While nobody knows what lies ahead, having good insights into the influences on commercial vehicle maintenance and repair can help organizations better prepare for tomorrow and the inevitable changes that come with it.
Photo credit: Photo from iStockphoto/1953074
Figure 1: Sample History of Oil Pressure and Engine Speed for an Automobile
Figure 2: Same Oil Pressure and Engine Speed Plotted Against each Other
Figure 3: Sample History of Oil Pressure and Engine Speed for same Automobile at a Later Date
Figure 4: Comparison of Oil Pressure and Engine Speed Relationships in Original Data and in New Data
With easier, faster, real-time data exchange interfaces, data entry will become more automated, requiring almost no keyboard time.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of WheelTime
Condition based maintenance programs allow vehicles to remain in service for longer periods, while still reducing or eliminating unscheduled maintenance and road breakdowns, and maintaining overall vehicle useful life.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Rush Truck Centers
Advanced vehicle service management platforms featuring multi-party communications capabilities will allow fleet managers and service providers to work together, in real time, to expedite repairs and minimize downtime.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of WheelTime
It was physicist Niels Bohr was said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” He also observed, a number of years ago, that technology has advanced more in the last 30 years than in the previous 2,000, and the exponential increase in advancement will only continue.
Needless to say, the evolution of technology has had a significant impact on vehicles, their operation and their maintenance and repair. Technology’s influence will only continue to further drive change.
Predicting the future in an ever-changing world isn’t easy. Nevertheless, this article is going to delve into how, over the next several years, industry developments and technology may affect vehicle maintenance and repair.
For this article I contacted a range of industry companies. The result is a collection of viewpoints and perspectives.
The intent is to offer some thoughts and insight to help you better understand the forces and influences that shape our industry so you can better prepare for tomorrow and the inevitable changes that come with it.
As computer scientist Alan Kay observed: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Conditioned Based Maintenance
By Chris Doktor, Principal Analyst, Frontier Technology
Frontier Technology provides customized decision-making and sensor data software products, competitive-edge research, engineering, Information Technology (IT) services and studies and analysis. It markets NormNet, the company’s Prognostics and Health Management software tools. www.fti-net.com.
Condition based maintenance (CBM) is a strategy that bases the performance of maintenance on the actual condition of the vehicle systems, and not on fixed time intervals. The goal is to reduce overall cost per vehicle mile traveled.
This strategy of CBM is made possible by the application of usage characterization, diagnostic and prognostic processes executed on vehicle data. This data can come from embedded sensors and/or external tests and measurements using portable equipment.
Usage characterization refers to the evaluation of the manner in which a vehicle system is being employed and indicates how and why things may be broken or in the process of breaking. Usage characteristics include hours run, miles driven, time at idle, fuel consumed, number of hard brakes and hard turns, vehicle speeds over specific terrains, etc.
Much of the early work on CBM has focused on the military, which has been developing onboard systems for aircraft, combat vehicles and tactical wheeled vehicles.
However, the goal of reducing operational and maintenance costs is obviously universal to all industries that depend on complex equipment, and therefore, so is the application of CBM.
Prognostics and Health Management (PHM) tools are those software tools responsible for processing vehicle data, along with usage data, to perform diagnostics and prognostics. PHM tools can be incorporated into onboard vehicle electronics and/or off-board business systems to further condition based maintenance.
PHM technology depends heavily on the existence of sensors for monitoring how the systems behave and perform. These systems can be almost anything: engines, electronics, industrial equipment, manufacturing processes, even other pieces of software.
As long as a system has adequate instrumentation, it can benefit from PHM technology.
Modern heavy duty trucks have literally dozens of sensors for controlling and monitoring their various subsystems, making them strong candidates for PHM application.
So what exactly is PHM technology? There are many ways of answering this question, but the simplest is: PHM is a way of teaching computers to “visualize” the relationships between different pieces of system data - usually sensor data. This visualization is accomplished through the use of sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms.
Once a computer can visualize these relationships, it can recognize when the relationships change - even a small amount, and thus determine if the system is starting to degrade and what might be wrong.
Because of a computer’s ability to handle vast amounts of data, it can be employed to monitor the details of a system’s behavior and alert the user to when the system needs his or her attention. Thus, the computer is acting as a tool to reduce a vast amount of raw data and turn it into useful, actionable information.
Consider the following simplified example. Note that while based on real experience, this is a notional example for illustrative purposes.
Everyone is familiar with the oil light in a car. Traditionally, this light is linked to a pressure switch downstream of the oil pump. When the oil pressure drops below a fixed preset limit, the switch trips, illuminating the oil light and alerting the driver.
While this method may be acceptable for protecting the engine, it still can result in a road breakdown. Typically, when the light comes on, the engine is in imminent danger of damage. The driver should, therefore, pull over immediately and seek outside assistance to bring the vehicle in for repair.
PHM strives to improve upon the limited switch methodology by exploiting two phenomena. First, chances are that the oil pump didn’t suddenly “drop out.” The amount of pressure it produced probably dropped gradually from normal to the point of being insufficient.
