It is irrefutable that innovation in trucking is accelerating more and more quickly these days.
The large investments in R&D are paying off big in both equipment and operations.
New trucks, engines and components are not only more efficient to operate, they have reduced maintenance requirements, yet last longer.
Computers and software, along with transportation telematics, communications and mobile resource management solutions are allowing fleets to gain greater efficiencies by more tightly planning distribution logistics than ever before. Real-time information on shipments, as well as driver and vehicle performance, are only a few clicks away.
Reports are now being compiled automatically and delivered electronically computer-to-computer.
With the ability to quickly deliver accurate information about the performance of the driver and vehicle, new opportunities are being created to manage trucks and drivers more effectively.
As Mike Delaney, president and CEO of WheelTime, put it: "Everything, it seems, is about increasing the speed and efficiency of trucking."
WheelTime is a professional truck care and service network with nearly 200 locations serving the U.S. and Canada.
Delaney, who took over the reins of the organization in early 2010, made the remark in his keynote address at the TMC SuperTech awards luncheon that took place during the Technology & Maintenance Council's recent Fall Meeting.
I had a number of "ah-hah" moments while attending the two events. One of them was during Delaney's address when he reflected that while the trucking industry as a whole is accelerating toward ever greater efficiency, service and maintenance are being left behind.
I took that observation seriously, as Delaney is a trucking industry veteran with a diverse background. He joined WheelTime from Daimler Trucks North America. His prior industry experience includes assignments with Volvo Trucks North America and the Transport International Pool.
According to Delaney, vehicle technicians are good at fixing things, but that isn't going to be enough in the future. Maintenance quality is expected. It is just the price of entry, and this cannot be the sole focus.
He believes that innovation must come in the business processes surrounding vehicle maintenance.
"When it comes to maintenance business processes – even simple things like accurately communicating what's happening – the facts suggest we have a long way to go," he said. "In terms of our customer interfaces, when compared to other industries that support trucking, one could say we're in the remedial group."
Innovation in business processes "is the next frontier in truck maintenance," he affirmed. Innovations that impact such areas as more transparency, better data and information flow between truckers and maintenance providers and improved consistency in maintenance quality, maintenance costs and outcomes will have a tremendous impact on trucking profitability as well.
WheelTime recently commissioned some research to determine what is most important to its customers. The study, noted Delaney, revealed "remarkably similar answers" for both large fleets and individual truckers.
Their top concerns:
1. "Get me rolling faster."
2. "Treat me like you know me and respect me."
3. "Be able to fix my truck right the first time."
4. "Tell me what you are going to do, keep me posted and do exactly what you promised."
5."Be fair, be honest and be consistent."
Delaney said the missing component today is "a specific, clear consensus on the systems and processes needed to ensure we move forward as an industry. Since 90 percent of customer service is always systems and process, this is the next frontier."
Another interesting statistic he offered was that only 25 percent of vehicle parts and service work is provided by maintenance vendors today, and roughly half of that is warranty. Seventy-five percent of the work is done by the truck operators themselves.
"I am convinced truckers don't do truck maintenance work because they necessarily want to - but because they generally feel they have to," he said.
"When suppliers can do maintenance the way the customers want it done, I predict the customers won't want to do it anymore. Why would you? Shippers don't pay for maintaining trucks, they pay for shipping freight.
"The increasing complexity, capital investment and operating costs of maintenance in a risky and changing market will make investments in truck maintenance seem increasingly ‘non-core.' Shop time doesn't produce profits - only wheel time does."
In wrapping up his comments, Delaney predicted: "New systems for standardizing maintenance operations across multiple locations, better customer communications protocols and better capabilities for sending and sharing technical data and maintenance records will start to separate advanced maintenance providers from the rest of the pack. And then the truck maintenance industry will consolidate.