Tuning up the shop

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Updated Jan 13, 2010

Fleet maintenance management software cuts costs, boosts productivity

Steeped in the current freight recession, every fleet is trying to reduce costs and improve utilization. Fleet maintenance is one area where having the right organization and information can help accomplish both objectives. Fleet maintenance management software can provide these things, as well as a quick return on investment, with tools for analyzing and dissecting costs, preventing vehicle downtime and expediting repairs.

Cost reduction
Without maintenance software, fleets typically see maintenance costs as they would see any other expense in their general ledger accounting system – as a total. Accounting systems lack the means to measure costs and take systematic steps to reduce them.

“Many companies don’t have the data to understand where their (maintenance) spend is going,” says Scott Vanselous, senior vice president and general manager of TMW Systems’ Asset Maintenance Organization, which provides the TMT Fleet Maintenance software system (www.tmtsoftware.com).

Maintenance software provides the resources to track and analyze maintenance costs on a per-unit basis and in terms of utilization ratios such as cost per mile and cost per hour, says Charles Arsenault, chief executive officer of Arsenault Associates (www.truckfleet.com), developer of the Dossier fleet maintenance management system.

This information enables managers to make better decisions regarding equipment purchases and disposals, maintenance intervals and other activities based on having a true cost per mile for different segments of a fleet, Vanselous says.

Parts inventory is the biggest and most immediate opportunity to cut costs, Arsenault says. Fleets that implement maintenance software for the first time often find that one-third of their parts in inventory are obsolete, while thousands more dollars are tied up in excess parts, he says.

Software systems that use min-max methods to manage inventory not only can reduce carrying costs but also automate the process for reorders, Arsenault says. To automate parts inventories further for its customers, Arsenault Associates is planning to integrate Dossier with a national inventory supplier in the next release of Dossier, version 5.1. The inventory supplier will stock fleets’ shelves on consignment to eliminate carrying costs. The supplier will replenish inventory automatically the next morning based on the prior day’s usage. To qualify for this vendor’s service, companies will have to be large enough to purchase about $50,000 a month in parts, Arsenault says.

Managing labor
Scheduling preventive maintenance (PM) is another core function of fleet maintenance software systems for reducing cost and improving utilization. By collecting detailed records on the work performed to each vehicle, managers can analyze trends for breakdowns and part failures to make important adjustments to PM schedules.

Once a vehicle is in the shop, technologies that simplify data entry for the technician can help ensure that important details are captured at the time the service takes place, giving managers real-time visibility of their labor and capacity on the shop floor.
Fleets that use the TMT Fleet Maintenance software have a workstation on the shop floor. Technicians use the workstation to see all the work that is scheduled for the day on a touchscreen monitor, says Dave Walters, technical sales manager for TMW Systems. The technician selects a job and creates a repair order to document all activities related to the job, such as replacing parts.

Every section of a repair order is tied to a job code. Fleets can set standard repair times for each job code to monitor the productivity of technicians. These reports can be useful to identify areas where more training, technician development and better tooling might be needed, Walters says.

Providing technicians with the right repair information in a fast and convenient format also helps. Schneider National uses Tractor-Trailer.net, a heavy-duty vehicle repair product from Mitchell 1. Technicians at the Green Bay, Wis.-based fleet can launch the application directly from the company’s Intranet site on the shop floor.

The most popular feature is the schematics for the electrical system, says Rob Reich, Schneider’s vice president of maintenance operations. Technicians can print user-friendly diagrams from Tractor-Trailer.net and carry them to the vehicle for repair.
Another favorite is the ability to find information on components that is not accessed easily through the use of other repair manuals, such as suspension, air piping, steering, alignment specifications and torque values.

Optimizing schedules
Besides keeping labor and repair costs in line, maintenance software also helps match available shop capacity with demand to improve equipment utilization.

The latest version of the Dossier management system utilizes a Daily Reminder that displays fleet information with color graphs and charts as well as tabular views, allowing rapid prioritization of work. Users also can configure their own toolbar with any system function, and managers can decide which features and icons can be seen and used by individual users, according to Arsenault Associates.

To manage labor costs and schedule work, TMT Fleet Maintenance software utilizes a Shop Planner module. A shop foreman uses the module to view a dashboard of the current and complete set of information for planning purposes, including all open orders, technicians assigned to jobs, and the estimated completion time of each repair, Walters says.

To improve the scheduling process even further, TMT Asset Maintenance is integrating with TMW Systems’ dispatch software to help dispatchers take advantage of dwell time to get vehicles in for scheduled PM services, either at vendor locations or company facilities, he says.

Today, your single most important shop tool very well may be the one for which RAM and megahertz is more important than torque or inches.

In Brief
TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) says its release of TruckMate 2009 marks the transition of the product to a rolling-release delivery strategy, with more frequent, smaller product updates and smoother, less disruptive upgrade processes going forward.

EBE Technologies (www.ebe-inc.com) says its newest IDI Web portal interface allows carriers to automatically populate data such as detention claims and invoice submissions directly from their dispatch and accounting systems into the Lean Logistics Web portal utilized by shippers and intermediaries.

DriverTech (www.drivertech.com), designers of the DT4000 TruckPC onboard computing system, says its new Core Mobile Software, Version 4.26, contains more detailed reporting capabilities and second-generation applications that enhance operations for fleets and their drivers.

Networkfleet (www.networkfleet.com) says its low-cost GPS vehicle tracking system, the Networkfleet 4200, is designed for fleets that need reliable location tracking but do not require the patented remote engine diagnostics offered by the Networkfleet 3500 wireless fleet management system.

McLeod Software (www.mcleodsoftware.com) says the latest V9.2 versions of its LoadMaster IX and PowerBroker II solutions incorporate more than 100 new features and enhancements.

Xata Corp. (www.xata.com) says its TREQ-M4 in-cab color display unit (CDU), the newest in-cab touchscreen computer provided by QSI Corp., is available as an option for new customers and as an upgrade for existing users.

ACS, PeopleNet partner for in-cab scanning solutions
Affiliated Computer Services and PeopleNet, a provider of Internet-based and integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems for fleet management, announced a partnership to provide new mobile in-cab scanning solutions for fleets and drivers on the PeopleNet BLU platform.

“Our innovative mobile solutions are the perfect fit for the powerful PeopleNet BLU platform,” says Kelley Walkup, division vice president and general manager for Dallas-based ACS Expedited Solutions. “ACS is taking another step in making life easier for drivers and fleets by providing new solutions through a well-established platform like PeopleNet BLU.”

ACS provides the truckload market scanning and document delivery services that deliver trip documents within minutes through TripPak Scanning, Capture Anyware and TripPak Express. TripPak Scanning is an imaging solution for outsourced scanning, and through Capture Anyware, carriers can utilize one, all or a combination of the following submission methods for receipt of their mission-critical documents: full-service truckstop scanning, terminal scanning, in-cab scanning, fax, e-mail and more, ACS says.

“This partnership is a natural with ACS’ business process improvement solutions, which complement PeopleNet’s profit-driving operational applications and industry-leading mobile communications,” says Bridget Wahlstrom, product manager for Minneapolis-based PeopleNet. “The combination offers fleets an additional way to reduce operating costs and improve fleet productivity through in-cab scanning solutions.”