Save the Planet

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CALGARY, Alta. – Much has been made of the transportation industry’s ongoing battle to reduce emissions, but the folks at Greenpeace would be pleased to know there’s also an effort to ‘save the forests’ in many fleet maintenance shops across the country.

Sure, the move to a paper-reduced maintenance operation is often driven by cost reductions and improved efficiencies, but cutting down on waste is a convenient byproduct of such a system.

Take for example Calgary-based Pacific Western Transportation (PWT) a provider of school bus, coach and other transportation services. Since implementing Cetaris’ Fleet Assistant maintenance software, the company has eliminated the need for file cabinet upon file cabinet of paper records.

“They’re still there for historical stuff but they’re not getting bigger,” says PWT project manager, Thomas Schmidt, of the company’s four, five-level filing cabinets that previously housed maintenance data that’s now mostly stored in computers.

Cetaris’ Fleet Assistant was originally developed for Freightliner and then purchased back from the company and launched independently. It allows maintenance managers to electronically manage their assets by computer. Everything from warranty information to preventive maintenance (PM) scheduling is available at the touch of a button.

Instead of showing up at the shop to a six-inch stack of repair orders each morning, maintenance managers can peruse the desired information on their computer screen.

“Now there’s no paper on his desk when he comes into the office in the morning, he turns on his computer and all the repair orders are up on the screen,” says James Iglesias of Cetaris.

Browsing through the documents online is more convenient and less cumbersome, but there are some more tangible benefits to operating a paper-reduced shop. They include:

More effective warranty recovery: “You’ll have a much better handle on your new vehicle warranty as well as your service replacement parts warranty,” explains Iglesias. Using a traditional paper-based maintenance system, an air compressor that quits working before its six-month warranty expires will often be discarded because looking up its warranty information is too time-consuming or cumbersome. With an electronic system, on the other hand, warranty information for all parts and components are available at the touch of a button allowing for the increased capture of warranty dollars.

Inventory reduction: Fleet maintenance software allows you to track the movement of parts within your inventory, allowing you to stock up on the right parts and reduce your parts inventory carrying cost.

Chronic repair cost reduction: Computers can red-flag instances of chronic repairs that may otherwise have gone unnoticed, allowing fleet managers to investigate their cause and determine if improper spec’ing or driver abuse is to blame.

Increased personnel efficiency: Instead of hunting down paperwork, technicians can better spend their time doing what they do best – fixing equipment. “They spend a hell of a lot less time looking for information,” says Iglesias. “When someone wants to know the spec’ of the vehicle, they go straight to the system.” Historical information about the vehicle is also at their fingertips.

The benefits of operating fleet maintenance software can deliver a full payback in as little as 12 weeks, says Ron Katz, vice-president of North American sales with Chevin Fleet Solutions, producer of RoadBASE and FleetWave. However that payback time varies from fleet to fleet, depending on the use of the software and the size of the fleet.

“If someone has two trucks they can pretty much do it on the back of a napkin and know what’s going on,” admits Katz.

“But with each additional asset, the (maintenance) costs tend to rise rapidly and with that the benefit of a centralized place to store information (becomes clear).”

Iglesias says companies can’t simply implement the program and then expect it to run itself if they want to realize the full benefits of using fleet management software.

“When you implement a new system, whether it’s an accounting system or a fleet maintenance system, you sometimes reach a goal and then turn to other projects and it stays constant,” warns Iglesias. He suggests maintenance managers continue to phase-in elements of the program on a continuous basis.

For example, a user can improve warranty processes in Phase 2, identify chronic repairs in Phase 3, and explore ways to better deal with outside vendors in Phase 4. But will the maintenance shop ever become completely free of paper?

“We can provide a total paperless environment but the reality is people still want to print things out – it’s human nature,” says Katz. “I’ve never seen a paperless shop and I’ve been in fleet management all my life. A paper-reduced shop is really what we strive for.”

Iglesias agrees.

“I think people still like to stick schedules up on the wall for preventive maintenance but fundamentally the vast majority of paper should be gone,” he says.

“Too much paper is not good, and no paper is probably extreme.”

The trucking industry is slowly beginning to embrace fleet maintenance software, but it’s the coach and transit industries (such as PWT) that are leading the way, says Katz.

“They’re dealing with an asset inventory that’s typically more costly than a tractor-trailer and the life cycle of that equipment is often 15-20 years,” Katz explains. “They’ve got a lot more invested in asset management.”

PWT originally implemented Fleet Assistant in June, 2002 and Schmidt says “Our main intent was to be able to compare maintenance practices between facilities in different locations.”

While the company’s maintenance managers continue to adopt each others’ best practices as a result of the program, the other benefits discussed in this article are an added bonus for PWT.

“We haven’t done a formal post-project return-on-investment analysis, however, some of the reports that we’ve generated lean towards some efficiencies being gained,” Schmidt says.

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