The virtual truck

Drivers for Rinker Materials Northwest use a handheld device from Zonar to scan RFID tags placed in zones throughout the vehicle, allowing maintenance managers to view inspection reports and see what defects need to be repaired while the truck is in the field.

Truck original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are the experts in the integration of mechanical and electrical systems. But you might not realize how much time and resources they devote to the human machine interface (HMI) – the communication that exists between a vehicle’s systems, its controls and its operator.

Leveraging this expertise, some truck makers have developed technology that gives fleet managers a virtual view of their vehicles’ performance. Telematics is the term used to describe this technology – the integration of software, hardware and wireless networks to monitor vehicles and drivers remotely.

Many fleets already use telematics solutions from third-party providers of mobile communications and onboard computing; these systems can tap into the vehicles’ electronics to report vehicle and driver performance data in near real time. But OEMs tout the advantages of integrating the vehicle and communication of its data, such as fault codes, as part of vehicle design and production. OEMs also can leverage integrated service and information networks to provide maintenance assistance while the vehicle is in motion. What’s available today is only the beginning.

Ease of mind
OEM-based telematics is a fairly recent development. In 2002, Volvo Trucks introduced Volvo Link, a factory-installed option that combines satellite communications, a proprietary modem and a vehicle control and dash display for driver messaging.

Volvo Link also consists of a Web-based interface for fleet managers to track trucks and receive vehicle diagnostics and performance reports on metrics such as mileage, fuel economy, and engine running and idle time.

In 2004, International announced the availability of its telematics solution, Aware Vehicle Intelligence. With its partner IBM, International developed Aware as a fleet management tool for tracking vehicles and scheduling maintenance through real-time reporting of engine hours and odometer readings. The tool also reports and diagnoses fault codes.

Mack Trucks, a sister company of Volvo, recently announced that its telematics solution, Road Connect, will be available as a factory-installed option on all 2007 models. As with Volvo Link, Road Connect will transmit fault codes and has fleet management tools to track vehicles and to send and receive messages from drivers, says Wayne Wissinger, product manager for Mack Trucks.

But OEM involvement in telematics doesn’t end there. Rather than compete with third-party telematics solutions, some truck OEMs have chosen to design their vehicles to accommodate them. Freightliner offers pre-wired packages for a number of different systems and frequently works closely with those suppliers to make sure the equipment works correctly. Since the mid ’90s, Freightliner has offered the capability for third-party telematics systems to send messages to the character display of the instrument cluster.

“This makes it possible for the driver to get limited, but urgent, information where it is easiest to see and not distract the driver,” says Paul Menig, chief engineer of mechatronics for Freightliner LLC.

OEM interest in telematics extends beyond over-the-road heavy trucks. In Japan, Isuzu has offered a telematics solution for several years. In the United States, Isuzu intends to offer a “full blown” telematics solution with GPS tracking and engine and vehicle monitoring for its 2010 model year vehicles, says Ed Crawford, director of diesel engine sales and marketing for Isuzu Commercial Trucks.

Full integration
Most of the data generated by various electronic control units (ECUs) on a vehicle is not proprietary to the manufacturer. Vehicles are designed to give third-party telematics solutions access to its standard communications channels – J1939, J1708 and J1587 – that transmit engine and vehicle functions, as well as fault information.

But some OEMs say their telematics solutions grant exclusive access to other sources of information generated by the vehicle. One of the key differences between Aware and third-party telematics solutions, for instance, is that Aware is integrated with International’s proprietary multiplexed electrical system called the Diamond Logic Electrical system.

Diamond Logic includes multiplexed wiring, advanced diagnostics, truck-body integration software and auxiliary power sources. The system is set up to allow fleets to design custom vehicle controls; for example, a utility company may want to prevent its drivers from engaging the power takeoff or boom unless the out riggers are down, or prevent a driver from putting the transmission in gear if the boom is not in stow position.

Diamond Logic uses proprietary messaging, making it difficult for third-party systems to tie into the system, says Laura Graham, International’s senior analyst of telematics. With Aware, fleet owners can tap into Diamond Logic to record and monitor events, such as how often the boom is used, or if the PTO is engaged, or the amount of fuel consumed during PTO use.

With this ability to capture and monitor the vehicle in great detail, Aware can automatically record the use and condition of a vehicle’s components, allowing fleets to base their preventive maintenance schedules on actual usage instead of a standard PM interval based on time, engine hours or mileage, Graham says.

Another source of proprietary information is a truck’s data logging system. Mack Trucks logs a comprehensive set of critical vehicle information in an onboard system called DataMax, says Wayne Wissinger, Mack product manager.

DataMax can record basic trip information – such as miles, hours and fuel consumed – in multiple dimensions. For example, fleets can look at time spent or fuel consumed in cruise control or in the engine’s “sweet spot” for RPM.

DataMax also collects the time and date of when the antilock brake or automatic traction control systems are engaged – items that a third-party telematics system do not monitor, Wissinger says. The engagement of the vehicle’s antilock braking system is a much better indicator of a hard brake incident than the so-called “hard-braking” data collected by the engine’s ECM, which Wissinger says may be fooled by driving on gravel or some other unstable road surface.

Truck makers’ telematics systems can be integrated easily with various third-party safety systems on board a vehicle, some of which are available as factory-installed options. These systems include adaptive cruise, forward collision warning and lane change monitoring. By logging this data, truck makers can provide an accurate record of driver behavior, Wissinger says.

