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Construction company used IoT platform to cut time and cost from Camp Fire cleanup project

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Goodfellow Bros coordinated 500 dump trucks and six hazardous waste dumps to clear debris from California’s Camp Fire.

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Image: Metamorworks/Getty Images/iStock

This year’s devastating West Coast fire season continues with no end in sight. Eventually, as with the deadly Camp Fire in California in 2018, clean up will get underway. In that effort, a 100-year-old construction company used a plug-and-play IoT solution to save money and time on the massive project.

Goodfellow Bros. worked with Samsara, an industrial IoT provider, to deploy and track more than 500 trucks hauling debris out of Paradise, CA. The 2018 fire killed 85 people, destroyed almost 19,000 buildings, and caused $16.5 billion in damage. The entire cleanup cost more than $1 billion.

Goodfellow Bros. formed a joint venture with two other construction companies and won the competitive bidding process. Goodfellow Bros. needed to hire contractors to haul away more than 3.6 millions tons of debris. This included removing hazardous waste from burned out homes and taking this waste to specific dumps that accept this material.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

The company’s equipment superintendent Shep Nelson said that Goodfellow Bros. realized early on in the project that they needed a way to manage all the independent truck drivers working on the project.  

“Our portion was approximately $600 million with trucking costs alone close to $100 million,” Nelson said.

Dump truck drivers had to use six dump locations for the hazardous waste from the fire. One was 30 minutes from Paradise but most were several hours away requiring a 200-mile round trip.

The challenge with the job was to make sure truckers were on the move and not waiting in line at a dump site. Nelson said the operations team asked him for help and he turned to Samsara. The company suggested using the VG34 Vehicle Gateway, a unit that plugs into a truck’s cigarette lighter. The unit provides live GPS tracking, FMCSA-approved ELD capabilities, engine diagnostics, a built-in WiFi hotspot, driver workflows, and advanced analytics. The unit sent data to a central dashboard about an individual truck’s speed and location. Each truck assigned to the fire cleanup project was tagged with a job number. A full-time dispatcher monitored the movement of the trucks and coordinated routes and dumpsites.

“After we installed the Samsara units, we reduced haul times by up to 40% and truck hours by almost 20%,” Nelson said.  

The sensor and dashboard platform also allowed the organization to increase its revenue by approximately 10%.

Goodfellow Bros. required truck owners to use the technology to work on the project and used data from the platform to replace physical time cards.

“Everything was digital and we could pay them faster and more accurately,” he said.

The company finished 10 months ahead of schedule and under budget.

“Just like with any piece of technology, people test it and if they think you’re not paying attention, they’ll unplug it,” Nelson said. “You have to still manage it and work with it and if you do the results are definitely worth the effort.

At the end of the project, Goodfellow Bros. and the other two companies in the joint venture donated $250,000 to restore a historic covered bridge that burned down in the fire.

Upgrading an RFID telematics system

Nelson said that Goodfellow Bros. has always been an early adopter of technology and installed a telematics system that used RFID tags about 12 years ago. The original goal was to make the inspection process for the company’s heavy equipment more efficient.  The company switched to Samsara in early 2018.  

Goodfellow Bros. wanted to modernize this inspection program and add cameras to all company trucks that use public roads. The company specializes in earth moving so many of its vehicles stay on construction sites. 

Samsara was founded by Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket, co-founders of Meraki, a cloud networking company acquired by Cisco. The video telematics vendor combines hardware, software, and cloud computing to bring real-time visibility, analytics, and artificial intelligence to operations. Samsara has more than 15,000 customers with more than 900,000 devices deployed around that world that collect trillions of data points each year.

Nelson gave the IoT company high marks for customer support.  

“They are big enough to make actual change and invest money but small enough to be nimble and listen to what you’re saying and work on it,” he said.

Nelson said that the company has emphasized the safety component of the two new cameras that monitor the road and the driver.

“Rather than take a punitive approach, we talked about accidents because professional drivers all know the horrible things that can happen to them caused by other drivers,” he said.

 Nelson said the telematics data from Samsara platform, performance data from original equipment manufacturers, and financial data into Power BI to do business analysis. The company’s data scientist works for Nelson and the company’s controller.  

“We can compare the financials of a job vs. fuel burn and drill down into the minutia on a particular truck on a particular job,” he said.

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