Keeping pace with the electronics revolution

TORONTO, Ont. — Fleet executives can easily drown in the tsunami of data being generated by today’s vehicles, but ignoring that data can be equally deadly. A Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit (CFMS) panel explored the electronics revolution and trucking of the future, providing insights into how to manage big data.

Managing big data

Many people today don’t truly understand what the term “big data” actually means. Having lots of data does not equate to big data, panelists explained, unless you know how to make that data actionable.

“Most people have lots of data, but lots of data is not big data,” explained Michael Riemer, vice-president, products and channel marketing with Decisiv. “Big data is actionable, meaningful information.”

Data that’s used to drive decision-making must be good data, otherwise it will lead a fleet to make bad decisions, added Ric Bedard, president of Cetaris. For instance, reading fuel consumption off the ECU may not be accurate enough to influence a decision to invest in a certain fuel-saving technology.

“Relying on meter readings is a big mistake,” he said. “I see 3-5% variance…step back and make sure your fundamental numbers are right before you build your decisions around those numbers.”

Fleets looking to tap into data to improve their operations should start by having a clear plan, explained Yves Maurais, technical director, asset management, purchasing and conformity with Groupe Robert.

“Clearly define what your needs are,” he suggested. “Once you know what you’re looking for, it becomes easier to get the correct tool for what you want to know. Know your limitations. It’s very easy to get submerged by data and you have way too much stuff, you don’t know what to do with it. It’s important to set your goals as far as what you want to do and where you want to go.”

How can data be used to improve profitability?

Analyzing data can provide fleets with many opportunities to reduce costs or improve profitability. For example, many fleets aren’t taking full advantage of the warrantees available to them when replacing parts, noted Cetaris’s Bedard.

“We built our company on the premise that if you just manage your warranty, it’ll pay for the software and another headcount even if you don’t use it for anything else,” he said. “It’s such a simple one. I call it the low-hanging fruit.”

Fleets can also use data to determine what fuel-saving technologies are worth investing in or which easily avoidable infractions are leading to roadside violations.

“It’s not efficient to be sitting at a weigh scale waiting for someone to come out with a lightbulb for a headlamp,” said Kirk Altrichter, vice-president of maintenance for Crete Carrier Corp. He said his company began spec’ing LED headlamps and has seen a significant reduction in headlight violations.

Data can also be used to refine preventive maintenance programs. Too often, said Riemer, PM programs are not tailored to individual duty cycles.

Improving uptime

Keeping trucks on the road and out of the shop also contributes to profitability and can be assisted through the use of technology and interpretation of the data it generates. The greatest example of this today is remote diagnostics, which advises an operator of a potential problem with the vehicle and then suggests the most appropriate course of action.

Skip Yeakel, principal engineer, government industry academia link with Volvo Group, said his company has seen remote diagnostics reduce diagnostic times by 70% and repair times by 50%. And the technology is available to all operators, big and small.

“The small fleets can behave as the big ones if they embrace the tools the dealers and OEMs have today that we never had before,” he said.

But Altrichter said improvements to today’s remote diagnostics platforms are still needed to make them more fleet-friendly.

“I still think there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done,” he said, adding that the brand-specific remote diagnostics platforms are not practical in a mixed fleet. He also said it’s difficult for the fleet manager to pinpoint which fault codes should trigger an alarm.

“Which ones do you need to pay attention to?” he said. “When I turned on fault code monitoring a while ago, you could get 11 fault codes or everything. I said, let’s get everything. It was probably not the right move. We ended up turning it off pretty quickly and the 11 fault codes weren’t the right ones, either.”

The goal is for remote diagnostics to become more predictive in nature, so it can warn a fleet, based on data collected from a broad population of vehicles, when certain components are likely to break before they do.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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