What’s Driving the Future of Fleet Maintenance?
In September 2019, a truck and engine manufacturer opened an investigation after a fleet customer experienced five premature failures of its 12-liter A26 engine over two months.
The investigation resulted in an unusual recall campaign. To Bruce Stockton, the campaign is the prototype of the future of fleet maintenance. Stockton is the director of maintenance at Paul Transportation, a Tulsa, OK-based flatbed carrier with 200 trucks, and a fleet transportation consultant as the principal of Stockton Solutions.
Trucks are now smart enough to tell fleet maintenance managers and mechanics when and how to service them, he said, which is a departure from traditional practices that relied on using historical repair data and past experiences to make judgment calls for preventive maintenance (PM), he explained.
When the manufacturer tore down the engines it discovered the root cause of failures. The wrist pins of piston rods were developing cracks or losing chunks of bushing material over time.
Rather than issue a total recall for the 12-liter A26 engine, introduced three years ago, the manufacturer will be replacing engines that exhibit signs of the defect. It will accomplish this by installing an ECM engine calibration at dealer locations, fleet terminals or by using over-the-air programming.
The new calibration will detect knocking using the data feed from existing sensors. Drivers and fleets will get advance notice of predicted failures through the truck’s instrument cluster and via a cloud-based operations platform.
Drivers and fleets can get their vehicles to dealerships before engines fail on what is estimated to be 13% of 4,499 potentially affected trucks, or about 600 units.
Predicting Fleet Maintenance
With the advanced sensors and software programs in modern vehicles, fleet maintenance managers are now able to identify problems before they happen using predictive maintenance.
“We are trying to identify early on when we need to bring a truck in and address the issues,” Stockton said.
Traditionally, fleets have used asset maintenance management software to schedule PM services based on fixed intervals of engine hours or miles. Schedules were often treated arbitrarily by dispatchers and fleet operations, however, who prioritized maximizing revenue over getting trucks in on time for PM schedules.
With trucks equipped with the latest advancements in technology, both onboard the vehicle and through connectivity with cloud-based computing networks, maintenance schedules are powered by remote diagnostics and predictive analytics. Fleet operators can “see the aftereffects of ignoring the preventative side,” Stockton said. “You just can’t ignore it today.”
Unifying Fleet Maintenance Data
Today and even more so in the future, motor carriers will be dependent on technology and services from their OEMs and dealer networks to maximize the uptime and availability of assets.
The investments that OEMs continue to make in connected vehicle technology will cause motor carriers to revisit their maintenance strategies and information systems.
Increasingly, Stockton expects that fleets will be using cloud-based fleet maintenance software systems that have API integrations with factory-installed telematics systems from truck OEMs and with aftermarket telematics suppliers.
OEMs already use telematics systems to provide their fleet customers with remote diagnostics services and to capture data for research and development. As OEM and third-party telematics systems will also develop more robust integrations with fleet maintenance software platforms that will improve the quality of data and analytics for fleets, said Jim Coffren, president of JC Consulting.
As a data-driven expert in fleet maintenance, Coffren sees a continuation of fleets getting more accurate and real-time data to determine predictive maintenance schedules and to calculate asset lifecycle costs.
Another area where motor carriers will benefit from advancements in fleet maintenance technology is to connect electronically with third-party maintenance service providers.
The connectivity, Stockton said, will help motor carriers more quickly and easily track data from internal and external repairs at shops by using VMRS coding. The coding is essential for analyzing total cost of ownership of assets and addressing repetitive issues with OEMs.
The connectivity will also enable fleets to share repair history, remote diagnostics data and pending work orders with service providers. When OEMs have over-the-air updates for engines or vehicles, fleets should be able to share this information with third parties who are servicing their equipment.
“We need to do those [updates] when we want to do them,” Stockton said, and “we have got to educate vendors how to do it when they are going to be working on our truck anyway.”
As fleet maintenance systems continue to be more connected with service providers, Coffren predicts that fleets will benefit from a newfound ability to fully consume and properly analyze costs. He envisions “end-to-end” solutions that unify data from OEMs and other sources for analyzing costing data and doing predictive maintenance.
COVID-19’s Impact on Fleet Maintenance
Advancements in connected vehicle and fleet maintenance technology are not the only vectors moving to the future. The coronavirus pandemic has also caused directional changes with potentially long-lasting consequences.
The economic slowdown of the crisis led many fleets to revisit their maintenance practices as they have scaled back capacity. Of particular concern is how much work they outsource, said Coffren, and shop planning and visibility tools have become valuable for determining what type of maintenance work to bring back to their internal shops to maximize labor utilization rates.
The impacts from COVID-19 also include a greater demand by fleets to use software tools for tracking operational and equipment lifecycle costs to help determine when to sideline trucks and which ones to park first when freight volumes are down, he added.
The COVID-19 crisis has also led fleets to new processes for keeping mechanics safe. Paul Transportation, for example, uses an antiseptic fogging device inside the cabin before mechanics work on trucks. The fogging process takes at least 30 minutes, Stockton said.
Individual tablets are in wider use. Increased use will continue to aid in social distancing and process streamlining at the same time. A touch screen monitor to enter, review and indicate the status of repair orders requires no keyboarding.
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