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Preventive maintenance can reduce fleet downtimes drastically

 Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves
Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

For the few million truck owners and fleet companies in the U.S., truck maintenance is a topic they debate endlessly and have seen being debated across the media and by companies that provide services in that niche. However, the focus of truck maintenance has evolved from being reactive to being proactive, with preventive maintenance solutions increasingly important.

“Monitoring a truck’s health is like us making sure we eat good food, take our vaccines and avoid getting sick. Preventive maintenance is critical to fleets today, as it can help them schedule repairs well ahead of time, thus avoiding a road breakdown which could end up costing three times as much [as the preventive maintenance],” said Mike Valnev, CEO and co-founder of FleetPal.

The tenets of preventive maintenance lie in the analysis of data that is collected from the truck, which can determine the health of every component within the equipment, and thereby predict when something may need to be repaired or replaced.

“A great deal of data can be drawn from trucks these days, not like a few decades back when all we could get were ‘fault codes.’ Now every part of the truck has ECUs – a little computer that reports the events that happen within the equipment. Trucks also come equipped with many sensors that provide 360-degree visibility at all times,” said Valnev.

“Analyzing all that data gives us insight on when a certain component may break down. It is important that we monitor every data set that comes out of the truck – be it the fault code values, temperature levels, tire pressure, mileage or fuel use. We also need to consider the conditions the truck is driven under, like the weather, location, and even the driving attributes of the trucker behind the wheel,” he continued.

Taking action based on insights garnered from preventive maintenance solutions allows fleets to better plan their asset usage, recruit and retain skilled drivers, and more importantly, reduce unplanned equipment downtimes. For instance, getting regular time-spaced engine oil changes may add a bit more to maintenance expenses, but it is always better to change oil frequently than to be left stranded with an engine worn out due to overheating.

“Sudden equipment downtimes can be disastrous to the market standing of a fleet. It can delay freight haul, waste driver hours, cause a dent in a fleet’s reputation, and be a burden on the bottom line,” said Valnev. “In my experience, I’ve seen preventive maintenance reduce service costs by at least 50 percent.”

Maintenance costs have also climbed steeply over the years. Valnev mentioned that when compared to the 1990s, trucks that end up in the maintenance shed after encountering an issue may cost the company almost twice what it would have cost two decades back. “Maintenance costs associated with trucks today is about 10 percent, which is a big deal for fleets, as many of them work on slim margins. Data analytics and the resulting optimization can help fleets predict maintenance needs and plan better.”

However, the problem, Valnev contended, is not with the technology itself, but in its implementation. The U.S. trucking market is heavily fragmented, with 90 percent of the fleets running six or fewer trucks, making it hard for technology to penetrate within a traditionally opaque industry. Add to this the fraction of large fleets that still run archaic technology like AS400 green screens, refusing to adapt to the times. Valnev insisted that it is crucial to get small fleets and owner-operators up to speed on the impact that data analytics and preventive maintenance can have on their equipment.

“Owner-operators and small fleets are not as exposed to data analytics as the larger fleets are. Accessing such information and insights would be a great help for them,” said Valnev. “At FleetPal, we are trying to do just that, by asking everyone to contribute their data and that way, the whole trucking community can compare themselves against the data to perceive where they stand when compared to the rest of the industry.”