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On-Site Generator

Using Telematics to Monitor Generators and HVAC Equipment from Anywhere

If a generator, heater or chiller goes down, you’ll know it right away.

When your generator is powering a critical process, you can’t afford for it to fail or run out of fuel. And if either happens, you need to know, pronto. That’s where telematics comes in.

United Rentals offers thousands of generators equipped with remote monitoring capabilities. “If for whatever reason the engine were to have an issue, we would get an alert right away and be able to dispatch a technician or, if we knew it was a catastrophic failure, send a replacement unit,” said Greg Currier, region maintenance manager with the Power and HVAC group at United Rentals.

Customers can opt to get these alerts, too, by text or email. They can also choose to get an alert if, say, a generator is down to 25 percent fuel. This helps them avoid running out of fuel and having to spend money on a service call to get the generator running again.

A government data center in southern California relies on 2.5 MW of backup power from United Rentals in the event they lose power from the grid. No one is on site monitoring the conditions, so if the generators kick in, “they want to know that,” said Currier. Same goes if one of the generators fails.

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“The benefits come down to that comfort factor of knowing that your process, whatever it may be, is running the way it’s supposed to,” Currier noted. “The project manager who’s at his kid’s soccer game on Saturday wants to have confidence that everything on the job is running well.” If it isn’t, a text alert allows him to send out a technician, or dispatch United Rentals to do so, versus waiting until Monday to learn that he’s lost an entire weekend’s worth of process.

In this day and age, when you can order groceries from your phone, “you should be able to take a look and see if your generators are operating as well,” said Currier.

Downtime isn’t the only potential result of a generator failure. Let’s say a generator is being used to run a large air dryer or heater that’s drying out a tank. If it fails, “that tank could then rust, and then they have to start the process over, which could cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” Currier explained.

Generator telematics serves another purpose as well: monitoring energy usage on Tier 4 compliant engines. These diesel engines are designed to dramatically reduce emissions, but they pose certain challenges.

“Customers often order a generator that is far too large for their needs,” said Currier. “And these engines can be damaged by being underloaded; if underloaded for too long, mechanical failure can result. With telematics, United Rentals can track the AMP load and, if a unit is running at low load for an extended period, can right-size the power system to prevent engine repairs and save the customer money.”

Beyond generators

In addition to generators with remote monitoring capabilities, United Rentals is beginning to offer air conditioners and heaters with these capabilities. They allow customers to know the temperature of the air being supplied from the equipment as well as the return air temperature of their space. If the temperature rises above or below a critical point, an alert can be sent.

A project manager who needs to monitor temperatures in multiple rooms — say, in different tents at a concert, festival or sporting event — can use Total Control®, United Rentals’ equipment management platform, to check the temperature of each space remotely, without having to travel to each one.

In Canada, heaters with telematics are being used to monitor the temperature inside tents that oil workers sleep in. In winter, the air temperature can dip to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. With telematics, if a heater malfunctions during the day, action can be taken so the tent isn’t freezing cold when the workers return.

As part of its 2019 fleet offering, United Rentals will be rolling out chillers with flow meters that determine the flow rate through the chiller and capture and transmit critical operating information.

Dehumidifiers with remote monitoring capability are coming next. They will be handy particularly for remediation companies working in the wake of major weather events. These companies often leave dehumidifiers behind in a facility and expect them to function properly while they move on to the next customer. With telematics, if the humidity level in the room creeps too high due to a malfunction, they’ll know it, no matter where they are.

Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.

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