FLEET MANAGEMENT: Volvo CE’s advanced vehicle telematics system CareTrack not only helps save customers money, but is also helping track down stolen machines
by Nigel Griffiths
Telematics and the digital monitoring of machine performance is now a key part of the proactive management of Volvo machines, with Dutch Volvo CE dealer Kuiken Construction Equipment having been one of the fastest-growing users of CareTrack in the world thanks to their resident data analyst and CareTrack expert Tonny Vos. Based in Emmeloord in the north of the Netherlands, Kuiken has expanded use of the system to help cut machine operating costs, boost product sales – and catch thieves.
CareTrack, which is factory-fitted to all Volvo’s larger construction equipment, has to be activated for use. When Vos joined Kuiken in 2011 from the Dutch railways, where he specialised in telematics systems on locomotives, just 80 machines at the dealership were running the CareTrack system. Today, the number has soared to more than 2,100 connected machines out of a total 2,600 in the Netherlands.
“Through my CareTrack portal I can analyse the performance of our customers’ machines. I can see what the machines are doing every day, every week,” says Vos. “An analysis can show productivity, emissions, fuel consumption, driving patterns and distance traveled and this can trigger a visit to a customer to discuss better ways of working – all part of the service we provide.”
It is not uncommon to find machines running idle while operators take rest breaks, explains Vos. “Such downtime can reach up to 60% of operating time,” he says. “And in winter, some operators keep the machines running to keep warm. If I point this out to the customer he can immediately save thousands of gallons of fuel simply by having a quick word with the operator.”
Some 500 of Kuiken’s CareTrack customers have a Customer Service Agreement (CSA) to cover maintenance planning. One of Vos’ roles is to ensure that the maintenance contracts are managed correctly and cost-effectively. He carries out an overview of the machine performance of CSA customers every week. Customers also have access to machine information which can be transferred to a spreadsheet on a local computer to help with such tasks as invoicing and service planning.
Another advantage of the data is that it helps Kuiken’s sales staff win orders. “It gives them hard facts on average fuel consumption and productivity which can be shown to a potential customer to win an order,” says Vos.
In neighbouring Belgium at Volvo CE headquarters in Brussels, one of the telematics specialists is Robin Vos, Tonny’s son. Following in his father’s footsteps, Robin first worked on telematics at Kuiken having studied business management. For six months from January to June 2014, he spent time with Volvo CE in Eskilstuna, Sweden, writing a thesis on the proactive use of telematics. In August, he was hired by Volvo CE in Brussels to help develop the CareTrack service.
“Using CareTrack proactively can save customers and dealers a lot of money and add considerable value to an operation,” he says. Having a father who is an expert user of CareTrack comes in useful. “We at Volvo CE are able to get a lot practical user data from users like him to help us in product development and to keep ahead of our competitors.”
Back in the Netherlands, CareTrack and Vos senior are developing a reputation as crime busters, too. As in many other territories, the theft of expensive construction equipment is a serious problem – in 2013, an estimated 300 machines were stolen in the Netherlands alone. That year, Vos was contacted by a customer about a Volvo wheel loader stolen from the south of the Netherlands. Although the machine was not activated for CareTrack, Tonny was able to log on and ‘talk’ to the vehicle.
“I could see the machine was no longer in the Netherlands but in Katowice, Poland,” says Vos. “The data showed me it had been very busy, working every day, even at weekends.”
With the information he was able to provide, local police in Poland were able to retrieve the machine and it was back where it belonged three weeks later.
In April 2014, the recycling firm Van Gansewinkel called Tonny Vos to report one of their 300 machines had gone missing. CareTrack indicated that the machine had been on the move on a Thursday night before going into idle mode – but no other information was forthcoming. Monday’s newspapers carried a story about a wheel loader being used in a ram raid at a petrol station in Tilburg, near the Belgian border. It had been driven through the wall of the cashier’s office at 4.30am, the station’s takings stolen, and the machine abandoned.
“This was the missing wheel loader. It was clear that the thieves had used a jammer to cloak the vehiclefrom CareTrack,” says Vos. “But by Monday the jammer had stopped working and I was able to analyze the vehicle’s hard drive from my desk. It told me the machine had been kept at a location just around the corner from Van Gansewinkel, inside a local scrapyard, for two days before the robbery. Armed with this information, the police descended on the scrapyard and made their arrests.”
The success of CareTrack in defeating the thieves using the system’s GPS tracking functions has stimulated Volvo into developing a dedicated anti-theft module for the telematics unit. It is currently in the testing phase.
“We are adding some advanced features to the anti-theft function which can be fitted to the crawler excavator,” Volvo’s Robin Vos explains. “One of the new features is a warning trigger which, when activated, will allow customers to watch a ‘snail trail’ of the vehicle’s movements and follow it on a map. “Many construction machines are stolen every week in the Netherlands. Compact machines in general are very popular but even the big machines disappear. One of the side benefits of the anti-theft function we are working on will be a reduction in insurance costs – a bonus for the customer,” he concludes.