Onboard computers help manage various ECM standards
Electronic control modules (ECMs) broadcast a steady stream of files and information through a vehicle’s controlled area network (CAN). Thousands of fleets are using their onboard computing and mobile communications platforms to manage some of this information — idle time, speed, mpg and engine fault codes, etc. — remotely.
The information comes in a standard format or protocol called J1708 and J1939 for heavy-duty trucks and OBD-II for light-duty vehicles. Since 1996, heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers have used the J1708 protocol. Since 2003, they have been migrating toward J1939. Several vehicle manufacturers now are using only J1939 for their 2010 model trucks.
Companies that own equipment before and after 2003, therefore, operate a “mixed” fleet in term of information capabilities. The J1939 is a newer system with a different interface structure, and it manages more data communication than J1708.
“If J1939 is present, we use this data,” says Norman Thomas, vice president of information consulting for CarrierWeb, which offers the CarrierMate onboard computing and communications platform. “If not, then we use J1708 as all larger trucks still have J1708.”
A few examples of the new data offered on J1939 include fuel level, seat belt use and new diagnostics trouble codes. “J1708 offers fuel burn and mpg, but generally not fuel level, which is desired to monitor that fuel purchases are completely inserted into the vehicle tank and to be sure none is siphoned out,” Thomas says.
Another advantage of J1939 is that it allows third-party applications in a vehicle — such as stability control and lane departure warning systems — to broadcast critical event data. This data can be picked up from the J1939 by an onboard computer.
PeopleNet, an onboard computing and mobile communications provider, captures data from a vehicle through its PerformX vehicle performance monitoring and reporting tool. The company recently enhanced PerformX with a “multibus” adapter to capture both J1708 and J1939 data.
“Having the ability to integrate to J1939 allows us to collect vehicle and third-party application data that reside on a vehicle,” says Tom Dorazio, product manager for PeopleNet’s vehicle integration products.
However, fleets that use onboard computers and mobile communications systems to manage data may not always need these added capabilities all at once.
“We’re developing technology based on market demand,” says Brad Aiken, tracking and communications business development director for TransCore. In 2008, TransCore launched CabLink as an economical in-cab communications and sensor-enabled tracking and monitoring system. “We have not seen a big demand in our market segment — small- to medium-sized fleets — for more data than the system is already providing on the J1708.”
As fleets’ information needs change, vendors will continue to develop more robust tools to help fleets incorporate more vehicle information into their daily workflow and business processes.
“We are always working with the latest technology while maintaining compatibility with the existing J1708/1939 standards,” says Tom Flies, senior vice president of product management for Xata Corp., which offers the Xatanet fleet management system. “As standards change and evolve, we want to ensure that the Xata solution is ready to support these standards as they become a reality.”
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