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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Tire Pressure Monitoring System

It’s common knowledge that accurate tire pressure is not only safe but will also lead to better fuel mileage. Properly inflated tires can also lead to cost savings, as a vehicle with a flat on the side of the road means a technician needs to be sent out to change the tire, not to mention downtime for that vehicle. For heavy-duty vehicles and others that don’t come with a tire pressure monitoring system, ensuring the correct tire pressure on numerous fleet vehicles is sometimes a difficult task.

E.J. Ward’s tire pressure monitoring technology aims to solve this by automatically and continuously monitoring and reporting fleet vehicle tire pressure, said Mike Wade, director of marketing for E.J. Ward.

The technology consists of a sensor that is screwed onto the tire valve stem. A device in the cab of the vehicle reads the sensors that are continually checking the tire pressure. “Once the tire reaches a certain low pressure level, it will emit both a visual and an audible alert,” Wade said. This alert informs the driver that he needs to check his tires immediately.

This feature not only increases safety but also lowers maintenance costs by reducing fuel use and saving tire tread, Wade stated.

Data Capture

The data entered into a fleet management system affects what comes out when a fleet manager is pulling reports. The best way to enter data may be through automation, which would reduce the risk of human error as well as the time needed to devote to data entry. Information can be pulled automatically through various channels. AssetWorks’ new vehicle data collector (VDC) system consists of an antenna that automatically updates the fleet management information system with vehicle meter updates every time a vehicle drives within 300 feet of the antenna.

In addition, an optional telematics module will allow the VDC to capture all engine diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) if the vehicle is in range. Fleet managers can also tell the system how to react to certain codes.

“Every code that comes in can be configured to react differently based on its severity ,” said Joe Basile, vice president, fueling technologies, AssetWorks. “If it’s a code for low oil pressure, you want to take that vehicle off the road, so through our notifications, we can send e-mails out to the owning department of the vehicle to take the vehicle off the road right way. A lesser code [can be configured to stay] on the vehicle’s record until the next time it comes in for service.”

According to the company, a VDC system can provide similar benefits to a real-time system without a recurring monthly cost.

Ease of Telematics Use

One of the newest developments in telematics that will affect maintenance is the ability to pinpoint specific vehicles for maintenance or repair, according to Harold Leitner, director of business development for GPS Insight.

“We’ve added the ability via a very detailed hierarchy to allow service techs or fleet managers to add attributes and categories to each vehicle or to a certain type of vehicle,” Leitner said.

Instead of creating vehicle groups for reports and pulling multiple reports, the enhanced hierarchy features allow a fleet manager to create as many attributes as he or she wants and pull a single report. For example, if a fleet wants to make sure a service is done for all diesel vehicles, over a certain age, and used by a specific department, he can pull all those attributes to generate a scheduled report for service.

Enhanced capabilities in pulling reports from a telematics system improve PM scheduling. Shown are screen captures of GPS Insight's new feature.

Enhanced capabilities in pulling reports from a telematics system improve PM scheduling. Shown are screen captures of GPS Insight's new feature.

Not only does this enhanced grouping capability allow for easier planning and forecasting of preventive maintenance (PM), it also helps with personnel scheduling. Leitner gave an example of downtime on the shop floor — the fleet manager can pull a report of all vehicles of a specific type that need an oil change in the next 30 days and get those vehicles in when the correct technicians are scheduled to work.

Leitner said the addition of attributes and categories to vehicles within a telematics platform can save fleet managers and technicians hours of scheduling PM.

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Going Paperless to Improve Efficiencies

One way to increase efficiencies on the shop floor is by reducing paperwork. By transitioning to a paperless shop and replacing paper with electronic data, technicians aren’t spending time filing papers or looking for a misfiled document.

By going paperless, the fleet at the City of Troy, Mich., saw significant time savings as well as ease of data entry, Sam Lamerato, CPFP, superintendent of fleet maintenance, reported. Through its fleet management information system (FMIS), the Troy fleet was able to replace its paper work orders.

