Perfect storms don’t always start with snow and ice.
Carriers are currently facing a combination of challenges that were unimaginable just a few short years ago. Across the country, e-commerce and buy-online, pickup-in-store (BOPIS) orders are still expanding after a record holiday season. Logistics companies are faced with a continuing shortage of drivers and maintenance personnel, as evidenced by a recent report from the TechForce Foundation showing that an estimated 642,000 new diesel, auto and collision technicians will be needed by 2024.
To be sure, winter weather has impacted delivery schedules throughout the central U.S. in recent weeks. And over it all, COVID-19 vaccine deliveries have assumed much-needed first priority.
For fleet operators, the challenges of the pandemic era have been further exacerbated by the work-from-home movement. Everyone who can is working remotely, including dispatchers and customer service representatives. Hours have been long and stress levels have been high. Moreover, the pandemic has forced fleets to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. All sorts of workflows have been digitized, not only to better manage the new remote environment but also to speed output for maintenance techs and supervisors.
Fleets are asking themselves a couple of fundamental questions. How do we optimize vehicle downtime, either proactively or when an unplanned breakdown occurs? And how do we ensure deliveries can continue to be made on time and in full?
Analytics Drive Efficiency
With multiple historic events unfolding simultaneously, carriers must rely on digital maintenance systems to navigate the capacity crunch. These automated solutions, drawing data directly from vehicle IoT sensors and other data sources, are invaluable at a time when performance demands are at their highest.
When every day and road mile counts, it’s critical to extend vehicle life cycles to keep trucks on the road. Any time a delivery van or truck is up and optimizing its miles, it’s making revenue. Moreover, it’s never smart to repair a vehicle on the roadside. The goal is to lock in a preventative repair in the shop, in order to prevent an unplanned breakdown.
Digital maintenance systems allow carriers to analyze and identify problems before they occur. Instead of waiting for a truck to break down en route, digital maintenance systems track vehicle health in order to schedule maintenance ahead of time.
Wireless technology is enabling carriers to see what’s going on in their fleets remotely, without actually touching the vehicles or even downloading data while in the shop. With remote systems, supervisors can notify their technicians of what to expect next time the truck or van is in the shop; e.g., “You have a truck coming in that’s got a bad NOx sensor. Here’s how we’re going to handle it.”
Detailed, remote vehicle health assessments have multiple benefits. If a carrier has to make a major vehicle repair, for example, they may begin looking for a replacement. But if they can preempt that repair with preventative maintenance, there’s a better chance they’ll keep the vehicle in service. When trucks can run to the upper limits of their expected lifetime mileage, the enhanced reliability will show up in the carrier’s cash flow because the operator isn’t spending as much on replacing the fleet as soon as anticipated.
Fortunately, small-to-medium sized fleets are gaining many of the advantages large carriers have enjoyed. Fleet tracking, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and diagnostic tools are being integrated into existing systems. By gaining earlier notice on pending failures, as well as real-time insight into vehicle status, maintenance shops are able to adjust schedules and even optimize part ordering to better address present and future needs.
In-house maintenance visibility helps in predicting for-hire needs as well. Private carriers looking to defer replacement cycles can use digital maintenance to manage orders; this allows shop planners to make data-driven decisions about capacity and scheduling. The end result is that a shared, fleetwide view of reliability helps everyone quantify their need, not only if-or-when to tap into for-hire fleets, but also to improve efficiency for everything from delivery times to technician vacation scheduling.
Silver Lining for Carriers
It’s clear that the logistics field is changing under our feet. New types of powertrains, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, enhanced safety protocols and more are changing the way the industry operates. Carriers are looking to back-end technologies to optimize workflows, improve asset management, shorten delivery times and delays, and ultimately to improve operating margins.
Fleet management must become more precise, which means maintenance teams must have more insight into vehicle conditions and repair shop efficiency. Carriers may be in a perfect storm — but amid the clouds, digital maintenance solutions are proving themselves to be part of the silver lining.
Braden Pastalaniec is vice president of transportation and logistics for Uptake, an industrial A.I. company.
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