When it comes to leveraging the power of telematics as a means to gather valuable machine data, an equipment manufacturer’s success depends on its ability to develop, implement and execute a well-conceived plan for doing so.

Obtaining actionable answers and insights via telematics is no small task. In fact, it’s one that takes significant time and effort, and it also requires both a manufacturer and its customers to be willing to understand and accept a balance between functionality and security. Because while it’s critically important for both an equipment provider and an end user to have easy and timely access to data, ensuring the information is secure – and remains so – is paramount. Therefore, in order to achieve those ends, a plan must be put into place and followed by everyone within the manufacturing organization. 

“And it all comes together in a systems engineering approach, said Andrew Shroll, a senior engineer at John Deere, who shared his insights on telematics and big data with attendees at this year's Product Safety & Compliance Seminar, which annually offers safety professionals in the equipment manufacturing industry the latest in standards, regulations and industry best practices. “Understanding the needs and requirements within your organization, and understanding the interfaces between different action points, is very important.”

The Evolution of Telematics

Telematics has grown and evolved considerably over the years. From the evolution of mechanical engines into electronic engines, to the implementation of basic telematics, to the rise of modern technological advancements and the age of "big data," much has changed. And the value of telematics is really tied to that concept of "big data," which refers to either information related to a machine's function and health, or production data pertinent to the equipment end user and impactful to the company's bottom line.

Telematics data is often characterized in terms of volume, variety and velocity, all of which bring challenges and complexity to data collection, analysis and storage efforts. Exactly how information is stored has changed significantly in recent years. Gone are the days of employing Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and charts as a means of cataloging various streams of data. And that’s because, simply stated, there’s more of it to be gathered, stored and processed than ever before.

“I got this analogy from an IT person in our organization,” said Shroll. “If you picture every data point you have as a kernel of corn, and then build a really large grain bin to fill with those kernels, it would be miles high. So that’s sort of a visualization for you of the data that we’re working with today.”

In today's realm of big data, a manufacturer often finds itself collecting far more data than it knows what to do with at any particular time. And while it’s often stored for later use, which offers the opportunity to leverage it at a later date, there’s an often-overlooked downside that prevents a manufacturer from getting the most out of the information..

“You aren’t always going to have the exact data you want in order to do your analytics, which is why it’s very important to take an initial broad look at what you have,” said Chris Spaude, a data scientist at John Deere, who also presented at this year's Product Safety & Compliance Seminar.

How Telematics Affects Safety

Specification and regulation are also important concepts to keep in mind when considering the value of telematics and the data it can provide both an equipment manufacturer and its customers. Because specifying what should be collected is critical because not everything can be collected. And regulation is also vitally important, because measures need to be put in place in order to keep the best interests of equipment end users in mind.

From a safety standpoint, telematics data is preventing secondary failures capable of turning into significant safety issues from occuring at any moment. For example, consider a small part failure that leads to an oil leak. Information coming off of a machine can now – through various data flows and processes – make both the machine's manufacturer and its end user aware of a problem very quickly and prevent it from turning into something far worse. Above all else, however, the data gleaned can ultimately serve as the main reason why unplanned equipment downtime is avoided. 

However, any real effort to obtain valuable and actionable machine data to improve and ensure safety begins with a well-conceived plan for how to collect it, interpret it, store it and leverage it for the benefit of both an equipment manufacturer and its customers.

“A telematics device is not a black box,” said Shroll. “It can be difficult to understand the current state of a machine or its recent history if something happens. Because of all these collection decisions, you simply are not going to have the complete history – unless you plan for it.”

More Information

The 2019 Product Safety & Compliance Seminar and Product Liability Seminar will be held April 29-May 2 in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information on the Product Safety & Compliance and Product Liability seminars, contact Nathan Burton, AEM technical and safety services manager (nburton@aem.org, tel: 414-298-4126).

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