by Don Kafka
February 22, 2010

These days, global positioning systems (GPS) seem about as ubiquitous as cordless tools in the construction industry. Cordless tools transformed worksites by offering construction workers freedom from electrical outlets. In the same way, GPS is transforming how construction firms manage tools and equipment by boosting profits and improving the bottom line.

Most construction executives are well-versed in the costs associated with tool and equipment theft. According to an oft-quoted 2007 survey conducted by The National Equipment Registrar, contractors lose $300 million to $1 billion annually because of decreased productivity and business interruptions from lost or stolen construction resources. More than 71 percent of equipment owners have experienced equipment theft in the past year, with as little as 6.5 percent of it ever being recovered. This requires the purchase of new equipment which is expensive and time-consuming.

The National Equipment Registrar survey reports the leading five states for equipment theft are:
• Texas
• Florida
• California
• North Carolina
• Georgia

The types of equipment most frequently stolen include:
• Loaders
• Light utility work trucks
• Generators/air compressors/welders
• Skid steers
• Fork and scissor lifts

GPS technology with an effective tool and equipment management system drives accountability and streamlines construction processes.

The Evolution of GPS
GPS is a U.S. space-based global navigation satellite system consisting of twenty-four to thirty-two satellites. Funded by the United States Department of Defense, the first satellite navigation system was successfully tested by the Navy in 1960. By 1978, the first experimental satellite was launched. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan released an order to make GPS technology available to civilians. The first modern-day satellite was launched in 1989, with the 24th being launched in 1994.

Now most new-model vehicles help drivers find their way around town with a GPS navigation device. Often, emergency road side assistance is available at a touch of a button using GPS mapping, so emergency responders know exactly where a car is located. Far beyond mapping, GPS is used for applications ranging from GPS tags that locate children, elderly family members and even pets to allowing golfers to check the exact distance to the pin.

GPS has found its way into the construction sector, too. Usage range from geographical site surveying and hydraulic system guidance to tracking big-ticket items like tractors and vehicles as part of a company’s fleet.

Using GPS in a Construction Application
GPS as an application works when a receiver is attached to an object, such as a front loader. The receiver calculates the position of the object by timing signals sent by satellites orbiting the Earth. From that data, the receiver identifies the transit time of the message, determining the distance to each satellite and calculating the precise location of the object. GPS units display location information, using longitude and latitude, along with dynamic data like direction, speed and elevation which are calculated from position changes.
Advanced software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications include optional wireless GPS and alarms. Anti-theft features like built-in tamper sensors that send an alarm when removed from a mounting surface or sensors that detect vibrations and movement alert jobsite managers when heavy equipment is compromised. Managers can place a phone call or login to their account online to arm, disarm or customize alarm settings.

GPS features drive efficiency into the tool and equipment management process, allowing a company to reduce equipment inventory expenses with fewer big ticket item replacements. Best of all, if the worst-case scenario occurs and equipment is stolen, a GPS locator allows for quick recovery of the object. Combined with a tool and equipment tracking system, construction managers have instant access to where equipment is located to make informed decisions about items that need to be re-allocated, rented or purchased.

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The benefits of incorporating a GPS feature into a tool and equipment tracking system are many.
• Decrease tool and equipment loss—Real-time data on where construction resources are at any given moment increases employee accountability, equipment retention and productivity.
• Reduce new equipment purchases—Effectively managing existing resources reduces the need to replace costly equipment before projects begin.
• Streamline maintenance activities—Automating and tracking the maintenance activities required extends the lifespan on existing equipment, reducing the need to replace them.

What to Look for in a Tool and Equipment Tracking System
SaaS solutions that incorporate GPS technology are fast and easy to get up and running. They are managed by the software firm, reducing or eliminating the need for internal IT staff to implement the system. Such applications are easy to learn and use in the field and at the office using any computer or wireless device. Even if an Internet connection is not available, the most sophisticated systems synchronize data with the main database once the device comes online.
The Bottom Line
Combining the power of an SaaS tool tracking solution with technology like GPS provides the information needed to analyze how tools, equipment, materials and consumables are used and managed on construction projects. Real-time data gives decision makers visibility into the organization’s construction assets in order to manage them more effectively. Construction executives gain a better handle on expensive equipment and transform the bottom line.