Similar behavior can be expected for most, but not all, wear-out failures in electro-mechanical systems.
Modern engines are heavily instrumented with sensors - not switches - for oil pressure, oil temperature, engine speed, engine load, etc. If this data is collected while the vehicle is being operated, the oil pressure and engine speed sensor values might appear as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 2 shows how the two sensors relate to each other by plotting the simultaneous values of engine speed and oil pressure against each other. Assuming this data was collected when the vehicle was relatively new, the information about this relationship can be captured and stored by the PHM software for later use.
The data from the same sensors at a later time are shown in Figure 3. As can be seen, the oil pressure is still considerably above the limit set for the oil pressure switch.
However, Figure 4 illustrates that the oil pressure, while still well within a safe range, is lower for a given engine speed. The PHM software is able to recognize this change in the relationship and provide an early alert for proactive maintenance decisions.
This example is simplified for illustrative purposes. In reality, the PHM tools look at how all the sensors relate to each other, simultaneously.
This important feature allows the software to capture much more complex relationships than could be easily visualized by a person. This makes PHM technologies powerful decision-making tools for equipment maintenance.
The applications of this technology within a heavy truck obviously extend well beyond the engine. The driveline, cooling, electrical, HVAC, suspension and exhaust after-treatment systems can all be monitored through the same PHM tool, provided their performance-related data is available.
As mentioned previously, conditioned based maintenance is a concept for maintaining vehicles based on the needs of each specific vehicle. In an ideal CBM program, vehicles are only taken out of service for maintenance when required by the condition of their subsystems.
The most generalized goal of CBM is to reduce operational costs by performing maintenance only when truly necessary.
A successful CBM program, compared to a preventive maintenance (PM) program will reduce unnecessary parts and supplies replacement. It will also allow vehicles to remain in service for longer periods, while still reducing or eliminating unscheduled maintenance and road breakdowns, and maintaining overall vehicle useful life.
It is obvious that these last two outcomes are in competition with the first two, and these competing requirements are the major challenge to implementing CBM. Overcoming this challenge requires greater knowledge of the current condition of any particular vehicle.
This knowledge is derived from data coming from the vehicle and through PHM technology which converts that data to useful information and knowledge.
PHM technology can contribute in three specific ways to establish a successful CBM program.
- Detection: Monitoring overall vehicle health and providing early indications of impending failures.
- Fault Isolation: Associating fault data signatures with physical failures and automatically isolating future occurrences of those failures. This capability depends on having a good vehicle maintenance reporting system (VMRS) in place.
- Prognostics: Given adequate experience, the technology can give reasonable estimates of time before a recognized fault must be repaired. The prognostic capability, while probably the most valuable to the fleet manager, is also the most difficult to achieve, because it requires predicting the future usage characterization (including vehicle usage, driver style, etc.). However, given sufficient data, the tools should help the fleet manager choose when to schedule maintenance.
PHM technology has progressed from theory to feasible application during the past 10 years. Frontier Technology (FTI) and other companies are currently working to encapsulate the technology within user-friendly, field-ready interfaces.
The current challenge in the PHM industry is demonstrating the value of the technology. As with any product, PHM will only be valuable if the tools can demonstrate a tangible return on investment.
The difficulty in producing such a demonstration is simply time.
PHM is built on machine-learning technology. The software must have seed data to develop models and failure mode signatures.
Thus, there is a significant period - on the order of months - where the tools are not producing useful results, but simply gathering data and consuming resources. It is only over time that the information and knowledge captured within the PHM systems is returned in the form of operational savings.
Much of the current work in this field is thus centered on pilot studies that operate over sufficient duration to prove the economic benefit of the technology.
Once this is accomplished, I see the technology gradually being implemented at both the fleet and the OEM level, eventually becoming an integrated part of the vehicles themselves.
Commercial Vehicle Diagnostics
By David P. Shock, North American Product Manager, Snap-on Business Solutions, NEXIQ Technologies
Snap-on Business Solutions designs productivity solutions that provide practical access to actionable information, designing and delivering electronic parts catalogs, accessory sales tools, warranty process management solutions and manufacturer network development services. NEXIQ Technologies is a brand owned by Snap-on Business Solutions. The NEXIQ brand offers commercial vehicle diagnostic and telematics software and service solutions. The NEXIQ brand supplies these services for the on-highway commercial vehicle OEM, fleets, and off-highway and agricultural industries. www.nexiq.com.
During the last 10 to 15 years, the commercial vehicle technician and fleet vehicle repair centers have witnessed a great number of changes in vehicle diagnostics processes and procedures. The entire environment has changed with the advancement of the vehicle controller network.
The availability of the PC and the availability of OEM- and aftermarket-produced diagnostic software for scan tools has changed the process entirely. In most cases, an Internet connection is now available on the shop floor, further improving the access to information.
