Getting Past the Black Box View of Fleet Maintenance

Fleets can use their data to be proactive and efficient in maintenance management.

Outside of the maintenance garage, vehicle reliability is often thought of as a kind of black box.

Issues surface under the hood after the vehicle derates, or worse, breaks down. Technicians may diagnose the failure or confirm the cause for underperformance, but not before taking the asset and driver off of the road.

Under this reactive view of maintenance, vehicle conditions are unclear, or known late. And sometimes it's too late. Responding to these costly repairs, replacements, and road calls after the fact can take up large parts of the maintenance and operations budget.

At the same time, vehicle underperformance may go undetected or uncorrected. Roadside breakdowns jeopardize important customer relations and brand reputation, upset driver satisfaction, and contribute to turnover. With the transportation and logistics market as hot as it is, fleets are having trouble just affording the unpredictability of reactive maintenance.

Traditional Business View of Fleet Maintenance

Traditionally, though, maintenance has been thought of as the responsibility of maintenance teams. This view makes reacting to maintenance issues part of the process.

This thinking fits the bill. P&L sheets buy into this itemized view of maintenance. But to introduce predictability into maintenance, maintenance teams and fleets at large need visibility into vehicle conditions.

Day-to-day fleet operations tell the story of the widespread impact on maintenance. A driver on a short-haul regional route may pick up their load for the day. Before then, the route has been planned and the load assigned to the asset. Operations has seen to its profitability. It’s not just maintenance teams that can make a difference and intervene in vehicle issues.

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Not all maintenance strategies are created equal though. Industry surveys of fleets are telling. The American Trucking Association (ATA) found that the best-in-class trucking fleets ran three times as many miles between breakdowns as the average carrier. Tankers and less-than-truckload fleets (LTLs) also saw significant variation in the mean time between failure (MTBF).

What accounts for the difference in vehicle reliability?

Technician skills, training, and retention are part of it, as are carrier networks of dealerships and repair shops. Vehicle specs and warranties, routes, driver turnover and satisfaction –– they all factor into being prepared for maintenance issues when they arise.

For many fleets right now, maintenance consists of a mix between reactive maintenance and preventative maintenance (PM). Once a vehicle hits a certain mileage band, depending on the duty or time cycle, or when it is convenient to pull it into the shop, then the fleet runs through its battery of tests to ensure the vehicle is in good health.

This reactive approach can reduce maintenance to one-off instances of diligence. That division of tasks knocks regularly scheduled maintenance from the docket and throw shop capacity out of order.

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Fleets Make Maintenance a Business Priority

But fleets have data on their side, and the ability to prepare their people for the current uncertainty in the market.

The opportunity to optimize maintenance runs under every part of the modern fleet. Hands-on expertise in vehicle maintenance isn’t necessarily required for people to make an impact. The advanced visibility provided by predictive maintenance enables these many different entry points to better, more profitable, and sustainable operations.

Points of Impact for Predictive Maintenance
Points of Impact for Predictive Maintenance

Instead of questions about how the fleet can react to vehicle conditions, fleets can ask new questions that uncover value for their maintenance and operations.

  • Do you know which trucks are the most trip-ready to run a critical load?

  • Do you know which trucks are likely to have issues and put the delivery of that load at risk?

  • Can the vehicle with issues be pulled and repaired as a bundle once it’s in the shop –– instead of issue by issue at separate times?

  • Can the spare parts be ordered ahead of time, optimizing inventory and limiting downtime?

  • How are different regions, shops, and technicians performing?

  • Are there persistent issues with certain vehicles, and how can the fleet adjust to address them?

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