The days of simply checking the oil and kicking the tyres of your vehicles in order to keep them on the road are long gone. But even the more modern methods of uptime management are being eclipsed by rapid technology advancements.
Telematics systems are becoming more intertwined with the electrics of a vehicle and, as fleets gather more and more data, the subsequent analysis is delivering valuable insights into how vehicles can be kept running for longer.
Where a fleet manager would once have relied on daily checks or regular servicing to highlight any issues, the modern truck or van is on the cusp of telling you that it is about to break down.
“In our industry, data has been around for a long time. It just hasn’t been talked about much,” says Dirk Schilim, EVP at global telematics provider Geotab. “Today’s fleets already run on data and data is the new oxygen, we believe. You cannot run your business, you cannot innovate and you cannot compete without data.”
As vehicles become more intelligent and analytics advance, the depth of what can be understood from a vehicle is increasing rapidly.
Mercedes-Benz is investing heavily in connectivity. Its parent company, Daimler AG, describes connectivity as the “third industrial revolution”.
Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management of Daimler AG with responsibility for Daimler Trucks & Buses, says: “We are connecting the truck with the internet – making (it) the mobile data centre of the logistics network. It connects all involved in goods: drivers, schedulers, fleet operators, workshops, manufacturers and insurance companies or authorities.
“They receive information in real time which was previously unavailable: about the condition of the tractor unit and semitrailer, traffic and weather conditions, the parking availability at motorway service stations, rest areas and much more.
“All those involved in the logistical process can use this real-time data for their needs. With flash updates over the air or automated transfer of inbound time for trucks heading to the service point, maintenance time can be reduced significantly.”
Daimler already has 365,000 connected commercial vehicles, either as Mercedes-Benz trucks, buses or smaller Fuso trucks.
“Access to better data is instrumental in helping fleet operators get the most out of vehicles. By optimising their fleet utilisation through data-driven insights, companies can make their vehicles work longer, harder and smarter, leading to improved safety across the fleet and significant cost savings in the long term,” says Chris Black, commercial director at LeasePlan UK.
He adds: “Key to this is real-time health checks for each vehicle, which allow for proactive servicing. Defects that have the potential to cause significant problems are identified at an earlier stage, often instantaneously, reducing the likelihood of them becoming bigger problems and causing vehicles to be off the road for longer.”
According to LeasePlan, the industry average for downtime is approximately four days per year for light commercial vehicles (LCVs). That equates to around £800 per vehicle per day, although the actual cost can be upwards of £1,000.
However, for fleets using data-generated intelligence this figure can be significantly lower. For example, downtime for LCVs using LeasePlan’s Uptime Live averaged a little more than one day per year over the past 12 months – resulting in around £2,400 in efficiency-related savings.
A programme to increase vehicle utilisation and minimise downtime has seen Metropolitan Housing reduce rental costs by more than £7,000 a month, average vehicle off road time by more than three days and reduced average repair time by 23%. This has been achieved in just four months since the programme’s introduction.
Joe Masters, housing transport manager for Metropolitan Housing, says his programme was introduced to measure the visible and hidden costs of its 200 vans being off the road.
“We didn’t know the impact on the business, both from a monetary viewpoint and the time spent chasing repairs, office staff planning work and the negative impact on morale on the driver under pressure to complete jobs, and our company’s reputation,” he explains.
The average cost of downtime at Metropolitan Housing added up to between £750 and £1,000 per vehicle per day.
The company uses LeasePlan’s Uptime vehicle utilisation programme, providing live vehicle location telematics, liaison with repair garages, real-time visibility on repair progress, place of work servicing and advanced planning of servicing.
Drivers also carry out daily vehicle checks, via an app, which is aimed at reducing MOT failure rates. In 2017-2018, 44% of 3.0–3.5-tonne vehicles on Masters’s fleet failed their first test.
Driver training has also been introduced, from induction to on-going refresher courses, based on risk ratings including number of complaints received, telematics data, vehicle inspections, collisions reported and penalty points.
Masters has now introduced training on the importance of managing utilisation from director to supervisor level. And at least once a year all responsible staff will be trained.
This has now put him a position to look at introducing Freight Transport Association (FTA) Van Excellence accreditation.
“We’ve put the consequence of neglect in language drivers understand,” Masters says. “If it’s evident in the cause of vehicle damage there will be disciplinary action and, ultimately, there won’t be end-of-year bonuses, Christmas hampers etc. because all the money has been spent on insurance policies and repairs.”
Sometimes, simply investing in your people can help to reduce potential downtime issues.
Wren Kitchens attracts the best drivers by offering a salary higher than the average wage in each area where it has depots. It treats Class 1 and Class 2 drivers the same, investing heavily in training including pre-user checks that gauge their knowledge of the vehicle.
