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Maintenance on the Move

The best-run carriers have come to view their maintenance departments as more than cost centres. With the economic picture improving, providers of maintenance software are hopeful such fleets will now put some real investment dollars behind their...

The best-run carriers have come to view their maintenance departments as more than cost centres. With the economic picture improving, providers of maintenance software are hopeful such fleets will now put some real investment dollars behind their enlightened thinking. In the mean time, software providers are doing their part to entice interest through new software functionalities designed to provide a more comprehensive approach to maintenance data gathering.

Last year Cetaris already had a wireless pocket PC and bar code scanner that service technicians could use for basic repair orders in the shop: open a repair order, start the clock, scan bar codes for the order and trigger automatic stock replenishment. Now, if a part being replaced is under warranty, a warranty icon will flash on the pocket PC, instead of just on the desktop PC back in the office.

Parts clerks told Cetaris they too wanted a wireless, hand-held capability for inventory taking, so Cetaris went to work. The result is a mobile inventory-taking capability called Parts Physical Inventory (PPI), which takes a lot of pain out of stock-taking, according to Cetaris vice president of sales and marketing James Iglesias.

“The standard process for doing inventory is for the parts people to print out parts count lists, go count the part in each bin listed on the sheet, note any discrepancies, then return to their desks and key in any corrections. Now the parts person simply goes to each parts bin with the pocket PC, scans the bin’s bar code, and corrects on the pocket PC’s touch-screen keyboard any discrepancies between the number of parts listed in the pocket PC and counted in each bin. Users can do inventory in a quarter of the time they could using the traditional method.”

For those who already have Fleet Assistant, going wireless requires the wireless devices, the software, the hub with which the wireless device communicates with 802.11 (the communication protocol for communicating by wireless in a local environment) and a server.

Purolator, with over 5,000 pieces of equipment in its fleet, received training from Cetaris in January and has adopted the wireless PocketPC into its repair shops across Canada. Last October, Cetaris sold the wireless PocketPC to McLane Foods in Temple, Texas, which has 6000 tractors and trailers.

Iglesias also reports an improved economic picture compared to last year: “People weren’t making decisions to do projects this past year, but now they are moving forward, albeit cautiously, with projects … 2004 is going to be a year in which a lot of new fleets will buy CMMS projects.”

New Jersey-based Arsenault Associates has also developed a wireless handheld device that gives real-time mobile access to its Dossier maintenance software. It comes with a barcode reader, and the screen is handwriting recognition-capable.

As the company literature puts it, “[Say] you’re walking around your fleet yard with your Pocket Dossier in hand updating mileage meter readings in real time. You see a vehicle in need of immediate attention. After looking up the unit’s recent repair and maintenance history, you open a new repair order on the spot and the problem is under control in real time.”

Or, you can enter work pending items in real time and Dossier will remind you about it later on. This wireless capability also extends to the parts room for faster inventory management.

Arsenault Associates has also invested in other software improvements such as vehicle make-specific and task-specific repair order forms, and benchmarking that lets fleet managers better understand their costs. “We have focussed on automation. Our taste is to eliminate data entry as much as we can,” says company president Charles Arsenault.

The company is also poised to introduce a remote fault reporting capability this summer. The Dossier Onboard interface collects and stores engine control unit and other vehicle information for transmission by a new product called Fleet Outlook back to home base. If it can be sensed, says Arsenault, their system can collect and transmit the data.

Arsenault classifies faults as major or minor.

“The guy at the repair shop can, based on the nature of the fault code, contact the driver and tell him what to do; for example, send him to the nearest vendor or, say, tell the driver that John’s Tire Repair is on the way and will arrive in 15 minutes. You can tie this into the repair order and the record-keeping in the background,” explains Arsenault.

Richer Systems Group, meanwhile, has identified third-party maintenance work as an emerging market in which its Enrich system can provide the organizational and analytical power to serve the needs of both the third-party MRO providers and their clients.

Enrich is a comprehensive fleet management system built around a core preventative maintenance program called the Equipment Maintenance & Material System, and designed for fleets with hundreds or thousands of units. It can prepare cost analyses on maintenance processes, report on many business functions, do billing and many more of the things that a third-party maintenance provider would want to offer clients looking for more than simple repair services.

“We are starting to see companies decide whether they will be in the maintenance game or not,” says Richer Systems Group vice-president sales and marketing Tim Bowes. Some want to outsource more and manage less. “Others have decided maintenance is an opportunity, do it well and sell expertise on top of what they have.”

Trimac Transportation Services Inc. is taking exactly this route. It wants to improve the fixed-costs/income ratio in its 50 repair shops across North America by turning them into 24/7 operations. “We have identified bringing in third-party maintenance customers and changing the culture in our shops so we can provide a service that outside clients would come to expect. The impact on our maintenance costs will be significant over time,” explains Trimac executive vice-president Terry Owen.

Trimac chose Enrich for a pilot program with its Cage Logistics division and plans to cascade a formalized program through its NA shops. “We view maintenance as one of our core competencies. A lot of our maintenance is on bulk trailers – a highly technical and specialized area.

“When it comes to fleet maintenance systems, Enrich is hands-down the best system out there, particularly when it comes to third-party maintenance revenue systems and the ability to do commercial billing,” says Owen.

Truck dealers are also interested in improving the quality of maintenance and fleet management information they offer their clients. “Dealers are saying they want to build stronger relations with customers. The information a fleet maintenance system provides is key, but the ability to bill for theses services is essential,” says Bowes.

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