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Mechanics Corner: Is web-based machine monitoring for you?

Doug Johnson Published on 06 April 2011

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This column was written by Doug Johnson (pictured at right), who can be reached at:

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A snowstorm on a southern Idaho dairy farm – with thousands of cows needing feed and a way to it – is no place for a wheel loader to stop working. Today’s dairyman also can’t afford a machine that operates poorly.

So imagine the benefits of a system that can tell you precisely, and in real-time, what’s going on, or going wrong, with your key equipment.

It’s called web-based machine maintenance technology. Available on most new construction machinery models, the system allows owners to locate and monitor the movement of their equipment, its daily hours of operation and fuel consumption as well such troubleshooting data as operator habits and efficiencies.

Relying on a network of low-orbiting satellites and an easy-to-use, secure Web application installed on your computer, the system downloads data every day, or as needed, from your machines to your computer – and mine.

That’s a critical detail. Because distributor reps (like me) essentially become partners in problem solving with dairymen like Gilbert Hurtado of Jerome, Idaho.

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The general manager of two good-sized dairies, Hurtado says, “I have to keep my eyes on everything these days with these milk prices. It helps having a loader like that. If I have a problem with something, [my rep] will call me or e-mail me.”

For example, he says, “The other day my loader was heating up in Preston, and I was three hours away. So they sent me an e-mail that the loader was heating up and I was able to ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on up there?’ Sometimes employees don’t look at those things.”

Dan Arnold, equipment manager for one of the world’s largest dairies – Bettencourt Dairies – also values this machine oversight. With 13 locations and some 50,000 cows to milk, Arnold’s crew operates 40 loaders. Six have the cost-saving technology.

“We can tell how long the loader has been running feed and loads,” he says, “or pushing. And how much time it’s been idling. I’ve had problems with guys that start it and let it idle for half an hour, using up warranty time.

Plus, you’re burning fuel. My big thing is, ‘Okay, you blow a hydraulic hose or a radiator hose and no one is around; it burns up.’”

Says Arnold, “I rely on our sales rep to keep an eye on this equipment, and whenever I suspect our operators are not watching their machines, I have him print up reports on daily operations so I can educate our operators and keep them on the correct path.”

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Having the data translated into useful maps, graphs, lists and charts for the operators to see themselves is helpful. Arnold also appreciates the data for other machines in his fleet.

“I find that if I have another loader with the same problem,” he says, “I can look back on these records and it saves a lot of time.”

The technology tracks meter readings, dashboard cautions, maintenance reminders, the machine’s location and movement (a nice insurance/safety feature), its travel hours, fuel consumption (actual hourly and residual), kinds of work hours and load frequency. The system also produces an operation map (times of the day the engine was on/off).

The family-owned Scarrow Dairies has purchased two loaders with this technology. It allows them “to keep an eye on the loader without physically getting on the machine,” says Stacy Scarrow, who is concerned about his machine’s “extreme” work hours.

“We can make our plans for our maintenance man,” he says, “without having to rely on the operators to keep track in a timely manner.”

And when trouble strikes, “We can have the service guy or mechanic call it up on his computer and look at his codes. We don’t have to guess at the problem,” he says.

Spending $25,000 to $30,000 monthly in diesel, Scarrow also likes his ability to “pull up monthly and annual reports of maintenance and fuel consumptions” to strategize the budget.

He figures, “We can probably cut down the idling time by half to save some fuel.”

As general manager of Magic Valley Composting, Ray Silene works closely with the local dairy industry. He, too, praises the technology.

“I don’t have to rely on the operator to tell me what’s going on with our investment,” he says. “I can access data 24/7 anywhere in the world. And I can rest assured that if we are not monitoring [the data], our dealer is.” PD

To learn more about this technology, visit these websites:

Komatsu – Komtrax Fleet Monitoring System
http://www.komatsuamerica.com/komtrax

Caterpillar Fleet Management Software
(VIMS) Vital Information Management Systems http://www.cat.com/cda/layout?x=7&m=341779&id=1905021

Volvo – CareTrack
http://www.volvo.com/constructionequipment/na/en-us/partsservice/caretrack/caretrack.htm

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