Parts: Data connection

Sept. 9, 2014
Technology’s impact on parts management is changing the way dealers, fleets approach maintenance

As technology continues to beef up the types and volume of data that can be extracted from trucks and trailers alike—largely in real-time—the way fleets and even dealerships manage parts is changing as well.

Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing for Decisiv, notes that analyzing part costs is not solely about the hard numbers, i.e., prices, anymore.  “You’ve got to ensure you have reliable and timely delivery of stock when needed because poor inventory fill rates will impact vehicle downtime and days out of service,” he says. “In other words, negotiating a great deal with a poor supplier may still be bad business in the end.”

Yet gaining such delivery reliability hinges on more rapid dissemination of key data, something that OEMs such as Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks are trying to deliver via their onboard telematics systems (Mack GuardDog Connect and Volvo Remote Diagnostics, respectively). Both of those systems incorporate Decisiv’s Automated Service Initiation System, or ASIST,  platform, which connects data collected by a truck’s telematics system together with an OEM’s call center, dealerships, and the fleet itself.

“It’s a system whereby a fault code is analyzed based on severity, a repair plan is added to a case, and the call center, dealer and fleet are looped into a conversation and directed not just to the nearest location but the location where they can be readily serviced and have the part or parts available,” explains Riemer.

Yet such data-driven parts management isn’t only confined to the maintenance and repair process itself.  Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), for instance,  launched a new e-commerce parts platform back in June that is expected to be fully operational by February 2015. Dubbed Pinnacle Truck Parts, the company has not only simplified basic parts ordering for customers, it has made the process faster as well. An online ordering tool offers visibility to parts availability and pricing at local authorized DTNA retail outlets.  Customers will have virtual access to over 100,000 store keeping units, or SKUs, within the OEM’s national parts distribution center network.

“After purchase, customers will have the option to immediately print a single invoice for the purchase of all of their parts,” notes Pam Perez, DTNA’s e-commerce project manager.  “By utilizing this cross-reference parts database, customers will save time and money throughout the parts procurement process.”

The key trend driving this change in parts management is centered around reducing vehicle downtime for fleets while at the same time giving dealers an opportunity to charge a premium if they can successfully minimize downtime for their customers, says Sandeep Kar, global director for automotive and  transportation research at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

“The value proposition of the dealership is evolving, and that will change the very nature of truck sales,” he says. “In particular, we see a shift towards connectivity services through telematics that’s going to affect their aftermarket parts and maintenance services, which make up the biggest part of the dealership’s business.”

Growth market

A recent Class 8 dealership study conducted by Frost & Sullivan found that parts, service and maintenance will be a pillar of dealership revenue growth. Currently, these items contribute around 45% to 50% of profit, but that is expected to increase an additional 5% to 10% by the year 2020.

Even the aftermarket side of the truck and trailer parts business will be affected by this data-demand trend, argues Craig Frohock, president of the aftermarket and trailer business at Meritor. “Fleets have discovered the total cost of a parts purchase—sourcing, inventory requirements, order processes and shipping costs—and more than ever are demanding greater support before and after the sale,” he says.

Frohock stresses that just as OEMs strive to maximize performance and minimize downtime, the aftermarket must also deliver service parts in a speedy, if not anticipatory, mind-set that aligns on-hand parts inventory with immediate needs.

“This alignment is needed to hopefully limit a truck’s time in the service bay to 24-72 hours from the time of arrival,” he adds. “On top of that, more fleet operators have become comfortable with shopping and buying their parts on the Internet and often go online to make comparisons. [So] whether looking for parts availability or learning and training tools, online information continues to play a greater role in the aftermarket.”

Frohock notes that Meritor launched new wholesale outlets that deliver the right parts in four hours or less to synch with this trend.  “Fleets can no longer wait one or two days to get a truck back on the road; the parts business has become a now business,” he points out.

That philosophy is seeping into every facet of the parts business, even the remanufactured components segment, says Doug Wolma, general manager-worldwide operations for Meritor’s aftermarket division.

“In aftermarket parts, including remanufactured components, availability is king,” he explains. “Truck operators are relying even more heavily on fast, reliable delivery and service as their wheels must be moving to make money and stay in business. [That’s why] having the part is only half the equation. Suppliers simply must deliver that part at the right time.”

Design help

Taking all that data and then funneling it back into the vehicle design process is the next step.

