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Manage construction rentals better with smart sensors

A truck leaves a job site with a problem that will not be discovered until later in the day: a ladder was never returned to the truck where it belongs. It will take hours to discover it is missing and perhaps a day or two of searching before the decision is made to replace it.

Non-powered and medium-value assets can be as important in construction rentals as heavy equipment and cargo containers. Because they are smaller (and there are often more of them), they can be more difficult to track. Manual inventory tracking is an inefficient and time-consuming process. Often the known location is only as good as the last person to touch a piece of equipment and does not automatically take into account an asset’s current location.

For construction rental companies, tracking a large number of tools and equipment can make or break a business. Knowing where every drill, chainsaw or ladder is in real time is crucial to the ability to fulfill customer requests — or, as it’s known in the industry, “staying in business.” Asset tracking is the key to inventory and the prevention of loss, whether actual or perceived.

Perceived loss occurs when a piece of equipment is logged in inventory but no one can locate it. In some cases, perceived loss is worse than actual loss because of the time personnel spend determining whether the equipment has been lost, stolen or destroyed — or is only misplaced. Even if this represents a small amount of time per day, it wastes worker time that could be spent on billable projects and this non-productive cost adds up over the course of a year. When you cannot locate a piece of equipment for a rental, you are giving your customer a reason to go elsewhere. Trying to solve the problem by hurrying to source new tools or pieces of equipment quickly can be expensive and difficult due to limited availability — and there is always the possibility that you are buying unnecessary duplicates of assets that are merely misplaced. Losing track of these smaller pieces of equipment wastes both money and time.

Advances in IoT technology, however, mean there is now a solution for this too common problem.

Smart sensor technologies, such as Bluetooth Low Energy tags, supply the information needed to solve the problem when equipment goes missing: each asset’s real-time location. The tags communicate with a cellular-enabled telematics gateway installed on a truck or other mobile asset at the yard or on a job site to provide a constant stream of location data. Bluetooth is economical due to minimal power requirements to ensure the battery lasts for years.

With a sensor tag attached, the whereabouts of an asset is available from a web-based application on a phone, tablet or computer. The asset’s current location and location history can be integrated into back-office systems, making it easier to conduct audits or analyze operational trends that help predict demand. With specific usage reports, companies can understand the importance and demand patterns of each piece of equipment, making sure every asset is used to its maximum potential and helping clarify where to invest in additional inventory.

For example, during a major weather event, demand for certain types of equipment surges as people prepare and protect their property, and again during the rebuilding process. Weather or a natural disaster can bring a spike in demand for specific types of assets. Real-time inventory helps a rental company respond quickly to customers. Knowing exactly where each item is located is key to satisfying these periods of elevated demand and urgency. Software that reports inventory usage and movement in the aggregate can also help companies plan for next year’s weather events.

These tags and asset tracking software can also trigger alerts when equipment enters or leaves a specific area. By setting a virtual boundary, or geozone, on a map, a company can monitor the movement of assets in and out of their yard, a job site, a supplier or any other area where equipment travels and send alerts to the people who need to know about equipment movement. When a truck leaves a job site, for example, you will know whether the ladder is on it — and can take action to make sure it is returned on time. Geozones are especially helpful in preventing actual loss. When an alert comes in off-hours, the right people can know immediately that something is amiss. This helps prevent theft, unauthorized use or just a simple misplacement.

Implementing a program based on tracking sensors lets you focus on running your business; makes integrated, automated inventory possible; and prevents the perceived loss of equipment that may only be hiding in a warehouse or at a job site. IoT technology assists in raising the visibility of large and small assets, optimizing utilization and providing accountability to help prevent lost productivity, unauthorized use and theft. Real-time tracking, coupled with historical reports, provides key information that can help you make important operational decisions and predict demand.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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