One of the most amazing things about today's automated maintenance management systems is the significant positive impact they are having on the bottom line. Who would have thought that automating maintenance processes, sometimes even modestly, could create such far-reaching change throughout a business? But it is, and you haven't seen anything yet.
Like a game of crack-the-whip, technological changes in once-overlooked maintenance facilities and back lot shops are snapping through the entire enterprise, scattering productivity and profitability improvements in their wake, and not a moment too soon, either. With freight levels down and forecasts continued gloomy, the arrival of an unexpected “super hero” of sorts is welcome news indeed.
“Over the years, we have seen many many customers who have been surprised at the value of this automation process to the bottom line,” says Rick Rosenberg, general manager and former owner of TMT Software, now a part of TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com). “I suppose the perverse thing is that the companies with the worst systems see the biggest return on their investment when they implement a maintenance management system.”
COMBINING OLD AND NEW
While parts and pieces of today's maintenance management solutions have been around for decades, what is changing the game so dramatically when it comes to impact is the integration of those various technology tools to create a seamless flow of asset management data that has the power to move maintenance from a reactive function to a predictive, exception-based function.
“For the past three or four years now, the focus has been on taking all the different sources of maintenance-related data out there and aggregating them, including data from onboard vehicle sensors and systems and smart shop tools. The entire order-to-cash process is being completely automated,” says Scott Vanselous, the new senior vp and general manager of TMW's Fleet Maintenance Support & Development group. “From the bills of material, to the maintenance work order, to the mechanic in the shop, to parts inventory management, to accounts payable, it is all coming together.
“The result is that we are entering a truly predictive maintenance world,” he adds. “Predictive maintenance means applying logic to data to create probabilities of failures and in so doing keep fleet asset utilization high and even grow it. The knowledge and ability to predict failure and then prevent it from happening enables fleets to maintain high levels of customer service, reduce the incidence of breakdowns, minimize the total cost of repairs and make better informed decisions about asset utilization, equipment specification, trade cycles, facilities expansions and more.”
“When we began our business in 1979, people just did not have enough information to make good business decisions about their fleet,” recalls Charles Arsenault, founder of Arsenault Associates (www.arsenault.biz). “Now the keyboard has largely replaced pencil and paper asset management systems and the focus is on automating the processes, doing as much as we can to eliminate manual data entry in order to improve data integrity, reduce latency and enable businesses to approach asset maintenance proactively.”
One of the newest sources of actionable maintenance data to be automated and integrated into the total asset management system is data from the required pre- and post-trip inspections (CFR 396.11 and 396.13). Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) offers an RFID-based system that guides drivers through the vehicle inspection process and creates a standardized, digital inspection report called the Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR), which can be sent wirelessly and incorporated into a maintenance management system.
“The non-driver part of maintenance management is growing more important all the time,” says Eric Manegold, vp business development, commercial vehicles for Zonar. “Fleets today can pull information directly from vehicles en route thanks to telematics and sensor technology. Drivers are still required to complete pre- and post-trip vehicles inspections themselves, however, to be in compliance with federal safety regulations and drivers see things during those inspections that sensors cannot, at least not yet.
“By combining fault code data from the vehicle itself with input from the driver's inspections, you can have access to more complete information about the vehicle and close the compliance loop as well,” he continues. “So, the flow of information is like this: Fault code data plus information from driver inspections goes in real-time to maintenance and to operations, so that maintenance can order any necessary parts and operations can adjust asset allocation as required. Then maintenance addresses any compliance-related safety issues and reports back to the driver and operations that the truck is ready to be dispatched again — all seamlessly and automatically. In the process, the system has also automatically documented compliance with federal safety requirements.”
DRIVING TO THE BOTTOM LINE
According to some estimates, about 20% of fleets still have not automated maintenance in any way. There are many more working with partially automated systems, created in-house or purchased from an outside supplier. Still others are ready to upgrade older systems.
If you are among those companies considering a maintenance management solution, there are some tips for how to make sure you see the maximum benefit to the bottom line. “We encourage companies to look at the reports a system can generate first,” says Arsenault, “not at the data entry process. There is a tendency to come at the decision from the wrong end. If you need a PM report for example, take a look at various PM reports and ask yourself, ‘Is this what we need?’ Then back into the details of functionality and user interface.”
“We have salespeople who are very experienced at walking a shop, at auditing and evaluating existing processes, “ offers Rosenberg. “We can help fleets identify and quantify what implementing a maintenance management system can do for them. Afterwards, we can help them execute the plan. Success really depends upon the commitment of the fleet.”
There are also several third-party resources on-line to help you with the purchase decision. One such is called BuyerZone (www.buyerzone.com/software). It offers advice on running a systems evaluation, including:
Make sure you have a detailed understanding of your business requirements;
Gather your technical requirements;
Create a short list of features and capabilities you need;
Compare several vendors;
Relief for over-worked maintenance operations
Ask for a demonstration or, better yet, conduct one yourself;
Consider ease of use;
Select a stable company with a good installed base who will be there for you in the future;
Ask for references and check them out;
Make sure the company will provide the training and technical support you need;
Think about long-term ROI, not just up-front purchase costs.
Maintenance management systems from A-Z
Don't let decisions like choosing between a server-based or ASP-delivered system get in the way of progress, either. “We offer a hosted product and an ASP solution,” says Arsenault, “but speed is almost identical either way. The decision basically comes down to whether you want to make a capital investment or simply pay a predictable monthly expense.
