Maintenance Automation: Manage the Exceptions
However you slice it, vehicle maintenance is a huge undertaking. Making sure that safety inspections, oil changes, and other maintenance items are completed on time is an all-consuming full-time job. If you’re still trying to manage your fleet maintenance manually, you’re likely swamped with paperwork, phone calls, and the like.
Fortunately, there’s an easier way for fleet managers to tackle this huge task – maintenance automation. You can do it yourself, or you can turn to a fleet management company for help.
The former will save you a few dollars, but it may also increase your stress levels as you try to figure out the minutia of the technologies you’ll need to cover all the bases. The latter could make sense for your fleet, especially if you don’t mind a third party worrying about all the details.
Automate almost everything
By automating as much of the maintenance processes as possible, you can buy yourself time to work on more important matters. “You’re no longer worried about the 1,000 vehicles in your fleet,” explains Bill Jones, Director of Product Management, Element Fleet Management. “Instead, you manage the exceptions.”
For example, Jones says, if a driver fails to bring a vehicle in for an oil change, the fleet manager gets a past due report sent to him. “That’s your exception – and as a fleet manager you know that this is the vehicle you should be concentrating on.”
The more you automate, the less you’ll have to worry about. And you can automate pretty much anything. “You can schedule periodic inspections,” Jones says. “If you have a boom lift that needs a safety inspection, that can be automated, too. All those things can be programmed. The system caters to the needs of each customer. There is no cookie-cutter approach.”
Charlie Guthro, Vice President, Operations, ARI Canada agrees. “It can be applied to preventive maintenance, as well as inspections like CSA C225, which is things like aerial devices, and beyond. So it can be for regulated testing, DOT, annual inspections, preventive maintenance, and more.”
Guthro agrees that a cookie-cutter approach is not the way to go. “It’s unique to every customer. You need to know what their expectations are. For some customers it’s about reliability and down time. So like a utility industry, what’s critical for them is having the vehicles on the road.”
“For other companies it can be about total cost of ownership, so it’s more about fuel burn, hours of service, etc. So it’s really about knowing your customer and making sure that you’re connected to the best-automated maintenance program that suits their needs. There’s not one size fits all.”
Parameters and triggers
ARI’s Intellifleet Fleet Management System allows the customer to build parameters, and then to select a variety of triggers that bring each maintenance item to the attention of the person responsible, when that item becomes due.
“And it’s not just preventive maintenance,” Guthro stresses. “They can schedule predictability maintenance – so some companies notice that they’ve got a certain repair, similar to a recall, or an actual recall, that they want to build into the system. It then notifies the technician when they’re building a PO.”
Guthro offers an example for clarification: “The person that works for the garage, internal or external, is building a PO because they need to change a headlight. So when they go in to change a headlight, the system then has automated flags that let them know that a PM is due, or a particular type of regulated testing is due. So the fleet manager doesn’t have to approve a list of items. It’s already in the system. We call them ‘pop ups’ or ‘alerts’ – they’re there for the technician so that he can see all the things that need to be done.”
With this kind of automation in place, down time is minimized. “It saves time,” Guthro adds, “because if you’re bringing the vehicle in today for something, and that same vehicle is scheduled to be in the shop again in a month, you can decide whether to get both done today so that you don’t have to bring the vehicle back again in another month.”
The big picture
This kind of approach to maintenance assures that nothing falls through the cracks, and that you get a complete picture of what’s going on with your vehicles. “All vehicle repairs are maintained, recorded, and stored in our system,” Jones explains. “So all the billing for vehicle repairs, information about where to take it, as well as the authorization and payment to the repair facilities are coming through our system. Thus we know the entire history of the car.”
The entire process is even more effective when you add telematics into the mix. “If a check engine light comes on and the vehicle is on our telematics program, our Managed Maintenance application gets an alert,” Jones explains. So we know that the check engine light is on, and a couple of things happen.
“First, an incident is created in our system. We also send an email to the driver to let them know that their check engine light is on, and we ask if they happened to buy gas recently. If you leave the gas cap loose, that will result in the check engine light going on. We also include a link to our suppliers, so the driver can click on it to find the closest place to take their vehicle.”
Once the vehicle is in the shop, telematics can be employed to see the trouble codes. “So if the garage is saying the car needs a new battery, we can see if that’s correct on our end,” Jones adds. “It’s a great tool to conduct remote diagnostics.”
The goal is not to micro-manage every vehicle on your fleet, however. “We don’t look at every vehicle,” Jones says. “You can’t manage everything, so you manage the exceptions. If a check engine light goes on, we know we have a problem. The vehicle reaches out to us, and we do something about it.”
As noted at the outset, you could automate the maintenance process, to a degree, on your own. The downside, however, is clear. “When you work with us,” Guthro explains, “we take on the responsibility for updates, the hardware, and everything else. For a small fee, you don’t have to think about the constant changes in software and programs.
“Economies of scale are another factor. We manage well over a million vehicles in North America, and that creates vendor relationships and economies of scale that make a difference.”