The Capacity Crunch — Five Questions

Braden Pastalaniec, VP of Transportation, and Norman Thomas, Director of Customer Advocacy, sat down as part of our “Five Questions” Series to discuss the effects of peak retail season, “forced digitization,” and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine on fleet maintenance.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Many carriers are facing a capacity crunch, with the two challenges of COVID-19 and the peak retail season. How have you seen this quarter challenge fleets, and how are they responding?

Norman: During the holidays, transit systems always have an excess of freight and they’re moving it as quickly as they can. With e-commerce hitting an all-time high because of COVID-19, this year, even more freight needs to be moved.

For fleet operators, on top of these capacity constraints, comes an entirely new level of difficulty in managing teams and vehicles remotely. At least one of our customers has expressed they’re going back into a lockdown. Everyone who can work from home — from dispatch teams to customer service reps — is.

Like many carriers, they’re managing in this remote environment by relying more than ever on their digital maintenance systems to identify problems and acting on those identified problems quickly. Instead of waiting for the truck to break down and repair it on the side of the road, they’re able to schedule service ahead of time.

Braden: This year, there’s an excess of goods that need to be moved around the country than most carriers have the drivers and equipment to handle. So any time that a truck is up and optimizing its miles on the road, it’s making revenue. A lot of these carriers are closing out on a high note after they went through some tough times earlier this year.

There’s still challenges ahead. Fleets are asking themselves a couple of questions. How do I optimize the downtime that’s needed, whether it’s from a service perspective or unplanned downtime perspective? And how do I ensure that I’m meeting all of my daily deliveries on time and in full? As we move into 2021, this capacity crunch could stretch into how we deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.

The ability to get all of that vaccine in the hands of the world is going to put an additional strain on the supply chain. And the other commodities that fall below the vaccine in importance are going to be stressed in terms of how they get picked up by the supply chain. So there’s a lot of unknowns going into next year. And as with this year, a lot of our customers are going to be tasked to do more with less and leverage technology to push the boundaries on what they’ve done over the past decade.

How are fleets conducting maintenance differently in response to capacity challenges?

Norman: Extending the life cycle of vehicles has taken on a new importance with the capacity crunch. If a fleet has to make a major repair, they start looking for a replacement. But if they can pre-empt that repair with proactive maintenance, they may not need to replace the truck as soon.

We’ve seen customers push back procurement cycles six months through the improved reliability of their fleet. With that delay in replacing old vehicles, trucks can run to the upper limits of their expected lifetime mileage. That enhanced reliability shows up in the carrier’s cash flow, where they’re not spending as much on replacing their fleet as soon as they had originally planned.

How do you anticipate fleets changing maintenance strategies with the cost of roadside breakdowns rising?

Norman: You never want to repair on the road. If it's at all possible, you want to get to one of your own locations. Our customers are using Uptake in order to schedule service that prevents a roadside breakdown and lock in that cheaper cost of repair in the shop.

That's where customers are really seeing this technology making an impact — mitigating those on-the-road repairs, scheduling that truck for repair so they have the most availability of their equipment, and then reducing maintenance costs overall.

Where have you seen the disruptions of this past year change the way fleets are approaching technology?

Braden: COVID-19 has forced fleets to digitize their workflows. Not only do they need to manage in a remote work environment, but this year has shown that technicians, technician supervisors, and maintenance supervisors are finding ways to do more digitized work.

Norman: Technology allows our customers the ability to see what’s going on remotely without actually touching the vehicle and downloading the data, which is what they've always done before.

Technology is helping fleets to free up manpower, to be able to more efficiently direct resources versus having a mechanic standing in a shop and waiting for a truck to come in just so he can download the data off of it. Now, they can have access to that data and can plan that repair before the truck even arrives.

Braden: We've also heard feedback that predictive maintenance in the near term future will all but eliminate the need for manual diagnostics. So if you see something within the Uptake system, for example, and you call your technician and you say, “hey, I've got a truck coming in that's got a bad NOx sensor, this is what we're going to need to do.” That takes a whole bucket of workflow that you can reallocate into many different areas of your business and better allocate manpower.

In what ways have you seen this year accelerate the adoption of tech-forward solutions across fleets?

Braden: Transportation has technology flying at us from all angles, whether that's new types of powertrains on our assets, electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles, enhanced safety technology. They’re being rolled out on the assets and certainly with back-of-the-house technology like Uptake. It's a real accelerator of digital innovation and digital investment.

And the factors that came together this year have only really accelerated that investment as well. Folks are continuing to look at technologies that position them to optimize their entire workflow and do more with less.

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Braden Pastalaniec is the VP of Transportation at Uptake and brings 15 years of experience in transportation and commercial fleet management

Norman Thomas is the Direct of Customer Advocacy at Uptake and has been in the industry for 30 years, working both for both trucking and transportation technology companies