The commercial vehicle diagnostic market will continue to see change for the next several years with the addition of the U.S. EPA’s Service Information Requirements Act. The regulation requires manufacturers to provide persons repairing or servicing motor vehicles any and all information needed to make use of the vehicle emission control diagnostic system and other information for making emission-related diagnoses and repairs.
The fleet repair market has a need and desire to obtain more vehicle information to improve fuel costs, vehicle repair efficiency and overall fleet operations.
Additionally, a considerable shift has taken place as larger and well-trained fleet repair facilities now have the ability to complete tasks, such as reprogramming certain aspects of the vehicle. This was unheard of only a few years ago.
Some items have remained, for example, the age-old request by aftermarket repair facilities for more information and improved software to compete more directly with the OEM dealer. The aftermarket has stepped up with improved training for technicians and aftermarket-produced, or “lite,” versions of the OEM software applications.
At the same time, the OEM dealer has also seen a large number of changes. The task of vehicle repair continues to progress as the dealer is now the center for vehicle knowledge, with information supplied by the OEM.
All of this activity, along with the addition of a number of telematics offerings, has brought an additional state of confusion and chaos to the marketplace.
The telematics market continues to consolidate and seeks to create value for the fleet and OEM. But, aftermarket repair groups or organizations have yet to release or partner with a telematics platform for potential use.
Telematics platforms produced by the OEM are available in the marketplace today. Onstar – a General Motors product – offers a remote diagnostic application within its feature set. Also available is Daimler Trucks of North America’s Virtual Technician – a reporting system that offers real-time vehicle system data through remote telematic diagnostics.
It should be noted the telematics platform, though potentially fully capable as a diagnostic tool, is still used as an ancillary or complementary product to the OEM-produced diagnostic tool.
In due time, telematics will become more capable from a diagnostics standpoint. As to when, exactly, will depend on the market. However, the capability is there. The software requires to be developed.
The current conflicts between OEM and aftermarket repair facilities will not change, despite the requirements of the Service Information Requirements Act. The OEM dealer has access to software, training and special service tools that are unavailable to the aftermarket facility, and in most cases, will remain so.
The Act covers emissions-related data and special service tools to accomplish repair of emissions-related systems. The number of controllers available on the network far exceeds the emissions aspect of engine management. This would exclude transmission, brakes and chassis items.
The aftermarket will be somewhat enabled with additional information available in 2013. However, similar to the automotive industry, the OEMs have a plan. Software tools will enable events and authorization as most of these repair events will be required and will most likely be limited to trained dealer or fleet technicians.
Unfortunately, with all of this background noise, the individuals left out and forgotten by all of this change are the technicians. The industry has failed to simplify diagnostics and vehicle repair.
After all, the technician is the skilled individual diagnosing and completing the repair.
A great number of current diagnostic products leave out the efficiency aspect. The tool should assist in actually providing efficiency for the technician in repairing the down vehicle.
A commercial vehicle technician has a great number of diagnostic applications to learn and maintain. Each manufacturer may have a variety of applications with different user interfaces and log-ins, and these small features, along with a suggested vehicle communication interface (VCI) adapter, further complicate matters.
This environment is complex and not getting any easier. The gap between the technicians’ skill set and the product features’ set will need to be balanced.
New product development, innovation and ongoing technical support will be the challenge as the market transitions toward a more efficient “technician-based” toolset.
New products that use an efficient architecture that enable platform variety, and will provide more efficient use by technicians of varying skill sets, will be the requirement.
Developed software will be more specific for tasks, such as preventive maintenance. The desire is reprogramming and diagnostics, all available on a variety of platforms.
Another want is the sharing of this information across the repair network - at the dealer, OEM, aftermarket facility network and the fleet.
Information is knowledge in any business and leads to efficient decision making. This should not be any different for the technician.
We, collectively, need to share in this continuing battle.
Maintenance Software Technology
By Charles Arsenault, Chief Executive Officer, Arsenault Associates
Arsenault Associates is a recognized pioneer and prominent national player in the fleet maintenance management software industry. Its Dossier software is available in a variety of editions to meet the many varying needs of different fleets. www.arsenault.com.
Software has come a long way from floppy disk DOS days to the modern interface of point-and-tap on mobile devices. So have fleet maintenance software applications – a fact that will remain true going forward.
While specific innovations in software and technology products are closely held competitive secrets and hard to predict, it is possible to envision where it’s heading.
With our knowledge of 30 years in fleet maintenance software, the changes we can anticipate over the next several years are both human and technological.
The most important change will be in human terms because today’s technicians are tomorrow’s fleet managers. Fleet maintenance applications will be commonplace and permeate the entire industry, as compared to less than 45 percent of fleets that report using fleet maintenance specific software today.
Tomorrow’s fleet managers will not know life before computers and software.
Other major changes will be the technology that the software will be used on.
Today’s computers, mobile PDAs and similar devices will morph into different configurations and become lighter and more powerful. With easier, faster, real-time data exchange interfaces, data entry will become more automated requiring almost no keyboard time.