“We had five four-drawer legal-sized file cabinets, and each vehicle jacket was stuffed with paper work orders,” Lamerato said. “Since we’ve gone paperless, we’re down to one-and-a-half file cabinets with just vehicle information in them, such as title, registration, insurance, etc.”

Parts barcoding, electronic parts ordering, and the FMIS allow the elimination of paperwork in the parts room. Lamerato stated that the fleet’s fuel management system captures vehicle information, so mileage documentation has been digitalized. Additionally, fleet staff are able to look up repair procedures online from workstations located on the shop floor.

The FMIS also captures photographs of the vehicle that can be used later for insurance purposes and for vehicle audits.

The City fleet has digitized employee-­related paperwork by replacing paper time cards with employee ID badges that an RFID reader scans. The FMIS system records technician working hours for each work order. Employee evaluations are entirely computerized as well, Lamerato said. As part of a City-wide initiative, the fleet now performs evaluations electronically, and managers have the opportunity to file them electronically. This allows managers to have access to employee information, including emergency contact numbers, from any location.

Online Training

While classroom and hands-on training can provide priceless experience, online training is often a more convenient and time-saving option.

Campbell  of Arapahoe County said online training has allowed him to assign technicians training for specific topics for less than full-day periods, especially when there is downtime.

“I have the luxury to[say], I need you to certify yourself on brake systems, and I need you to look at the electronic system on a specific vehicle. Give me a certification on that,” Campbell said. He keeps technicians’ printed certifications on file.

Fleet technicians use computer-based training from Delmar, a part of Cengage Learning. The fleet purchases yearly ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) study guides and certification testing for technicians. This gives technicians both theory and testing to help them keep up with the industry and maintain their ASE rating. In addition, the fleet uses the FordStar online, which gives technicians access to video training, part of an online certification process. All this helps technicians stay current in today’s rapidly evolving technologies, Campbell said.

Melvin Rose, fleet manager at Monroe County, N.Y., said his fleet uses a combination of online and hands-on training, depending on the course. In-house, he often has technicians get ASE, Ford, or GM training online, while training for newly purchased heavy equipment may be held off-site.

Online Manuals and Support Services

Services that provide online technical support or a manual can prove to be beneficial over paper or CD manuals. Rose said the Monroe County fleet, like many others, subscribes to AllData for OEM auto repair software. The shop uses the online tool for codes and troubleshooting for both foreign and domestic light-duty vehicles, which eliminates the time needed to flip through multiple books and is more often updated than CDs.

AllData, a subscription product, offers a compilation of OEM manuals and diagrams, accessible electronically and in one location. It currently has OEM material for 85 unique vehicle makes of light-­duty passenger vehicles and trucks and updates its maintenance and repair information quarterly and its technical service bulletins (TSBs) daily.

According to Annette Mullin, AllData’s senior marketing manager, AllData has made some changes to the newest product that have improved how technicians interact with it. These include a new search function with filtering capability that allows a technician to find a diagram or article faster, and the ability to pin an article and save it while looking up another article, which is ideal for working on multiple components or for multiple technicians working on the same computer. Mullin added that the zoom and print feature, while a small addition, is popular as it allows a technician to focus on the specific section he needs to work on rather than printing the full diagram.

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Handheld Devices Increase Technician Mobility

One of the more advanced capabilities that Ron Katz, senior vice president, North American Sales, Chevin Fleet Solutions, has seen is the use of wireless handheld data collection devices for maintenance management that integrate with the fleet management system. The devices eliminate the need for technicians to interact with a workstation or keyboards, Katz said.

One such fleet, a commercial client in the shipping industry with multiple maintenance shops, has technicians using electronic devices that are seamlessly connected with the fleet management system. These devices vary depending on the type of mechanic, and include tablets, barcode scanners, custom screens for fuel, pre-trip information, work orders, parts, and even cell phones when maintenance is performed off-site, according to Chevin.