“Companies also need to ask themselves whether or not they have the resources to manage and maintain a system in-house,” he adds. “Oftentimes, even if a company has an in-house IT department, the group is just too tied up with other things. Many companies also begin with an ASP system and later migrate to a server-based solution when the time is right.” The Internet is not infallible either, of course, so companies need to consider how big a risk an occasional disruption in Internet service presents to their operation if a Web-delivered system seems like the best fit.
“Four or five years ago, many companies were outsourcing maintenance,” recalls Rick Halbrooks, vp-sales & marketing for McLeod Software. “Today that trend seems to be reversing. We are seeing more companies bringing maintenance back in-house, and that is contributing to a renewed interest in maintenance management solutions.
“We are also seeing some fleets take advantage of excess capacity in their shops to provide maintenance services to other companies--turning an overhead operation into a new profit center,” he adds. “The potential benefits are certainly there. I can think of one fleet, for instance, that upgraded their maintenance system and saw a four-fold improvement in warranty recovery, more than enough to justify the cost of the new system.”
Working in maintenance can be like standing waist deep in a fast-flowing river fighting against the current just to stay in place. “Maintenance operations are often scrambling day in and day out, there is just no getting ahead like there can be in sales, for instance,” says Charles Arsenault, founder of Arsenault Associates. “If you talk to a director of maintenance about maintenance management systems, you are very apt to hear, ‘How am I going to find the time to stop and reorganize? There just isn't any extra time.’”
“Maintenance people today are constantly busy trying to keep up with the work they have,” agrees Eric Manegold, vp business development for Zonar Systems. “They don't have time to spend on complicated systems implementation procedures and they certainly don't have time for apologizes or excuses when things don't go right. Every fleet has a ratio of technicians to power units. Some are one mechanic to ten vehicles; some are one to thirty and some are one to fifty or sixty vehicles. When these people say they are too busy, they aren't kidding.”
The technician shortage that has plagued the industry for years isn't making things any easier, either. The bottom line is that maintenance operations may need a helping hand from technology more than any other fleet function, yet they are likely to be simply too busy to seek it out. One approach that can work for many fleets is to focus on the one or two areas of the operation where improving processes would yield the greatest benefits and then build out from there.
“We start by asking fleets how they handle various maintenance functions now,” says Paul Naundorf, technical support and project manager for J.J. Keller's technical solutions business unit. “Then we ask, ‘How much easier would it be if you could do it this way instead — if you could know in advance, for instance, when something was due and could focus on the most critical work first?”
Here is a benefits list (in no particular order) that might be of use if you are considering where to begin automating your own maintenance operation. Look for the changes that would do the most to improve your shop:
Generate work orders
Reduce the total cost of maintenance
Maintain asset configuration/history data
Track tire wear
Track fuel usage
Optimize PM maintenance scheduling across the fleet
Improve compliance with safety regulations
Improve shop throughput
Track and document resolution of driver-reported problems
Prioritize responses to treat worst problems first
Improve data integrity and reduce data latency throughout the organization
Help calculate cost of operation by vehicle
Spot trends in time to respond to emerging problems or capitalize on advantages
Manage parts inventory and guide parts ordering
Document warranty claims
Provide constructive input to truck makers/other suppliers
Inform truck specing and purchasing decisions
Manage relationships with outside parts and service suppliers
Identify best practices and benchmark your own maintenance functions against them
Provide data to help guide facilities expansion
Identify and reward top technicians
Help to guide vehicle trade cycle decisions
If you are in the market for a maintenance management system, chances are the right solution for your operation is already waiting on a shelf someplace. Here is just a partial directory of maintenance management system suppliers to help you begin your review and selection process:
Arsenault Associates, Burlington, NJ: www.arsenault.biz
Cetaris, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Raleigh-Durham, NC: www.cetaris.com.
Collective Data, North Liberty, IA: www.collectivedata.com
Computerized Fleet Analysis, Inc., Addison, IL: www.cfasoftware.com
Current Software, Inc., Morning View, KY: www.currsoft.com
Fleet Computing International, Alamogordo, NM: www.fleetcomputing.com
FleetMax, Inc., Gloucester, MA: www.fleetmaxee.com
FleetSoft, Elgin, IL: www.fleetsoft.com
FleetWise VB, Jacksonville, FL: www.fleetwisevb.com
Infor Global Solutions, Alpharetta, GA: www.infor.com
InfoSite Technologies, Boisbriand, QC, Canada: www.infositetech.com
Innovative Computing, Brentwood, TN: www.innovativecomputingcorp.com
Innovative Maintenance Systems, Lyndora, PA: www.mtcpro.com
J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., Neenah, WI: www.jjkeller.com
Link It Software Corp., Santa Clarita, CA: www.ez-maintenance.com
Maximus, Inc. Reston, VA: www.maximus.com.
McLeod Software, Birmingham, AL: www.mcleodsoftware.com
Mitchell1, Poway, CA: www.mitchell1.com
PCHelp, Ltd., Henderson, NV: www.tatems.com
Prophesy Transportation, Bloomfield, CT: www.mile.com
Qquest Asset Management Services, Sandy UT: www.managerplus.com
SCB Consulting, LLC, Baltimore, MD: www.fleetmate.com
Simplicity Software Technologies, Victorville, CA: www.simsofttech.com
SM Global, Inc., Apex, NC: www.smglobal.com
Solutions Construction, Tampa, FL: www.compufleet.com
Squarerigger Software: Silverdale, WA: www.squarerigger.com
TMW Systems, Inc., Beachwood, OH: www.tmwsystems.com
Tracker Software, Snowmass Village, CO: www.trackersoftwarecorp.com
VersaTrans Solutions, Latham, NY: www.versatrans.com
Zonar Systems, Seattle, WA: www.zonarsystems.com