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Third Generation of fleet systems enters the market place

“An observational and editorial paper looking back at where the fleet management systems industry was born from, direction it is heading in the future and the ramifications for the end users in the mining, quarrying, construction and transport industries”

The integrated fleet management systems within the mining, quarrying, transport and construction industries are progressing so rapidly that vendors, manufacturers and technical developers are struggling to keep up in some instances. It seems every week that a new system or functionality is being released or coming online to the marketplace. With more and more systems coming to market and increasing hype, sales spiels and myths around system functionality, it seems an appropriate time to step back, analyse and discuss just what is happening in this space and the direction systems are heading.

This paper looks back at the initial generations of systems and their defining characteristics and functionalities before looking into the 3rd generation of systems rolling out now and what is even further ahead; crystal balling expected functionalities within the 4th and 5th generations of systems. For end users and mines this is an area that can take up large resource level investments in money, time and people, yet many businesses do not carry the in house competencies within their staff to fully understand the capabilities of their systems. This discussion looks to clarify the various system functionalities and capabilities as well as challenging some of the myths associated with fleet optimisation and system functionality.

In short; what it can do, what it can’t do and what system type is right for your business.

It was only a short 30 odd years ago that the Major fleet system vendor, Modular mining systems released their Dispatch system to the market and basically gave birth to the whole fleet management systems industry. The early 1st generational systems were pre/early-GPS days, standalone systems that supplied limited solutions to the mining and extractions industries. These systems were purpose built, relied on proprietary hardware and code, needed a large scale effort to install and setup and by default required a correspondingly large commitment from mining companies to implement and support on a usable level. They enabled mining companies for the first time to manage fleet movements in real time using some optimised algorithms around targeting tonnage and material movements and truck efficiencies. Reporting ability and analytical ability generally was driven from internal or complimentary standalone databases. As a first generation system we all know that this was quiet effective in the industry and started to spawn the launch of many competitive systems from manufacturers who today are household names in the fleet system arena; Modular, Wenco, Leica Jigsaw, Minestar and Pitram

With the leaps in computing power through the late 80’s and 90’s and the launch of the US GPS network between 1989-94, followed by the Russian GLObal NAvigation Satellite System (Glonass) network, fleet management started to really come of age as a precision measurement and automated efficiency tool. The GPS allowed automated knowledge of machinery location in three dimensions and the option through coding of using those locations as automated trigger points for machinery (i.e. re-assignment points or arrival beacons etc.) This was a large leap forward in ability in the field around the real time tracking of equipment and was supported by equally important leaps in database structure and language standards. There was a complimentary growth of the reporting tools that were entering the computer market at the time and many of these standards were incorporated into fleets systems. Finally, end users could accomplish the holy trilogy of fleets systems, that is, the ability to assign, monitor and report on their fleet movements in real time. This allowed the closure of the knowledge loop and supplied real time and post time analytics ability across the fleet. Fleet systems had finally come of age and the 2nd generation of systems were beginning to allow deeper analytical views of the business and predictive business knowledge. The first tangible signs of turning fleet data into fleet knowledge. There were also the first steps into integration from standalone systems into data centres and other platforms like geology, survey and mine planning suites.

Hardware and communications had improved dramatically since FMS inception and all systems migrated over from UHF based radio communications into the current 2.4 and 5.8 Ghz. Wi-Fi frequency bands. Meshing networks and dual/tri band functionalities were being released to the market helping to support larger and faster data transfers across systems and equipment. Hardware itself took major leaps forwards and the first of the high precision machine guidance systems started to emerge as fully usable and functional production tools. Visualisation with remote camera feeds, integration of single comms networks carrying several platforms data types and the development on many mines of distinct departmental or knowledge centres within the overall business structure. These were all traits of the 2nd generation or the growing pain teenage years of fleets systems.

During the early 2000’s, several large mining houses were confident enough to look hard at the emerging technologies and how they would impact the industry in the future. The obvious direction the technology functionality was leading people was in the area of data integration, big data and analytics. Systems were all starting to really come of age in their capability and many businesses had developed in house customised functions and reporting platforms. The true gains now were coming in turning their data knowledge into business wisdom. Many companies at this point moved into developing full integrated operations and control centres, some site based, some remote located, where entire business value streams were being integrated at the data and process levels into a single physical place.

The systems in their own right keep moving forward with vendors releasing upgrades and next gen versions of product solutions. High precision machine guidance was now becoming fully encompassed into mining operations and real time data feeds were being pushed back out to the very users and roles that could influence the improvements. Technology like in-pit tablets for foremen and tech services, HPGPS drills, dig units, and dozers, OEM interface integration, mine planning integration, guidance and real time feedback were all becoming common place.

We are now a few years into the third generation in fleet management systems development and the latest and newest levels of functionality are finally coming of age. Let’s examine where that will take the system functionality and more importantly, what ramifications that will have for end users. The challenge for businesses being their ability for absorbing, integrating and encompassing big data and full business wisdom into strategy and flowing that downstream into tactical operating standards and methodology.

The latest fleet systems are now offering a myriad of functionality and are fast becoming not just a production or fleet tool but the very foundation toll of a business framework that involves real time operational and reporting level processes that continually assign, collect, collate, analyse and feedback all levels of critical business information in a multi format, multi user environment.

It is no longer just about the collecting and reporting the right data …… but the right data to the right person at the right time and place via the right tool using the right medium. That is a lot of rights to get right…am I right?  Well, you get the idea. To integrate these types of systems into an organisation where there is pay back in ROI, performance, data and improved business wisdom is beyond the in house ability of most companies now. The fleet management market has naturally evolved and produced a space for advisors and consultants in this area of expertise. The hardware involved in this can be anything from mobile phones, display walls, equipment based devices, tablets, blue tooth and near field communications, GPS, Wi-Fi tags, camera and radar data and wearable tech. It is generally now using off the shelf technology and leveraging off the capabilities on companies like Apple and Microsoft. The software is heading more and more down the applications path are now complex, highly functional systems with multi-level structures and huge rates of data transfer between platforms and data/file standards. The integration of big data into business gives systems that can track and control entire value streams of industry within the one system or an integrated system of standardised modules and platforms.

Many new companies and manufacturers are entering the fleet management systems space and pushing the boundaries of new functions on a daily basis. The large legacy vendors have a fight on their hands now from flexible, smart, adaptable smaller operations using the latest in technology to prove up new methods and ways to collect, control and present data.

So what are the ramifications for the end user? Granted, the systems and applications coding frameworks are now more complex than ever but in return the functionality makes the user applications simpler, more intuitive and in a lot of areas, completely automated. The entire purpose of a quality system is to take the business from data collection to data knowledge to data wisdom. This will give your business the edge in not only controlling efficiencies within internal processes but supplying market advantage to your industry.

Is your operation ready for the next generation of business fleet management platforms?

Foto caraGlenn Jones is the General Manager at Mineline Resources Pty Ltd.