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Trucks at Work

Connectivity is the conundrum for truck OEMs

Listened to an interesting presentation by Matthew Pfaffenbach, director of telematics for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), this week at the annual ALK Transportation Technology Summit in Princeton, NJ, this week about the complexities surrounding the “connectivity” needed between powertrain data, telematics systems, and fleet computing networks.

It should also be noted that this is far more than a random esoteric discussion where truck technology is concerned, for even as Pfaffenbach spoke on stage, DTNA introduced its first fully autonomous commercial vehicle out at the Hoover Dam.

Talk about milestones in trucking.

Anyways, back to the issue of connectivity.

From where Pfaffenbach (seen at right) stands, though, the issue is no longer about gathering operational data from trucks – that’s a fairly routine activity. The central issue now, though, is how to connect that “directional data” as he calls it in a consistent, easy-to-read format with drivers, dispatchers, technicians and fleet management through a myriad of different telematics platforms.

“OEMs must develop connectivity that complements telematics service provider (TSP) offerings,” Pfaffenbach said. “We need to integrate better together. OEMs don’t need to replicate existing telematics networks on their own.”

Why is this at all critical? He used DTNA’s integrated powertrain – Detroit engine, Freightliner chassis, and DT12 automated manual transmission (AMT) – as an example.

“That powertrain data is a tool to help the driver get better fuel economy,” Pfaffenbach said. “Remote diagnostics offers an opportunity to reduce downtime by knowing what a problem is and getting parts to fix it in advance.”

The next step, though, will take such data and use it to craft what he dubbed “flexible service intervals” tuned to the exact work application and operation conditions faced by trucks on an individual basis. That’ll then be followed by predictive failure analysis – taking large pools of historical data concerning, say, the life cycle of a turbocharger and using that information to help fleets switch out such parts before they fail.

“All this data then helps a fleet optimize vehicles for specific applications,” Pfaffenbach noted.

“All that’s needed are the connections through which that data can be delivered and analyzed, along with ensuring that the data is accurate,” he added.

Part of this connectivity “puzzle” also rests with the wiring harnesses attached to all of the above components – harnesses that Pfaffenback said will be undergoing an upgrade so they can handle more data.

“But it’s really not about telematics; it’s about connectivity,” he stressed. “It’s very difficult to create a ‘one size fits all’ data connection for all the TSPs out there. That’s our challenge.”

Yet as that challenge is met, the capability of trucks should expand exponentially. That will be an interesting process to watch.

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