Uncrunching Fleet Management in the Supply Chain Crisis

Container ship logjam, capacity crunch, supplier mess, holiday nightmare – the global supply chain continues to deliver creative names for an enduring crisis. Businesses and shoppers are once again facing a peak retail season hampered by delays and disruptions.

Brought on by the spread of the pandemic, and the resulting challenges to the production and shipment of goods worldwide, the problems facing the supply chain have also impacted carriers moving freight over the road. With this season set to outmatch previous records in shopping volume, carriers have their hands full. Order fulfillment, on time and in full, is not a guarantee.

But with decisions backed by industrial intelligence, fleet management can loosen some of the strain on their business and get ahead of the capacity issues that face many in the industry.

Fleet Management in Crunch Mode

The basic resource and raw material shortages at the beginning of supply chains, and especially semiconductors needed to manufacture microchips, are setting back the production of commercial trucks. The delays have driven up prices at dealerships for new vehicles and spurred a new set of delays in the replacement cycles for fleets.

The shortages have left carriers lots emptier than usual. Fleets have looked elsewhere to increase capacity, including through used vehicles. The high demand for used vehicles has hiked up their already high prices even further. As of September, average used Class 8 prices were up 57% compared to last year, to $66,258.

Case Study: United Road Capitalizes on Predictive Maintenance

Low and unpredictable inventory is affecting spare parts too. The supply chain for spare parts replacements have had their share of challenges and contributed to longer-than-expected repairs and downtime. On top of this, transportation companies are dealing with the existing challenges of having enough drivers, technicians, and back-office staff to ensure fleet operations are smooth and efficient. Given these challenges, it’s no surprise that maintenance costs rose this year.

Operational Capacity and Fleet Competition

For those for-hire fleets who have been able to tap into extended networks of owner-operators and meet heightened freight demand this season, the shortage and supply chain challenges have meant more business. But for those struggling with capacity are hard-pressed to meet and keep their delivery obligations. And private carriers have had difficulty moving cargo along their own segment of the supply chain.

Between the need to extend vehicle lifecycles, lacking spare parts supply chains, and delayed replacement cycles, asset uptime and reliability are newly valuable. There is a significant difference in fleet management effectiveness, with the most reliable carriers running three times as many miles between breakdowns as the average fleet. The performance of different tankers and less-than-truckloads (LTLs) also varied widely.

Case Study: Fleet uncovers in $12,500 in annual savings per truck

Taking Cues from the Data

Like the manufacturers, shippers, and retailers looking to build resilience into their supply chains, forward-thinking transportation and logistics companies have turned to their own data to withstand further shocks and instability. Fleet management is taking their maintenance data to the next level to go beyond the time- and duty-based preventive maintenance (PM) intervals. In its place, they are repairing vehicles based on their conditions and a fleet-wide understanding of bottom-line results.

Data-backed decisions offer more reliability and predictable operations to the on-highway segment of the supply chain. Here are three ways fleet management is cutting through the mess of the supply chain to meet their delivery obligations.

1. Predictive Maintenance Guides Capacity Planning and Technician Scheduling

With advanced visibility into probable vehicle conditions and impending repairs, predictive analytics enable fleet managers to uncover the need for additional capacity, either in or outside their fleet, and identify which assets may be more suited to any given route. The added flexibility allows fleet management to adapt to demand further up the supply chain.

That capability also allows fleet managers to schedule their maintenance teams when their skills are most needed, depending on the slate of issues before the fleet. In an especially busy period, critical issues like cylinder head failures on compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks require the attention of a seasoned technician. Having that insight into future fleet operations can enable fleet managers to better manage their vehicles and people.

2. Technicians Receive Diagnostic and Repair Support

By taking advantage of all the data streaming off the vehicles, and organizing it through a simple dashboard, predictive analytics also equip technicians with a streamlined view into vehicle conditions. Before the vehicle even rolls into the shop, they have identified why the aftertreaatment system is clogged, for example. That view into vehicle maintenance has enabled technicians to improve their wrench time and first-time fix rate – both key indicators to unplanned downtime and its cost.

3. Cost-effective & Optimized Maintenance

So many issues pending on so many vehicles can induce something like a first-come, first-serve basis in many fleet repair shops, even though this tendency lends itself to reactive maintenance and lower asset reliability. If they know certain customer commitments must be prioritized over others, the aid of a fleet-wide view can ensure that they make the right repairs given their limited technician and spare parts resources.

An overview of fleet reliability and issues, on the other hand, allows fleet managers to make better business decisions.

Building Value-First Fleet Management & Maintenance

From costly catastrophic failures that can be mitigated via a minor repair to more proactive, efficient repairs, fleet management has realized significant benefits from data-backed maintenance. Now, fleet management can use the power of its data to address asset, personnel, and maintenance challenges while prioritizing business outcomes – and uncrunching one part of the supply chain now in disarray.

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