On the other hand, Terex Corp., another large crane maker, prefers to monitor crane owners’ data on its own. “We use [the data] to monitor the cranes for our customers and maximize uptime,” said Rüdiger Zollondz, the company’s director of product marketing.

Managing Big Data

While Makro’s Rodrigues praises telematics for helping his firm to manage a fleet working across a large geographic area, executives of smaller firms working in a more local environment see potential savings, as well.

By sharing data with the factory, for example, crane owners might get answers to problems faster. “I could see telematics as being useful for remote diagnostics when we can’t solve the problem,” said Robert Weiss, vice president of Maspeth, N.Y.-based Cranes Inc. Because crane makers do not always share their fault codes with customers, owners often need to get the factory or dealer involved in making repairs.

Still, when resolving problems with these complex pieces of equipment, “nothing beats a trip to the crane,” Weiss said, adding that his firm’s cranes currently have GPS and remote hour meters so that rental managers can track user activity and provide accurate billing.

With even more usage information and instant-messaging alerts, the ability to plan scheduled maintenance, identify problems and troubleshoot a broken crane remotely can save time and money, Rodrigues and others said. Ignoring these alerts can be risky, and although crane age has not yet been linked to accident risk, a lack of regular upkeep has.

“Regular and scheduled maintenance is what we have found to be the key to longevity,” said Jim Wiethorn, chairman and principal engineer of forensic consultant Haag Engineering Co., who has studied hundreds of crane accidents. However, Wiethorn and others warned that the increasing use of technology could be dangerous if data is not managed well.

“Technology advancement does not equal safer lifts,” Wiethorn said. “Technology can help you a lot, but if you don’t input the data right or if you do something that changes the effects, it doesn’t do you any good. You may have that warm-and-fuzzy feeling, but in reality you are in danger.” Diligent lift planning, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce risk, he added.

Using telematics to monitor wear and tear eventually will have a profound effect on crane maintenance practices, Stramer predicted. “Broad operating hours are not the determining factor with regard to lubrication and maintenance,” he explained. “Telematics information can give the owner detailed information on the real use of components and the ability to perform the maintenance based on individual machine applications.” Ultimately, it is important to determine what level of data is right for your business.

“Be careful,” Stramer said. “If you really just want a drink of water, don’t frustrate yourself by turning on the fire hose.”