The costs of vehicle downtime continue to frustrate fleet managers around the world. Some estimates put vehicle downtime costs at an average of $488 to $760 per vehicle, per day. Yet, in today’s technological data revolution, increasing vehicle uptime is easier than ever thanks to Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, telematics, data analytics software, and other evolving data accessing, monitoring, and analysis technologies.
Today, more than ever, work truck fleets are relying on advanced technology instead of outdated paper- and spreadsheet-based systems to track vehicle use and maintenance cycles.
One of the most unique and exciting ways fleets are reducing downtime is through the use of real-time, web-based data, according to Thomas Bray, senior industry/regulatory consultant on transportation at J. J. Keller & Associates.
“Companies have known for a long time that maintenance, specifically preventive maintenance, improves uptime, lowers costs, and improves customer service,” Bray said. “One key to preventive maintenance is knowing what specific parts and components need to be serviced, rebuilt, or replaced, and when it needs to be done.”
Expected life cycles and mean time between failure data help fleet managers make critical service decisions. Until now, many companies couldn’t collect and analyze critical operational data, but with more advanced maintenance data systems available, such analysis is possible by companies large and small.
“Many carriers have moved from paper-, calendar-, and spreadsheet-based compliance systems to fully capable digital systems that track, alert, and assist,” Bray explained.
J.J. Keller’s Encompass platform helps fleets with everything from complying with FMCSA mandates to driver training and accident tracking to driver and unit performance management.
“These systems prompt you to create compliance documents when they are due, including during the hiring process, and they alert you when a driver has an expiring credential,” he added With the use of these data systems increasing, fleets of all sizes now embrace electronic records and recordkeeping, according to Bray, which allows for the access and submission of electronic forms from anywhere via a smartphone, tablet, or computer. He has even seen some companies go to all-digital maintenance shops.
“This eliminates the need to print maintenance checklists and work orders. It eliminates the technician completing the forms, the technician or someone else entering the form information into the maintenance data system, and the lag time between completion of the work and it being visible in the data system,” Bray said.
AI, machine learning, and other predictive analytics tech are seeing more use within fleet management, according to Braden Pastalaniec, VP of sales, transportation and logistics at Uptake Technologies Inc. Uptake is an industrial AI software company that provides organizations with predictive analytics, including for asset performance management.
“We see most fleet operations trying to figure out ways to adopt predictive maintenance (versus condition-based maintenance),” he said. “There are legacy ways of scheduling and conducting maintenance, and then there are newer ways that operators are trying to put into place and show ROI.”
Uptake is seeing its clientele increase uptime and create maintenance efficiencies through the use of sensor-enabled condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. By analyzing the data collected by telematics programs — in addition to historical work-order information and even with something as simple as oil samples — fleets get advanced failure warnings, allowing for proactive maintenance and less downtime.
A real-world example of this is how Uptake is monitoring diesel particulate filter health for one fleet by analyzing the differential pressure in the filter compared to the regeneration history in real-time. When the increasing trend in pressure is similar to what typically led to a past failure, the system alerts the user.
“A recent alert appeared seven days before the first fault code and 14 days before the issue was confirmed and repair made by a technician,” Pastalaniec stated.
Across all of its customers, including some of the largest fleets in North America, Uptake cuts unplanned maintenance by 7–10% and reduced fuel costs by 2–3%, which is on top of the benefits provided through a telematics provider.
“The data points mentioned above (telematics data, work order data, oil sample data) are all a result of IT and OT. Uptake receives all that data, and we’re able to apply AI and machine learning to identify diagnostic trends in real-time,” Pastalaniec explained. “Simply put, predictive maintenance allows fleets to plan maintenance activities to ensure vehicles are reliable and ready to perform their job.”
Pastalaniec also sees more fleets incorporate data from connected auxiliary equipment — including equipment such as booms, lifts, water trucks, or other critical work equipment — into predictive solutions.
Chris Rolsen, national business development manager of fleet at Knapheide, a manufacturer of truck bodies and truck beds, confirmed the trend.
“More and more companies are implementing telematics and having us install them, or the OEM install them before upfitting,” he said. “Telematics is becoming a more widely installed product on vehicles for fleets to have a complete understanding of how vehicles and drivers are performing.”
Rolsen also sees fleets implement a more rigorous routine maintenance schedule to help reduce downtime.
More fleets are indeed turning to technologies like telematics to decrease downtime, according to Verizon Connect’s 2019 Fleet Tracking Trends Report. The report noted that 64% of respondents currently use fleet tracking software — up from 59% in 2018. And, 98% percent of those using GPS tracking software have seen positive benefits.
Telematics allows for focused preventive maintenance data analysis, which is the process of selecting the most impactful maintenance event data factors. Then, monitoring and synthesizing the variables associated with those trends to create axioms, according to Jonathan Bates, head of global marketing at MiX Telematics, which offers fleet management, driver safety, and vehicle tracking solutions as software-as-a-service.
