Plant maintenance teams are often stretched thin. Forced to juggle conflicting priorities, they often turn to creative problem-solving to keep critical assets running. It is easy for fleet management to be pushed lower on the priority list during digital initiatives, with prudent investments in service and maintenance postponed. While understandable, this is also high-risk. Just like the shop-floor machinery and equipment, fleet vehicles operate best when they receive proactive maintenance. Fortunately, modern asset management technology can help keep the fleet running as needed — without sacrificing other shop-floor initiatives.
Challenges to Fleet Management
The driver shortage has been among the top concerns for fleet managers in the past decade. As the demands for freight transport increase and the number of new driver applicants continues to stagnate, experts predict the shortage of delivery drivers may approach 250,000 by 2022. Recruiting inexperienced drivers can also lead to safety issues and the need for driver monitoring tactics. Technology can help monitor driver responses and safety protocols. While such systems are beneficial, they add one more complexity to maintaining the fleet.
Digitalization of Vehicles
The adoption of digital applications can enable managers to track vehicle routes, access data on service history down to the component and part level, maintain compliance records, and receive notifications when preventive maintenance is due. Increased sophistication of telemetry and internet of things (IoT) technology are making it possible for managers to track all of these processes and more.
Some plants must budget for high fuel costs, depending on the type of fleet vehicles deployed. Even modest fluctuations in diesel cost can have a major influence on the company’s financial bottom line. Maintenance teams must stay on top of reports of fluctuating fuel usage, alert for issues which can be resolved or downtime which can be prevented.
Extreme climatic events have sparked greater awareness around climate change and led to new clean air standards being passed around the world. The tightening of environmental legislation means fleet managers face a variety of mandates to be met and pressure to phase out the use of internal combustion engines. Fleet managers and the service technicians who support them need to be aware of the issues and formulate their own strategies.
Rising Popularity of Electric Vehicles
Based on current estimates, electric vehicles (EVs) will reach an inflection point somewhere between 2035 and 2040, where half of all vehicles sold will be plug-ins. Their proliferation into the world of trucks and vans, as used in manufacturing plants, is also continually increasing. Advanced analytics can help to determine charging costs, savings and the impact on the bottom line.
Software built especially for dispatching service technicians can track fleet vehicle location, identify the optimal vehicle to dispatch for an urgent call and calculate the best route. For the fleet manager and the maintenance team, this GPS-centric data can be valuable in monitoring vehicles and pinpointing environmental factors that lead to unusual maintenance requirements.
There is a strong correlation between driver behavior and maintenance needs. Reports that highlight aggressive driving behavior, excessive idling, improper shifting or deactivating safety controls can all be used to improve training and encourage improvement. Data changes the dialogue from being anecdotal and speculative to being fact-driven, allowing for better results.
Factories and plants provide an ideal closed-loop environment for innovative proof-of-concept projects with autonomous vehicles. While public opinion is still divided about usage on public highways, growing evidence suggests autonomous vehicles will represent a safer and more efficient transport model in the future. Without drivers to report on malfunctions or troublesome symptoms, software and sensors will be vital to managing these fleets, allowing the dispatch manager to actively control assets in real time.
As fleets become autonomous and digitally powered, maintenance teams will be part of the critical line of defense to ensure transportation and the use of vehicles in plants are safe. Not only will technicians need to inspect and ensure that back-up systems and safeguards are in place, but they also must monitor the technologies involved in fleet operation, from dispatch to sensors monitoring the levels of brake fluid.
How Technology Can Help
Modern enterprise asset management (EAM) systems give fleet managers and asset maintenance teams valuable tools for monitoring the condition of assets, such as maintenance history, warranty status and next scheduled maintenance or service. EAM solutions can manage the complete life cycle of vehicles and the systems used in the fleet operations. Multiple assets — many computerized — are part of the holistic fleet ecosystem. A sound EAM solution will help keep these pieces operating as needed.
Advanced systems can interpret and derive insight from the data. They often contain business intelligence and analytics functionality to drill into possible factors influencing the need for service. Predictive analytics can also be used to spot anomalies in data which may signal potential problems. If warning signs are spotted in real time, intervention can happen before there is a complete breakdown.
With today’s technicians expecting solutions that are easy to use with the same type of intuitive screens as their consumer devices, it is essential that the EAM system be highly flexible, mobile friendly and accessible. This is especially important as technicians are often dispatched to remote locations for emergency repairs.
Whether you are in plant operations, shipping, material handling, fleet management or asset maintenance, the health and wellness of the plant’s fleet affects you. Regardless of if you are the final decision-maker or a passenger in a company van, you can play a role in helping to access needs and identify opportunities for improvement. You depend on the fleet, and it depends on you to keep it running at peak performance.