MANAGER: Tom Newby
TITLE: Director of field maintenance
FLEET: Old Dominion Freight Line, Thomasville, NC
OPERATION: LTL fleet with 5,700 trucks, 15,964 “pup” trailers, and 5,655 trailers 32 to 53 ft. long
Most fleets, regardless of their size, face similar issues when warning lights start flashing on the dashboards of trucks far away from home base. For drivers and fleet managers alike in those situations, the immediate question generated by such warning lights — known as malfunction indicator lamps, or MILs, within the industry — is always the same: How serious a problem is this?
Knowing whether the fault code generating that MIL means something serious has gone awry in the truck, or whether it can keep limping down the road to the next maintenance shop, can make all the difference in the world, explains Tom Newby, director of field maintenance for LTL carrier Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL).
“Giving us more information about what the fault code means saves us money in that road call situation,” he says.
Newby sets the scene this way: A driver sees an MIL light come on, so he calls in the problem, and a technician gets dispatched from the nearest repair facility. After checking out the truck, the technician reports that the truck needs to be towed to the shop.
“It sure would be nice to know that the truck needs to be towed before we spend the time and money getting a technician out there,” Newby says.
When ODFL started looking at installing PeopleNet's onboard computing and mobile communications system on its trucks last year, Newby realized it provided the very diagnostic code conduit he'd been looking for.
Using PeopleNet's real-time engine monitoring software, ODFL linked into the engine control module on its trucks so it could transmit fault codes directly to FleetNet America, its road call service provider. FleetNet, in turn, interprets the diagnostic codes it receives, then contacts the driver. If the code is one of six “critical” MILs on ODFL's “code alarm” list, FleetNet will tell the driver to pull over and park his or her vehicle immediately. These “urgent” fault codes — high temperature, low coolant, low oil pressure and high oil temperature — could result in catastrophic engine failure and thus require immediate action.
“The fault code gives FleetNet a better idea of what's needed,” Newby explains. “The last thing we want to do is have a technician dispatched to the truck, only to learn that it can't be fixed at roadside and will need a tow. It's all about better visibility and analysis that will keep our maintenance costs and vehicle/driver downtime in check.”
The system also allows ODFL to keep an exact “time log” of when diagnostic faults occur and under what conditions. That allows Newby's department to put the codes into truck operating “context” to help them see if there are any patterns to the codes. “For example, all of the new emissions technology on board our trucks helps us to better determine if the problems we're seeing are related to the engine or the aftertreatment systems,” he says.
Already, ODFL's “diagnostics on the fly” system is paying for itself, Newby says. While wrapping up testing on the system, just a few days before going live, FleetNet received a fault code indicating low oil pressure. They called the driver of the truck in question and instructed him to pull over and park.
“As a result, we incurred minor repair costs, compared to a full-blown catastrophic engine failure that would have cost us $20,000,” he says. “That failure would have occurred if attention to the problem had been deferred until the driver returned back to his terminal for a diagnosis.”
So far, ODFL has equipped 3,500 vehicles with the in-cab system and plans to have its remaining 2,200 trucks equipped by the end of spring.
— SEAN KILCARR