those goals have changed.”
Swan adds, “The question has changed to how do I work with my customers? How do I complement their business systems and their processes and their requirements for digital products?
“And that’s about standardisation or a single accepted goal. And if you look at ZTR and Trackunit six months ago as the two biggest representatives of the connectivity and construction market, I think we’ve now made it easier to fulfill that goal.”
How to deliver on promises made to customers
As Swan explains, the important thing is to ensure that the expanded group follows through on commitments made to customers of Trackunit and ZTR, while maximising the strengths of both platforms.
A good example of that, says Swan, is Trackunit’s recently launched Kin, for small tools and attachments.
The Kin system features a small Bluetooth 5.2-enabled tag that can be quickly and solidly attached to any piece of construction equipment.
The tag connects to Trackunit’s Go App, available for mobile devices, making it instantly discoverable, within a range of up to 400m.
Swan poses the question, “So, how do we make it so that we can provide the value of Kin to customers that have bought into what was the ZTR ecosystem?”
And, as he points out, there are inevitable bumps in the road in merging Trackunit and ZTR’s ecosystems.
“These are two technologically incredibly advanced tech stacks; there’s no easy future where you just mash them together and everything is just combined, it’s going be a more defined value transfer.”
Ultimately, explains Swan, the combined forces of Trackunit and ZTR will prove to be a benefit because realistically few customers would choose to work across multiple platforms.
“What makes it difficult for an OEM to create features is if there’s no unified platform. And, you know, it’s generally not true that a contractor or a rental company will log into multiple platforms to access telematics data.”
“They want one consistent solution. And as soon as you have that consistent solution in place, the focus changes, it’s not about market share, it’s about adding value.”
And, Swan adds, “It’s not about fighting it out between John Deere or JLG or Skyjack’s telematics portal. If there’s one accepted platform, then all three of those companies can make a product on that platform that is going to change the efficiency of a rental company and of a job site.”
Reducing equipment downtime with telematics
All these elements feed into Trackunit’s primary goal - the reduction of downtime.
“That’s what eliminating downtime is; it’s making this industry as efficient as the office industry, through digitisation.”
With such a large offering, the company now has an impressive global presence and claims to have market share in North America, Europe and Australia.
“I can’t share market numbers, but I can say that in Europe and in North America, which are our two primary markets, we are doing equally well.
“Australia is a little bit behind north America and Europe, and that’s because we’ve only recently put our focus into that market, and I think that we’re seeing an appetite for telematics in the Australian market which has a hyper focus on safety.”
How aerial platforms are helping to improve telematic systems
In recent years there has been an explosion in the adoption of telematics in the MEWP world, confirms Swan.
Ariel platform usage is becoming a focus point for telematic ecosystems because it’s not as easy to measure as that of dirt moving machinery, like an excavator.
“Because of the high penetration of telematics with aerial manufacturers, what follows is that there’s a high penetration of telematics on work sites as well,” says Swan.
“It means that we are able to start tackling those second level problems. Not just ‘where is the lift?’ But, ‘is it on the site and is it being used, is the ignition on, and what kind of work was this machine doing today?’
“We can accurately measure that to create efficiencies on job sites and in rental yards.”
The current issues with material shortages, which feed into the supply chains and are causing long lead times, also highlight the need for an evolved data ecosystem, says Swan.
“There are high utilisation rates in rental, meaning that there’s not a lot of machines available because of supply issues that are impacting everyone globally. Right now, there’s not a tonne of machines being delivered. There’s not a tonne of machines available to buy.
“And that means that on job sites, it’s more likely that there will be a scarcity of machines like scissor lifts.
“If you look at all the different stages of a construction site, through preparation, excavation, those scissor lifts are on site right until the end when people are installing fixtures with them.”
Swan adds, “Being able to take really precise usage information and make a machine available to multiple trades on a site, is really powerful.”
For example a system that can pinpoint a scissor lift on a large worksite that may not have been used for two days, can be critical for an industry that is crippled by a lack of equipment supply.
We’ll be able to say, “let’s shift it over from the glaciers to the electricians or to the painters or to the carpenter and have them use it. That solves a lot of problems.”
Sharing construction sire assets
As Swan points out supply chain-related shortages are likely to continue at least for another year.
“But even without that, the efficiency of shared assets on a job site is something that superpowers our industry,” he says.
“If I can make machines on a job site 30% more available, because I know when they’re not working, that’s a dramatic change in the ability to complete projects on time.”
Returning to Kin, “A huge amount of energy and time is spent looking for small tools. There’s a lot of money invested in that process.
