Home Emerging Technology How to use asset tracking to improve infrastructure maintenance

How to use asset tracking to improve infrastructure maintenance

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Often an under-utilised resource, asset tracking should be a key component of an organisation’s management strategy, providing benefits for cost, efficiency and performance.

In a tight fiscal climate brought about by the coronavirus crisis, managing assets more efficiently is a priority for everyone involved in asset management. In short, asset tracking provides data that organisations can use to fine-tune performance, improve efficiency and strengthen decision-making.

Although asset tracking possesses a broad range of potential uses in an Australian setting, it remains an underutilised technology to date. The NSW Auditor-General’s Report on Local Government 2017 found that asset management is a problem area for many councils.

Out of the 140 councils in New South Wales, 70 were not renewing assets in line with the rate of their depreciation; 84 councils did not meet OLG’s benchmark for managing the infrastructure maintenance backlog, and 71 councils were not maintaining their assets in accordance with their asset-management plans. The report also identified $145 million worth of land and infrastructure assets at 24 councils that were not recorded in asset registers or the financial statements.

Asset tracking can help overcome these issues. At the most basic level, asset tracking provides reliable data streams about the location of high value assets as well as their utilisation and their status – for example: Is a piece of equipment on or off? How many hours has it run since its last service? Is a door, gate, hatch or valve open or closed? Is a system operating within normal parameters or is some attention needed? These basic data streams can then be analysed to deliver improvements in the accuracy of asset registers, valuation and lifecycle estimates.

Asset tracking can also help unlock efficiencies in the parking sector, a business worth $1.6 billion in Australia in 2018-19. Digital monitoring of parking infrastructure can increase revenue through greater efficiency – using real-time data to fill empty spaces – and improve compliance thanks to app-based payment technology.

Telematics: what it is and how it’s used

In 2017, the City of Melbourne installed 4,300 in-ground sensors to detect vehicle movement in the CBD’s on-street parking bays. The project aims to assist motorists in parking more efficiently by reducing the time spent looking for an available parking bay, which means improved traffic flow and lower emissions.

According to fleet tracking and management software provider Smartrak, data provided by telematics – an interdisciplinary field encompassing telecommunications and informatics – enables its clients to reduce their fleet size by 10 per cent while improving asset utilisation. Other benefits in fleet management delivered by telematics and asset tracking include:

  • Increased safety through monitoring driver behaviour and the ability to locate and communicate with operators in an emergency
  • Reduced costs by identifying inefficiencies and streamlining maintenance
  • Reduced insurance costs through improved security
  • Increased productivity through strategies such as gamification, which studies show result in an 84 per cent decrease in fleet accidents and 50 per cent improvement in safe driving behaviours.

An important aspect of asset tracking in fleet asset management is understanding where and when assets are used, information that is captured by GPS and transmitted by telematics to a fleet management system where it can be used to drive efficiency.

A less understood but no less valuable role of asset tracking with fleets is managing idle time, the periods when a vehicle is running but isn’t being used effectively.

Idle time is a major drain on resources in asset management, increasing the cost of operating the fleet through higher fuel use, increasing both maintenance and downtime, and reducing residual value. It has negative environmental impacts due to increased emissions – the transport sector is Australia’s second-largest polluter, responsible for almost 20 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions – and contributes to health and safety risks, with vehicle emissions responsible for 1715 deaths in Australia in 2015 (500 more than the national road toll that year). Asset tracking can measure fleet usage, including idle time, which can be compared to benchmarks and interventions subsequently applied if necessary.

How to implement asset tracking

Asset-tracking technology can be categorised as short-range (RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi, Ultra-wideband) and long/wide range, including the growing number of low-power wide-area networks based on LoRaWAN, Sigfox, Wi-SUN and other communications standards and protocols; systems such as LTE-M and NB-IoT built on existing and emerging mobile networks including 5G; and, GPS and other emerging approaches that take advantage of the ubiquitous coverage of satellites.

Choosing the right asset-tracking approach depends on several factors recently outlined in a Deloitte article: asset mobility, location accuracy, and tracking frequency. Any asset-tracking solution requires an initial assessment to determine the system’s requirements based on these factors.

IPWEA is embarking on a new emerging technology stream, and asset tracking will be the second in a series of topics areas.