Link to the manufacturer
Telematics solutions from truck OEMs do have some disadvantages when compared to third-party systems. For example, they do not – yet – have the same full messaging capabilities and integration with leading fleet dispatch software systems. Also, many fleets are reluctant to use a telematics solution that is tied to a single truck brand, fearing this would limit their options for having a mixed fleet of vehicles.

But OEMs say their telematics solutions have a clear advantage in diagnostics. Aware, for instance, provides a description of what fault codes mean in English by integrating with International’s ISIS troubleshooting guide, Graham says. Using Aware’s Web-based interface, a fleet manager sees a description of the fault code, along with information about how to fix the problem and when maintenance is needed. Along with a description, Aware also includes a hyperlink to ISIS to view a vehicle’s wiring diagram of where the fault occurred.

“You don’t have to go into the cab and trace the wire,” Graham says. “By linking into the troubleshooting guide, you have a diagram right there at your hands.”

Besides having technical resources to help fleets diagnose fault codes, truck makers also can leverage their information and dealer networks to offer proactive maintenance services to their customers.

In September, Volvo announced that all trucks with U.S. ’07 engines will come with Volvo Link Sentry as standard for three years. With the Sentry service, Volvo will provide all U.S. ’07-equipped truck owners and operators access to its Volvo Action Service (VAS), an around-the-clock roadside assistance service.

With Sentry, personnel at VAS monitor the transmission of fault codes and will contact the driver or fleet, as desired. If the situation requires it, VAS even will schedule an appointment to a nearby Volvo dealership while the truck is on the road, says Don Philyaw, Volvo director of sales and marketing support.

Previously, truck owners had paid about $100 per truck per year to get VAS; with Volvo Link standard on ’07 models, fleets also will receive weekly reports on vehicle performance, Philyaw says. The performance criteria includes fuel used, distance traveled, miles per gallon, time in or out of the RPM “sweet spot” (about 1400 RPM), time spent above or below pre-set speeds, and time in or out of cruise control, he says.

The advanced electronics team at International also is looking beyond diagnostics to prognostics. The ultimate goal is to predict failures in advance using information such as tire pressures, brake usage, fuel mileage, etc. International is working on a “prognostics suite of information” for its ’07 Class 8 linehaul tractor, the ProStar. The information will help fleets spot data trends in areas such as tire pressure, brake systems and air filters to catch developing problems early, Graham says.

Remote programming
In most telematics solutions, fleets have the ability to send alert notifications when any of the vehicle’s parameters are exceeded, such as speed or idle time. In the near future, truck OEMs say their homegrown telematics solutions not only will offer the ability to monitor performance, but also to change the vehicle’s parameters remotely.

Heavy-duty trucks have about 150 programmable parameters such as idle shutdown and road speed limits. To set or change these parameters, fleets currently have to link vehicles manually to a PC loaded with software designed by engine and vehicle manufacturers.

But some programmable parameters, such as road speeds, can be broken down into more discrete parameters. For example, fleets can limit a vehicle’s top speed in several different configurations, such as by cruise control, while the air suspension is not inflated, when the differential lock is not engaged, when the fifth wheel is unlocked, or if the PTO is engaged.

“All of these situations are strictly controlled by the OEM,” Wissinger says. “In the future, they will be programmable through telematics devices.”

As vehicles continue to become more advanced, OEMs see a clear advantage for offering customers a “virtual truck” of information to keep their equipment moving safely at peak performance.

The eyes have it
Rinker Systems relies on the best pair of sensors known

A vehicle is equipped with numerous sensors that instantaneously catch defects in its various mechanical and electrical systems. Through a cellular or satellite link with the vehicle, fleet operators can see fault codes as they appear. However, for spotting problems, all this high-tech gadgetry can’t compete with an experienced set of eyes.

As with most fleets, unscheduled repairs and breakdowns at Rinker Materials Northwest are big issues. The Everett, Wash.-based company operates a local fleet of 50 trucks, primarily mixers and dumps, on tight schedules. Rinker has two maintenance crews: a night shift that does its regular scheduled maintenance, and a day crew that handles its unplanned work.

To minimize its unplanned repairs, Rinker depends on drivers for detailed, accurate inspections. To improve the quality and timeliness of these inspections, Rinker uses an Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report system (EVIR) from Zonar across its entire fleet.

In each truck is a handheld device that is part of a system that compels drivers to conduct inspections. RFID tags, which are roughly the size of a half-dollar, are placed in zones throughout the vehicle. To inspect the vehicle’s components located in each zone, drivers have to place the handheld within one-half inch of each RFID tag.

As drivers scan an RFID tag, the handheld brings up a custom list of 10 components in each zone that should be inspected. If the driver notices a defect in any component, he hits a red button and enters the defect from a dropdown list of 10 conditions.

When not in use, the device sits in a vehicle mount for charging. A 900 MHz radio modem in the vehicle mount transmits inspection reports to a base station, which then transmits the information to Zonar’s servers. Maintenance personnel then can review the reports online, schedule work and pick up parts as needed for the night shift.

Dave McAuley, regional maintenance manager for the company’s asphalt division, says that with Zonar, he now can see what defects need to be repaired while the truck is in the field. The inspection report is available via the Internet as soon as a truck operator drops the Zonar handheld back in the cradle after his morning inspection, he says. “In the past, we had to wait until we got the paper to determine the work load,” McAuley says.