Trucking and the Internet of Things

by Harry Rudolfs


With semi-autonomous and platooned trucks on the horizon, modern truck electronics is going through a growth spurt. This is an inter-connected world that includes everything from a driver’s personal smart phone with an abundance of trucking-related apps, to the OEM’s telematic implants, remote diagnosis and big data analytics. The “Internet of Trucking” is having a profound effect on how trucks are spec’ed, operated and maintained, both now and into the future.

“Access to information is incredible now,” says Chris Iveson, fleet maintenance manager for Challenger Motor Freight in Cambridge. “We collect data on so many things, fuel economy, oil samples–we store the data from any of the ECM trouble codes.”

Iveson, whose Blackberry rings when one of his trucks is in distress, has supplied a list of about 40 critical engine faults to the truck manufacturers. If one of those sensors lights up, the OEM immediately notifies him and Challenger’s garage about the problem. “Low coolant, for instance, is one I want to know about. We don’t want a truck breaking down in Wawa.”

Data can either be stored in-house or in “the cloud”–outside servers with massive storage banks provided by the OEMs who, in turn, allow carriers and customers to access that data. Independent garages and owner/operators are now also included in the loop. Last September’s “Right to Repair” MOU, wherein in heavy-duty truck and engine manufacturers agreed to share proprietary information with truck owners and third-party repair shops, means there is more critical data available than ever before.

Bill Dawson, vice president of maintenance operations and engineering for Ryder Systems, thinks that the complexity of engine technology and sophisticated analytics could transform maintenance practices. “The more efficient we can make our sharing centres, the more we can provide data points to help the owner function more efficiently,” he says.

“Our customer web portal allows customers to go in and self-service as far as scheduling their activities. We can provide data points to help our customers function better; it also allows them to have insight into other fleet activities. These tools are extremely important and extremely significant as data becomes more accessible to make key decisions.”

On the fleet maintenance side of things, Dawson thinks that the inter-connectedness between engine diagnostic data and the maintenance provider is going to be become increasingly more significant. “To get to a predictive and efficient maintenance model,” he says, “as efficient as it can be from one maintenance service to another…requires the OEMs to share their predictive diagnostic data with the end user. So ideally you would have all the data coming from the vehicles’ telematic devices under one umbrella. Detroit, Cummins, Volvo, everybody’s trying to find their place in this data exchange.”

But too much extraneous data is not always a good thing, according to Michael Riemer of Decisiv. “Most fleets aren’t getting good value out of the information they’re collecting. “They are not consistently capturing quality data from service events–so while they have lots of data they don’t have big data that can be reliably used for improved decision making both in real-time and from a trending perspective.”

Decisiv’s “Service Relationship Management” program provides a platform for fleets to integrate with providers along the service supply chain. Riemer suggests that a collaborative  platform is necessary to ensure the most rapid and appropriate service and repair process. What he calls a “frictionless flow of key information.”

Ric Bedard of Cetaris Fleet Management Software Solutions thinks that an all-encompassing fleet maintenance assessment program is critical to profitability. “We download their assets into the system automatically with the warranty info, pm schedules a whole litany items including operation codes, engine, tires, axle configurations etc. For each unit we can support up to 700 attributes. We can connect a vehicle to the warranty agreement and to all the operating codes and specifications.

“Some fleets are dealing with a multiplicity of OEMs and our programs make it easier to integrate the various suppliers, manufacturers and other fleet operations software. Instead of dealing with a number of phone calls and faxes, the technician just has to walk across the room to get the repair information he or she needs. Basically what we’re doing is dramatically reducing the time spent filling out paperwork and making it easier to track the net cost of the asset. It also makes it easier to track a part failure. You can see what was the cause of the problem and what it took to correct it.”

Kirk Altrichter, vice president of maintenance at Crete Carriers, thinks that predictive analytics will get more robust in the next 10-15 years. “The same as with airplanes and ships, more and more parts will have a pre-determined life cycle which will lead to less downtime.”

Bill Dawson agrees. “If we have data on when parts fail, we can replace those parts before that time so there are no surprises, no business disruptions. But to do that your management of the parts supply has to be data-driven. Know your vehicles’ spec’s and you won’t have to carry too much inventory.”

Telematics (the ability of devices to communicate with another computer over great distances) is at the heart of remote analytics.  According to Conal Deedy, director of connected vehicle services, at Volvo Trucks, Volvo has over 150,000 telematically connected trucks across North America.

“A recent safety issue was uncovered affecting some 2016 and 2017 model year trucks, and we were able to send a message into the driver information display of many affected trucks to let them know which trucks were qualified for this recall. To my knowledge, this is the first time something like this has ever been done,” he says “and it has been recognized by the NHTSA and FMSCA. It is a great demonstration of how this technology can be used to promote safety.”

Volvo Remote Diagnostics can also help customers from experiencing a “de-rate” if an engine code signifies that there is a problem with the emissions control system. “The EPA mandates that all OEMs are required to shut down the truck if it’s not complying with the standards,” says Deedy.

“When we see certain codes we can reach out to the fleet contact and let them know exactly what the vehicle has detected and when the truck will de-rate to 5 mph. In some cases the driver might have up to three hours to get to a shop before it has to make an unplanned stop.

“A significant customer concern is that the technology is growing faster than the workforce is ready to adopt it,” adds Deedy. “It’s the diagnostic time that’s the big unknown these days,” he says. “Whether it’s going to take 20 minutes or two or three days to find out what’s wrong with the truck, remote diagnostics at least take some of the guesswork away from the technicians. When a trouble code occurs we can often create a plan, including repair instructions and blueprints if necessary. It’s a powerful tool for some for our dealers and for our customers who have their own workshops.”

Finding properly trained technicians to diagnose these trucks is becoming an issue that will continue to dog the industry. “If you think about the complexities of this work, and the training required, and the fact that this field is still growing, it’s not surprising that they’re having trouble bringing people in,” says Dawson. “We’re seeing more outsourcing and there’s no reason that the trend won’t continue.”

Iveson of Challenger thinks there are two types of “techs” working in his shop nowadays. “I have guys that never get dirty,” he says. “You’ll always need the hammer swingers, but this new breed of technician spends all day reading engine codes, doing diagnostics, setting up work schedules. It’s a new world.”

When it comes to spec’ing new truck orders, Iverson has a lot of help. He works with a committee of 15 people and the 30 pages of spec’s seem to be getting longer every year. For instance, 70% of Challenger’s trucks are equipped with collision avoidance systems so that they are pretty much standard these days. He’s also looking at adding front and rear dash cameras in the near future.

“We’re still looking at fuel economy, idle shut downs, and where we can use low resistance tires. All the big stuff, trailer skirts, super single tires, the SmartWay stuff has been dealt with,” adds Iveson. “Now we’re looking at fine tuning.”

Iveson predicts trucks will become more aerodynamic and cameras will eventually replace sideview mirrors to mitigate drag. And Challenger is looking at alternative fuels as well. “We were involved in a CNG trail a few years ago,” says Iveson. “And we’re looking at participating in an LNG test later this year. Fuel may be cheap now, but it won’t always be.”

Carriers and fleets are becoming more conscious of their carbon foot print both from an environmental and fuel-saving perspective. In some cases, customers are requiring that their product is transported in a “green-friendly” manner. Cetaris’ green house gas module may be one solution.

“Most carriers are running Smartway assets and they’re interested in tracking how those assets are doing,” says Ric Bedard. “Our green house gas module allows you to track emissions and each one of those assets is doing from a cost and an emissions perspective. We’re seeing a lot of interest in this kind of measurement and expect to see more with the governments adding more regulatory requirements.”



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