Inside Logistics

Small data, big impact

Lift truck telematics improve efficiency and protect the bottom line


February 17, 2016
by Steven LaFevers

Steven LaFevers

Steven LaFevers

In an era of expanded digital networks, smarter connected devices and integrated systems, businesses are turning to data-driven intelligence to guide decisions that help improve efficiency and protect the bottom line.

For operations with lift truck fleets, telemetry programs can produce a wealth of relevant “small data” insights for quick conversion into actionable business intelligence.

Even as materials handling operations face serious pressure to maximize output and efficiency, most facilities do not utilize available fleet data to its full potential. A recent survey indicates that while 80 percent of companies track lift truck fleet data in some way, only 25 percent track equipment and utilization by specific drivers.

The cost of not knowing this can be high, especially since more than ever, companies are focused on improving profitability, productivity and operator safety.

Historically, telemetry systems were prized as big data repositories, collecting live information from smart connected devices. They cataloged equipment and operational information, but didn’t necessarily provide consumable and actionable data.

Instead they offered numerous reports and spreadsheets that fleet managers had to sift through and summarize—a tedious and time-consuming task.

Today, telemetry systems offer effortless access to immediate and actionable data. With the ability to evaluate utilization and maintenance information alongside expected demand and specific truck applications, fleet managers can make quick and informed decisions about fleet size and composition.

This allows them to continuously improve operations and maintain a right-sized fleet composed of equipment tailored to meet their specific operational challenges.

While a lean truck fleet eliminates idle time and reduces cost, it leaves businesses with a low tolerance for downtime. With insufficient fleet availability to serve demand, operations can endure significant costs such as delayed shipments and lost revenue, placing a premium on preventive maintenance and fault code monitoring.

Telemetry analytics can also help refine preventive maintenance schedules to ensure sufficient planning and avoid overspending.

Fault code monitoring triggers an automatic alert that instructs dealers to perform a proactive service. This can prevent minor issues that may not be readily apparent to operators, such as a loss of hydraulic pressure or slight controller damage, from escalating into more serious problems that may result in crippling downtime and costly repairs.

In addition, fault codes help dealers improve first pass completion, specifically by pre-determining the parts that may be needed to address the issues, helping reduce customer downtime.

Managing a successful lift truck fleet requires paying special attention not only to the equipment, but also the drivers. Telemetry can enhance compliance with safety regulations by restricting truck access to only those operators with proper certification and providing automated checklists to guide drivers as they start their shift. In-dash displays provide drivers with self-management capabilities through speed and impact information to further encourage safe behavior.

These in-dash displays even facilitate direct communication between drivers and management to keep supervisors connected with movements on the floor. Supervisors can notify drivers when trucks require service, manage operator training, solicit updates on ground-level conditions and even check to see if certain employees have shown up for work.

For companies more accustomed to visually managing their fleets rather than using data and metrics, well-trained lift truck dealers and experienced OEM fleet management specialists can provide reliable local assistance. A proactive dealer partnership leverages specialized knowledge to guide installation, setup and ongoing reporting to ensure maximum return from any telemetry investment.

When it comes time to put data to use, the dealer acts as a business consultant to advise fleet managers on key performance indicators, establish a practical reporting structure and guide analysis. With an effective reporting structure, fleet operators can distill data into actionable insights to reduce total cost of operation, optimize preventive maintenance and inform staffing decisions.

Continued upgrades to telemetry systems offer potential to build a more visible and quantifiable understanding of processes, with lower costs and competitive benefits as the ultimate reward. Enhancements promise an extra layer of data to incident tracking with location information, empowering operations to identify high-risk zones for collisions and adjust layouts accordingly.

Keeping pace with rapid technology innovation requires that fleet operators translate theoretical advantages from data into tangible benefits.