Another driving force for change is the aging of experienced fleet technicians and managers. The lack of young people entering the fleet maintenance industry is due to, in part, the under-valued paychecks and tomorrow’s even higher personal tool investment requirements.
Add to that the change from a “fix-it” mentality to a “cheaper-to-replace-it” mentality, and technology turns from a nice thing to have to a must-have item, to allow for less-experienced technicians who will be operating in a much higher vehicle-to-technician ratio.
Examples of this future technology might be:
- Star Trek glasses: As the technician approaches a vehicle, he automatically receives all the information he needs about the unit through a pair of special application safety glasses wirelessly linked to the company’s computer and OEM’s database system. This eyewear automatically displays the unit’s self-reported problems, issues or maintenance schedule, along with its utilization reading (mileage-hours-energy consumed). Using his voice, as we do today with our cell phone ear-bud, and finger pointing, he will call up appropriate information, such as repair history, specification details, PM service schedules, component schematic diagrams and more, along with specific instructions and part requirements on how to perform the work required. This information will all be displayed on the inner lens of the glasses.The work he performs will be recorded vocally, translated to text and stored digitally. When required, the unit’s issue can also be stored visually, such as accident damage or problem components. This will eliminate redundant data entry, increase accuracy and decrease downtime.
- Data sharing: The sharing of fleet data with various types of OEMs (equipment, components and parts) will be more prevalent as OEMs begin to offer special incentives, such as extended warranties and guaranteed end-of-life re-marketing values.
- JIT purchasing: Part vendors will be offering more incentives to partner with them for single supplier contracts. They will interface their system with the fleet’s maintenance management system’s parts module and the company’s purchasing system. Examples of this exist today with NAPA and other part suppliers. Appropriate vendors will insure just-in-time (JIT) parts delivery, and the technician and his computer system will be informed of delivery status in real-time. This will reduce on-hand inventory values and downtime waiting for parts, eliminate data entry and increase the vendor’s cash flow.
- More interfaces: Standalone systems will be a thing of the past as integration is made easier through computer API (application programming interface) software development tools. It will be commonplace for the fleet software to have real-time interfaces with numerous other systems, both internal and external. This includes interfacing with the company’s purchasing department to issue purchase orders and control spending, payroll, accounting and more. Even government agencies will seek, and in some cases mandate, access to certain fleet data to insure compliance with future regulations, especially if the vehicles in question are covered or registered as for-hire or funded supposedly “green” fleet equipment.
- Greater use of VMRS codes: Use of Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) will expand with both fleets and OEMs. According to the VMRS website, that will make it possible for adopters to “simplify, clarify and unify” their maintenance efforts. Developed by TMC, VMRS is a coding system in which alphanumeric characters represent equipment type, manufacturer, familiar labor tasks and more than 24,000 parts. Used with good maintenance software, VMRS provides a concise method to manage fleet assets and analyze costs.
- Less OEM spec choices: OEMs will continue to reduce spec options to provide more standardization and maintain competitive pricing levels as the market becomes more global in nature. This will make software even more effective and valuable as the fleets will be better able to compare the data from vehicles of the same configuration – apples to apples, so to speak. More uniformity will make it easier to spot anomalies in the data and negotiate better pricing, acquisition terms and warranties.
- Onboard filing cabinet: Vehicles will incorporate more powerful on-board computer/memory systems with their own data storage and reporting capacity. In-dash screen reporting capabilities will include items like specifications, work histories, PM service performance, compliance data, driver histories and more. If current trends continue, onboard data systems will be federally mandated within 10 years or less for for-hire equipment, and shortly thereafter for all commercially registered equipment. The data will be made accessible to appropriate government agencies at roadside inspection and during in-house inspections, as may be required by future state and federal governments.
Fleet maintenance software will be the hub for accessing an individual unit’s data and reporting the fleet’s cumulative data, compliances and other relevant statuses.
Government regulatory compliance is going to be especially difficult for the 34 percent of fleets that still use only pencil and paper for maintenance documentation or keep no records at all. The future requirements and attached penalties for non-compliance will drive these fleets to either comply or go out of business.
The ongoing survey on our website shows fewer than 44 percent of fleets use software specifically designed for fleet maintenance management. More than 16 percent have reported that they use generic, off-the-shelf software, such as Word, Excel, or Access, while 6 percent use a module of their company’s accounting, purchasing or payroll systems.
Those off-the-shelf programs and make-due modules of other systems, excellent though they might be for generic use, simply cannot adequately perform the scheduling and recordkeeping or produce the reports that fleets will increasingly need.
One thing is for certain, and that is, in today’s challenging economy they won’t be able to do this too much longer. If they don’t do something to better control their fleet, they will be forced to either liquidate their fleet through a full service leasing arrangement, go to common carrier or find some other method of product delivery, and they won’t be alone.
It never ceases to amaze me that even in 2011, regardless of how big or recognizable the brand name might be on the front of the building, many of these company’s fleets, large and small, are still managed by little more than the seat of their pants and a No. 2 pencil.
