Wireless technology is an invaluable tool helping concrete producers “measure to control” their operations. The more data they can get their hands on, and the quicker they can get it, the better they can measure and improve performance.

With 4G wireless technology, real-time information is accessible from the cloud. Soon we’ll be able to measure and manage almost every aspect of the ready-mix business with mobile devices, including the sales cycle, fleet maintenance, dispatch, and accounting.

When producers capture and act on better information, customers also benefit in various ways. To Mark Timm, business analyst at Miles Sand & Gravel in Puyallup, Wash., the best thing a producer can do for customers is to operate efficiently.

Timm champions new systems and equipment at Miles, continuously mining the wealth of data available via wireless technology. His vision: Make financially advantageous decisions based on the most accurate information available.

Time Equals Money

Recently Miles began looking for a better way to track driver hours. Timm realized he could build on the producers’ current technology to get a multi-dimensional picture of how drivers actually spend their time.

For example, time card entries may indicate that a driver is taking too long between clocking in and leaving with a first load. But when viewed in light of dispatch, truck telemetry, and batch panel data, loads may be delayed in production or scheduling. “We’re putting all the pieces of data together that are key to driver management, plant management, and equipment, and ultimately looking for efficiencies,” Timm says.

Another way to capitalize on wireless assets is to consolidate, or unify, technologies. Drivers at Miles Sand & Gravel start their day by logging on to a tablet that’s assigned to one of the producer’s 150 ready-mix trucks. Time-tracking software on the tablet records the driver’s hours, while another program monitors the truck’s location and status (in transit, on-job, pouring, washout) via GPS technology.

Miles will be adding more programs to the driver’s tablet, with the convenience of a single log-in on a single device. Even greater benefit can be derived from consolidating technologies when data from many sources is accessible in one place (a single app versus multiple programs). When talking with new vendors, Timm often requires data compatibility.

Next Miles will add fuel tracking technology to the mix. The producer is testing a program in 40 trucks that tracks fuel transaction data (how much is added and when) and fuel inventory. Timm will then wirelessly capture information from each truck’s ECU (engine control unit) including mileage and compare it to the fuel usage data to calculate overall fuel efficiency.

By combining data available from the tablet in the truck (driver hours, load cycle time, fuel cost) with other known factors from other systems, such as the volume of concrete delivered, Miles will quantify something producers often find elusive: actual daily and hourly operating costs. “We have pretty lofty goals, but in this day and age of the cloud it’s all doable,” Timm says. “It’s just that nobody’s done it yet.”

With each new data source, he adds another piece to the puzzle, and often discovers yet another area that needs more clarity. It’s also clear that data-driven concrete producers should not simply be satisfied with available technologies. Our industry is driving development of tools and systems that will serve us best; we do have control over our destiny when it comes to useful technology.

Although it may not be an easy pursuit, many are convinced it’s a worthy one. “Sometimes what seems like a simple and straightforward process doesn’t always turn out that way,” says Timm, “But if we don’t try we’re never going to get there.”