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Virtual Technician diagnostic system helping fleets reduce downtime

MIAMI, Fla -- Virtual Technician, Daimler Trucks North America's new real time diagnostic system, has already been installed in about 11,000 vehicles, the company says. And about 10% of those have installed the optional Visibility package,...

MIAMI, Fla — Virtual Technician, Daimler Trucks North America’s new real time diagnostic system, has already been installed in about 11,000 vehicles, the company says. And about 10% of those have installed the optional Visibility package, which provides extensive data on stops, idle time, speed, location, path, fuel consumption, etc., essentially allowing smaller carriers to have access to the kind of reporting data large fleets use to drive efficiencies in their operations.

Virtual Technician is an onboard diagnostic system that 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. As company officials explained during a special press briefing, there are about 200 different reasons why the service engine light could come on. And not all those reasons actually require the truck to be stopped immediately and taken to a service centre – for example, it could simply be a problem with a sensor operating out of range.

In fact, Tim Tindall, director of component sales for Detroit, estimates that for about 90% of the events generated by Virtual Technician the truck will need to be serviced soon but does not require being taken out of service right away. Without Virtual Technician providing such knowledge, how many drivers would have simply driven their vehicle to the nearest dealer and aborted delivery of their freight?

The proprietary technology helps reduce downtime and decrease maintenance costs by providing a technical snapshot of the engine’s status as soon as the Check Engine light comes on. The Detroit Customer Support Center then relays the information to the provided contact to determine the exact issue, recommended service, how soon the engine needs to be serviced, and supply the closest authorized Detroit service location. Trained technicians are then alerted in advance of the customer’s arrival, so they can quickly line up the parts, arrange for service and repair the problem.

There are about 150 fault codes that will trigger a “service now” decision, Tindall explained. Helping isolate the specific problem with the engine before the truck actually arrives at the shop also saves a considerable amount of time, removing the need for the technician at the dealer to initiate the diagnostic process. Also, since the experts at the call centre see so many service engine events come in, they are able to identify patterns and so be quicker to figure out what exactly is causing the problem, Tindall added.

DetroitVirtual Technician comes standard on every EPA 2010 Freightliner truck (optional on Western Star trucks) equipped with a Detroit engine.  The optional Detroit Visibility package provides access to GPS data for reporting of various vehicle operations. It allows fleet managers to set parameters for items such as acceptable idle time and then receive a report on which trucks in the fleet were outside those parameters during a specific time period.

Only about 5-10% of truck buyers using Virtual Technician have so far chosen the DetroitVisibility option. But the option has not been aggressively sold yet, according to David Hames, general manager, marketing and strategy, DTNA, adding he is looking to boost its penetration in coming months.

Even in situations where there is no way to get around the need to take the truck out of service for repairs, Tindall said Virtual Technician can prove beneficial. He referred to one leasing company with a customer who damaged the oil pan while driving the leased vehicle and then repeatedly attempted to start and drive the vehicle. By having captured those events through Virtual Technician, the leasing company had a record of what actually transpired to take up with the customer.

The Virtual Technician software was designed through a strategic agreement with Zonar, a provider of vehicle inspection, tracking and fleet telematics systems. Zonar provides the hardware and a cloud based computing platform for the Virtual Technician.

Development plans for the future include building in the ability to actually change engine parameters rather than just getting reports on them.

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