Check Call: Predicting the future

 Two issues ago, in The View With Lou column, Fleet Executive publisher and editorial director Lou Smyrlis wrote that a new editor would be taking  over the day-to-day operations of this magazine. That’s me. Hello.

Some of you may know me as the former editor of MM&D, a sister publication about the warehousing and distribution side of the supply chain.

An introductory column presents an editor with an opportunity to write about the future—either the future of the industry, or the future of the publication—but it seems too soon to be making grand pronouncements about either, so instead I’ll let somebody else take the floor and talk about what’s to come.

Nandini Tare is an industry analyst specializing in commercial vehicle telematics at the research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. According to Tare, and a new report entitled Prognostics in the European and North American Trucking Industry—Big Data is Creating all the Difference, by 2017 prognostics will be the next hot technology trend to sweep the trucking industry.

Prognostics, or predictive analytics, are the business intelligence tools that let a fleet manager know when a truck is about to have mechanical issues. They are designed to predict the potential failures (both major and minor) of components, with enough advanced warning that trucks can be scheduled for maintenance before they break down on the sides of highways. Prognostics systems will also connect with manufacturers and service centres to ensure that parts are on-hand for the jobs, and that warranty work is handled automatically.

At least that’s the plan.

Tare says while the technology may present some business challenges, it should prove to be a benefit to all parties.
“OEMs will monitor it, making sure they are not randomly supporting warranty claims. They’ll ensure there is a legitimate claim being made. And if there is a driver that is causing harm to a particular component, the OEM is not going to be liable for it,” she says, adding OEMs will use the data to design better components, reducing the need for future warranty claims.

Tare admits more scrutiny of warranty claims isn’t “a really happy thing for a fleet manager, but using prognostics could be a win-win situation too. Since the engine is the most expensive component, a fleet manager isn’t going to take it lightly if there is an issue that could potentially crop up if he runs it for another 1,000kms. He will make sure it’s taken care of completely.”

One caveat Tare adds is that insurance companies may want to know what the prognostics systems diagnose, as “a truck that is faulty could potentially cause accidents, which would mean insurance premiums would go higher. I think very soon, as the services evolve, you will see a lot of insurance companies requiring telematics.”

At this point, Tare says the prognostics market is pretty young and undeveloped, but that is starting to change. Already she sees vehicle manufacturers and Tier 1s working with telematics vendors to establish what type of data can be pulled from the trucks, and how it can be analyzed, interpreted, delivered, and, in the process, monetized.

She says it makes perfect sense for telematics companies to be involved because “the telematics box is already connected to the vehicle. It’s the same device that will be used. It’s not another piece of hardware that will be fitted to the truck.”

The only cost will be the development of the backend analytics used to interpret the data.
She predicts telematics vendors like Telogis, Trimble, Teletrac, Shaw Tracking and PeopleNet, will offer prognostics as part of their premium packages (ranging from $40-$80 per truck) or as à la carte services priced between $3 and $12 per truck.

For managers running mixed fleets, it would be much easier to rely on a telematics vendor to deliver a single source of prognostics information rather than to contend with data from multiple OEMs.

Of course, nothing this complex is ever simple. Industry partners will need to work together to create, if not open data standards, at least communications protocols to take data generated by engines and components and turn the information into useful, accurate predictions. Fleet managers will need to learn how to use the new information to make smart fleet maintenance decisions, all while trying not to get swamped in a big data overload.

While Tare is confident in saying that 2017 will be the year prognostics hits in a big way, I’m slightly sceptical. Having spent a lot of years covering the computer and IT industries, where I saw so many technological trends and breakthroughs take much longer than expected to be fully (if at all realized), I tend to take timeline predictions with a large dose of salt. But I’m happy to be here with you watching the march to prognostics unfold, and, I’m certain, reporting about its progress.

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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