Katz gave an example of a preventive maintenance (PM) technician working on a large crane: The device guides him through the PM process step-by-step and includes maintenance codes specific to that crane. Another technician can use the same tablet for another vehicle through a separate log-in.

“This capability, when combined with tight electronic integration with internal load management, inspections, and financial systems, has garnered very significant efficiencies,” Katz said.
FASTER Asset Solutions CEO Joe Healey believes there will be an increased use of mobile, touch-screen technology, particularly in the form of tablets.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of customers who want to use tablet technology,” Healey said. He believes the use of ruggedized tablets will increase. Since ruggedized tablets can also come with a keyboard, technicians can mount them in a truck and type, or walk around and use them like true tablets. Technicians can use any tablet that will run Internet Explorer or Firefox, or they can use a FASTER-provided tablet that comes with an integrated barcode reader and digital camera, Healey said.

With a mobile tablet connected to the FASTER Web FMIS software, technicians “are able to look up repair history so they can quickly diagnose a repair, quickly find out if parts are available, scan the part barcode, or see what parts were used last time,” said Mike Brawley, product manager. “With a tablet by their side, technicians can work efficiently, whether looking up information or documenting what they’ve done with text, a barcode and/or by taking a picture with one device that is easy to carry and doesn’t break when you drop it.”

Parts Ordering and Management

Managing a parts room stocked with parts for numerous types of vehicles can be a difficult task. Fleets use software to keep track of parts that are low in stock in their own parts rooms, but when re-ordering in large quantities, it’s also important to consider what local providers have in stock as well. That’s when advancements in technology come into play, ensuring that a vendor knows and stocks exactly what parts a fleet will need before they’re even ordered.

NAPA’s MIC (marketplace inventory classification) does just this, according to Jett Kuntz, director, Integrated Business Solutions (IBS), Genuine Parts Company, US Automotive Parts Group. For fleets that purchase vehicles from NAPA, whether exclusively or partially, the fleet manager can provide the company a VIN (vehicle identification number) listing for all its vehicles. The company keeps track of any vehicle parts that “have the probability of wear and tear,” which helps the local NAPA store stock exactly what the fleet needs for replenishment, Kuntz said. “It’s a unique tool our NAPA stores have that put the inventory on the shelf that the fleet needs. Having the part available really helps downtime when the part is needed.”

Parts suppliers can now anticipate and stock up on necessary fleet parts before the fleet agency even orders them, ensuring quick turnover.

A Transitional Period

Fleet managers realize they are in the midst of a transformation in vehicle development and maintenance. While advances in diagnostic tools and maintenance software are making technicians more efficient, the rapid increase in electrical components in vehicles, not to mention new alternative-fuel technologies, make the job a constant learning experience.

“It’s a very exciting time for technicians,” Rose said. “With vehicles and equipment, it’s ever-changing technology.”


Sources

  • Joe Basile, vice president, fueling technologies, AssetWorks
  • Mike Brawley, product manager, FASTER Asset Solutions, Inc.
  • Randy Campbell, fleet manager, Arapaphoe County, Colo.
  • Ryan Driscoll, marketing manager, GPS Insight
  • Joe Healey, CEO, FASTER Asset Solutions, Inc.
  • Ron Katz, senior vice president, North American Sales, Chevin Fleet Solutions
  • Jett Kuntz, director, Integrated Business Solutions (IBS), Genuine Parts Company, US Automotive Parts Group
  • Sam Lamerato, CPFP, superintendent of fleet maintenance, City of Troy, Mich.
  • Harold Leitner, director of business development, GPS Insight
  • Annette Mullin, senior marketing manager, AllData
  • Melvin Rose, fleet manager, Monroe County, N.Y.
  • Mike Wade, director of marketing, E.J. Ward
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