Telematics: A game-changer for loggers

Reprinted from Canadian Forest Industries (CFI) online magazine, dated Oct 10, 2023


In recent years, loggers have faced mounting challenges, from rising operating costs to difficult terrain, unpredictable weather, and labour shortages. In an industry where profit margins are continuously under pressure, every downtime minute counts, and every drop in productivity hurts the bottom line.

Enter telematics, the game-changer that is revolutionizing forestry and logging operations. CFI checked in with experts to help us explore how telematics technology is helping loggers reduce downtime, optimize performance, and ultimately save costs.

The challenge of modern logging

Improving productivity and reducing expenses are top priorities for loggers as operating costs have gone up considerably. It’s a daunting reality faced by forestry operations across the board. The challenges are as diverse as they are relentless – difficult terrain, remote locations, unpredictable weather, labour shortages, low timber prices, tariffs, mill closures, and government uncertainty.

Fortunately, technology advancements in forestry equipment, such as telematics, are coming to the rescue. Telematics can capture real-time data, providing greater insight, collaboration, and efficiency in completing projects.

“And as technology continues to improve, connectivity for remote forestry locations has become easier than ever before. Software updates can be sent directly to machines on the jobsite, eliminating the need to wait for a technician to arrive,” says Mike Friederici, industry manager, forestry and earthmoving at Finning Canada.

Harnessing the power of telematics

"When leveraged properly, data has enormous potential – it can unlock meaningful insight to help reduce costs, minimize downtime, and identify problem areas or operator-induced fault codes on your equipment," adds Friederici.

According to Irfan Zardadkhan, product manager, telematics at Tigercat, telematics goes beyond simple GPS tracking; it’s a comprehensive system that provides a wealth of information. For example, Tigercat’s RemoteLog-equipped machines send back all machine codes, production information, and geographical positions. This data is harnessed by end users to make informed decisions about machine productivity and profitability, optimizing operations.

Forestry machines often operate in remote areas, making avoiding multiple repair trips essential to minimizing costs and machine downtime.

Telematics data can be used by engineers to make better-informed design optimization decisions for new machine models under development. Dealers can also monitor machine health, allowing technicians to be better prepared to service machines when armed with knowledge of all fault codes and operating parameters.

“Overall, telematics helps logging contractors by providing better visibility of their operations, which in turn improves planning, maximizes uptime, reduces maintenance costs, and promotes a safer operating environment,” describes Zardadkhan.

For Stojan Arezina, telematics manager at Doosan Infracore North America, telematics can be a game-changer in multiple ways. It collects, retains, and acts on data, allowing operators to remotely control and optimize their machines. Telematics can even predict maintenance needs, telling operators exactly when to perform tasks like oil and filter changes. Operators can track working hours for each machine, optimizing usage and cutting costs by identifying inefficiencies.

Telematics also safeguards machines from theft through geofencing and timefencing, Arezina explains, providing alerts if a machine operates outside designated co-ordinates or times. Arezina believes the future of telematics is boundless, with potential applications even in monitoring the operator’s health, though challenges like privacy concerns must be addressed.

Real savings and benefit for loggers

Telematics reports on fuel use and operating hours, allowing operators to compare data from different periods. It can even provide insights on potential revenue generation based on data analysis. For companies with limited manpower, telematics raises a flag when something is wrong, enabling immediate troubleshooting.

However, as Arezina points out, “Any data is only as useful as your ability to look at it.” Operators need to be trained to be productive with data and shift from a reactive approach to a proactive one, catching problems early.

According to James Leibold, product manager for global connectivity at John Deere, telematics can connect an entire jobsite, making operations smarter overall. By monitoring various machine parameters, equipment managers can make more informed decisions and receive alerts if critical codes appear. This proactive approach can prevent excessive damage and reduce downtime, keeping machines up and running.

Mitch Fedie, product manager for Pettibone, highlights the benefits of telematics for heavy equipment management. Telematics provide essential machine data points, including engine hours, fuel consumption, diesel exhaust fluid levels, and battery voltage. It also proactively alerts operators to issues, ensuring that small problems don’t escalate.

Telematics allows many problems to be diagnosed remotely, minimizing the need for on-site service visits. It can even analyze fuel efficiency down to the level of idle time, helping cut fuel costs. It’s possible to specifically identify what parts are needed for certain maintenance items. Technicians can know exactly what filters or wear parts are needed before they go to perform the service work, so it’s much more convenient and time-efficient for personnel.

“Overall, telematics-enabled machines increase productivity, efficiency, and safety, making it a valuable asset for the forestry industry,” says Peter Bigwood, general manager for Mecalac North America.

Navigating challenges

Peter Gibbons, technology solutions architect at Finning Canada, sheds light on a unique challenge faced by the forest industry in Western Canada when it comes to telematics.

He emphasizes, “The remote nature of our work can be a hurdle for effective data gathering using telematics.” This issue has limited widespread adoption of the technology. Gibbons points out that addressing these network limitations will be pivotal for the future of telematics in forestry.

In contrast, in regions with more extensive network coverage, such as other parts of the world, the forest industry is leveraging telematics to their advantage. Gibbons underscores the importance of overcoming these challenges to unlock the full potential of telematics in Western Canada’s forestry operations.

Potential is limitless

Telematics technology is indeed reshaping the forestry and logging industry. By harnessing the power of data, loggers can optimize their operations, reduce downtime, and cut costs, ultimately securing a more profitable future. As the industry continues to evolve, the potential of telematics remains limitless, offering solutions to both current challenges and those on the horizon. The key is for loggers to embrace this technology, train their operators, and shift to proactive data-driven decision-making to thrive in an ever-changing landscape.