Advancements in Fleet Maintenance Technologies

New fleet technologies are resulting in improved technician productivity and vehicle health. Find out the technologies and updates changing the way technicians work.

May 2012, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At a Glance

Technologies are changing the way fleet technicians work. These include:

  • Handheld inspection devices.
  • Automatic data capture systems.
  • Parts ordering tools.
  • Tire pressure monitoring for heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Online maintenance manuals and training.

There’s no arguing that technology in the past 20 years or so has significantly changed vehicle maintenance. As vehicle technology quickly and continually evolves, technicians are facing changes in how they diagnose and fix vehicle problems. At the same time, advances available for shop technicians have streamlined the operations of maintenance facilities. These technologies include new diagnostic tools, expanded availability of online services, time-saving vehicle inspection tools, data collection devices, parts inventory control and ordering software, and overall shop management.

The result of these technologies is increased productivity, healthier vehicles, and less manual work — whether that’s flipping through paper maintenance manuals, walking back and forth to get to a work station, or writing work orders and filing them.  Fleet managers and technology providers talk about the latest tools, gadgets, services, and updates that can help fleets increase productivity on the shop floor.

Electronic Pre- and Post-Inspection Reporting

Where heavy equipment operators previously had to write down their pre- and post-inspection results on paper, an electronic device now makes that process simpler and faster. Randy Campbell, fleet manager, Arapahoe County, Colo., said staff uses Zonar’s Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR) to not only ensure that heavy-duty vehicles are inspected properly, but for paperless record keeping.

Operators “used to do paper documentation. They had to check a sheet, put their name on it, and turn that in,” Campbell said. However, using the EVIR device, which fleet staff has pre-registered and pre-loaded with vehicle configurations, operators just scan the tag next to the parts of the equipment they’ve visually inspected. Campbell and fleet staff can then access inspection information online, tend to urgent concerns, and create work orders for issues that can wait. One aspect of this system is if there is a red flag event, the system immediately alerts fleet staff through an automatic e-mail system that documents and transmits the information to selected individuals, Campbell said.

The fleet has been using this technology for two years, installed in 50 pieces of the road and bridge equipment that require a pre- and/or post-trip inspection.

One of the main ways it saves money is on preventive maintenance. “We’re able to see a problem at its minute point, right when [operators] touch it. If we can get it repaired in time, it can save money on a catastrophic problem,” he said. For example, catching a small hydraulic or oil leak can save an engine. Additionally, this also helps the fleet track and schedule the non-critical repairs that can be deferred for later, he said.

Another plus is electronic storage of information. Where before Campbell had to store carbon copies on file for Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections, the Zonar system stores all pre- and post-trip inspection data for up to 10 years, which can be used in case of a DOT audit.

Wireless Trouble Code Reporting

Wireless and automatic diagnostic trouble code (DTC) reporting can help fleets save time and money by reporting trouble codes while vehicles are on the road before serious engine problems occur. A vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system captures vehicle information, which can be sent wirelessly to fleet management if the vehicle is equipped to do so. These DTCs are usually transmitted through AVL (automatic vehicle location) platform providers. Once the fleet receives the codes, fleet staff can then call the driver of the vehicle to get it scheduled for repair.

By training operations to use an electronic device for pre- and post-trip inspection, the Arapahoe County, Colo., fleet ensures vehicles are inspected properly and maintenance issues are addressed promptly.
By training operations to use an electronic device for pre- and post-trip inspection, the Arapahoe County, Colo., fleet ensures vehicles are inspected properly and maintenance issues are addressed promptly.

A device that sends trouble codes to fleet management while on the road also allows for more efficient field work if the vehicle breaks down and needs immediate attention. If a technician needs to repair the vehicle off-site, he will know in advance what tools are needed to make the repair. Additionally, this can aid in parts ordering, as a shop technician can order a needed part before the vehicle ever gets to the shop, significantly reducing downtime. This makes the repair process much more efficient and frequently less expensive, fixing problems before they get worse, according to Ryan Driscoll, marketing manager for GPS Insight.

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