Reducing fuel use while improving safety

Idling and fuel use reduced, safety and crew management improved using powerful fleet management system

The Power of Location: SAM, Inc. reduces idling and fuel use while improving safety and crew management with Telogis Fleet. Additional benefits including improved productivity, recovery of stolen assets and simplifying asset management/utilization.

The professional land surveying industry has benefited extensively from the advancement of geospatial technologies. Surveying And Mapping, Inc. (SAM, Inc.), headquartered in Austin, Texas, has quickly adopted many of these advancements to become a technological leader with geospatial solutions in the surveying community. In addition to traditional surveying services, SAM, Inc. has grown to offer digital aerial mapping (photogrammetry), airborne, mobile, and terrestrial LiDAR services, subservice utility engineering (SUE), utility coordination and geographic information systems (GIS).

 

“Bringing our multidisciplinary expertise to bear across a range of geospatial solutions is one of our biggest strengths,” says Sam Hanna, president, SAM, Inc. “Not only do we maximize our value to clients with diverse capabilities, but our cross-disciplinary integration allows us to provide more knowledgeable solutions.”

While SAM, Inc. relies on the latest technological advances to provide its customers with comprehensive surveying services, it also relies on advanced location intelligence technology to help manage its own extensive fleet of vehicles and assets. With Telogis Fleet, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) fleet management application from Telogis, SAM, Inc. has the ability to monitor all assets in a single view and make important business decisions based on real-time, actionable data. This has helped the company reduce idling by 30-40 percent, reduce fuel consumption, improve productivity and billing, better manage crews and personnel, improve safety, recover stolen equipment and improve asset utilization across its entire fleet.

“We surround ourselves with the proper technology and the best equipment to go out and do our jobs on a daily basis,” says Ken Utley, field operations manager, for SAM, Inc. “This is one of those tools. In what we do on a daily basis, it allows us to be able to set our crews up more efficiently.”

Managing a widespread fleet of equipment/assets

SAM, Inc. works throughout North America, offering surveying services for industries such as transportation, electric transmission and distribution, oil and gas, rail and other infrastructure providers. This involves a fleet of trucks, utility vehicles (UTVs), compressors/generators, and boats and trailers. While the company has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Denver, and Salt Lake City, much of the work is often carried out for extended periods of time away from those locations. All together, SAM, Inc. has 178 assets spread across a variety of jobs at any given time. 155 of those are work trucks. The implementation of a comprehensive fleet management solution was undertaken to help centralize all of the information on those assets, as well as improve a number of factors relating to asset utilization, safety, and employee performance.

Simplified planning through satellite view

SAM, Inc. often works in wide-open rural spaces where they encounter everything from dense forests to rivers and treacherous terrain. The company worked with Telogis to add a satellite view to Telogis Fleet to give them an accurate aerial view of what they will encounter when they arrive at a site, the best way to traverse the site, and the best place to stage their vehicles and people for optimal efficiency and to minimize fuel use.

“The topography of the land is very important to what we do,” says Utley. “It saves us money on the back end and allows us to formulate a plan on how to attack the job. It’ll get down to ground zero and it shows you buildings, actual road intersections, if there are trees, if it’s open land, and that’s very beneficial. Without the use of this map, they may think ‘let’s come in from the north because we think that’s the best way’, but we actually look at the overlay and it may be surrounded by trees and that it’s better to come at it from another angle.”

That topography also helps the company determine the best equipment for the job. Much of the surveying may require gaining access to the area with UTVs rather than trucks. Having that birds-eye view to identify areas that are impassable or may require a different method of transportation before they ever set foot on the site helps determine the best allocation of resources.

“There are areas where you can’t take a full-size vehicle — narrow corridors where we can carry and transport via UTV versus footing it in.”

Idle Reduction Saves Fuel, Extends Asset Life

One of the primary reasons mobile companies enact a fleet management system is to curb engine idling. Engine idling leads to excessive fuel use and unnecessary engine hours that can shorten the life of the vehicle. For mobile workers who work in remote areas and are exposed to the elements, habits form where they’ll leave the air conditioning or heat on in an idling vehicle.

“The system allows us to track idling,” says Utley. “It can get hot down here in Texas and the air conditioners run a lot. Some guys will want to run their vehicles all day long. With this we can track it, see if anybody is abusing that. If you’re not in the truck, the truck doesn’t need to sit idle unoccupied. I would say it has probably reduced idling by 30 to 40 percent. Now you can actually visit with the individual, show them the specific report from the vehicle they drive, and address it.”

According to Utley, the benefits are twofold:

“It’s more about the fuel savings,” says Utley, “but it’s not good for engines to idle for long periods of time. It puts stress on them. In the end, we’ll probably get more longevity out of our fleet vehicles because of that. It’s a byproduct of what we’re trying to accomplish with the system.”

System improves productivity and billing accuracy

One of the great benefits of being able to know where a vehicle is at all times is the ability to verify and justify billings, and have a better understanding of what employees do while in the field. SAM, Inc. crosschecks location information gathered by the vehicle through Telogis Fleet with the work documented throughout the day to better understand work patterns and productivity levels. For instance, on paper, it may look as if a crew recorded fewer shots than they should have throughout the day, but reviewing the land with the satellite view in Telogis Fleet may show particularly treacherous terrain that explains the lower levels of production that day.

“I would say it has increased our productivity,” says Utley. “Productivity, for us, is measured in how many shots you get during a given day. If you’re doing static, you may theoretically be sitting on two points all day long. If you’re doing a wide-open topographic survey, you may get 2,000 points. You have a level of expectation and you can track that over the course of the day. (Through the telematics system) you know the guy started here, you know he stopped here, this is how many hours he should have been charging. Why did he only get this many shots? There’s a lot of cross referencing that is done on a daily basis — it’s checks and balances.”

