Home Fleet Management How useful is advanced fleet-maintenance technology? Two fleet managers have their say

How useful is advanced fleet-maintenance technology? Two fleet managers have their say

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We asked two fleet managers: “How do you prepare to leverage advanced maintenance technology in your fleet?”

Organisations use advanced maintenance technologies, such as predictive maintenance and data analytics, to reduce machine downtime and unscheduled maintenance, extend life cycles and meet regulatory requirements in their fleet management. Over time, they will also play an important role in how staff are trained and minimising costs.

Steve Croxon, the Plant and Depot Manager at Griffith City Council, says fleet management has changed dramatically since he joined the council more than 20 years ago. “There is a lot more emphasis on costs and safety than there used to be,” he says. “Now we have a lot more electronics involved with fleets – sometimes that can be a good thing, sometimes it can be a bad thing.”

Advanced maintenance systems have dramatically increased service intervals in the fleet Croxon manages. “Things like oil-change intervals have extended compared to 10 or 20 years ago, or even five years ago,” he says. “You often see trucks that don’t need an oil change for 30,000 kilometres or longer. We see graders doing 500 hours instead of 250 hours. We’re not servicing as regularly as we used to because the advanced vehicles don’t require it. We’re doing less servicing, but it is more high-tech when we do it because we do oil sampling and condition monitoring.”

One example is a Mercedes-Benz Actros owned by Griffith City Council, which alerts the operator when it requires a service. As a result, maintenance schedules are based on need rather than the completion of a certain number of operating hours, which usually translates into a cost-saving.

The new age of data

Advanced maintenance technology figures heavily in Andy Wiggan’s role as National Service Manager at Komatsu. He says technology such as machine-level telemetry streamed live into AI and machine-learning databases is a common feature of today’s fleet-management landscape. The benefits of digitising maintenance come from “turning that data into actionable information”, he says.

Examples include using data to predict maintenance events and the longevity of components. “Rather than maintenance being completed on a schedule, it can be done based on the equipment – things such as load factors and fuel burn – which therefore extends life cycles,” says Wiggan.

His team is working on a prototype that takes preventative maintenance (PM) clinic data as operational data. “Typically, a PM clinic would be conducted during a maintenance-down event, meaning that a machine is parked for maintenance,” he says. “What we’re able to do now is set up an analytic to take operational data and populate that into a form which gives us the required metrics rather than parking the machine.”

The result is the significant reduction of downtime and cost, as well as a more sophisticated understanding of a machine’s functioning and performance, says Wiggan. “Using operational data means we get to aggregate a significantly larger data set rather than using single points of data.”

The way forward

Wiggan says Australia is a world leader when it comes to adopting new advanced maintenance technology. “Typically, in Australia, we’re quite innovative as a culture, and we’re also quite mature in our maintenance and safety aspects. As a result, we’ve got the experience and the exposure to be able to experiment in this area.”

He says organisations that want to adopt these technologies must first ensure their equipment is compatible with digital technology and have the communications infrastructure necessary to transmit large volumes of data.

Organisations must train staff in increasingly sophisticated new technology – a major issue at Griffith City Council. In the fleet’s vehicles, everything from sweepers to graders, “our service mechanics have to be better trained or trained more often because of the electronics”, says Croxon.  

Ensuring staff are up to speed in the use and maintenance of new equipment is vital, particularly in fleet management in regional and rural areas. In Griffith, 450 kilometres north of Melbourne and 570 kilometres west of Sydney, there are no new truck dealers, says Croxon. “Our nearest truck dealer is in Wagga Wagga, which is 200 kilometres away – a two-hour drive. If we can’t maintain these items properly ourselves, it means major downtime.”

While the increased complexity of smart vehicles creates the need to constantly invest in new technology and extra training, Croxon says the overarching benefit of advanced maintenance technology for his organisation is reduced downtime. “Especially in rural areas where you’ve got machines a long distance from your servicing facility,” he says

Wiggan believes the next step in fleet management will be in automation, which will result in greater accuracy and efficiency in the field and require a new set of skills among workers, including data management and high-level technical know-how.