Logging is a production-driven business where machine uptime is critical, so any tool that can help keep your equipment running today and well into the future is well worth considering. One of the newest and most productive of these tools is telematics, the combination of telecommunications, machine activity data and a website that can give you the information you need to get the most out of your equipment. It can empower you to make better decisions whether your fleet includes three machines or 53.

Telematics uses automated cellular and/or satellite communications to monitor the operation of your forestry equipment. Then it processes and transmits that information back to a secure website viewable with your computer. This long distance monitoring is especially useful in forestry, where remote job sites can spread a company’s work across hundreds of miles.

Factory-built into most of today’s machines and available as aftermarket equipment for older models, telematics can:

• Monitor equipment usage, from simple hours in use to idling time, machine loads or stem counts;

• Track machine health, including fluid levels, pressures and temperatures, and alert foremen and operators to potential problems by sending a text with repair recommendations to a cell phone;

• Simplify maintenance scheduling and record keeping;

• Document productivity to provide more accurate job estimates and bids for future work;

• Boost security with equipment tracking. Even if you’re leaving just one feller-buncher or skidder in the woods every night, you want to know it will be there when you return in the morning.

Telematics systems can range from basic to advanced, delivering the level of information your business needs. Even the simplest systems track machine locations, hours and maintenance intervals, and they provide “curfew” and “geofencing” protection, alerting you by text message or e-mail if a machine is turned on or moved outside a predefined time or area. Many basic telematics systems can be installed on older equipment or mixed fleets, so older equipment or equipment not manufactured by the system’s manufacturer can be monitored as well. John Deere’s JDLink Select, for example, is an all-makes product that works on virtually any machine with a 12-volt battery.

More sophisticated systems provide more detailed information, monitoring fuel burn or comparing work time to idle time, for example. John Deere offers systems that let you authorize dealer access to telematics data, which also enables your dealer to diagnose problems or reprogram machine software online. Deere’s JDLink Ultimate telematics system works hand-in-hand with conventional technician inspections and fluid analysis (See “Machine Upkeep,” December 2010) under its comprehensive Fleet Care program.

Regardless of the specific program your equipment manufacturer, dealer or aftermarket supplier offers, it’s what you do with the information telematics provides that can make the real difference for your business. For example, you can easily reduce the time and expense spent traveling to job sites to monitor equipment hours, operator work time or track maintenance schedules. Using stem counts and fuel costs to construct a winning bid for your next big job is also a significant benefit—log in and see stems cut per gallon of fuel. Or you may just sleep easier, knowing your new skidder is being monitored every night. Whatever your information, security and productivity needs, telematics may well be part of the solution.