Technology in the fleet industry is not what people think it is: just because the front end of the building is computerized, and has people skilled in using computer technology, doesn't mean that the back of the building is the same way."
So says Charles Arsenault, and he should know. As president and CEO of fleet maintenance management software company Arsenault Associates, he has found that a great many of America's fleet maintenance shops are still lagging behind in mobile computing technology.
One reason? Perhaps it's because so many fleets rely on so many different types of vehicles. "Trucking only represents about 18 percent of America's fleets," Arsenault points out. "There's everything from A to Z out there. The National Zoo in Washington has 180 pieces of equipment running around. The Botanical Gardens in Longwood, PA, they've got almost 200. Then you consider fire departments, municipalities, governments, schools, waste disposal, newspapers, and you can keep going on and on, and you find that fleets are a lot more than just trucking."
Whatever the reasons for fleets not computerizing their maintenance shops, Arsenault knows what it's costing them in lost prodctivity and unnecessary downtime, just as he knows what can be gained by "going mobile."
"The gains in productivity can come from several different directions, depending on the mobile technology being implemented," he explains. "Let's look at the hand-held, wireless PDA on the shop floor. To perform repair order histories, to look up past performance, the technician can peform his or her own data entry, without having to spend a lot of time walking back and forth to the shop office, or to the parts room to see if the parts are available, to get the necessary information they need to perform a particular task, or even to communicate with his manager.
"Now, this seems kind of small, I know, but when you consider the number of trips made by the mechanic to the office and elsewhere to get that information, this can result in thousands of dollars of lost time," he continues. "Then if you consider the number of technicians in the shop using the same technology, the value (of that lost time) rises to tens of thousands of dollars."
According to Arsenault, maintenance people are often guilty of not seeing the forest for the trees. It's very easy, he says, to dismiss a $500 repair as a "one-time event" without ever realizing how often that "one-time event" happens.
To his way of thinking, the greatest tool a technician can hold in his or her hand isn't a torque wrench or an electronic multitester; it's the complete repair order of the vehicle that's just come in for service. He calls this 'History 101,' and finds that it can revolutionize the way a typical fleet shop operates.
Let's say, for example, that you institute a new rule on the shop floor: if a procedure will cost more than $250 or put the vehicle down for more than four hours, the technician must check the repair order history before performing the service.
"It's a simple rule," Arsenault says. "But, it drives rework to its knees, and captures more warranty dollars than you can shake a stick at. And without technology, for you to go back through a paper repair order system... not going to happen.
"Repair order history is a fundamental value when it comes to return on investment," he explains. "It's one of the most valuable things a fleet has, if it can access it. Of course, maintenance management software should provide you with instant access to that. Technology allows you to do that without having to go to the shop office; you just search for the system code on your hand-held, and you can see it as you're standing in front of the vehicle."
With this type of mobile computing system in place, technicians can be immediately notified if a service, component or part falls within a warranty period. That means technicians will set aside more parts and you'll get more warranty returns. Oh, and that new part the technician needs? Mobile computing lets the technician look up whether the part is in stock, and if it's not, he or she can order it on the spot from the hand-held.