The Star Trek programs may have looked unbelievable and even silly 40 or more years ago, but its vision of technology is considered commonplace today. The future holds great promise for those willing to get ahead of the curve and take action today.
Service Management Processes
By Dick Hyatt, President, Decisiv
Decisiv is the provider of the Decisiv Service Management platform, an advanced web-based technology that links fleets, manufacturers and dealers, distributor and roadside assistance networks, parts and service providers, and business and management systems. www.decisiv.com.
In the fast-paced world of fleet maintenance, where fleet managers are responsible for holding the line against downtime and keeping costs in check, an accurate, consistent and comprehensive means of communications is essential to reach higher levels of efficiency.
Vehicle service management platforms are evolving to address this need.
Many people in our industry talk about conflict resolution - how to clean up the mess created by an inefficient process.
We think it’s important to talk about conflict avoidance – how to facilitate greater control over the service process. This leads to lower costs, improved efficiency and productivity and a positive service experience for all involved.
One culprit is relying on voice communications. The telephone simply won’t get the job done. Fleet maintenance managers are finding that basic voice communications has many flaws:
- Wasted time is spent “on hold.”
- Missed calls and waiting for return calls delays receiving information needed to move ahead.
- We’re all human. We like to talk and ask about each other, the weather and other everyday things, but non-essential information can waste valuable time if you’re under the gun to get something done.
- Interruptions from co-workers, employees and other customers can make completing a critical call difficult.
- A lack of context. When only one party has all the information needed for the discussion when the call is made, the other party is left trying to catch up so they can provide an accurate response, and more often than not, needing to return the call later once the information is located.
- Voice communications do not have a record. They leave no trail, or a poorly marked one at best.
From our standpoint, the objective is clear. There is the need to develop vehicle service management platforms that allow fleet maintenance personnel to communicate more effectively.
Over the next five years, professionals in the field of fleet maintenance can expect changes in the technology they use to perform their duties in several areas.
Mobile devices, onboard diagnostic systems, real-time tracking throughout the service process and unified communications will be the norm. Telephones, clipboards and paper-based systems will no longer be needed.
Silos of information will also be a thing of the past.
To enable a more effective service process, fleet maintenance managers will have immediate access to in-context, relevant source information. Fully informed, proactive decisions about assets will stem from precise estimates and streamlined processes for authorizations and approvals.
Ballpark estimates and conversations that end with, “I’ll get back to you,” or “just do it,” will no longer be heard.
This evolution will also extend to service providers, who will use communication tools to deliver consistent and expert support to fleets, and to deliver timely and quality service.
Advanced vehicle service management platforms featuring multi-party communications capabilities will allow fleet managers and service providers to work together, in real-time, to expedite repairs and minimize downtime.
Regardless of the type of operation, fleet maintenance managers have to address many of the same challenges. They need to define their fleet’s service needs and manage service events with systems that improve point-of-service access to crucial fleet data and lead to more timely repairs and faster vehicle turnaround time.
Increasingly, fleet maintenance managers also need to integrate in-house maintenance management solutions with onboard systems, and have the capability to analyze a comprehensive and accurate history of fleet and service operations.
The fleet maintenance manager of tomorrow is well suited to this role. These professionals will be educated, technology savvy and interested in tools and practices that are designed to save time and money on every repair, service or maintenance event.
Fleet maintenance managers are under the gun to keep trucks moving, to perform service and effect repairs so vehicles are back on the road faster, generating revenue.
These duties of fleet maintenance managers may not have changed significantly. However, as time goes on, they are clearly being held to a higher standard, especially when it comes to cutting downtime and costs.
The need for vehicle service management systems that provide comprehensive forms of effective communication will continue to be central to their success.
Vehicle Information Transmission
By Chris Oliver, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Zonar Systems
Zonar Systems is a leading provider of telematics, electronic inspection and remote diagnostics solutions for public and private fleets. www.zonarsystems.com.
According to the National Private Truck Council 2011 Annual Benchmarking Survey, 81 percent of private fleets deploy onboard technology to track and monitor their assets, driver performance, fuel economy, safety and on-time performance. This number is up from 76 percent in 2010 and less than 50 percent six years ago.
As reported in the survey, companies using onboard technology reported greater annual asset utilization (123,782 miles per unit vs. 86,705), greater fuel economy (6.3 mpg vs. 6.1 mpg), lower driver turnover (9.9 percent vs. 12.4 percent) and tighter on-time delivery standards.
Now that onboard telematics is standard for most fleets, the technology continues to evolve and grow in importance. While traditionally a fleet management tool, recent advancements in telematics benefit other departments, including maintenance operations.
These systems provide a wealth of information to help improve the maintenance process and reduce vehicle downtime.
Typically, fleet maintenance managers identify vehicle service events during scheduled preventive maintenance or after notification by the driver. Often, additional repairs are required due to excess miles driven after a dashboard fault notification occurs or extended service cycles.
No one wants truck downtime, but the result of delaying service is often prolonged downtime and expensive repairs.
