Virtual Technician keeps Freightliner fleets connected

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NAPA, Cal. — Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) has made its Virtual Technician remote engine diagnostics tool standard on Freightliner trucks with Detroit Diesel engines.

Brian Cota, vice-president, sales with Freightliner, likens the system to a 3,000-mile cable that keeps Freightliner customers in constant contact with the Detroit Diesel Customer Support Center in Detroit, Mich.

“It’s a virtual cable that’s plugged into your truck and at the other end of that is a computer, a software program and a qualified technician to analyze information,” Cota described during a recent press event.

When a Check Engine light appears on a truck’s dash, an engine fault code is immediately sent to the Detroit Diesel Customer Support Center. A technician assesses the urgency of the situation and then advises the driver or fleet manager on the appropriate course of action. If immediate servicing is required, the driver or fleet manager will be provided with a list of the nearest approved service centres, including their current inventory of required parts.

There are currently more than 2,000 Virtual Technician-equipped Detroit Diesel engines in the field and the feature is now standard on all new DD engines. The first two years of service are free, after which customers can purchase a subscription to retain the service through the life of the vehicle.

The ultimate goal, Cota explained, is to increase uptime and reduce the time spent waiting for parts and service when a repair is necessary. Providing details on truck breakdowns in real-time also allows fleets to better make contingency plans; they’ll know as soon as the Check Engine light appears how long it will take to resolve the issue and whether or not it’s necessary to dispatch a second truck to deliver the load.

Drivers can be directed to the nearest dealer with the required parts in stock and get back on the road quicker, Cota noted.

Virtual Technician also offers a Visibility Package, which provides useful information such as IFTA/IRP mileage, vehicle location, fuel consumption, idle-time and speed reports and vehicle alerts, all available for download in spreadsheet form.

Daimler is already working on a second phase of Virtual Technician, which will provide further capabilities including: navigation; hours-of-service monitoring; and two-way messaging. Eventually, Cota said, customers will be able to use Virtual Technician to remotely program the ECM. For instance, customers will be able to alter their vehicles’ speed limiter parameters to comply with the speed limiter laws in Ontario and Quebec and then remotely open the engine back up when it’s no longer within those provinces. Customers may also be able to remotely shut down a power unit in the event of a theft.

“We are moving towards this,” Cota said. “It’s something we’re aggressively working towards to improve the customer experience.”

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