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Telematics Shaping the Way NorLand Limited Does Business

As equipment manager for NorLand Limited, a civil and heavy industrial construction company that provides infrastructure, mining, blasting and drilling, John Ashcroft has his work cut out for him with 16 business units throughout Western Canada & Quebec and in excess of 800 assets to manage. But with over 36 years in the business, 25 of those in excavations of some of the largest structures in Vancouver’s downtown core, he’s got the expertise and the know-how to get the job done. “I understand how the equipment works and how we use it, and I specialize in the actual operation of the equipment,” says Ashcroft. He’s also a telematics expert and has been working on integrating telematics into the business for the past five years.

NorLand Limited has been a customer of Finning since 1954 when it started with the parent company Pacific Blasting. According to Peter Gibbons, regional technology manager for Finning, “NorLand is one of Finning’s longest-standing customers in the region and one of the first to adopt technology.”

As an early adopter of telematics, NorLand’s journey is probably not a typical one, although the reason behind getting started was. “For us, telematics gave us visibility to location and utilization. At the end of the day, that was it. Where is my equipment, and is it working?” said Ashcroft. “It actually started with these little tow-behind compressor units. We had a sign-out sheet that wasn’t always being used. We knew these units were out there working, but we couldn’t accurately report on it.” NorLand put tracking devices on six compressor units with immediate results. “We were able to see their location and whether or not they were working. The cost recovery was so good right off the bat that we just kept ordering more devices and hooking stuff up. After those first six units, we were off to the races.” Today, NorLand has over 150 connected assets from compressors and concrete pumps to heavy equipment.

  

 

After much experimentation, NorLand’s platform of choice became VisionLink®. Ashcroft didn’t just start adopting telematics; he lived and breathed it. “I literally lived inside VisionLink® for a year and a half,” he said.  According to Gibbons, “NorLand was a huge influencer in helping develop the telematics industry.” Much like equipment development, it is tested in the application, and if it doesn’t work the way it is intended, it is modified, so it does. “The system wasn’t broken, but we flushed out a lot of the issues,” says Ashcroft. “In all fairness, what I was demanding out of my telematics -- that it operate effectively, efficiently and precisely, I don’t think anybody in the industry was putting that kind of demand on the product.” As a team, Finning, Caterpillar and NorLand Limited basically redeveloped the product. NorLand was a huge part of Finning growing their expertise on the telematics side. “The only way we know how to improve a product is from feedback from the customer,” said Gibbons. “And we were able to take what we learned to help a lot of other customers.”

  

With the cost savings and efficiencies technology can provide, you’d think more companies would be jumping on the bandwagon, but that’s not the case. 

  

Ashcroft explains “The construction industry has evolved very slowly when it comes to technology and sometimes it has to be force-fed. We would love to say that we are focusing on the technology, and should we be? Absolutely.” Unfortunately, technology is still a tough sell. It’s all around us, we’re all using it, and it’s on a lot of equipment, but sometimes the operators don’t even realize they are working with it. For Ashcroft, to flip that switch, “We have to take it down to the ground level – at the end of the day, our focus has to remain on the task we are doing in the field. We need to make sure our people have what they need for the job and then tie in the technology afterwards. It seems backwards, in my opinion, but it’s a reality.”

  

For John, he continues to drive telematics within NorLand and he wants to see it working across all business units. “My drive for the last year or so is to get everyone on board,” says Ashcroft. “I use it and I always will, and I don’t believe I could do my month end without it, but I need to sell it to my project managers, superintendents and foremen so they can accurately report on the equipment. Once you are inside the platform, it tells the story of the job, but the hard part is to get that information in the hands of the crew and help them understand it, so they use it. For that to happen, it needs to be as simple and easy to use as possible.”

Gibbons takes it one step further. “There are also many different levels of interest when it comes to what data is required and how that data is retrieved and it totally depends on what the user needs so we are always developing new solutions to make it easier to access the data.” And the options are plentiful. “If you just need to find a machine location, order parts or check invoices you can use the My.Finning.com website. For the on-site crew they can quickly pull up the machine data they need using the Cat® App on their mobile device in the field. For John, who needs access to a variety of data and more complex information, he can access the VisionLink® platform directly,” says Gibbons.

  

NorLand is looking to do more with their telematics reporting by adding Customer Value Agreements (CVAs) to their connected assets to manage service times, inspections and maintenance reports. “These CVAs will provide us with better equipment management. For instance, Finning will be monitoring hours on equipment for repairs and service.  At 120 to 150 hours of service on each machine, I automatically get a box delivered to my shop with a service package.” The agreement also includes condition monitoring and oil sampling and all preventative maintenance parts. “What this will enable us to do, is actually cost parts to a specific machine. This will help tremendously with inventory tracking and maintenance and our ability to manage that piece. It is huge having someone like Finning analyzing our assets and telling us what actions we should be taking -- if any. It is beyond powerful. We don’t even realize what the real benefits will be yet.”

NorLand is already a believer in the technology and what it can do. According to John, he feels the only way to immerse the construction industry in the technology is to make it available on every piece of equipment. “Technology is a tough buy-in. You have to show companies the advantages of a better way of doing things. In my opinion, machines need to come fully-equipped with a full technology package. You need to prove the value to the project managers, and it is easier to do that when you make it standard, not an option. And he believes that this will happen within the next five years. “I think we are going to see general contractors and owners demand that they’re connected with 3D capability, so they know exactly what they are doing and the benefits they are gaining. The advantage is that there are a lot of people running our machines right now that are highly connected to technology. The next step is ease of use and systems that are app-based. Tying the whole thing all together is the trick.” 

  

So, what is the biggest benefit that John sees in using telematics? “Number one, it is pure visibility, it gets you in tune with knowing where your assets are, and checking to see if a unit is available for another job to get higher utilization out of your equipment. The cost benefit initially drove the change for NorLand but we picked up so much along the way – I don’t know how far we can go with it. Because with telematics, it’s a race that everyone’s running and nobody knows where the finish line is.”