“It’s key to be legal and compliant,” says transport manager Lee Halls, but it also helps to pick up any potential issues.
“We have an app which takes a photo of any defect so we can get the part ordered, which reduces downtime,” Halls adds.
Fareham Car & Van Hire installed Trakm8 Prime devices across its hire fleet to reduce breakdowns.
The Gosport-based company says it chose Trakm8 Prime for its additional standard features, including real-time vehicle battery status and diagnostic trouble code alerts, as well as driver behaviour scoring.
Lauren Stone, executive support officer at Fareham Car & Van Hire, says: “The vehicle health features of Trakm8 Prime are really helpful to us as a hire company. It means we can sort out problems before they cause a breakdown.
“We have quite a lot of vehicles on long-term hire and they all undergo monthly checks to make sure they are in the best possible condition. With Trakm8 Prime, we can immediately see if something needs sorting out on a vehicle, rather than finding out weeks later. We solve a little problem before it becomes a big one.”
Fareham is also making good use of the driver behaviour scoring system within Trakm8 Prime. This monitors key bad driving habits such as heavy acceleration, over-revving, harsh braking and sharp cornering.
“The driver behaviour feature has become really useful, as we can see how customers are treating our vehicles,” adds Stone.
At Speedy Hire telematics are used, predominantly, for driver behaviour.
Head of transport Mark Woodworth explains: “We work closely with a telematics’ provider to pull data once a month on the top 100 harsh breakers, posted to each driver’s home. If they’re on it regularly, it means they’re not paying enough attention to the road or they’re speeding.
“Our letter is an appeal for them to stop. We’re trying to look after you. It will come with tips on how to drive defensively.”
A vehicle that is regularly driven hard is not only more likely to suffer mechanical failure but will also need more downtime to replace components such as tyres and brakes.
The tool equipment hire company has also implemented a range of other measure to minimise vehicle off-road time. To mitigate parts replacement delays it buys total loss vehicles back from its insurance company and has created a store of reusable parts.
“It gets vehicles back on the road much quicker than if we had to wait for parts delivery,” Woodworth says.
In London, where high numbers of short journeys can clog the diesel particulate filters on Euro 6-engined vehicles, the company has worked with sole vehicle supplier Ford to install manual DPF regeneration and train drivers to carry it out.
Woodworth is a “massive advocate” of mobile servicing and its impact on downtime. It led to 13 vans in one depot having the work required in a recall performed in two mornings as they were being loaded, causing zero downtime.
Uptime magagement: don't forget the basics
Servicing your vehicles in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations is the most straightforward way of preventing unwanted issues. Some fleets choose to go one step beyond and include preventative maintenance throughout the year. Don’t forget, however, that more time in the workshop is more time the vehicle can’t be utilised, so think carefully about when routine maintenance takes place. Many dealerships now offer 24-hour opening and some brands have started providing mobile servicing that can work on your vehicle while it is working for you.
Daily vehicle checks
While telematics systems are becoming more advanced at predicting faults, drivers should still be fully aware of their vehicle’s condition before setting off each day. Issues such as tyre wear, windscreen chips and minor faults should be reported immediately so maintenance can be scheduled accordingly without affecting day-to-day operation. Taking action on warning lights as soon as they appear can avoid lengthy repairs further down the line.
Sometimes things will go wrong no matter how hard you try to prevent it and a vehicle will suffer mechanical failure, a collision or even a simple puncture. Having a robust policy in place to deal with these issues will mean a driver will spend less time standing at the side of the road and more time working. Spot hire is one way to ensure that your business keeps moving, with most rental companies able to supply vehicles within the hour. You should also have a robust agreement with a breakdown assistance provider, ensuring they adhere to strict SLAs on attendance and recovery time.
A vehicle is only as good as its driver. Efficient and safe driving techniques will prolong the service life of a vehicle and reduce wear on consumables such as tyres and brake pads. Telematics is already widely used to monitor driver behaviour, with many systems able to highlight things such as over-revving and heavy braking. Reducing distraction will also minimise the chances of hitting potholes or other vehicles.
Using the right vehicle for the right job
Vehicle choice can be crucial when it comes to uptime management. Using large cumbersome vehicles in small city streets is likely to result in regular bouts of damage that require repair. Overworking small vehicles will also cause unnecessary strain on components such as suspension, brakes and clutches, leading to more breakdowns and more downtime. Work with your manufacturers and suppliers to ensure the vehicles you are choosing are suited to your needs. Remember, conversions and the fitment of third-party equipment may alter the service requirements of the vehicle too.