Staying a Step Ahead

When it comes to vehicle maintenance, no maintenance manager likes the unexpected. For them, it is far better to have stability and predictability. That is the underlying purpose of any vehicle PM program: Making sure every vehicle receives the right kind of service at the right time.

Having an effective schedule of methodical inspection, service and repair helps assure reliable transportation by preventing potential problems and maximizing vehicle availability. When vehicles are out of operation because of an unexpected repair, the associated costs and aggravations tend to accumulate quickly.

Keeping track of unexpected repairs and problems can help more accurately determine the cost effectiveness of the equipment. Additionally, the more effective the PM program, the better maintenance managers are able to manage workflow and efficiency for improved productivity of the overall maintenance operation.

While cost is always a consideration, the more successful maintenance managers say an investment in a good PM program will always pay for itself over the long run. Such programs help keep vehicle repair costs and downtime to a minimum. Conversely, inefficient, poorly thought out and designed programs cost time and money.

With an increasingly demanding and sophisticated main¬tenance services market, especially when an organization has multiple locations, paper PM systems are taking a back seat to computerized systems which are quicker and easier to use.

For some guidance on how technology can be used to optimize vehicle PM scheduling, Fleet Maintenance Magazine editor David A. Kolman visited with Jason Wonase, president and software developer for Collective Data. Based in Cedar Rapids, IA, Collective Data produces fleet and equipment maintenance management software solutions, and provides additional services, consulting services, custom application development and data conversion.

Fleet Maintenance: Manual systems for scheduling PM can be tedious and time-consuming to manage, especially for larger fleets and maintenance operations. How can technology be used to make things more efficient?

Jason Wonase: In order for a fleet to gain economies of scale, automation needs to be in place, and this includes automating entry of relevant data for PMs. Automation of usage meters and fuel data plays a strong role in the efficiency of the fleet manager’s role in keeping the equipment in operation.

E-mail notification systems can help improve workflow and save time by automatically e-mailing an employee when a scheduled vehicle service is due.

FM: Please explain how computerized PM programs can help better track vehicle use based on time, mileage, engine hours or gallons of fuel used.

JW: Once the desired PM schedules are defined, the entire process of updating usage meters, triggering alerts of routine maintenance to communication with appropriate personnel to recording that the work has been completed can be fully automated throughout the operation. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 vehicles or 10,000 vehicles to manage, the level of effort is essentially the same.

FM: Among the benefits of computerized systems is their ability to generate timely reports on a wide variety of fleet maintenance and management issues, allowing for more timely proactive decisions on PM. The better the information, the better the decisions. Correct?

JW: Information is key when making decisions regarding a fleet. Making the wrong decision can be the difference between meeting budget and incurring excessive unexpected costs.

Collecting all the necessary fleet information is critical because you can’t manage what you aren’t measuring. Fuel consumption, diagnostic codes, inspections, repair histories, part manufactures that perform best, equipment utilization and even driver risk habits are just a small part of what needs to be managed to really understand your fleet.

Once the information is collected, computerized systems can generate a wide range of customized reports, histories and analytics that can be used to better manage the maintenance operation, as well as to forecast likely problems in time to prevent them.

FM: In general, how difficult is it to get computerized PM systems up and running or to expand their capabilities? Does a shop need a dedicated IT person for this?

JW: There are a lot of options which involve simple spreadsheet style programs to elaborate and highly specialized software. The more comprehensive and powerful the system is, the more technical knowledge needed in order to get the most out of its options.

Simpler programs require a simpler installation and less technical expertise, but because of that their capabilities are restricted and often don’t deliver what the shop truly needs to be successful.

FM: Typically, how much training is required for maintenance managers and technicians to be able to get the most out of any system?

JW: The complexity of the software, and how much it does for you, will determine how much training is required to get the value out of it. It is important to become trained and take the time necessary to understand all the features of the software in order to best insure a successful return on investment.

If the software is designed correctly, and if the supplying company has adequate support staff ready to assist, two to four days of professional training should be enough to get up and running.

FM: Are there key differences, advantages and benefits between off-the-shelf computerized PM systems versus ones that are customizable?

JW: There are hundreds of small programs that will help manage a small fleet, starting with a simple spreadsheet. Of course the simple programs will only give you a fraction of the benefits you need to really understand and operate your fleet effectively.

As technology continues to expand and fleets become more and more involved, many fleet managers are realizing the importance of having an expandable and evolving fleet operations software system to keep up with their growing demands.

FM: Aren’t there systems available that have added capabilities, such as creating and tracking work orders; recording detailed maintenance histories and tire usage; monitoring labor; invoicing; manage registration renewals and annual inspections; and so on?

JW: The extent of the capabilities depends entirely on the type of software. Collective Data systems, by way of example, are designed for fleet operations management. These are designed to handle PM scheduling, work orders, equipment histories, fuel management, warranty recapture, recall campaign management and tire management, as well as offer tools for fleet analysis. More aspects of the fleet operation, such as asset management, comprehensive maintenance management, risk management and employee management, are among other options.

FM: What should a vehicle maintenance manager look for when acquiring or upgrading a PM scheduling program?

JW: Obviously, as with any purchase, maintenance managers need to do their homework before looking at preventive maintenance software. Key considerations should include elements such as needs and requirements, functionality, scalability, training, implementation time and ease of use.

A good quality, well designed and highly configurable application is very important to insure that the investment will be recovered. But it is also very important to find a company that stands by the products and services they provide.

So, too, does understanding who will be directly utilizing the products and making sure they understand its importance and how it will play a vital role in the overall success of the maintenance operation.