United Rentals Drives Efficiency and Excellence With IoT

As a renter of equipment, United Rentals focuses on driving operational efficiency and excellence in equipment delivery.
By A. Vincent Vasquez
February 18, 2019


This is the third article in the Precision Construction series, which explores the application of the Internet of Things to digitally transform the construction industry, ultimately with the objective to improve labor productivity, reduce costs and enhance safety. The series began with Exploring Digital Transformation for Construction. Other articles in the series are: United Rentals Helps Customers Optimize Equipment Rental , Robotic Masonry, Mixed Reality for Construction: Applicability and Reality, Taking Environmental Monitoring to a New Level and Digital Transformation – Enabling New Business Models for Construction. Articles generally follow a five-layer framework, described in Simplifying Complex IoT Solutions, that makes it easier to understand digital transformation solutions. To learn more about the various technologies described in this series, visit

United Rentals (UR) is the largest equipment rental company in the world. As a renter of equipment, UR focuses on driving operational efficiency and excellence in equipment delivery. Like a systems integrator, UR pulls together multiple platforms and manufacturing tools and prepares them for delivery to its customers in a ready state. This means making sure equipment is fueled, cleaned, operational, charged and delivered on time.

One of UR’s main objectives is to help customers save money by more effectively managing rental consumption; renting only the quantity needed for the duration required to get the job done. While this might seem counterintuitive for an equipment-rental company, putting the customer first creates valuable long-term loyalty.

One such solution is Total Control®, UR’s telematics-enabled fleet- and equipment-management system that provides visibility into both rented and owned equipment to improve utilization, maintenance and uptime.

But before this value could be fully delivered to its customers, UR’s existing rental fleet of 450,000+ pieces of non-connected construction equipment had to be retrofitted with networked, telematics capabilities—no easy task.


United Rentals’ customers said, “If you can get 12-volt power off of the machine either by engine or battery, then we want telematics on it.” Given UR keeps equipment in its fleet for seven to nine years, a strategy of waiting for the entire fleet to turn over with newly purchased telematics-enabled equipment would take six or more years to accomplish. This was too long considering the plan was to have Total Control® available for everybody, everywhere in less than two years.

United Rentals partnered with ZTR Control Systems to develop a retrofit strategy for the 450,000+ pieces of equipment spread across the U.S. and Canada, approximately 70 percent of which are always out on rent. And given that rental customers often have their own fleets, UR’s retrofit strategy also had to work for customer-owned equipment so Total Control® could monitor the entire fleet on a job site. Finally, the strategy had to be compatible with newly acquired telematics-enabled equipment coming from OEMs.

The retrofit strategy resulted in three types of devices that could be attached to machines depending on the use cases:

  • Temporary. A portable “Slap Track” device is a small and simple unit that attaches to a machine to provide location and an estimate of run hours based on vibrations. This device is predominately deployed for short-term installs.
  • Retrofit. This M6 device by ZTR provides basic machine connectivity giving visibility into run hours, location, battery level, low battery voltage alerts, fuel level and output control. The device utilizes a 4G LTE Cat 1 cellular radio with a 3G HSPA fallback.
  • New OEM Advanced Monitoring. The M8LZT provides advanced connectivity and monitoring that integrates into the equipment’s CAN bus J1939 network to provide run hours, location, engine data, machine faults, emissions data, regeneration status, fuel level and other machine sensor data. The M8LZT comes with optional 4G LTE Cat 1, or 3G/2G variants that can be used for worldwide deployments, along with a 56-channel GPS receiver.


Machines rented from UR, as well as customer-owned machines, can be viewed through the Total Control® interface. User activity is controlled by roles and permissions that determine what assets a user can see, what features a user can access and what actions a user can perform.

