A Crane Operator’s Guide to APIs and Interoperability

By Scott Slack

Industrial Marketing Director, Vita Inclinata

What is an API?

An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of common definitions and protocols that allow developers to build applications on a shared platform. Without APIs, technology is limited in its ability to solve problems and make life better. Think about this web page. There is a common “web API” that is used to build websites the world over. Without it, your browser could not load this page and a whole host of applications we rely on every day would not work.

Now imagine needing a Microsoft web browser to view Microsoft’s website and then having to switch to an Apple web browser to view Apple’s website. Up until recently that is exactly how it has been on construction sites when it comes to working with the data generated by the many sensors that now come standard on heavy machinery and power tools.

A power tool company, for instance might offer an app that allows you to track where each tool is on the worksite with the caveat that it only works with their brand of power saws and drills. A heavy machinery company might allow you to track engine oil levels in real time, but only on their trucks and excavators. As any construction project manager will tell you, using multiple apps simultaneously is a dysfunctional way to do business.

What is Interoperability?

If an API is a common set of definitions and protocols, interoperability is the measure of how effectively computer systems can communicate with each other. As more and more OEMs bring products to market capable of collecting and displaying data, there is a serious need to ensure that data flows freely (as opposed to requiring users to use proprietary software that does not “play nice” with other OEMs).

This is not just an abstract need. Modern construction teams are already utilizing complex systems such as BIM software, PMIS tools, Asset Management software and GIS tools. Without true interoperability, there is a significant risk of data loss which can lead to cost overruns, safety issues and even fines.

When the Associated Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) published its telematics standard in 2016, it created, for the first time, a common interoperability framework for construction devices. Since then, OEMs have begun to recognize the need to adopt the common standard and are opening their proprietary systems.

What does it mean to Crane Operators?

 As OEMs continue to adopt a common standard of interoperability, it is empowering a powerful new generation of construction management and analytic software systems. As these systems become more common, project managers and site owners are going to demand that lifting operators “plug in” and provide data points like picks per hour, pounds lifted, and wind conditions (to name a few) Given the serious capital investment a crane represents it is going to become imperative that operators find third party solutions for tracking telematics which don’t require them to purchase new cranes prematurely and help them create efficiencies. The Vita Load Navigator can improve onsite efficiency by up to 50% and captures a wealth of telematic data which will soon be interoperable with a host of construction management and data analytic software systems.