TORONTO, (Aug. 9, 2004) — Not long ago, all the information a technician needed was in a line of books and catalogues on the countertop. If something was missing, he simply phoned around for the necessary information, diagram, or schematic.
Then manufacturers began providing information on CDs or the Internet. The technician has another place to turn for answers, but it’s a mixed blessing. “For as many manufacturers as there are, there are as many different ways of getting parts, service, and warranty information,” says Robert Braswell, technical director for the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations. “Brand A has paper, CDs, and a web site. Brand B has the same, but it’s navigated differently. Brand E has only paper. It gets unwieldy.”
It’s a problem FleetPortal.com aims to solve. Managed by TMC, the site is intended as a place to order parts, find technical data, and collect warranty paperwork from an array of manufacturers. FleetPortal provides what Braswell describes as “a common look and feel for technicians and parts professionals within a fleet.”
Volvo was the first major OEM active in the project; Ali Khan of Continental DataGraphics says he is working with Freightliner, Navistar, General Motors, Cummins, Caterpillar, Detroit Diesel, Great Dane, Silver Eagle, Hendrickson, Allison Transmission, and Maxon Lift, among others, to aggregate information that’s important to technicians.
While FleetPortal can be a convenient source for maintenance literature and updates, it also offers the less tangible benefits of VMRS (Vehicle Maintenance Reporting System), which provides a series of codes to describe virtually every part and function involved in fleet maintenance.
VMRS has been around since 1970, but has only been adopted by a few — typically very large — fleets. One reason is that VMRS takes effort to implement, with resources not available in many smaller fleets. Another is that it’s possible to miscode things in the course of implementation or in regular updates. FleetPortal eliminates that problem by providing a constantly updated source of VMRS code that can be downloaded to a subscriber’s computer or network.
Rinaldo Adler, TMT’s vice president of development, says FleetPortal built into a TMT touch screen would speed work. “The touch screen sits out there on the shop floor,” Adler explains. “The mechanic interacts with it when the shop supervisor schedules a job for him. [The supervisor] says, ‘Here are the units you need to work on. You need to work on this one first, this one second and so on, and here’s what you need to do.’
“[The technician] logs in and out of those jobs on the touch screen. In the computer is all the information about the vehicle, year, make, model, and repair history that he can look up currently. If he’s signed into a job to fix brakes or replace an alternator or whatever, we want to give him the option to hit a button and go out to FleetPortal to see his technical information.”
At press time, the actual commercial availability of FleetPortal awaited resolution of final negotiations with suppliers as well as potential fleet customers. Among those pending issues: pricing, of course.
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