Snow and ice go high-tech
In Columbia County,WI, fleet tracking of winter road mainentance vehicles puts trucks where they need to be, while remote setting of application rates centralizes control and management of deicing materials applications.
Snow and ice removal is a critical public works task in the northern tier of the United States during the winter, vital to keeping the roadways open for commuters, freight transportation and emergency response vehicles. Road departments need to husband their stockpiles of materials carefully to last the entire winter. Overapplication not only diminishes supplies, but can have a detrimental effect on vehicles, the road surface and the environment.
The equipment operators generally work in the least favorable conditions: rapidly filling roadways, poor visibility and unpredictable behavior from surrounding vehicles. They must watch the weather, the traffic, the blade activity on the front of the vehicle and the material rates being applied from the back-all while juggling a hand mic for radio communications. Often, coordinators and supervisors at the base do not know where their equipment is, or what it is doing. New technologies can contribute to improvement of this crucial public service.
‘Smart’ snowplows To improve the efficiency, safety and productivity of roadway maintenance, and to reduce costs, a new snow-and-ice vehicle fleet-management system is being implemented for Columbia County, WI. The system not only allows the dispatcher to have direct knowledge of vehicle activity through standard automatic vehicle location (AVL) features, but critical process data also can be communicated between the home base and the vehicle. The system gives the dispatcher the capability to remotely change road material application rate settings in the vehicle.
Testing of prototypes and installation of the first systems is underway. Commissioner Kurt W. Dey, Columbia County Highway and Transportation Department, is leading the effort to upgrade and modernize the snowplows and material-spreading vehicles used by the county. Monroe Truck and Equipment, Monroe, WI (Columbia County’s vehicle systems supplier), coordinated the creation of the system under the direction of Engineering Specialist Norm LaValla. The location, data and remote control functions supporting the new system are the result of collaboration between Raven Industries of Sioux Falls, SD, and IDA of Fargo, ND. Involved was the technical marriage of Raven’s Application Management System (AMS 200) and IDA’s Trakit GPS/AVL fleet management system. The information communicated by the system includes both snow and ice application data and AVL fleet management data.
Application management The application management system works with Raven’s De-ice Control Systems (DCS 700/710) and has been used in road material-spreading applications for several years. This system monitors and regulates the amount of materials and liquids spread onto roadways by snow-and-ice vehicles. The rate of application of these materials can be varied so that only the appropriate amounts are applied, and in the correct locations, based on weather and road conditions. Setting the application management system with the proper application rates provides for more efficient spreading and conservation of materials.
Global Positioning System (GPS) referencing of certain road areas can be used for prescription application, which is the variation of material application rates based on GPS location. Managed application of road maintenance materials contributes to greater safety, economy and protection of the environment.
Fleet management The GPS/AVL fleet-management system includes an intelligent AVL vehicle unit that communicates by radio to the dispatcher’s computer at the central office. Location, time and other data are captured and logged at the vehicle and transmitted to the home base. At the base computer, the fleet-management software module displays and records the data. Fleet activity can be monitored by observing individual vehicle icons travel across a digitized map. Location updates can be managed by time interval or by individual inquiries. Activity captured and logged in the vehicle data buffer can be downloaded ov er-the-air as wireless data to the dispatch computer. Efficient data communications provides for real-time monitoring and direct control of vehicle fleet activity from the home base.
Synthesizing functions for dispatch The new system is more than a piggy-backed configuration of two devices. It is a merging of technologies to perform a coordinated set of functions. The material-application and fleet-management modules are united in the vehicle, each contributing to a common mission. The end result is a comprehensive, real-time depiction of the processing and activity of the snow-and-ice vehicle fleet. The access to current information and the ability for remote manipulation of vehicle settings makes this system a powerful management tool for effective wintertime road maintenance.
The dispatcher can monitor types of materials being spread, rates of application, road-surface temperature and disposition of plows, along with the location, speed and heading of each vehicle. This information is displayed on tabular bars and digital map screens on the dispatcher’s computer. The dispatcher has current information on each vehicle in the fleet. A condition may warrant some action to be taken or instruction to be communicated to the vehicle using the system text-messaging feature.
Automatic data communication between the vehicle and the home base provides pertinent status information to the dispatch center. It also relieves the drivers from distracting voice communications so they can concentrate on the attention-demanding task of driving and operating the equipment.
Comprehensive, detailed information can be inquired of any vehicle at any time. Historical information can be obtained relating to total distance traveled as well as types and total quantities of road material that have been spread. Calibrations for how much of which material is to be applied can be reviewed. Displays indicate what road material, on which lanes, is being spread.
The blade position of each plow (up, down) can be displayed. The use of the “blast button,” which concentrates material at intersections and at other appropriate road areas, can be analyzed. Along with quick at-a-glance status information, the dispatcher has access to real-time, comprehensive and detailed data for individual analysis of each vehicle in the fleet.
Automatic alarms The elaborate alarm feature incorporated into the system will alert the dispatcher of any detected events or conditions that are outside of preset operating limits. Alarms can be triggered by deviations from prescribed application rates, low tank levels, malfunction of the spinning material spreader apparatus or a driver exceeding a speed limit. Alerts of vehicles entering or leaving predetermined zones can be used for numerous reasons, such as advising the dispatcher of a vehicle going outside of an authorized operating area or for help in scheduling of reloading trucks at the sand and road material stockpiles. The alarm-and-alert feature not only advises the dispatcher of conditions that may affect safety and inefficient operations, but it also enables event-driven management of a large number of fleet vehicles.
Settings in the vehicle can be changed remotely by the dispatcher. Most snow-and-ice vehicles are equipped with a bin for granular material and a tank for liquids. The dispatcher can query the current settings for application rates of granular materials and liquids and can remotely change either or both of those rate settings in the vehicle. This relieves drivers of the primary responsibility for quantities of materials spread on roadways.
Another reason for remote adjustment of settings is that the home base may have better information on current and forecasted weather conditions that would influence how application rates should be set. Remotely setting application rates provides centralized control and management of road material application. This management tool contributes to cost containment, regulated road material inventory consumption and environmentally conscientious application of materials.
Improved centralized monitoring and control of remote vehicles lessens the reliance and burden on the drivers. With drivers having to steer the truck, manipulate the plows, operate the blast button and perform other tasks simultaneously, any delegation of responsibility back to the home base contributes to safety and effectiveness. New drivers can be acclimated to the job more quickly, and continuity of operation over the entire fleet can be enhanced.
Records-based management Data recorded either in the vehicle data buffer or from monitoring at the dispatch base can be used in a wide variety of ways, including playback viewing and generation of management reports. The reports can be used for route efficiency analysis, asset usage analysis, employee time recording and preventive maintenance data collection. The captured data can also provide excellent detailed documentation of the activity of the fleet for an entire season.
State and local governments have to pay hundreds of liability settlements each year on claims that snow-and-ice vehicles have damaged property or other vehicles on the road. With accurate and undisputable documentation of times and locations of snow-and-ice vehicles, there is a better possibility of refuting unjust or nuisance claims for damages. The ability to analyze fleet activity over long periods of time enables overall usage analysis and can quantitatively substantiate and support future budget requests for additional equipment.
Expanding capabilities further New technologies will continue to be implemented by snow-and-ice vehicle fleets. Innovations planned for the future at Columbia County Highway and Transportation include direct driver access to current weather information and use of video for surveillance of the material-application process. Further advancements in electronics and capacities of onboard computer systems will continue to improve operations.