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Managing construction equipment intelligently

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Visibility of equipment across organisation helps in optimal allocation of equipment across projects, writes Satish Pendse

Construction industry is a capital intensive industry, and high-value fixed assets form a major part of the capital for the business. For real estate business, land, facilities and equipment for facilities management are the critical fixed assets; whereas for infrastructure construction business, plant and construction equipment are the critical assets. Information Technology (IT) can play a very useful role in the effective management of all these assets. In this particular article we will discuss how IT can be used for effectively managing the asset class – construction equipment.

Equipment management

With the phenomenal growth in the construction activities over last decade in India, construction companies are working on concurrent projects of large volumes and increased complexities at diverse geographical locations. For being competitive, companies are working on various strategies to reduce the project time-cycle while improving the profitability. This makes the construction equipment as one of the most critical resources in a construction project. Non-availability, delay, breakdown or sub-optimal performance of equipments can prove to be costly and disruptive for the project.

The main challenge in effective equipment management is the absence of linkages between the stakeholders such as procurement, equipment department, accounts and project teams. Also, lack of visibility on information related to equipments such as availability, productivity, POL consumption across projects hampers the optimal utilisation of equipments. With the help of IT the above mentioned challenges can be effectively handled. Further, most of the times the use of information gathered from equipment is restricted to the post-event (breakdown / delay / low productivity) analysis; however this information can be effectively used to avoid these events in the first place using IT.

Managing information of equipment can also prove to be of immense help to the estimators during tendering process or the planning department during the project planning phase. When an estimator is working on a tender, it is very important to have an idea of availability of right kind of equipment. Visibility on whether existing equipment can be transferred or new equipment needs to be hired or purchased, can go a long way in making an accurate and competitive estimate for a bid. Even during project planning phase, details to the extent of type of available model of the equipment, fuel consumption, equipment output, etc. can help in selecting the right equipment, which can be a substantial contributor to the profitability of project.

Optimum utilisation of equipment

Equipment utilisation can be viewed at in two ways – utilisation of equipment across organisation and utilisation across a project.

Visibility of equipment across organisation helps in optimal allocation of equipment across projects. For example, a project in need of additional excavators can be provided with the same from other project sites which have the surplus of the same, provided it is the optimal solution. Or a crushing plant with higher capacity for its current project can cater to nearby project sites as well if it is feasible and most economical solution. A world-class ERP like SAP provides visibility of the equipment across organisation in terms of availability and utilisation for the assigned project, which can be very helpful in the decision making for situations mentioned in above examples.

On project level, we can get information for particular equipment about various parameters such as working time, idle time, productive time, non-productive time and the overall utilisation of the equipment. Based on this information, corrective measures can be taken for optimising utilisation.

Improved productivity

IT can help in tracking performance of equipment and taking corrective action as and when necessary.

A world-class ERP like SAP allows tracking the equipment performance on various parameters such as consumption of fuel, lubricating oil, electricity, spare parts, sundry expenses (example, expenses towards foundation of crushing plant), output etc. of the equipments. Based on these inputs we also get to know about various productivity parameters such as cost per hour, production per hour, etc. These actual parameters can be benchmarked against the standard equipment norms to gauge the performance of the equipment and corrective action can be taken to enhance the equipment performance. Alerts can be generated to let the appropriate person know when the variation with reference to norms is much above the tolerance limits.

Also, the equipment productivity cannot be measured only in silos; sometimes it is also important to check the productivity of the entire fleet of the equipment. For example, consider a batching plant running non-stop to its full capacity in conjunction with transit mixers to carry the concrete across the plant. Now with the help of IT, we can optimise the time-cycles of all the equipments in the fleet and come to an optimal solution on number/ capacity of transit mixers, which can improve the overall efficiency of the entire fleet and not just individual equipment.

We can also use this approach to validate a methodology in the planning stage itself. The methodology defines the resources (mainly equipment), which in turn define the time-cycles and subsequent productivity. With the help of IT, all the concerned equipment in the fleet can be optimised collectively for their time-cycles and the most productive combination and subsequent methodology can be selected.

Effective maintenance

With a number of equipment spread across geographies and projects, it is very difficult to keep a track of the maintenance schedules of all the equipment centrally. IT can help in this by attaching the maintenance schedule and task list with each equipment record in the system. Alerts can be generated for maintenance activities of particular equipment and sent to the respective stakeholders for their action. Thus IT can be very useful in preventive maintenance. Action alerts can be generated for the concerned senior management member if the maintenance of the key equipment is not happening as per the schedule.

For critical equipment, with the help of IT, we can monitor not only an equipment (example: hoisting crane) but also a critical part of the equipment (motor of hoisting crane) for wear and tear in real-time and take timely corrective actions if the wear and tear crosses a certain pre-defined limit. Thus with IT we can shift from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance, minimizing unplanned downtime and facilitating real-time, informed decision making.

Overall the benefits of these kind of IT investments are high enough to warrant serious attention.

IT in equipment management

• Equipment is one of the most critical fixed asset and IT can help in managing equipment across their lifecycle resulting in higher return on assets
• IT can give a clear picture on equipment availability as well as utilisation of equipment to all the stakeholders, thus enabling their optimum utilisation
• Equipment performance can be tracked and compared against the standard norms to gauge the efficiency and productivity of the equipments
• IT plays important role in the maintenance of assets by effective enablement of both preventive and predictive maintenance
• IT provides real-time information about the assets thus enabling informative decision-making.

Satish Pendse works as the chief information officer for Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), which has started offering information technology services aimed at improving efficiencies for real estate and infrastructure industries. Through this column in Construction Week India, the author brings out the increasing significance of information technology in the construction industry. He can be reached on satish.pendse@hccindia.com

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