As operating costs have risen, more fleets are incorporating telematics as a way to not just improve fleet utilization and efficiency, but to help reduce maintenance costs.
Basically, telematics refers to a variety of ways vehicles can exchange electronic data with operations centers and maintenance shops, enabling fleets to know what's going on with their vehicles even though they are miles away.
Things like tracking a vehicle, monitoring speed and direction, plotting routes, reporting how long a vehicle was idling, recording hard braking or stopping events, and alerting when a vehicle has a component problem are just a few things telematics can provide, says Peggy Fisher, president and COO of TireStamp of Troy, Michigan, a leading tire monitoring and tire asset management systems supplier.
Fleet managers receive alerts from Telematics systems, which allow for rapid communication and, if necessary, corrective action to improve driver and mechanic performance and productivity.
“In this tough economic and operating environment, having instant information on driver and vehicle behavior is critical to quickly identifying and fixing problems,” Fisher says. “Telematics provides an extra set of ‘eyes’ that lets a fleet see what is going on even though the vehicle is far over the horizon.”
A large number of suppliers of telematics systems and equipment are available. Almost every one provides vehicle tracking.
However, new features such as executive dashboards that provide a high level snapshot of the fleet, navigation that provides directions to the driver, and remote vehicle diagnostics that keep maintenance managers advised of problems with the vehicle are gaining in popularity.
So, too, are dispatching software and other fleet productivity tools.
Several interesting trends have emerged recently in the telematics arena, notes Fisher. One is the big move toward remote vehicle diagnostics for reducing operating costs. Another is the growing number of telematics suppliers that are focusing on providing driver behavior data for reducing vehicle operating costs and risks.
Another development growing in acceptance, she goes on, are systems designed to keep driver distraction to a minimum with text-to-speech formats that alert drivers to problems without their having to take their eyes off the road.
In the maintenance area, remote diagnostics applications inform personnel of component problems (fault codes) on a vehicle.
In the past, this was confined primarily to the engine and transmission, Fisher observes. Today, there are applications that can monitor various vehicle systems, including tire pressure and temperature.
One such system is TireStamp's TireVigil, a fully integrated and interactive tire monitoring and alerting solution that gives full visibility of a fleet's tires even though they are hundreds of miles away.
“Tires account for 51% of the en-route breakdowns fleets experience,” points out Fisher, and are “by far the highest vehicle operating expense a fleet has after fuel. So it makes sense that ensuring tires are properly inflated before a vehicle heads out on the road, and getting alerts when a tire picks up a nail and develops a slow leak would help improve a fleet's maintenance, optimize performance, and save money.”
TireVigil also monitors the heat levels on each axle end, and can advise when a vehicle has a dragging brake, frozen bearing, or some other maintenance issue that could cause a wheel-off accident, tire fire, or other severe tire or axle end damage, she adds.
“Delivering operating and maintenance information to a fleet, 24/7, even though the vehicle is in Timbuktu, is all made possible with telematics,” says Fisher, “and that helps lower overall fleet operating costs and improve the profitable utilisation of vehicles and drivers.
“The best applications analyze the data and present it in user friendly formats.”