Since we bought our first dozer in 2012, the popularity of GPS has grown tremendously. In 2019, it’s pretty common for everyone to have it, but that wasn’t the case seven years ago. Today, every machine we buy comes equipped with GPS. The increase in productivity is astronomical with GPS, as opposed to the old ways of doing things.
With a younger generation of people operating machines these days, GPS streamlines the training process. There’s not a huge learning curve. If you can operate a smartphone, you can figure this out. As long as they’re open-minded about it, you can take the oldest operator you’ve got, and they can learn it in a day’s time. It’s not a huge ordeal where you need to invest a ton of time training somebody.
One area where GPS is a huge help is using Trimble for grade control. If you’re finishing the grade, an operator can push a button, and it will hold the tolerance automatically. That alone speeds up the progress of a project, because you only have to grade it one time. You don’t have to set stakes, knock the stakes out, come back and set finishing stakes, and then grade to those stakes. The operator doesn’t even have to control the blade. They just drive it.
We also use GPS to track wear and tear in our machines. As far as the telematics GPS goes, we use it to the extreme compared to most companies in our industry, especially for tracking idle time optimization. Two years ago, we looked at our total idle time for a year’s span, and we saw that we probably had 50% utilization. In other words, that’s 50% of the time that our machines were idling for no reason.
Thanks to GPS, we started sending all of our superintendents, foremen, and project managers an automated report every week that shows the idle time for the previous week. Now, instead of 50%, we’re around an 80% utilization rate. If you have a machine that you’re adding unnecessary hours to year after year, that machine is substantially decreasing in value. That’s another part of our asset management when it comes to our equipment.
Our telematics program pulls in data multiple times per day. When a foreman enters his time at the end of the day, all he has to do is push a button that says “import from GPS,” and every machine on his timecard automatically populates the hours for the day. They just allocate those hours to the relevant cost codes. That data is as accurate as it can be.
On top of all that, the GPS tracks maintenance requirements for us. When a machine is due for an oil change or any other regularly scheduled maintenance, it automatically sends us an email that reminds us to schedule an appointment.
The important thing to understand is that there’s no way to track these things with anything close to this level of detail without GPS. For example, before GPS, operators had to log their hours with pen and paper. You’re never going to get real data that way ― it’s just an estimate. The software also doesn’t have any bias. It’s just going to tell you what happened, whether you like it or not.