“If I want to analyse the usage of my scissor lift, which might cost $12,000, then it needs to be the same capability for my small tools, otherwise I’m going to have half the efficiency.
“In fact, because of their size and the possibility to be lost or out of sight, it might even be more important from a construction point of view.”
IPAF’s ePAL app for MEWP operators, which was co-developed with Trackunit, has been another recent innovation.
It’s a free-to-use app, providing users with a digital version of the federation’s operator licence, the PAL Card.
It also gives operators access to best practice tips and safety information, and lets them share their qualifications with site managers quickly and easily.
“ePAL, I think is another example of where we’re heading,” says Swan, “Now I can share that certification digitally.”
Taking the ePAL a step a further, there are a whole range of potential new benefits.
“Imagine that I am an operator and my trade is as an electrician, and when I come onto a job site, I have a digital notification of where the relevant tools are. That’s the other side of it, the operator part of connectivity; they’re the highest volume stakeholder.
“And I think the ePAL project is one of the first stages we’ve seen in that. How do we create a digital work experience for the operator?”
Why construction industry collaboration is important
The ecosystem can also allow one company to stand out from the rest. “If an OEM has a great idea that’s going to differentiate their machine or make it a safer machine to work on, we really need to capture that expertise and knowledge.
“[We need to allow] our partners in the industry - operators, contractors, rental companies and OEMs to have a big role in creating these solutions.”
Telematics is also tied in with the mission to create a more sustainable environment, and particularly the ability to make that measurable. For example, proof of sustainability may become a requirement for winning a job.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Swan. “Now we can talk about CO2 emissions from equipment, and when looking at making bids on jobs, being able to give evidence of your environmental impact and your sustainability impact through live data of what your machines are doing.
“And I think what we’re going to see in the very near future is OEMs providing that data point as a standard output of their machine.”
Telematic ecosystem offering
Snorkel has become one of the latest OEMs to launch a telematics service powered by Trackunit.
Snorkel OnSite is a full telematics offering that is available on most current Snorkel aerial platforms and telehandlers, many of which are now telematics-ready.
Snorkel offers a choice of telematics subscriptions, including a Direct Data and API package that can feed data from Snorkel lifts directly into a customer’s existing telematics dashboard, as well as a Data and Dashboard package which includes access to a Trackunit branded dashboard where a customer can access Snorkel machine data, as well as feed in other products from other brands.
The type of data that can be accessed is based on whether the unit is CAN bus or Non-CAN bus, but generally includes machine status (on/off), machine hours, its physical location, and the battery charge level.
Matthew Elvin, CEO, Xtreme Manufacturing & Snorkel, said, “We focused on making it easy for our customers to access all of their fleet data in one place, either through the Trackunit dashboard, or by using APIs to feed the data into their existing telematics tools. This maximises the usability of the data to the customer, as they can see everything in one place.”
Environmentally sustainable app
MCS Rental Software has launched a version of its Transport Mobile app, that is designed to help hire company users to lower their CO2 emissions and improve their asset utilisation.
The UK-based rental management software specialist says the updated app now enables logistics staff to plan the most delivery efficient routes in real time, while also aiding their company’s shift to paperless operation.
“To reduce CO2 emissions in the rental industry, hire companies can now optimise driver routes and schedules on the fly, helping to be more reactive and be as efficient as possible,” says MCS.
“Drivers can also be viewed on a map using advanced telematics data so that adhoc jobs can be allocated and new schedules can be made with ease, updating the route instantly on the drivers’ mobile app.”
The updated Transport Mobile app can now be used on mobile devices by employees throughout a rental business’ operations, says the company.
Nick Thomson, sales director at MCS, adds, “The Transport Mobile and Resource Planner tools work together to create the perfect synergy between staff in the back office and the team on the road. Creating the most efficient route helps save fuel consumption and reduce CO2 emissions.”
Retrofits: IoT and geofencing
Australian rental company Coates is boosting customers’ onsite productivity and efficiency.
The company has begun installing a newly developed retrofit telemetry device across its fleet and is piloting proprietary solution Smart Site, an IoT-enabled productivity tool.
It plans to officially launch Smart Site to customers in key market sectors, including mining, oil & gas, power, manufacturing, construction and infrastructure, towards the end of the first quarter of 2022.
Smart Site uses RFID (radio frequency identification), LoRaWAN (long-range, low-power wide-area networking) and GPS, to create geofencing around the perimeter of a site. It allows customers to track and analyse operators and other personnel, along with tagged equipment.
As reported by Australian IT publication itnews.com.au. Neil Moore, Coates product specialist, said, “It allows customers to measure the productive time spent in predetermined work zones and the unproductive time spent outside the zones.”