Data dive: Insight leads to improved operations

Using VMRS codes can help fleets track down problems and reduce maintenance costs. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Many fleets are devoting 10% of their operating budgets to maintenance, but it doesn’t have to be that high, suggests Jim Buell, EVP of sales & marketing for FleetNet America. “If you talk to most people, they think maintenance costs are like death and taxes, you can’t do anything about it,” Buell told an audience during a Sunday session on how to use big data at the American Trucking Associations’ MCE 2017 conference in Orlando.

Panel participants also discussed how big data can improve driver performance and what kinds of data fleets should be collecting.

Buell said FleetNet America looked at 400,000 maintenance events and found that 300,000 of them were roadside events, suggesting that most of them were unplanned events. “That means fleets are having unplanned maintenance events and paying more for maintenance than they should,” he said.

When the company looked at fleets that had smaller amounts of unplanned maintenance, what it learned was those companies were using data to make more proactive decisions around vehicle maintenance.

One area to dig into, Buell suggested, is miles to breakdown.

“If you know that you are running 50,000 miles between breakdown events, that doesn’t tell you anything,” he said. “But if you know that last year you were running 70,000 miles between breakdowns, now you know you probably have a problem.”

That kind of change could be adding 33% to your maintenance budget, he said, but it also could be impacting customer service.

A deeper dive into data should start by using and tracking VMRS codes and standards. “VMRS allows you to drill down to the assembly level,” Buell said.  

An example of how digging into the data from VMRS codes can identify problems is a fleet that was seeing a large spike in cost related to cab and sheet metal costs. By utilizing VMRS codes, Buell said, the fleet identified that this was happening primarily at one of its facilities.

“The fleet learned that there was a particular tree in the yard that was clipping off mirrors,” Buell said. “If had probably been happening for years; so for the cost of a saw, that fleet saved $12,000 a year.”

That’s the kind of impact that data can have on maintenance, Buell noted. The same result could identify a poor maintenance problem, or a bad set of parts, for instance, none of which would be possible without a bigger data dive.

Maintenance is not the only area where big data is changing operations. At XPO Logistics, safety analyst Kelly Osburn says deep data dives into driver performance data has allowed the fleet to improve its training programs and overall driver safety.

“Drilling down is what it takes to change behaviors,” she said. “Before we put a telematics system in all our tractors, we did all our crash data reactively. Once we put in a telematics system, we became proactive.”

The data started to show poor driving trends that XPO was able to address through a “playbook for behaviors.” The company added specific training orders for training and talked to individual drivers.

“Eighty percent of our drivers are doing really well’; 20% are causing the issues, so we started recognizing the drivers who were doing well,” Osburn explained, adding that XPO realized thanks to the data it was collecting that sometimes it was the trainers and managers who were failing the drivers. So, recognition was added for those personnel who excelled in their positions.

The added levels of data also allowed XPO to create “enhanced coaching” for drivers who were not responding to the initial training and to create behavior targeting to find and address certain behaviors that were prominent in specific facilities.

“With the data we’re getting, not only are we effecting the behavior of our drivers, but we are effecting the behavior of our entire company,” Osburn noted. “We can dig down to find the root cause of the problem because it’s not always the driver. Was the (facility) closed? Did we have enough drivers? We can find the [real cause].”

Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck & Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, said that all fleets should be collecting at least a base level of data to monitor safety and operations. By going a step further, fleets can then benchmark their safety programs against peers.

“If you can collect how much mileage that truck does or how many hours your driver drives, that can help you analyze that data later,” he said.

Basic data can help a fleet determine if the technologies it is using are providing a return on investment. More sophisticated fleets will collect onboard monitoring data that can help identify risky drivers, Hanowski said. This includes video monitoring that can provide context to things like hard braking incidents.

“When you have these kinds of analysis … you can use this data for coaching and for reducing safety events,” he said.

Really advanced fleets are adding fatigue management and other advanced safety programs, including some that are starting to look at how wearable technologies can help.

A key to any data collection, Hanowski said, is to be purposeful with the data you collect and set goals.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.