Connected truck telematics systems deliver deeper maintenance insights

The volume of data generated by a modern truck can leave maintenance teams feeling like they are drinking from a fire hose.

“There’s a tremendous amount of information that’s available. It’s almost overload,” said Jeff Zsoldos, Volvo Group’s chief engineer for North American applications, during an online presentation for the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).

truck telematics data
(Illustration: istock)

Volvo’s 240,000 connected vehicles, for example, have collectively generated 1.6 billion miles of data. Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) has connected more than 300,000 trucks, sharing 80 million messages per day.

But it’s the connections between various systems that help deliver the deeper insights which continue to refine maintenance activities and operations plans alike.

“If you see the modern truck as several sensors, several ECUs, these are all connected,” says Bharat Addala, Daimler Trucks North America’s product line manager for video services, predictive maintenance, and data.

“What is required for fleet customers in terms of finding those alerts and insights from this scale of data?”

Unique data needs

The answers can be unique to each fleet.

“You as a truck owner or a fleet owner, think exactly what you want, what information you want from a truck,” Zsoldos says, noting those requirements can then be presented to suppliers.

“You can look at idle time, you can look at coolant temperature, you can look at time in top gear, time in top gear minus one,” he says. “You can start to merge all this information together to give you insight … with telematics everything can be combined together to give you some direction.”

For Department of Transportation customers, combining data makes it possible to track plow cycle time, identify traffic slowdowns, and feed apps to show the public where the plows are. Over-the-road fleets might use location data to better understand driver locations and dwell times. Mixing fault code data with maintenance system data can feed future predictive models. And concrete pumpers might combine locations and fault codes to see if a fault will interfere with deliveries or pumping activities.

Managing and monitoring alerts

Genox Transportation, for example, continually monitors a series of alerts by fault codes and trucks, defining situations that require service now, in the near future, or during scheduled preventive maintenance activities.

“What are the things that are really causing us the most issues?” asks Ricky Barker, Genox Transportation’s vice-president – maintenance. Maybe it’s the same unit that appears on a report multiple times, or it could be a common fault code generated by several trucks.

“You can tailor which alerts you want to get,” Barker says. “Maybe you only want to see the ‘service now’, or maybe you only want to see the ‘service soon’ events.”

The fleet also pulls preventive maintenance service alerts once a month, to see where maintenance needs might need to focus to avoid serious alerts.

Meanwhile, performance-related data such as fuel economy, idling time, and time in cruise control or the top gear makes a difference in operations.

“This is very, very helpful to us to determine the health of not only our trucks but how our drivers are helping us manage our fleet from a safety and efficiency standpoint,” Barker says. “We can coach our drivers and coach our local managers to help use this data, to help improve driver efficiencies, and even give driver rewards as we see fit.”

Homer Hogg, vice-president of TA Truck Service, says fleets should also be open to sharing telematics data with service providers.

“It’s about communication,” he says. “The shortness of data is not a problem. Really, for service providers, it’s accessibility and availability … How do you get that over to the service provider?”

Organizing the data in a way that saves the service provider time will make a difference as well. And building a geofence around a service provider’s facilities could also help to determine where to steer work that requires immediate service.

“We all have to work together because, at the end of the day, it’s about keeping these vehicles turning,” Hogg says.

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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