“The typical variables are event occurrences; the severity of those occurrences; the location of those occurrences; the identity, condition, age, make, and model of those vehicles; and the drivers of those vehicles,” Bates explained. “By analyzing this information, salient trends are produced, and conclusions can be made as to proactive actions to take to address negative trends.”
This process feeds back into vehicle procurement, maintenance schedules, and driver training methodology, and specific customized training plans. Bates also pointed out that predictive maintenance, which is becoming more available in the marketplace, capitalizes on key trends.
“Predictive maintenance comprises leveraging historical data to predict future patterns, then applying those patterns to suggest pre-emptive actions,” he said. “AI algorithms highlight key trends that used to inform fleet management better.”
Bates cautions that technology is only useful if it is well understood and implemented impactfully, including through a robust fleet-vendor relationship. “It’s about working together to get the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decisions,” he said.
To reduce vehicle downtime, more fleets are also integrating routing software with their telematics system, according to William Salter, CEO of Paragon Software Systems, a route optimization software company.
“Irrespective of whether the fleet has 20 trucks or 100, this allows the fleet owner to get visibility of what is happening out on the road,” Salter said. “For example, if a trip is planned to be completed with 150 miles on the clock and the vehicle returns having covered 200 miles and that happens each day, then that’s a lot of extra wear and tear on the vehicle over a year.”
Because it’s vital to keep work trucks in use for as many hours as possible, routing software coupled with telematics keeps unnecessary miles to a minimum. “Building accurate and efficient transportation plans minimizes the number of miles driven, reducing fuel costs, but also reducing the need for maintenance. It can also reduce the size of the fleet overall,” Salter added.
Hagopian Cleaning Services, headquartered in Michigan, typically gets 200 work orders per day. The company operates 27 full-sized vans with installed carpet cleaning equipment, five 14-foot box trucks used for transporting area rugs, and three Sprinter/Promaster van size trucks for transporting rugs.
In 2007, the company began using Paragon route optimization software. It immediately reduced unnecessary mileage and increased overall fleet efficiency by automating formerly manual routing functions.
“We’re reducing fleet mileage up to 10% a year, and customer satisfaction is up because we’re able to meet arrival time promises consistently,” said Brian Hanna, general manager of Hagopian Cleaning Services.
In addition to reducing mileage and the need for vehicle maintenance, in the first two years alone, the company saw a saving in salary and benefits of $250,000, and an annual fuel cost reduction of about $7,500.
Another trend to reduce vehicle downtime: the use of mobile services, including mobile maintenance and mobile fueling.
“Fleets are moving toward tech-forward solutions with full-service, on-site vehicle repair, and maintenance,” said Ed Petersen, CEO of Wrench, which offers full-service auto repair for both consumers and fleets on location.
Mobile repair significantly reduces downtime, streamlining scheduling and communication inefficiencies and logistic inefficiencies, such as transporting a vehicle to a repair shop, which often keeps a vehicle out of commission for days, according to Petersen. By handling maintenance issues on-site, drivers can get back to their jobs faster, and fleet managers can focus on their core jobs as opposed to addressing an out-of-service vehicle.
“To put it in perspective, the average vehicle is in a shop approximately two days waiting to be serviced. The average job completed through on-site vehicle repair is about two hours,” Petersen stated, adding that he sees more fleets working with maintenance and repair companies that use end-to-end technology solutions. “This allows them to implement things like pre-scheduled preventive maintenance services and priority scheduling for emergency repair, all which reduce vehicle downtime.”
Another company seeing a boon in fleets turning to mobile services to increase vehicle uptime is Booster Fuels, which fuels fleet vehicles on-site.
“Company fleets are using mobile fueling services to avoid time spent idle at the gas station,” said Tyler Raugh, cofounder and president of fleet at Booster Fuels.
On average, fleets are taking 20 minutes between time off route, time paying at the pump, time pumping gas, and unnecessary time in the convenience store, according to Raugh. With mobile fueling, companies are eliminating employee time driving to and filling up at the pump, as well as reducing mileage, which helps reduce maintenance demands.
Raugh also sees more fleets using telematics and GPS, data analytics, and IoT technology.
“This gives managers 100% control of their fleets and allows them to see the efficiency of their crew,” he added.
As technology continues to evolve, work truck fleets will continue to look for new ways to get optimal use out of vehicles while also relying on the standard vehicle uptime measures.
“Having a solid replacement schedule to avoid lengthy repairs (transmission, major engine work, collision repairs), proper PM servicing, and continuous driver training and accountability are the big ones,” said Alex May, senior manager of fleet at Rollins.
He added that making sure to use the proper vehicle for the job remains vital.
Evolving vehicle technology, however, should always be assessed to determine if it has a place in the fleet.
While effective fleet tracking and preventive maintenance measure cost money, the ROI can be immense, according to Keller’s Bray.
“The payback comes in better uptime, lower costs, better fleet performance, and better morale,” he said. “As the old commercial used to say, ‘You can pay me now (to do maintenance) or pay me more later (to do repairs).”