Due to the increasing complexity of truck components, service facilities are required to maintain sufficient parts inventory and staff technicians in preparation for repairs. These additional holding costs and labor time add enormous overhead costs to the organization.
When a vehicle enters the service bay with a potential service issue, the technician must manually diagnose the problem, then check the inventory for parts and schedule resources to complete the repair.
With the newest telematics technology, maintenance managers can remotely diagnose possible vehicle issues and schedule service accordingly.
Real-time vehicle performance data expedites the service process by automating work orders, prioritizing repairs, scheduling technician time and ordering parts often before the vehicle arrives for service.
For example, Zonar’s telematics system captures vehicle location data through GPS and cellular communication, engine fault code and performance data through the engine data bus, as well as user inspection data captured with driver handheld inspection devices. All of this information is available in real-time through a secure web portal.
With such telematics systems, maintenance managers receive real-time notifications of fault code triggers and vehicle performance issues. A manager or technician can then make informed decisions about the urgency of the repair and prepare the facility to service the vehicle before it arrives.
The result is greater shop efficiency and reduced vehicle downtime.
As telematics continues to improve, data will be integrated and accessible from other operational back-end systems. Today, many maintenance software systems integrate with telematics systems so the data is accessible in one location.
As telematics systems become more open and connected to back-end systems, maintenance personnel can utilize the data to streamline other maintenance processes and share data with others within the company.
Direct interaction between the driver and fleet manager is also continuing to improve.
Zonar’s EVIR (electronic vehicle inspection report) product, by way of example, automates and verifies the vehicle inspection process using handheld devices and RFID technology.
The trend towards mobile technology continues today. While fleet managers can access information and create alerts for phones and mobile devices, many operations are moving to these mobile, paperless platforms.
All of these advancements will turn the maintenance facility of the future from a preventive maintenance to a proactive maintenance department. Information will flow and be shared between the driver, fleet manager, maintenance department and the rest of the company.
Decisions will be made proactively and work can be completed in a “just-in-time” manner.
Take the scenario of the “check engine” light. As the driver notices the light on the dash, the fleet manager and service department receive notifications by text message or e-mail.
The service department can then instantly check the fault codes and notify the driver of what action to take. It can then order parts and schedule technician time.
A work order is automatically generated through the maintenance system. Concurrently, the fleet manager can view the maintenance schedule and plan alternatives for freight delivery if necessary.
Maintenance is a major factor in telematics systems and is quickly growing in importance.
If the maintenance department is not engaged with their fleet’s onboard technology strategy, now is the time to get involved.
Review potential solutions and ask how these systems can integrate with other systems you are using. Understand how they can help streamline the maintenance operation and help transform your department and prepare you for proactive maintenance.
Smart Tire Systems
By Peggy J. Fisher, President, TireStamp
TireStamp is a recognized industry leader in tire monitoring and asset management solutions that enables large and small commercial vehicle and passenger fleets to get the maximum performance from their tires while driving their operating costs down. www.tirestamp.com.
It’s safe to say that the number-one maintenance issue facing fleets today is tire inflation maintenance. You may be thinking we’ve always had that problem, but today, poor pressure maintenance hurts truck operators more than it ever has.
The cost of tires has skyrocketed since 2005, the price of fuel has reached record heights and the federal government’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety rating program has made it prohibitively expensive to run poorly maintained tires.
The world certainly has changed since the 1980s and 1990s when the first commercial truck tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) debuted in the marketplace. None of them were widely adopted due to their poor returns on investment, their system limitations and fleets’ disinterest in spending money to maintain tire pressures.
These truck tire pressure monitoring systems, what I call TPMS 1.0 systems, focused on delivering information to the truck driver only. While great for owner operators who care about their investment in tires, fleets don’t benefit as much since company drivers typically don’t share that interest.
However, for years, fleets have been hoping that some day in the future the “tire tag” or some other evolved “smart tire” system would not only provide them with pressure and temperature information, but would enable them to track their tires, as well as tire mileage, so they could obtain tire management tools that would help them determine the best tires to buy, improve their tire maintenance and casing management, and really cut their tire cost per mile.
The good news is the future has finally arrived with the second generation of TPMS: TPMS 2.0. The real power of TPMS 2.0 is in delivering tire alerts and reports to people who care about tires. That’s what these systems do by integrating electronic TPMS with telematics and GPS.
Telematics is the communication of system and location data off a vehicle using satellite, cellular, WiFi or other wireless technologies.
The growth of telematics has been phenomenal and will continue to be driven largely in the next five years by demand for remote vehicle diagnostics.
TPMS 2.0 is remote vehicle diagnostics for tires since it provides the fleet with visibility of tire problems 24/7, even if the vehicle is hundreds of miles away.
A major difference between TPMS 1.0 and 2.0 systems is that 2.0 systems send the data off the vehicle to a database which accumulates, stores and analyzes it. This enables the user to look at one specific tire, all the tires on a vehicle, all the tires on a group of vehicles or all the tires in the whole fleet.
