Why would a company that specializes in advanced traffic management system (ATMS) software choose to develop a solution for snow plows? It’s a good question, and one that we asked ourselves. What we found is that having an in-depth understanding of ATMS systems is critical for developing a successful AVL/MDC based winter road management system. Here’s why…
Annual winter road maintenance is a multi-million dollar undertaking for transportation systems. It is a complex operation that includes traffic, fuel, materials, equipment, and resource management. In many northern states, snow management is a significant undertaking by the Department of Transportation. In fact, often the same people who monitor traffic also monitor snow plow activity to ensure optimum traffic throughput.
During winter weather events, traffic patterns are dependent on snow plow activity. The integration of snow plow management with traffic management creates a single user interface for all traffic management activities. This unified view of the overall traffic and winter road management activity creates a more streamlined operation and greater savings.
Intelligent NETworks is designed with 26 modules that control different aspects of the traffic system, including a Snow Plow module. The Snow Plow module monitors volume of solid and liquid dispensed materials, blade positions, ambient and road temperature, vehicle location, as well as vehicle engine diagnostics, to name a few. In addition, snow plows can be equipped with cameras to provide the dispatcher with real-time visual road conditions. All of this data can then be used to update road message signs as clearing activity occurs, all through the use of one integrated ATMS.
Snow plows provide an optimum case study for ATMS and MDC systems because they utilize so many components of the ATMS. From air and road temperature, to camera images, to vehicle speed, to GPS location and much more, Intelligent NETworks provides customized and comprehensive reporting capabilities for snow plow fleets. This data can be easily scaled to meet any fleet management needs.
When investing in a vehicle-based mobile data collector (MDC) system, many companies simply look at the initial price of the solution. However, the lowest price solution is not necessarily the lowest cost solution. It is important to understand the difference.
Price vs. Cost
“Price” refers to the initial financial investment made in a project. “Cost” is the total amount of money ultimately invested in the deployment, management, and maintenance of a project over its expected lifetime. Making a decision based on the true cost over the lifetime of a system can result in significant savings in the long term. While one AVL/GPS system may be cheaper initially, it may not provide the data and information required to be most cost-effective over the long-term operation of the system. A good example is the investment in an automated snowplow management system.
Cost savings over time
When a municipality plans to invest in an automated snowplow management system, price is usually the main focus, including the following factors:
- Initial hardware investment
- Initial and ongoing software investment
- Recurring communications costs
- Warranty/Service fees for the life of the agreement
However, if a municipality bases its decision on cost, rather than on just price, it may find that a more robust MDC solution ultimately results in greater cost savings over time. For example, with the data collection capabilities of a more robust solution, the municipality may realize greater long-term savings in the following areas:
- Savings in road treatment materials
- Savings in personnel, materials, and vehicle costs by minimizing the number of re-treatment events
- Reduction in risk costs due to specific mapping information on the time, type, and date of treatment of particular road segments
- Payroll cost reduction by scheduling pre-treatments, which minimize employee overtime for treatment during snow events
- Reduction in blade maintenance and replacement costs due to monitoring speed and blade downtime
- Optimized deployment of equipment, which can reduce the number of snowplows needed to address a snow event
- Reduction of engine idling, which saves fuel and reduces maintenance costs
In addition, when evaluating a system based on cost, a municipality may identify significant benefits to the environment, as follows:
- Reduced carbon emissions due to minimized idling and optimized dispatching
- Less fossil fuels consumed due to predictive deployment of equipment
- Less use of salt, resulting in reduced impact on the environment
Additional MDC Applications
Initial deployments of the Delcan Technologies MDC system have addressed snowplows and emergency response vehicles. However, the same MDC technology offers opportunities for cost savings in other areas, such as vehicles that deploy herbicides to maintain vegetation growth along roadways. These benefits include:
- Operators have access to precision weather information, and determine spray volume and type based upon current and projected weather.
- Vehicle speed could be monitored to ensure the optimum speed for type of herbicide being deployed.
- Highway information signs could be automatically updated to keep the public informed on where spraying has occurred.
The ways you can use an MDC system are limitless. The DTI team would be happy to review your needs and determine if there are ways for your organization to leverage the power of an MDC system to lower your operating costs.
An MDC system provides many benefits to all stakeholders involved, including the agency implementing the system and citizens using the roadways. Agencies are primarily concerned with the financial and efficiency benefits, while motorists are primarily concerned with safety and mobility.
Financial benefits are the easiest to quantify, and they are closely related to increased efficiency because saving time also saves money. Case studies from winter road maintenance agencies in Indiana and South Dakota show a 10–40 percent saving in their winter road budgets. The types of financial benefits realized after implementing MDCs include the following categories:
1. Fuel Management
The MDC connects to the engine codes, and it records all fuel-related data. Fleet management knows how many miles per gallon were driven on each vehicle, how long the vehicles were idling, and how much was spent on gas versus how much gas was used. It also allows management to view the location and activity of the entire fleet, resulting in logistics management. This means the fleet manager can find the closest truck to respond to an event and therefore reduce fuel costs.
The MDC records how much material was used or hauled during a given time interval and based on specific environmental conditions. Management can use this data to better track material usage. For instance, winter road maintenance management can analyze why one operator used twice as much treatment material as another operator driving a similar route. In addition, the MDC can connect to automated maintenance decision support systems to provide recommendations on when to apply treatments and how much to apply based on weather forecasts and historical data. Similarly, sanitation management can track how quickly each garbage truck fills up to more efficiently plan routes.
Fleet management can use MDC data to better track hours worked and overtime hours. Some agencies even use engine start and stop times as time card entries. Management can easily track how much time was spent driving versus idling, or how long a route took, or how many drivers were out at one time. By providing greater visibility into resource activities and work times, management can make better resource management plans.
MDCs track the wear-and-tear on vehicles and on-vehicle equipment, such as plow blades, spreaders, loaders, augers, and grapples. Management can analyze the data provided to see if certain operators are particularly hard on a vehicle and if equipment is living up to the manufacturer standards. Management can then decide whether additional training is needed on equipment care or if different products should be purchased in the future. It can also help management plan for repairs, upgrades, and replacements.
5. Road Maintenance
Winter road treatments, such as de-icing chemicals, salt, and sand, are caustic and very hard on road surfaces. Because MDCs provide more efficient treatment application and result in a decrease in the treatment materials used, the costs for road maintenance and repair are decreased.