In a real-world example, a national firm with real estate assets spread across the country bought an office building. But they were not aware that a standby generator set was installed on the roof. What’s more, the building was located in an area subject to grid instability due to an impending hurricane.
“Imagine buying a building and not knowing if a generator on top of the building is ready to run,” says Brandon Lynn, senior digital product manager for Caterpillar Electric Power. “This is something that happens.”
It pays to know if a standby generator is ready to run, especially in the case of data centers, hospitals, and other mission-critical service providers where the loss of power for just several minutes can result in the loss of millions of dollars, as well as damage to the reputation of the business.
Cat® remote asset monitoring (RAM) can avoid that scenario by providing real-time alerts. A Cat generator set comes factory-equipped with the technology, which when activated, provides up-to-the minute information on ready-to-run status, including engine and electrical parameters, fuel level, and current faults. Notifications are sent to the customer via text message and email. The end user can also view a web-based dashboard that displays key status parameters on their phone via mobile application.
A customer value agreement (CVA) allows customers to grant permission to have their generators monitored and periodically tested. They receive status notifications from Caterpillar or their Cat dealer. Alerts could range from a notice about an impending weather scenario to information about a generator with low battery voltage or a low fuel level.
“Let's say it's Texas, and it's summertime and we know there’s a heat wave coming in a specific area,” Lynn says. “And we're going to have instability on the power grid because demand is greater than supply. Renewable sources of energy won’t be present during this time, the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. I don't want the first time that a customer realized they have a generator set to be when the power goes out. We can remotely run their generator and make sure it’s ready to start, before the instability happens.
“If a customer decides to include this in their service contract, we will support that generator set or fleet of generator sets for them,” Lynn continues. “RAM enables my team to proactively test it because we think there's going to be more load on the grid than it can handle because of excessive heat or an approaching hurricane. We can attempt to start it and call and tell you that it failed, and our dealer is sending a technician out to get it running before you need it.”
Also known as Cat Connect, RAM is especially valuable to organizations with a large fleet of generator sets where lower staffing levels make it difficult to keep tabs on ready-to-run status.
“Now you can receive a detailed report on why a generator failed to start,” Lynn says. “It's just another set of eyes on the product. You're welcome to do it yourself, but there's no charge for Caterpillar or your Cat dealer to take care of that for you, it’s included in your CVA.”
Condition monitoring is a proactive process of evaluating generator set operational data inputs in order to provide maintenance and repair recommendations. It brings together asset data, fluid analysis, inspection results and more to give a complete picture of a machine’s health. One of the challenges is creating awareness about the value of condition monitoring and overcoming complacency.
“Over the last five years we’ve focused on connecting assets,” Lynn says. “But we're trying to shift from counting how many connected assets we have to making connected assets count—ready to run when our customers need them. One of the challenges we face is to change the minds of some people who are convinced that standby generators are things that sit there and will always run when called upon.”
Another benefit of Cat Connect is better utilization of available manpower.
“Since the pandemic, nobody has enough people at this point to adequately support the demand that’s out there,” Lynn says. “If we can use technology to be more efficient, then a Cat dealership can better support more customers with the same workforce it has in place.”
Cat Connect represents an insurance policy in that it can lower the total cost of ownership of a generator set or fleet of generator sets. By continually monitoring the parameters, repairs can be made before failure, which can save customers money.
Beyond making sure a generator set is ready to run when needed, Cat Connect can also monitor remaining useful life of other components such as spark plugs or coolant. The technology can more accurately predict when to replace a spark plug or a battery than the operation and maintenance manual.
“Now we can tell someone that based on the data and analysis we've done, that their generator set needs to replace the battery,” Lynn says. “That's real value versus ‘you have a problem and your generator failed to start.’ So, we’re avoiding that scenario and giving a recommendation of a solution in advance.”
Monitoring emissions is another facet where Cat Connect can be effective. By monitoring fuel burn, it can be used to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is especially important for customers with generators located in states that have stringent air quality regulations or where they are committed to environmental, sustainability, and governance (ESG) goals.
For Caterpillar, remote monitoring provides the opportunity to learn more about products in the field and drive customer value through analytics, Lynn says.
“We learn more about how our customers are utilizing our products, and with that information, we can think of new ways to provide better service to them. It’s all about driving their bottom line.”