“Through our telematics information and repair data from the dealership, we can take all the data we’re gathering by model and specs and give that back to the engineer­ing staff so they can analyze it and develop better products,” says Stephen Roy, president of North American sales & marketing, Mack Trucks. “That way we can eventually offer better optimized specs and components for specific customer applications based on actual data.”

Telematics data is also being used to track the life expectancy of components, says Roy. “If a customer comes into a dealer for a repair, let’s say an overhaul, we can note that it would be time to change out other components to maximize that downtime so they don’t have to come back later,” he points out.

For example, Roy notes that Mack worked with several customers reporting turbocharger fault codes but only from high-altitude locations.  By using data gleaned from the truck’s telematics system, Mack engineers determined it wasn’t a turbocharger issue; it was actually a sensor calibration issue.

“We changed the software and prevented trucks being down for an unnecessary turbocharger replacement,” he emphasizes. “That’s a good example of data usage.”

And that is one way data is influencing parts management as fleets look for more reliable trucks and when the need for repairs arises, quicker service.

Tip Sheet: Air disc brake maintenance

As U.S. fleets begin adding air disc brake (ADB) technology to their equipment, they’ll need to adjust maintenance practices. This is because the design of ADBs differs from that of the traditional drum brake systems used throughout the industry, notes Kevin Pfost, technical services coordinator for Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake LLC.

To that end, Bendix compiled a tip sheet regarding the maintenance and inspection process required when changing out ADB pads.

  • First, prepping for an air disc brake pad change is simple in that the brakes are the same whether they are equipped on a steer, drive, or trailer axle.
  • Second, the parking brake needs to be released or caged so that the axle rotates freely.
  • Once the wheel is off, exposing the wheel-end, find and remove the cap covering the shear adapter on the brake caliper.
  • Using a 10 mm socket wrench or a ratcheting box wrench on the adapter, turn the adjuster counterclockwise—a clicking noise indicates that the tappets are “backing off,” or loosening the pads’ grip on the brake rotor—until it stops. A chain connects the pair of tappets to extend and retract them simultaneously.  

“It’s important never to turn the adjuster without the shear adapter installed,” Pfost stresses. “The shear adapter is designed to fail in the event of over-tightening, preventing damage to the adjustment mechanism itself. The adjustment mechanism is not replaceable, so if it goes bad, the entire caliper will need to be replaced.”

  • Once the shear adapter is fully backed off, the brake pads can be freed for removal.
  • A retaining bar across the top of the brake pads holds them in place: Use a small pair of pliers to remove the spring clip from the pin fastening the retaining bar, then remove the washer from the pin as well.
  • Push down on the retaining bar, pull out the pin, and remove the pad retaining bar. The two brake pads can now be lifted out from either side of the rotor.

At this point, Pfost says technicians should take a quick look at the pads, as the minimum friction thickness is about 2 mm—roughly the thickness of a nickel. Comparing the thickness of the old ADB pad with the new one provides a fleet with a quick glimpse of just how much usage it’s getting out of its ADB pads.

Also, he stresses that technicians should conduct a preventive maintenance inspection before the new ADB pads are installed.

  • Using the shear adapter, extend the tappets and inspect the tappet boots to make sure they are not damaged or contaminated with dirt, which can cause them to bind.
  • Inspect the guide pin boots: Push the caliper all the way inboard to open up the boots and check them for damage and contamination.
  • Look over the tappets, seals, and bushings.
  • If components are damaged, use the brake manufacturer’s service data sheet to determine the correct repair kit to use, which should include the components as well as any special tools to ensure that new bushings are set at the proper depth.
  • Note that slide pin lubrication is not required: ADBs are lubricated for life and do not need grease fittings or oil spray as long as the components remain uncontaminated.
  • When the inspection and any component replacements are complete, Pfost stresses that technicians must ensure the ADB’s tappets are fully backed off so they are flush and slide the new brake pads down into position. They will go in only one way: with the friction facing the rotor and the pad springs at the top.
  • Once the new pad is installed, replace the pad retaining bar and fasten it in place with the pin, washer, and clip.
  • With a 10 mm socket wrench or ratcheting box wrench, turn the shear adapter clockwise to adjust the tappets until the new pads make enough contact with the rotor to stop it from free-wheeling, then back it off—counterclockwise—three clicks.
  • Replace the cap that covers the shear adapter, and the pad replacement is complete.
  • “We recommend replacing the pads on the entire axle at the same time,” Pfost emphasizes. “A fresh set of friction across the board will ensure that each brake shares an equal part of the stopping workload, which is crucial for optimal safety and performance.”
About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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