Tackling the “Last Bastion of Antiquity”

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Fleets using computerised maintenance management software can save 5-12% in tires, fuel costs, parts inventory and maintenance, and can increase labor productivity by 15% percent, according to a study by Arsenault Associates, a fleet maintenance software development and sales company in Atco, New Jersey. Yet, says president Charles Arsenault, “The maintenance world is the last bastion of antiquity.”

Companies too often consider maintenance departments as a necessary evil, because it is a pure cost centre, preferring to support just about any other shtick promising to prop up the bottom line. Yet a decently run maintenance department can be a money machine. “If I save money in the maintenance department it is pure profit, because a dollar saved in a 10% business is worth $10 in revenue. When I say this to executives, the light bulb goes on: $10,000 off the bottom line is $100,000 in sales,” says Arsenault.

Arsenault tells of two nearly-identical fleets: The first one believed in preventative maintenance, where equipment is scheduled for regular service in order to prevent breakdowns and unnecessary wear. It ran its trucks at 8.5 cents a mile. The second, operating on a reactive, or breakdown maintenance philosophy, ran its trucks at 12.5 cents a mile.

Choosing fleet maintenance software (FMS)requires research and a clear understanding of one’s fleet’s needs and maintenance goals. There are reportedly as many as 160 different FMS systems on the market and no shortage of them claim to be the be-all to end-all.

“When fleets go out in the marketplace to look for a new FMS, we recommend that they start with a set of written requirements,,” says James Iglesias, vice president, sales with the Toronto-based software company Cetaris, which has developed an FMS called Fleet Assistant. “We work with them to develop their requirements and learn how we can meet their needs. We work with fleets to write requests, determine measurable cost savings and what processes must be changed. If they go through a disciplined process this greatly increases the chance of a successful implementation. Fleets should prioritize what issues they want solved.”

Arsenault advises, “Do not base your initial choice of an FMS on the software alone. Judge the company, what they’re doing, where they are going, their financial stability, years of experience and customer base. With FMS, the program’s quality, ease of use and functionality tends to be a subjective judgement.”

It does not hurt to use an installed FMS, either: Arsenault has discovered that one third of the fleets that purchase maintenance software do not use it and some do not even know they own it!

At core, FMS will contain an organised inventory of all of a fleet’s assets, with the parts, associated data and repair information available at a mouse click. Additional information can include licencing, cost, depreciation, insurance, taxes, lease payments, components and tires.

There will be a place for preparing work, or repair orders, a way to claim parts drawn from stores against inventory levels, and some way to track fleet costs. Once preventive maintenance schedules have been created (and they can be lengthened or shortened as the maintenance team gains experience), the FMS will advise of upcoming work – daily, weekly, yearly, etc – so it can be slotted into mechanics’ schedules; additional functionalities (i.e., features or capabilities) are legion, but include advanced capabilities like remote, Web-based access and truck engine information carried over satellite communication systems.

For example, every time drivers with fleets using Fleet Assistant make wireless transmissions over the Cancom network, Fleet Assistant automatically pulls meter readings, at no additional cost, from the truck engine ECUs.

“Probably the single biggest challenge we see fleets having is that many of the keyed-in meter readings are inaccurate. If they are inaccurate the fleet cannot accurately assess cost/mile,” says Cetaris president Ric Bedard. Getting accurate meter readings is part of Fleet Assistant’s ability to flag parts eligible for warrantee claims.

“Warrantee recapture is a place where money can be saved,” Bedard points out. “We see places where 70% of warrantee claims are not filed because it is a routine repair and the labor cost to file the [warrantee claim] is higher than the cost recovered from the claim.”

Fleet Assistant key features, which represent some of the latest FMS trends, include mileage collection, bar coding, wireless operating features, integration with original equipment manufacturer warrantee systems and bills of materials.

Chevin Fleet Solutions, a UK-based company with its North American headquarters in Massachusetts, has designed software that takes a broader system view. Ron Katz, Chevin’s vice president for North American sales, explains: “[Our software] provides comprehensive maintenance management capabilities, yet we believe that asset management capabilities are of equal, if not more importance than simple maintenance scheduling systems. We cover everything from asset acquisition to disposal.

“Our software tracks unlimited asset, life cycle as well as maintenance attributes; for example, depreciation and replacement planning, driver management, accident management, fuel, repairs, workshop and inventory management, lease and contract management, driver and technician certification, even annual medicals.”

Chevin markets RoadBASE, a Windows-based application and FleetWAVE, a Web-based application. The former tends to be for smaller municipality, transit and commercial fleets; the latter for larger multi-location and more geographically dispersed operations.

“The one word that comes up is flexibility,” says Katz. “All the verticals [industries] we have talked to need maintenance management capabilities, but CEOs or CFOs traditionally need more … If all a company wants is maintenance software then we usually suggest they buy a different product. We tend to work with organisations that need to get their arms around their asset portfolio to better understand and reduce life cycle costs.”

Chevin’s more recent system enhancements include wireless communication and Web portals for geographically distributed operations and drivers, so they can, for example, log mileage remotely. “We recently developed an integrated fleet status tool that is a graphical representation of current or pending events. It can present events that are due in the next few days or weeks, or that are past due …,” says Katz.

Feeling computer-challenged or leery about having FMS run the show is not unusual, according to Arsenault’s research. For pen and paper maintenance planners, the lingo and blizzards of detail can tax the spirit, but asking for a show and tell on a colleague’s FMS, talking with a consultant (feel blessed if you get one who is expert at setting up FMSs, has a solid hands-on, blue-collar industry maintenance background and can answer a zillion questions with grace) or touring vendors’ Websites are good places to begin.

Arsenault Associates’ Website, www.truckfleet.com, is a good example, with lots of information about its FMS, called Dossier. The Website includes a live demo, a decision matrix, a users group and training information. Dossier program options, such as parts inventory bar coding and automated wireless fuel management systems are introduced.

Most importantly, do it. The future belongs to those that have and those that don’t will fall further and further behind, says Arsenault. “Maintenance is one of the last places where the financial rock can be squeezed to get the blood out.”

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