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Navigating telematics complexities to boost fleet uptime

April 26, 2021
Key players in commercial trucking have been working to break down the almost overwhelming amount of data coming off today’s vehicles. Their overall goal is to increase equipment uptime through predictive maintenance practices.

Today’s heavy-duty trucks are highly complex, containing various sensors, controllers, and controller area networks (CANs) that feed information back and forth to diagnose fleet assets. Regulatory and safety initiatives have driven the widescale adoption of advanced telematics technologies, which provide a tremendous amount of maintenance, emissions, idling, safety, driver behavior, and fuel efficiency data.

To navigate the almost overwhelming amount of data coming off their vehicles, fleets are working with OEMs to help them provide alerts and break down actionable reports to enhance uptime and efficiency.

Ricky Barker is the vice president of maintenance at Genox Transportation, which uses the data emitted from its telematics devices to keep trucks running. The fleet runs predominantly Freightliners and is looking to incorporate some Volvos into its mix.

Genox utilizes Detroit Connect’s Fleet Health Analysis to manage the data coming off its Freightliner fleet. “When I log into my fleet, I can figure out what units I need to focus on, what things are giving me the most issues, and at classifications by month,” Barker explained during the American Trucking Associations’ April 22 Technology & Maintenance Council panel discussion on leveraging telematics to help improve uptime.

Through Detroit Connect, Barker can run ServiceNow reports, where he can see by vehicle identification number (VIN) which assets are causing the most trouble. By looking at the units with the most alerts, Barker can get units into the shop immediately to identify the most prominent fault codes to help prevent vehicles from breaking down on the side of the road.

“That’s really the name of the game for us: how do we manage this data to keep equipment moving and keep the revenue stream coming in?” Barker said.

Genox also has been tailoring alerts so the maintenance team can track down specific units or problem areas and address the problems head-on. For one unit, Barker explained that the vehicle ended up running out of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) because the driver continued to ignore previous “service-soon” warnings. The fleet used this as an opportunity to coach the driver and get the vehicle into the shop.

The fleet also runs service predictive maintenance (PM) alerts once a month to highlight areas of focus to eliminate the more serious alerts and problems. Genox also partners with other telematics platforms, like Omnitracs’ performance monitoring solution to monitor fuel analysis, mpg data, idle time, and more.  

“This helps us determine not only the health of our trucks but how our drivers are helping us manage our fleet from a safety and efficiency standpoint,” Barker explained. “It helps us target the trucks that we want to improve our miles per gallon on. We can coach our drivers, our fleet managers and our local managers to help use this data to help improve driver efficiencies and even give drivers rewards as we see fit.”

OEM plans

Since Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) launched its Detroit Connect telematics platform, the company has some 300,000-plus trucks connected, explained Bharat Addala, connectivity product services line manager for DTNA.From those connected vehicles, he pointed out DTNA is generating around 18 million messages a day.

“The challenge here is helping fleet customers find the insights from that scale of data,” Addala said. “Customers today have multiple devices installed aftermarket, multiple plans to get data from the truck, and we want to solve that. If our customers’ business process depends on data coming from the trucks, we want to provide a single device with the data plan.”

Detroit Connect offerings include fleets uptime services, fault code analytics, remote updates, and CAN updates and insights. DTNA also recently partnered with Platform Science to be the primary on-vehicle fleet management software development and distribution partner for DTNA. The partnership enables fleets to purchase and utilize third-party telematics solutions and connectivity services directly from their trucks without aftermarket hardware installation.  

DTNA is also partnering with Bendix to bring aftermarket installation of safety systems into its factories.

Fleets that have their own analytics can also tap into DTNA’s Detroit Connect Direct, where they can access direct data from DTNA’s back end so they can perform their own internal key performance indicators.

Moving forward, Addala said DTNA is adding more partners to add connectivity and to work as a single-source solution for fleets. “We are also working with our suppliers to integrate their data into our platform,” he said. “We are looking at providing more video service providers as a factory-installed solution.”

Jeff Zsoldos, chief engineer of powertrain at Mack and Volvo Trucks, noted that OEMs have been putting a lot of effort into telematics over the past decade. Volvo provides fleets data insights via offerings like Volvo Remote Diagnostics, Volvo Action Service, and Volvo ASIST.

“Customers have felt frustration where there are continual updates from a software calibration perspective on your vehicle,” Zsoldos said. “There are some 10,000 parameters in the datasets we have that operate within the software, so these are constantly changing.”

The next level of fleet integration, he said, is where fleets can better leverage the data to improve operations.

“You can look at idle time, coolant temperature, time in top gear, different duty cycles, and all the ways the vehicle is being driven,” Zsoldos pointed out. “All that information is being transferred to the cloud and with the telematics, everything can be combined to give you some direction for your operation from a fleet perspective.”

Zsoldos added that geofencing can also be set up at certain locations or depots to capture data on where the truck is running. Geofencing can be placed around cities and urban environments, for instance, to help fleets and the industry as a whole better track mpgs and idle time.

“There’s a tremendous amount of information available, and it’s almost too much information,” Zsoldos said. “The way I would think about it is that you as a truck owner or fleet owner think about exactly what you want, what information you want from the truck, and tell each of the OEMs this is exactly what I am looking for, ‘Can you do it, or can we work together?’ I think if you come at it that way, then the telematics doesn’t look so overwhelming and could help you maximize profitability.”

How can service providers help?

With all this data and analytics, where do service providers come in? And what kind of offerings might fleets see from service providers over the years? Those were questions posed by Homer Hogg, Travel Centers of America, vice president of truck service.

Hogg emphasized that no matter how big the data is and how much data is coming in, the core of the issue will always come down to “good old-fashioned maintenance.”

“The shortness of data is not a problem, but for service providers, it’s accessibility and availability of that data 24/7 when we need it when the truck is in trouble,” Hogg explained. “How can we share the relevant data and get that over to the service provider?”

Hogg urged original equipment manufacturers and fleets to think about organizing data and providing it to the service providers that maintain their trucks while on the road.

From a call center standpoint, Hogg also emphasized the importance of service providers having a lead time on procuring parts.  

“I think every service provider is confronted with it right now with COVID and other challenges around the world,” he said, adding that it’s important for the industry to work to better organize the data and provide visibility across the parts network. “I think there is a bucket of work to be done in that area—making sure that data is available 24/7 when that service provider needs it.”

Hogg also noted that service providers tend to be platform-agnostic and are working more toward providing fleets with any type of aftermarket devices for telematics, installs and any kind of service work with those providers.

“We all have to work together because, at the end of the day, it’s about keeping these vehicles running,” Hogg stressed.

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