How fleets can use ELDs to improve preventive maintenance

Aug. 18, 2020
The right ELD can collect an array of telematics data beyond just engine hours, helping fleets do more than simply comply with hours of service requirements.

For some fleets, the sole purpose of investing in an electronic logging device (ELD) is to track driving time in compliance with the hours of service (HOS) regulations. However, some ELDs are capable of collecting a much broader array of vehicle data that can help the fleet in additional ways.

"There are many other benefits a good ELD can provide," says Scott Sutarik, vice president of commercial vehicle solutions for Geotab, a provider of GPS fleet tracking devices and fleet management software. "Those benefits include saving time and money by cutting down on paperwork, reducing administration costs, increasing fleet efficiency, providing real-time access to information, and helping improve safety ratings."

ELDs can also help fleets improve their preventive maintenance activities.

"Certain ELD devices provide end-to-end vehicle inspection (tires, fluids levels, et cetera) that can provide insights into vehicle conditions," says Ash Makki, product marketing manager for Volvo Trucks North America, which offers a full range of medium to heavy duty trucks. "This will allow for advanced maintenance planning to avoid downtime. Additionally, if the ELD is enabled by the OEM to display powertrain fault codes, it will help schedule maintenance before expensive breakdowns."

The thing is, not all ELDs collect that type of information. When shopping for an ELD, fleets should specify what they are looking to do, which will help identify the types of data they need.

"Keep in mind that there are well over 400 different devices that are certified for ELD," says Brian Mulshine, director of customer experience for Navistar, a manufacturer of trucks, buses, and engines whose brands include International.

Navistar has its own ELD/telematics device in its Class 8 trucks. The latest version, introduced in June 2019, broadens capabilities to include remote diagnostics and over-the-air updates. Navistar's solution can also provide a deeper level of fuel analytics data.

"Most telematics boxes can't get to that kind of engineering-level data," Mulshine points out.

Navistar is also integrated with more than 20 telematics providers.

"That means we allow the fleet to use virtually any ELD they want, and then allow [the device] to connect to our server to provide a lot of different tools and information to help [the fleet] improve safety and maintenance, and overall manage their businesses," Mulshine says.

Background on ELD and data collection

The ELD Mandate, which fully went into effect in December 2019, is an initiative of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The goal is to improve driver safety. How? An ELD, as opposed to a paper logbook, is designed to improve the speed, convenience, and accuracy of capturing drivetime. This helps ensure that fleets are complying with HOS regulations, which put limits on how many consecutive hours a driver can drive, along with requiring a certain number of off-duty hours.

As long as a fleet uses an ELD that has been registered with FMCSA, the benefits of electronic logging are assumed to follow. ELD registration is granted when certain operational requirements are met with respect to effective recordkeeping, protection of driver privacy, tamper resistance, and other factors.

Generally speaking, an ELD syncs with a vehicle's engine to capture data such as date and time, location, engine hours, and vehicle miles. The FMCSA does not require an ELD to capture vehicle performance data such as speed, braking, steering, etc. However, some ELD systems allow for such capability, as well as the ability to capture other vehicle performance data.

"What ability might your ELD have to tell you something you didn't already know?" asks Chris Orban, vice president of data science for Trimble Transportation, formerly PeopleNet, a provider of advanced fleet tracking and management services. Any ELD is already capturing information off of the engine to satisfy HOS requirements. "Why not record as much data as possible if it will make the driver's life better and also make things better for the fleet? Some ELDs keep it pretty simple in terms of the data they collect, but others strive to do more."

Trimble's devices, for example, have the ability to collect a large amount of telematics data from a truck's engine control module (ECM), helping fleets do things like analyze fault codes.

"Our devices also monitor things like engine oil temperature and DPF (diesel particulate filter) life," Orban points out. The fleet then decides how much data it wants to collect and analyze, because the back-end software solution is what allows the fleet to do that.

"A fleet can choose a more basic solution that is solely for ELD compliance, or a more sophisticated solution that might include fuel tax reporting, data analytics, preventive maintenance, and even video intelligence," Orban says.

For example, in addition to the HOS data described earlier, Geotab's ELDs collect a variety of other information:

  • Fuel usage and efficiency monitoring
  • Engine fault reporting for proactive vehicle maintenance
  • Accurate insights for International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and International Registration Plan (IRP) mileage reporting with "true trip miles"
  • Availability of Geotab Marketplace solutions such as refrigerated trailer temperature monitoring, tire pressure monitoring, and in-cab cameras

Geotab has also developed a unique driver platform called Geotab Drive. This mobile app works with Geotab's GO telematics device to streamline not only ELD compliance, but also Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR) and messaging. Drivers can easily record their HOS status and complete inspections right on their mobile device. Fleets can then stay updated on driver logs and remaining hours, as well as inspection results. All of this data can be utilized to get ahead of preventive maintenance actions at the most opportune time: when a driver is off-duty and before a vehicle suffers a significant failure.

Leveraging data to improve maintenance

Even with a very basic ELD, fleets can still take a lot of the data and use it to guide their preventive maintenance efforts.

"A concept I'm using is the 'weighted mile,'" Trimble's Orban relates.

Two drivers driving the same make and model might be very different in many ways. Where is each truck being driven, and when? How quickly is each driver accelerating? How hard is each driver braking?