Information accessible through the Total Control® interface include:

  • UR Equipment on Rent with GPS. Customers can track what equipment is on rent.
  • Equipment Mapping. Equipment mapping includes the ability to track a machine’s history, utilization, location and details about both the machine and rental transaction.
  • History Mapping. Machine location is made visible. Along with the ability to map comes the ability to track the machine’s history, utilization, location and details about both the machine and rental transaction.
  • Machine Utilization from Mapping. Total Control® enables customers to identify the time of day equipment is being utilized, along with peak usage. The dashboard visualizes hours used per day, utilization for the last seven and last 30 days, and the current meter reading. Furthermore, the application can show if the utilization is below or above the benchmark set across the entire UR fleet.
  • Consumption Management with Alerts. Customers can also set up an alert to notify them if a particular piece of equipment is idle for a specified amount of time. Multi-tier alerts can be set to notify various personnel that there is a lack of usage. Customers can also watch for pending and past-due alerts.
  • Geo-fencing. Geo-fencing provides alerts when equipment leaves and returns to a virtually-fenced area. One use case for geo-fencing is the creation of an auto-rental yard where equipment can be virtually checked out and back in by simply moving in and out of the virtually-fenced area; this capability is especially valued for secure job sites with heavily controlled access.

In summary, Total Control® offers a number of capabilities driven by telematics data that can help key stakeholders such as field foremen, purchasing agents and executives better manage construction projects. However, there is still the task of turning insights learned from these capabilities into improved business outcomes.


Gordon McDonald, vice president of managed services at United Rentals, has many examples of how Total Control enables construction companies to operate with greater precision, ultimately improving the usage of machines and people on the construction site.

Getting Utilization Right. McDonald was demonstrating the GPS capabilities in the Total Control® application to the CFO of a major electrical contractor. He noticed a $5,000/month excavator that hadn't moved in more than two months. The CFO called the foreman, who reported that the job had been delayed but the machine would be used "real soon." Both impressed and shocked, the CFO tried the application himself. To everyone's surprise, the excavator no longer displayed. Immediately after the call, the foreman had off-rented the excavator.

Reducing the Number of Deployed Scissor Lifts. Using equipment utilization data, one construction company reduced the number of rented scissor lifts from 10 to seven by rescheduling the work. Another company reduced its machines from 15 to seven. Not only did both reduce overall rental costs, they didn't pay for additional operators.

Own Only the Equipment Actually Utilized. McDonald noticed that every time he visited a long-time customer, much of the customer's owned equipment was always in the same place. The customer had no visibility into the equipment's usage so McDonald put portable Slap Track devices on 300 of the customer's owned equipment. Monitoring usage for about three months revealed that the owned equipment had about 10 percent utilization, much less than the equipment rented from UR. As a result, the customer sold off 270 pieces of its own equipment.

Simple Utilization Data Not Enough. Sometimes it’s necessary to look deeper than simple utilization. At another site, machines were showing high rates of utilization but a closer look at the data showed that operators were spending a large amount of time traveling from location to location within the job site and spending 10-20 minutes at a particular location. Most of the equipment was forklifts and backhoes. It turned out this location was being used as a smoking area, which the job site foreman addressed.

At another job site, the foreman told the operators they would lose the rental equipment if utilization was not high enough. The result was increased utilization, but it was because the operators were just turning on the machines and running them to increase the numbers. What the operators didn't realize was that Total Control® not only measures if equipment is running, but also if it's simply being kept idle.

Precision Billing

One challenge, especially at larger job sites, is distributing and assigning rental costs. Construction companies prefer a rental charge be charged to the job site and further broken down to a particular building or maintenance facility. Total Control® enables this through geo-fencing. With geo-fencing, when the customer gets a bill from UR, they're able to take that bill and distribute it across the different cost centers. The geo-fencing capability also enables “mod yards” ( commonly seen in Canada) where building units are pre-assembled and taken to the site with minimal on-site construction. In these cases, there are often several types of projects going on within a large area with equipment being rented full time but shared across the various projects. The customer wants to track where the rented equipment is being used so rental charges can be assigned based on usage by project.


These stories represent just the beginning of the digital transformation United Rentals is enabling for its customers. For instance, in the future connected machines will enable UR to reduce its cost of maintaining a large fleet of construction machines through precision fueling. Total Control® will also allow UR to set up maintenance schedules for its own equipment and that of its customers based on real-time equipment utilization data.

And this is just the beginning. United Rentals and its partners will continue to transform vision into reality so that someday, precision construction is just the way to do business.

The next episode, Precision Solar Energy Project, will explore in more detail a contractor’s experience leveraging Total Control’s digital transformation capabilities while building a large solar energy project. For a deeper dive into the subject, check out Precision Construction, which is for business and technology oriented people who are truly interested in how to digitally transform their companies. To access hundreds of Digital Construction stories, subscribe to The application is scheduled to launch by March 2019 and is free to subscribe.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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