For the record
AB Equipment supplies and services heavy equipment across multiple industries in New Zealand, including construction, material handling and forestry. Offering more than 20 leading global brands is a big plus for its customers, but it also presented a major challenge: accurately capturing machinery operating hours.
“Our maintenance plans are based on operating hours, but we’re servicing more than 6500 heavy duty industrial machines across many different brands, makes and models,” says Project Manager Aaron Jarvis. “That means recording this data with precision is a real hurdle.”
Servicing industrial equipment at the right time is crucial for several reasons – ensuring optimum performance, maintaining warranties, and health and safety.
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The search for a solution
“Relying on customers to record hours manually opened up issues such as late reporting or inaccurate reporting due to human error. We needed to create an agnostic device that would produce accurate data across our diverse brands and machines,” says Aaron.
In 2018, one of AB Equipment’s technical specialists, Felipe Cornejo, began working by himself on an Internet of Things (IoT) prototype, using forklifts on their premises.
The potential became apparent and later that year a project team was put together. In early 2019, initial internal funding was approved to develop the product and after successfully creating a small number of handmade units, the team was ready to take the next step.
Accessing funding and support
AB Equipment registered with the Regional Business Partner (RBP) Network, a network of organisations dedicated to helping New Zealand businesses grow, with Auckland Unlimited delivering RBP support in the Auckland region.
After attending a free Innovation Clinic to discuss the project and its potential, Aaron met with a specialist business and innovation advisor, Shelly Hague, who helped them access a Callaghan Innovation R&D grant.
“R&D in this area was something new for the business, so it was very much a journey of discovery. Shelly helped us navigate the process of applying for and accessing the grant – it’s pretty intensive, so we needed that expert advice and experience.”
Shelly says R&D requires commitment from a business and AB Equipment has it in spades. “Their passion and drive to innovate and face challenges head on is rewarding to see. The question now is what’s next and how can we help?”
Working with Auckland Unlimited and Callaghan Innovation definitely elevated the project, Aaron says.
It gave us structure and discipline, and having that external, independent review gave our board confidence that this project had real value.
The grant was approved in February 2020, allowing AB Equipment to design the PCB and the firmware, build the IoT hub infrastructure in Azure, and test 20 bench test units in a controlled environment. The project is on track and production is underway.
Data-driven decision making
The PCB installed on a forklift allows the operating hours of the machinery to be recorded. The PCB reports figures back into the AB Equipment system and the data is integrated into Microsoft Dynamics, so they can accurately determine when the machinery needs to be serviced as part of its warranty conditions.
Aaron says this project is just the start – the future is bright for additional data to be captured elsewhere in the company, allowing AB Equipment to make data-rich decisions.
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