"There could be different levels of wear and tear based on driver behavior and operating conditions," Orban says. What might equate to one mile for Driver A might only equate to a half-mile for Driver B. This is a big deal when it comes to preventive maintenance," Orban continues. "This gets into what we refer to as 'prescriptive maintenance,' which is where I believe the industry has to go with all of this data."

In other words, a fleet can strive for maintenance based on what a given vehicle actually needs — at the proper time it needs it. The fleet needs data to do that.

Navistar's Mulshine says a great example of where ELD data can help is with oil change intervals. That is due to the relationship between miles driven and miles per gallon. All ELDs are required to track mileage, and some are also capable of pulling enough data to calculate fuel mileage.

"When we work with fleets to help them optimize maintenance, we show them how to take real-time fuel economy data to devise a plan to extend maintenance intervals if they can," Mulshine says. "When you take the time to look at the typical maintenance manual for a Class 8 engine, you'll see that it uses fuel economy to determine the optimum oil change interval. If a fleet happens to have a particular driver who is getting lower mileage, say 5 mpg, it could be that the driver is idling quite a bit, hauling heavy loads the majority of the time, or maybe working a lot of grades. In this case, maintenance intervals should be more frequent. But then the fleet might have a driver who is getting 7 or 8 mpg. This truck's interval could be extended."

To set up the most effective preventative maintenance plan, Geotab's Sutarik says fleets need not only a good ELD capable of capturing valuable vehicle data, but also a maintenance management system that successfully communicates with vehicles.

"By combining maintenance management software with vehicle telematics data, maintenance can be triggered automatically in the software based on the actual utilization of the vehicle," Sutarik says.

For example, remote diagnostics programs from Geotab’s Marketplace partners — which include Allison, Eaton, Cummins, and Navistar — work with telematics technology to better understand the thousands of fault codes a modern vehicle generates.

"When an engine fault occurs, for instance, the right ELD can transmit that information, along with GPS and other data to be analyzed by the fleet's chosen program [software] provider," Sutarik explains.

A good example involves a low-coolant fault code. Yes, the coolant level could simply be low. But there could also be a cracked exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler, a damaged aftertreatment system, or potential damage to the engine. With the right ELD capturing the right data, this fault code could be caught in time for the driver and technician to determine the best course of action.

That kind of "predictive" maintenance is intended to help fleets avoid costly repairs and reduce downtime. However, Volvo's Makki reiterates the fact that the typical ELD will not provide enough vehicle insights to enable predictive maintenance.

"A fleet management solution is needed with the ELD to maximize data collection and use," Makki says.

Leveraging data to improve service scheduling

An ELD with the right capabilities can also assist with maintenance scheduling. Even with the most basic ELD, data on miles and hours is generated electronically, as opposed to pen-and-paper which is more prone to error.

"Scheduled preventive maintenance can be based on actual engine hour data instead of the drivers guessing on number of hours driven," Volvo’s Makki says. This can help fleets ensure they are getting vehicles in for maintenance at the proper times.

There is also the issue of HOS. ELDs can help fleets improve service scheduling and, in turn, increase uptime.

Trimble's Orban points back to the entire premise of the HOS regulation and ELD mandate: improve driver safety. With this as the backdrop, Orban says fleets can use ELD data to improve service scheduling.

For example, let's say a driver is working primarily at night. It might seem logical to schedule the truck for maintenance at 9 a.m. But if the driver has to wait around the service facility to answer questions for an hour or two, this eats into their rest time.

"Yes, this is legal because the driver is technically off-duty," Orban says. "But the driver is not getting the good rest he should be. Fleets should use HOS data to keep drivers not only legal, but safe. Maybe it's as simple as giving the driver 10 hours off after the vehicle has been serviced."

Geotab's Sutarik explains how automated reminders can be an effective tool to assist fleets with maintenance scheduling.

"The key to maintenance reminders is understanding the frequency in which a maintenance event needs to be performed," Sutarik says. "Connected vehicle data can help define how frequently a vehicle needs maintenance by combining the vehicle manufacturer's recommended servicing schedule and the vehicle's actual utilization."

At the very high end of the spectrum in terms of ELD/telematics capability is remote programming. This can assist fleets with service scheduling even more. A fleet knows when a driver will be going off duty. The fleet can schedule over-the-air software updates as well as parameter changes at those times.

The International 360 System is one example of remote programming functionality. It can also assist with maintenance and repairs when a fault code is triggered.

"International 360 will show a fault code it detects from the vehicle, and then goes a couple steps further by also identifying the likely parts that will be needed, along with a list of nearby dealers that have the parts in stock," Navistar's Mulshine says. "The driver can pick a dealer, and then make a click to request service."

Navistar's Mulshine says there is more demand being placed on a vehicle's telematics system than ever before. More fleets want more information — information that will help them maintain regulatory compliance, improve safety, increase uptime, and reduce maintenance costs. While an ELD is primarily viewed as a compliance tool, the right one can help a fleet in these other areas, too.                  

About the Author

Gregg Wartgow

Gregg Wartgow covers the trucking and maintenance industries for Endeavor Business Media's Commercial Vehicle Group, which includes Fleet Maintenance and FleetOwner.

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