Improving driver behaviors and safety

Another primary reason SAM, Inc. implemented Telogis Fleet is to improve safety. The company is able to monitor data related to speeding vs. posted speed limit, harsh acceleration and harsh deceleration. In addition to an historical perspective, the software also issues InSight Alerts™ sent directly to management to alert them when drivers are exceeding posted speed limits. Having those alerts allows the company to take action and to turn those incidents into teachable moments before costly accidents or violations take place.

“If we have somebody that is going over that number on a consistent basis, we can bring them in and have a discussion with them to adhere to posted speed limits.”

Another safety element particularly applicable to a company like SAM, Inc. that works in remote environments is the ability to always know where a vehicle is. If a worker needs help, the system can pinpoint the vehicle’s location and determine the best way to dispatch assistance.

“Our projects are vast in nature,” says Utley, “and we don’t have our crews in one place over a several hundred mile long project. There are a lot of things that can create a dangerous environment, and we know if we get a phone call here at the office, we can quickly go to the system, look at that satellite overlay, look at the terrain and instruct other drivers in the vicinity the best route to take to get there to render aid. Whereas, if you’re doing it blind, in some of the terrain and roadways, if you don’t have the ability to see it, you could be driving around and by then it’s too late.”

Improving asset utilization and maintenance

Once a job has begun, it’s not uncommon to find that every vehicle or UTV allocated to a job is not being used to its full potential. As new jobs come up, having an understanding of how each mobile asset is used and what may be available for the new job assists in deployment and gives the company the information needed to make (or not make) purchases or rentals — ultimately improving investment decisions.

“If I have a vehicle that’s been on one of my remote job sites and it hasn’t moved for ten days,” says Utley, “that’s telling me that they are not using it and I can get that asset back here versus going out and paying another $30,000 for a brand new vehicle that I don’t necessarily need to be spending money on.”

It’s also helped improve actual vehicle management and maintenance practices. Rather than relying on paper records and phone calls to crews in the field, management is better able to monitor vehicle service intervals via the fleet management system.

“I used to keep a spreadsheet, and you can only put so much on a given spreadsheet line,” says Utley. “And just like idling and speeding, you can actually set it up for alerts on (maintenance items such as) oil changes. It will actually tell us when truck #30 is due for an oil change. It allows us to be more efficient in our duties because, if it’s in the shop, it’s costing our company money.”

Proving where you’re not can be just as important as where you are

Companies with mobile fleets of vehicles and assets face liability pertaining to damages caused by the operation of those assets in the field. Telogis Fleet allows SAM, Inc. to pull up vehicle histories and match vehicle location with the time and location of the purported offense. This either confirms the complaint or proves that crews were not in the area. SAM, Inc. has used this functionality in one case to confirm that its vehicles were not in operation near an area where a brush fire started, and in another incident that they were not responsible for damage caused to a vehicle by a tool that had allegedly fallen off of one of its trucks. In proving that its vehicles were not responsible, this functionality has helped reduce costs associated with damages that were ultimately caused by someone else.

“We’ve been able to utilize the system to go back and trace our vehicles’ account of whether it was in a proximity of where these things started to begin with, and we’ve been able to prove that we were nowhere near the area in question.”

GPS technology aids in theft recovery

Companies that work and station equipment remotely are more likely to experience equipment theft. For SAM, Inc., the generators/compressors and UTVs the company relies on are particularly attractive to would-be-thieves. The company is able to set up a geofence around each “field office” to alert them to an asset leaving the area. As soon as Utley is made aware that an asset is missing, they can immediately track it and notify the local authorities as necessary.

“If I can recover a $10,000 device (the UTV and trailer), that’s money that we’re not going to have to go out (and spend),” says Utley, “plus the downtime of not having that piece of equipment while we’re having to reorder it.”

Enterprise dashboard simplifies data

None of the information provided by a fleet management system is useful unless it can be easily viewed and understood. With Telogis Fleet, SAM, Inc. has an enterprise dashboard that brings all pertinent information into a single view and tailors it to meet their needs.

“It’s definitely intuitive,” says Utley. “You can set it up, tailor it to where it’s more useful for you. And as far as extraction, if you need to extract (the data) and make hard copies to present to somebody, it’s very easily done.”

Web-based solution provides easy access

From an implementation perspective, a SaaS solution such as Telogis Fleet is completely web-based and does not require SAM, Inc. to invest in extensive IT infrastructure to operate it. Personnel can log in from computers at any of the regional offices (or anywhere they have access to a computer) and review the information they need. This has helped engage more of the team and create a better understanding of the fleet as a whole.

“We have tried to delegate some of the management responsibility to the project managers of the individual crews,” says Utley. “That way, they can be more involved with their own projects. If they have a question about someone’s productivity, they can go in and see for themselves. That’s how user friendly the product is.”

This accessibility is also helpful, especially if an important alert comes across while you are away from the office. This saves time and resources.

“We had one theft recovery that happened on a weekend and I was at home,” says Utley. “I could get on my personal computer and get information from there. I don’t have to drive all the way to the office in Austin, which takes an hour for me. I can get on and guide my supervisors on what they need to do next. We also have offices in Dallas and Houston and Denver, and those individuals can log in where they are to track their own assets for their respective offices and not have to depend solely on the Austin office to be able to do so.”

With all things considered, Utley believes this technology has made SAM, Inc. even more prepared to handle the wide variety of challenges facing their mobile fleet of vehicles and assets. Each works towards improving customer service and their own bottom line—two of the most important factors for any business.

“We have the ability to get there and rapidly deploy a large number of people and resources, and focus on the work we do best: surveying.”