Asset maintenance is crucial to keeping drivers on the road, and plays an increasingly large role in enabling a connected supply chain. A proactive, robust maintenance program can help reduce costs, maximize resource utilization and uptime, and improve customer service.
Renaldo Adler, Head of Software Engineering, Connected Maintenance for Trimble Transportation, provides insights into what’s new in the connected maintenance space and the benefits fleets can gain by moving to the cloud.
Tell us about your current role and career with Trimble Transportation. What are you and your team currently working on?
I’ve been with Trimble Transportation for over 36 years now. I joined the company as a developer, and later oversaw the development department as we built the TMT Fleet Maintenance and TMT Service Center solutions.
For the past six years, I’ve been on the product management side, and have recently taken on a new role overseeing software engineering for connected maintenance. I’m really looking forward to that – it involves a lot of looking ahead into the future and guiding the direction of our maintenance solutions to be more connected.
Having been in the industry for so long, I can tell you a lot has changed. I’m excited about helping develop the next evolution of our products. What was important 30 years ago isn’t the same these days. It used to be that the parts were expensive and the labor was less expensive; today, that has flipped, and we’re always looking for ways to make the maintenance job more efficient and cost-effective for technicians and fleets.
What’s new in the world of maintenance?
The strongest conversation right now – and rightfully so – around fleet maintenance really has to do with maximizing uptime, or minimizing out-of-service time: two sides of the same coin.
There is often an associated cost and/or loss of revenue associated with having a vehicle out of service. There are many pressures mounting on carriers these days, like a limited number of drivers, limited availability of technicians, just-in-time guarantees and more, which are creating a set of circumstances that make uptime the most mission-critical aspect of a trucking operation.
Some of the other hot topics we’re seeing in the industry have to do with exchanging and sharing data. An increased number of sensors in trucks and trailers are bringing in more data than ever before, which, when used in intelligent ways, can unlock a host of benefits.
The tricky part is that many technology providers, OEMs, etc., are each building their own portals for that data. In theory, this is great, but given the interconnected world of transportation, fleets need the ability to access many different data sources all in one platform, in order to use it in actionable ways.
For example, telematics data from a truck’s engine may be pulled into an OEM’s portal, but if that data is not available in real time to another application like a predictive maintenance platform, it may not actually be providing any real value for maximizing uptime.
Trimble’s Transportation Cloud is one way we’re addressing this need for connectivity. We’re working to make sure integrations between Trimble’s ecosystem of solutions and third-party providers are as seamless and secure as possible.
Vehicles are always advancing, with new capabilities and equipment coming online every day. What are some of the most interesting advancements in trucks you’ve seen over the span of your career?
The explosion of sensors and the data from those sensors are one of the biggest advancements I’ve seen in my 36 years in the industry. We have such a better understanding of what’s going on with the vehicle now than we ever have before, because we’re not just guessing when a part will fail simply based on how many miles a truck has traveled.
You can pair that sensor data with an asset’s repair history to really get a good picture of vehicle health, and start exploring more advanced, proactive solutions that can help save time and money. For instance, predictive maintenance applications can tell you when a part is likely to fail based on certain conditions, so it can be repaired during a scheduled preventive maintenance visit, or at a service center closer to home, rather than risking a roadside breakdown that will likely be expensive and time-consuming.
New types of trucks, like electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, are bringing interesting twists to the space, too. EVs have even more sensors than standard engines, but fewer mechanical parts. EVs are making us think about things like how to find service centers that have the capability to work on EVs, or where to find charging stations, or how long it takes to charge a vehicle between trips.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are coming along, too – I foresee those being used in long-haul applications, while EVs are more focused on regional or shorter-haul areas.
What role can maintenance play in improving a fleet's overall uptime and performance?
Maintenance plays a huge part in improving uptime. This is something that’s on every fleet manager’s mind as they’re making daily decisions. The new world of connected trucking is really shifting us to a different mindset when it comes to predictive maintenance.
When dispatch assigns a vehicle, they expect it will arrive from Point A to Point B on schedule, as planned. It’s up to the maintenance department to make sure that happens by evaluating the health of that vehicle, and reducing the probability of part failures on the road. Sometimes that may mean fixing something even before it breaks – something that technology now has the ability to help determine.
The more proactive and predictive a maintenance department can be, with the software they have to help them accomplish that goal, the happier everyone will be. This proactive approach also helps keep drivers happy – no one likes a roadside breakdown, especially if they’re on their way home for the weekend, for example.
The ultimate goal is to be able to go from PM to PM without any unscheduled repairs.
What are the primary benefits of cloud-based maintenance solutions?
Connected maintenance – and thus, a connected supply chain – isn’t possible without data being available in the cloud. You really need all of that data from your vehicles to be accessible between different systems, companies, partners and business units, and it’s ideal to have it all in one central place so you’re not switching between different platforms and screens all day.
Many fleets that use on-premise solutions are beginning to find that with the emergence of new sensor data, new applications and new cybersecurity risks, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage an in-house IT department. Carriers are choosing to focus on their core business of moving freight by shifting IT investments to cloud solutions.
One of the benefits of using cloud-based solutions is the ability to have a smaller IT department without losing valuable insights or customized applications – all without sacrificing security. It’s also easier to update your solutions in the cloud rather than having to update everyone’s machine when there are new operating systems or software.
If a carrier is considering migrating to a cloud-based maintenance solution – whether they have an on-premise version or no maintenance technology at all -- what do you recommend they look for in a provider?
The first thing I recommend is to look at the uptime of the cloud provider; their service level agreement (SLA) should be as close to 100% as possible. The transportation industry doesn’t stop, so you don’t want your cloud-hosted solution to be down, either.
Next – and perhaps most importantly – is their security protocols. Cybersecurity concerns are growing in the transportation and logistics industry, with anything from ransomware to phishing scams affecting supply chain companies of all sizes. It’s essential to have backups in place in the unfortunate event of a disaster.
The last piece is to make sure that you’re able to connect the data to multiple systems, as well as to different providers. That’s one of the main benefits of moving to the cloud in the first place, so being able to connect across a wide variety of solutions such as maintenance, operations, telematics, routing, dispatch, visibility, etc., is really important.
Trimble Transportation offers many of these solutions within its product portfolio. While we encourage customers to check out our solutions, we also recognize that fleets use a variety of solutions from other providers as well, and build our products with the ability to integrate to other solutions, too.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Connected maintenance is all about that connection piece – exchanging data, integrations through APIs between disparate systems and more. This is really the way of the future – fleets need a one-stop-shop in a connected system where all of their data is safely available and accessible. That’s what will enable a truly connected supply chain that runs efficiently and cost-effectively.
Looking for more information about Trimble’s maintenance solutions and how they can fit in your operations? Contact us today to discover how the right technology can help you maximize the uptime and utilization of your assets.