Cotton is one of Australia's largest rural exports. We've had the highest global yields in this country for 20 consecutive years, with a bumper crop in 2012 generating 5 million bales worth close to $3 billion. There are about 1,500 cotton farmers across Australia, each growing more than 650 hectares of the stuff on average. For those of you who grew up in a city, this is roughly equivalent to the grass covering 650 football stadiums. It's a large area of land to look after. So what's this got to do with GPS tracking?
Well the best part of my job is talking with other technology companies to figure out how we can solve customer problems by working together. The core of our business at Navman Wireless is built around tracking vehicle movements but we've been exploring other uses of telematics during the past couple of years. How can we get extract data from pieces of plant or machinery that will improve the operations of a business?
We started looking at products that bolt onto the side of the GPS tracker to measure maintenance for various types of assets. Here are a few of my favourites:
Numerous types of diesel pumps operate in mines. For example, the high-wall pump in an open cast pit uses a massive hose to pump the pit dry and dumps water into a nearby reservoir. These pumps are the size of shipping containers. We have one customer that employs two people to drive around all day, every day reading engine hours on these pumps. They have to locate them first, because miners often move them around, and take a reading to work out when maintenance needs to be scheduled. Real-time readings are safer to collect, highly accurate and more valuable as a business resource.We've added flow switches on these pumps so we know if a motor is running but water isn't flowing. This is very valuable because if a pit starts filling with water the site will grind to a halt. A pump that costs $100 to fuel for a day has the potential to stop production on a site that might be generating daily revenue of $1 million. By inserting a little paddle switch, we can generate a notification to our tracking unit whenever the flow guard goes past the paddle switch.On the same site there are generators, lighting towers and mesh network trailers. There's great value in knowing where these assets are, how much they're being used and the operational costs associated with them. These are simple methods of tracking key performance indicators and generating alerts before an event becomes a problem.
We're seeing a lot of opportunity in the construction industry from equipment manufacturers that want to retrieve fault code information from their machinery. The return on investment here is big because these machines are being charged out at hundreds or thousands of dollars a day. If one of them breaks, loss of earnings can quickly mount up. By tracking fault codes we can send early notifications to the machinery owner warning them that it's about to break. An engineer can be on site to fix the problem before equipment fails and, better still, they even know what parts they need to bring to the job. Historically an engineer has had to figure out what's wrong after a reported failure and may have to order parts from interstate or even overseas. Now we're able to offer a new level of preventative maintenance beyond the usual scheduling. This is particularly important in harsh environments and being able to do this is brilliant for customer service.
Let's say a team is harvesting trees and running them through enormous chippers as big as a truck. Management wants to measure utilisation and productivity. When you put a tree into a chipper the motor slows because it's labouring. Once the tree's processed the engine revs build up again as you're waiting for another to come through. We can measure when a chipper starts in the morning, how long it's idling before the first tree goes in and the interval between trees. We can generate a report showing if it takes longer for the team to feed tress in when the site manager is away. If he's on site it might take two or three minutes to feed a tree in. When he's not there idle times goes up to six or seven minutes. Once teams know this is being measured, productivity stabilises.
Now think about a pump in a field somewhere. Why would you want a GPS tracking unit on something that's stuck in a ditch and never moves anywhere? Well, the cotton farmers I mentioned earlier have to spend an extraordinary amount of time visiting these pieces of equipment and making sure they're in good working order. They collect basic bits of information like whether the pump's still working, how long it's been running for and whether it needs servicing. Now imagine you have 50 of these pumps spread out over huge distances. If one of those pumps has a mechanical failure and stops irrigating a field for 12 hours, the cotton plants dry out and $250,000 of profit has been lost. With a GPS tracking unit you can see that the motor's running for a dollar a day.
These solutions are usually fairly simple but have a very high return on investment. It's amazing what can be achieved by integrating systems built for separate jobs to overcome new problems. I'd love to hear from you if these examples got you thinking about possible solutions for your business.