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Maximize uptime, minimize risk

I don’t often use this space to discuss new products, preferring instead to address the many issues that plague the industry. My recent travels, however, brought to my attention a product that addresses an issue that I think will acquire...


I don’t often use this space to discuss new products, preferring instead to address the many issues that plague the industry. My recent travels, however, brought to my attention a product that addresses an issue that I think will acquire increased attention in the “new normal” of slow economic growth and continuing high costs of operation: the need for all fleets, but smaller fleets in particular, to greatly boost their operating efficiencies by investing in technology.

Research from the US shows that the pain of the slow economic recovery is not being felt equally across the industry. US truck freight volumes grew overall in 2011 but large carriers grew their volumes at a significantly faster pace than small carriers were able to do.

The same disparity has been recorded with US carrier revenues. Whereas large carriers were growing their revenues at about a 9% clip in 2011, small carriers could only muster one third of that.

To survive in such a tough climate, small carriers have to be able to squeeze every minute of uptime out of their equipment. Yet in the absence of good information, it’s all too difficult to identify problem areas and all too easy to make wrong decisions.
Take for example what happens when a Check Engine light comes on. The seemingly prudent thing for the driver to do would to be abort delivery and drive the truck to the closest repair shop so a technician can have a look. But did you know that there are a couple of hundred fault codes that could bring that Check Engine light on, and the majority don’t require that the truck be pulled immediately out of service?

In the majority of cases the delivery can still be made and the truck serviced at the next opportunity. But how do you know when that’s the case? Should you allow your drivers to guess and risk major damage to the engine?

That brings me to a product called Virtual Technician, offered as standard on every EPA2010 Freightliner truck (optional on Western Star trucks) equipped with a Detroit engine. I got an in-depth look at Virtual Technician during a press trip arranged recently by Daimler Trucks North America.

The on-board diagnostic system provides real-time engine diagnostics, enabling drivers and fleet managers to evaluate what to do when the engine service light comes on in the truck. The system provides a technical snapshot of the engine’s status to the Detroit Customer Support Centre as soon as the Check Engine light comes on. The Support Centre then determines the exact issue, recommended service, how soon the engine needs to be serviced, and closest authorized Detroit service location and relays the information to the fleet. As company officials pointed out, in many instances the truck can keep running.

But the difference is that by leveraging technology the guesswork has been removed so uptime can be maximized with no risk.


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