Fleetowner 7177 Mele121415

Not your father’s shop

March 7, 2017
Everything’s changing. How about you?

Every March we put together an entire issue focused solely on the shop and have done so for the 32 years I’ve been at Fleet Owner.  Reading through the feature stories in this issue, it suddenly struck me that everyone has been so focused on managing some truly massive changes in the trucking industry that we sometimes forget to appreciate just how pervasive and transformative those changes have been for your maintenance operations. The reliable old shop may still be reliable, but it’s a far different operation than it was even 10 years ago in almost every aspect, from how you manage it to how you staff it, support it and equip it.

Start with the equipment itself.  Modern trucks, whether they be heavy, medium or light duty, have undergone some radical changes as they have evolved to meet market and regulatory requirements for cleaner emissions, better fuel economy, improved reliability, and enhanced safety.  Most of that evolution has been enabled by electronic controls for what were once purely mechanical systems. In other words, technicians confronting a problem can no longer rely on direct physical observation to figure out a solution. Instead, troubleshooting modern trucks is almost exclusively rooted in diagnostics tools. 

Investment in diagnostic software and hardware is a major expense for any fleet doing its own maintenance and repair, as is training technicians to effectively use those diagnostic systems.  And while such diagnostic systems have been around for some time, they have never been so central to effective maintenance and optimal truck performance.  Who has access to the most sophisticated software and at what price has now become a critical issue for all truck shop operations.

The next transformative technology for the shop has been telematics.  I’m not talking about simple location and messaging, which has been around for over 20 years at this point, but the always-on monitoring of today’s trucks that can identify a problem with great specificity, send it in real time to a person who can interpret that information, and then figure out the best way to solve the problem with the least interruption and cost. 

In essence, connected trucks are carrying their own virtual shop, extending the reach of your brick-and-mortar facilities.  The potential impact of finding and diagnosing equipment issues out on the road, which of course is where your trucks spend the vast majority of their time, is enormous. 

Then we have prognostics, which is the ability to anticipate a problem or failure before it happens.  At the moment, this is leading-edge stuff, but we’re right on the verge of seeing widespread application.  In some ways, this will be the ultimate preventive maintenance and a big win for any maintenance operation.

“The one common denominator for these shop-changing
developments is data.”

- Jim Mele, Fleet Owner Editor-in-chief

“When you move 70% of the nation’s domestic freight, there are few issues out there that we are not a part of either directly or indirectly,” he says. “Tax reform, trade, and infrastructure—we have a role to play in all of those issues.”

The one common denominator for these shop-changing developments is data—its wholesale collection and selective use in managing maintenance.  Data, even when it took the form of PM sheets and file cabinets, has always played a key role in any good shop operation, but the depth of detail available to you and your technicians now is vastly expanded. 

At one time, informal on-the-job training, perhaps supported by intermittent instruction from a supplier, was the key to running a good shop.  The primacy of data is now making that approach obsolete, both for shop managers and the technicians on the floor. 

Fleet Owner will certainly continue to identify and describe the latest developments in maintenance (3D parts printing, anyone?).  Another source for more interactive training for anyone tasked with managing their fleets’ maintenance is the Technology and Maintenance Council, which holds multiple meetings throughout the country every year.  Although it’s part of the American Trucking Assns., it’s open to all involved in truck maintenance who are willing to share their expertise with others as well as help develop the art of truck maintenance for the betterment of all. And industry suppliers of equipment and software are the third leg of that training tool you need to consider.

If you haven’t already starting searching for more formal training sources, you’d better get moving.  

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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