Resilient Fleet Maintenance during COVID-19: 3 Trends We’re Seeing

Truck repair shops are playing a steady role to maintain supply chain predictability.

COVID-19 has upended and placed more emphasis on every part of the supply chain.

Rushes on everyday items and medical equipment have revealed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, while also highlighting how much consumers take (or used to take) them for granted.

With infection rates on the rise again and another massive wave of consumer demand looming, truck maintenance teams have a significant role to ensure the reliability of the supply chain through high-performing vehicles on the road.

The essential nature of repair shops isn’t new — it’s just more visible now. And with more visibility comes the added pressure for precision in fleet management — maintenance teams must have insights into vehicle conditions, driving, and efficiency in repair shops, all of which enable supply chain managers to take data-driven actions and plan appropriately.

Here are some of the positive trends we’re seeing at repair shops as they bolster the resilience of supply chains in this new and uncertain environment.

1. Automated workflows protect driver & technician health, enhance technician effectiveness

  • Digitization accelerates: Automated workflows have helped contain the virus by limiting exposure via face-to-face meetings and the exchange of paperwork. Small and medium-sized fleets, which have tended to be later adopters of technology, are also realizing that such digital applications as fleet tracking, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), and diagnostic tools are easily integrated into existing telematics devices.
  • Addressing the acute driver and technician shortages: We’ve previously written about the technician shortage, but as the virus introduces a new element of danger to the jobs of drivers and technicians, that shortage is steepening. A recent report from the TechForce Foundation shows an estimated 642,000 new diesel, auto, and collision technicians will be needed by 2024. According to a National Transportation Institute survey, 71 percent of fleets have halted driver training programs since March. In the absence of qualified drivers and technicians to fill openings, there’s a growing need for quicker diagnostics and improved wrench time as a stopgap.

2. Optimized maintenance avoids freight traffic whiplash

  • Wave planning stabilizes shops: With the initial drop in freight traffic, then the subsequent spike with surges in e-commerce and BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store), and now the gradual rise of traffic with tentative re-openings, repair shops have experienced significant disruptions to normal operations. In the early phases, some repair shops found themselves performing maintenance on orders in their backlog to keep busy. Those shops with enough lead time on asset conditions, however, have staggered preventive maintenance (PM) schedules to protect tech safety, ensured they have the right tech skills and parts at the right time, and prepared their shop for the possibility of a surge in maintenance orders as freight demand upticks. With another COVID-19 wave and the peak shipping season already underway, digital tools that provide advance notice are giving fleets a leg-up on the service orders headed their way.
  • Parts inventories balance out: Similar to general consumers stocking up on common household items, shop planners stockpiled replacement parts after concerns about maintenance capacity and parts supply chains. Greater notice on pending failures and real-time insight into vehicle conditions have since created adaptability for many trucking companies, who have adjusted part orders according to insight into future truck conditions.

3. Fleet maintenance visibility provides analytics around capacity decisions

  • Fleets focus on reliability: Until the demand for freight traffic rebounds, many carriers — small and medium-sized fleets in particular — have delayed replacement cycles at least through Q1 2021. With procurement stalled, vehicle reliability becomes all the more important. For many larger fleets, new truck orders bounced back a quarter but could continue to see further delays with uncertainty around future order intakes and new lockdowns. As we near winter weather and the holiday season, reliability will have particular importance up and down the supply chain under tightened trucking capacity.
  • For private carriers, in-house maintenance visibility clarifies for-hire needs: Private carriers looking to defer replacement cycles are counting on their shop planners to manage maintenance orders to make data-driven decisions about capacity. Tech-forward solutions have smoothed the surge in work-orders and lessened their impact on yearly budgets by making maintenance more efficient. In our engagement with a national food and beverage company, a shared, fleet-wide view of reliability has also quantified its need to tap into its pool of for-hire fleets.
Talk to a fleet expert today