Smartphones for truck techs

March 1, 2012

There are tens (if not hundreds) of different technological devices technicians use to maintain and repair trucks: laptop computers, diagnostic code readers, handheld scanners, plus a plethora of software packages to boot.

Now Volvo Trucks in Europe, a subsidiary of Sweden's AB Volvo, is experimenting with a different, yet quite familiar technological pathway: making the plain old smartphone an ultimate reference book for truck technicians.

“Firstly, consumer products are produced in larger volumes, resulting in a significantly lower price than industrial made-to-order devices,” noted Kerstin Hanson, project manager at Volvo IT, another AB Volvo division, in an interview last year. “Secondly, users already have prior knowledge of the way this technology works and are therefore more likely to embrace it as a new way of working.”

Bengt Persson, senior vice president of quality and technical support at Volvo Trucks, said that the whole point of this research project is to figure out ways to streamline work.

Giving technicians service instructions via a smartphone that they already know how to operate saves them time and hopefully enhances the quality of their work, he explained.

Via this research effort, developed in collaboration between Volvo IT, Volvo Trucks and Volvo Parts, Persson pointed out that information unique to each type of truck chassis will be easily accessible on a technician's very own smartphone, delivered either as text or through images and animation.

There are a lot of potential benefits to using smartphones in the shop, Persson said, such as using animation to allow for repair instructions to cross language barriers. As smartphones are mobile and easy to carry, they will also make it easier for technicians to be updated with the latest information as they work, he added.

“Today, the service technician constantly needs new skills and information, as new technology develops and more truck models are released onto the market,” Persson added. “As each truck chassis model introduced becomes increasingly unique, it is impossible for technicians to know everything about every vehicle.”

He noted that Volvo originally began testing smartphones back in the spring of 2010 among service technicians in China and Sweden, with technicians from both countries reporting positive results. Now Volvo Trucks and Volvo IT are continuing their work to further develop and customize the application for worldwide use.

“The use of smartphones in service centers is an interesting solution, which will improve efficiency and ensure the quality of our after-sales services,” Persson said. “We therefore have great hopes of launching the concept in the near future.”

“No service technician can keep track of every single part of a truck, so whenever we're unsure, we can find the necessary information here,” said Mattias Roos, a Volvo service technician based in Gothenburg, Sweden, who helped pilot test these devices. “This will sort of be our Bible or telephone book.”

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