Imagine doing an entire fleet tire pressure survey with a click of a mouse instead of days of deep knee bends manually checking tire pressures.
TPMS 1.0 systems pale in comparison since they can only report the data for one tire at a time.
After analyzing the data and comparing it to fleet established alert thresholds, TPMS 2.0 systems send alerts to anyone the fleet designates with Internet connectivity (computers, smartphones, etc.), including tire service providers.
Changes in target pressure or alert thresholds can be made “over-the-air” while the vehicle is on the road. You don’t have to touch the vehicle to make changes.
One of the big problems with outsourced and emergency tire service is that you are never sure if the work was needed, if it was performed to your standards or was done at all. So, when the invoice arrives, you have to track the vehicle down and physically check the tires on it.
With TPMS 2.0 systems, you can verify that service was needed and performed, and that the quality of the service meets your standards - all from the comfort of your desk.
Because tire data is stored in a database, useful tire maintenance and management reports can be scheduled to be delivered to you whenever you want them. For example, work orders can be sent to technicians in the early morning that list all the tires on vehicles at a particular location that need service before the drivers arrive.
This enables the fleet to finally get its arms around its tire problems before the vehicles get on the road and drivers are delayed.
Combining TPMS with GPS provides the fleet with vehicle tracking too. If a unit develops a tire problem on the road, you can see where it is, where it’s been and get directions for the nearest service provider or other point of interest.
Another big feature is that for the first time ever, TPMS 2.0 systems can provide you with the exact miles tires run and the number they run overheated, as well as underinflated. This helps you determine whether a tire is a good candidate for retreading.
It also enables you to receive mileage-based reminders for checking wheel nut torque after a tire/wheel assembly has been changed to prevent wheel-offs.
Because TPMS 2.0 systems are driven by software, it’s easy for fleets to customize their alert thresholds and report parameters, schedule automatic delivery of reports and demand available data whenever they want, over the Internet.
By combining TPMS 2.0 systems with automatic tire inflation systems (ATIS), the fleet can build a very robust tire maintenance and monitoring solution. TPMS 2.0 will advise the wheel position(s) requiring air and advise fleet personnel when a problem occurs, which are the two major weaknesses currently found in ATIS.
Tire manufacturers have said for years that the next big development in commercial truck tires is going to be the “smart tire.” Well, the waiting is over. It’s here today.
And you can be certain these tire systems will only grow smarter as technology continues to evolve.
Future Truck Committee
By Robert Braswell, Technical Director, Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC)
TMC, North America’s premier technical society for truck equipment technology and maintenance professional, works to improve transport equipment, its maintenance and maintenance management. It is a technical council within the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. tmc.truckline.com.
One of the charges of TMC’s Future Truck Committee is to determine truck users’ expectations of equipment and vehicle maintenance. The group was formed a number of years ago with the purpose of bringing the unified voice of the equipment user to vehicle manufacturers to influence future truck design, and to improve, among other things, reliability, maintainability and serviceability.
Early on, the Committee decided it needed to come up with standardized definitions for certain vehicle performance aspects, including “maintainability” and “serviceability,” as these have a profound impact on operation and maintenance costs. Because such terms can mean different things to different people, there is the need to specify these qualities so equipment designers can respond to customer needs appropriately.
The Future Truck Committee defined maintainability as: “a characteristic of design and installation, expressed as the probability that an item will be retained in, or restored to, a specified condition within a given time, when the maintenance is performed in accordance with prescribed procedures and resources.”
More simply put, maintainability is a measure of the required repair and maintenance effort needed to ensure safe and reliable operation, including all labor hours and parts cost.
By way of example, a trailer that would require periodic servicing every 15,000 miles, as well as some additional unscheduled servicing, would be a trailer with poor maintainability. Conversely, a trailer which only required periodic servicing every 500,000 miles and no unscheduled service would be rated as a trailer with excellent maintainability.
Serviceability was defined by the Future Truck Committee as: “a measure of the relative level of time and effort required to accomplish acceptable maintenance or specific repair activities.”
For example, an air brake system in a line-haul semitrailer using an extended life brake application valve located on a mounting plate at the front of the suspension subframe, accessible to a technician sitting under the trailer floor for repair or replacement, would have excellent serviceability.
If that same valve was mounted high inside the trailer subframe, surrounded by suspension parts and brake hoses which would need to be removed or disconnected to repair or service, it would have poor serviceability would.
Among the many areas the Future Truck Committee has been working on are tires, wheels, brakes and trailers.
Tires: The Committee wants tires to be as maintenance-free as possible, and suggests that this could be achieved through development of run-flat truck tires, non-pneumatic tires or even self-contained and disposable tire/wheel assemblies.
Also, foam or other semi-solid materials could be developed so air pressure is not needed, eliminating penetrations and other road hazards to reduce vehicle downtime and tire repairs.
It would also like easier air pressure maintenance which, the Committee says, could be done through the use of flow-through, self-sealing valve caps and clearer accessibility to the inside tire of the dual tire/wheel assembly.
Other Committee suggestions for future truck tires:
- Have them clearly marked and easier to mount, especially when considering directional tread designs.
- Easier mounting and dismounting from a wheel.
- No requirement for additional external lubricant, and the bead should be of a design that ensures perfect, concentric seating every time. These tires should have a standard and more visible rim centering ring to confirm at a glance the perfect concentric seating of the tire to the wheel.
- Reduced tire weight to facilitate easier handling, better rolling resistance, greater payloads and optimal fuel economy characteristics.
- Improvements made to valve stems, valve stem grommets/seals, valve cores and caps to make inflation, deflation and inspections more effortless and rapid in all applications and climate conditions.
Wheels: As with tires, the Future Truck Committee wants future wheels as maintenance-free as possible.
It would like the appearance/finish of wheels to last for up to 10 years without refurbishing. Wheels should also clean up as easily as the rest of the vehicle, with no specialized cleaning/polishing required.
Future wheels should have less runout and fewer balance issues, and be lighter in weight to meet customer needs.
Tomorrow’s wheels and fasteners should maintain torque once the wheels have been installed, with no re-torque required. However, some systems must be devised to verify that there is no torque loss.
Brakes: The Future Truck Committee says manufacturers need to continue their design efforts to reduce, minimize or eliminate brake system maintenance in a safe and cost-effective manner.
However, when maintenance is required, to ensure timely and efficient maintenance, the Committee would like to see manufacturers ensure that common mechanical and electrical tools can be used; parts are standardized; brake systems are designed to minimize labor whenever possible, such as wheel, drum and seal removal to reline brakes; and all plumbing and wiring is color coded to an industry standard.
For wearable items that require periodic maintenance, the Committee recommends a system status indicator in the cab, or readily accessible service indicators, and the establishment of accurate, predictable maintenance intervals.
Trailers: Among the major trailer concerns is that “smart trailers” will be incompatible with older, less technologically advanced tractors and trailers. Improved methods of inspecting brakes in an expeditious and repeatable manner (with validated readings) are also needed.
The requirement for improved durability and a five to 10-year, or 500,000 to one-million mile service interval for suspension and running gear components remains unmet by trailer manufacturers, according to the Future Truck Committee.
Other desired developments for trailers include:
- Standardized use of electrical distribution systems which support long-life LEDs.
- Low cost trailer aerodynamics and cube utilization without sacrificing one at the expense of the other.
- Improved air and electrical coupling connections, especially on longer combination vehicles.
- Continued development of interior components which extend the damage protection envelope while reducing dependence on forest related products.
- Increased use of both recycled and recyclable material throughout the trailer.
- Odometer sensing capability integrated into the trailer ABS electronic control unit with visual or electronic stored data retrieval capability.
- Advanced security systems which prevent unauthorized entry into trailers.
- Increased use of durable and environmentally safe paints and finishes.
- Reduced electrolysis and increased rust protection.
An OEM Perspective
By Brad Williamson, Director, Engine and Components Marketing, Daimler Trucks North America
Daimler Trucks North America is the leading medium and heavy duty truck manufacturer in North America. It produces and markets Class 4-8 vehicles and is a Daimler company, the world’s leading commercial vehicle manufacturer. www.daimler-trucksnorthamerica.com.
From a vehicle manufacturer’s standpoint, we foresee a variety of developments with regard to vehicle maintenance.
For one thing, we anticipate longer maintenance intervals, including oils changes at 50,000 miles, and the bundling of other preventative maintenance items into the same or longer intervals. The intent is to have fewer maintenance intervals and less downtime for the truck operator, which helps lower total cost of ownership.
Further improvement of emission reductions and fuel economy will also drive longer maintenance intervals.
For example, cooler combustion creates less nitrogen dioxide, but also doesn’t burn up the oil and coolant as fast. High pressure fuel systems require more advanced filtration and burn more completely, extending fuel filter and diesel particulate filter life.
Some fleets and engine manufacturers are looking at the costs and benefits of switching to fully synthetic oils, which might also result in longer oil change intervals, especially in on-highway applications.
Trucks will continue to grow “smarter” as advances in telematics and technology continue. Greater accessibility of real-time onboard vehicle data will impact fleet maintenance practices. So will enhanced remote diagnostics capabilities.
Daimler Trucks North America’s Virtual Technician, by way of example, is a real-time remote telematics diagnostics system. The system formulates insights based on engine diagnostic codes from sensors and components that are then packaged and analyzed.
Based on these insights, the program initiates a series of reporting and remedial actions to reduce unscheduled downtime by remotely diagnosing and determining the failure and repair procedure required. This provides the shops with advance knowledge of the parts required and service technician skill needed in advance of the vehicle’s arrival.
We’ll also see more electronic intelligence needed for certain types of maintenance and troubleshooting. This may impact technicians who have not worked with as many “electrical brains” on the vehicle in the past.
The more electrical brains on the truck, the more electronic troubleshooting is required.