Ways to improve maintenance to extend the lifecycle of your fleet's trucks

Ccj Logo White Headshot

With a recession possibly looming in early 2023, fleets are going to have some hard decisions to make when it comes to budgeting in the upcoming year.

One area that tends to get left behind when budgets get tight is maintenance and equipment, but there are ways to save money in those areas while also making sure equipment is maintained and reliable.

Jason and Matt are joined on this week's 10-44 by Jim Rice, vice president of transportation at Uptake, who talks about the benefits of his company's predictive maintenance software that can help fleets determine which trucks need the most attention and when, to make sure money is being spent where it needs to be.

Contents of this episode

00:00 Extending the lifecycle of your trucks

02:25 Maintenance and driver retention

03:54 Adopting technology in the maintenance shop

07:04 Using data for fleet maintenance

09:01 Determining when a truck has a serious problem

10:30 Being proactive with fleet maintenance

12:02 Aftertreatment systems and NOx sensors


Jason Cannon:

This week's 10-44 is brought to you by Chevron Delo 600 ADF ultra low ash diesel engine oil. It's time to kick some ash.

Matt Cole:

With a recession looming are already here, ways to improve maintenance to extend the life cycle of your trucks.

Jason Cannon:

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the 10-44, a weekly webisode from the editors here at CCJ. I'm Jason Cannon and my co-host on the other side is Matt Cole. With a recession likely in 2023 or possibly already here, depending on who you ask, fleets are going to have some hard decisions to make when it comes to budgeting in the upcoming year.

Matt Cole:

Oftentimes in trucking, when the economy takes the turn for the worst, one of the first areas to see budget cuts is equipment and maintenance. With the current tough times in the industry and even more ahead, it's a good time for fleets to take a look at their current maintenance programs and adapt them to extend the life of their equipment. We are joined by Jim Rice, vice president of transportation at Uptake, who talks about the benefits of his company's predictive maintenance software that can help fleets determine which trucks need the most attention and when, to make sure money is being spent where it needs to be.

Jim Rice:

I've been in the transportation software business for the better part of about 15, 16 years. Started off just kind of doing basic GPS tracking, engine diagnostics, over at a company called Network Fleet, which was acquired by Verizon Connect. I was there for about seven years and then transferred over to the camera side and the safety side with DriveCam and Lytx. Spent seven years there and then just recently moved over to Uptake as the head of sales here just recently in about April of this year.

And the precipice for the move was really an ongoing need from our existing client saying, "Hey, what are you doing about maintenance? We need to be take better care of our truck." So kind of a pivot away from safety. I mean really thinking that "Hey, maintenance is the next big market that's a little bit untapped." We're kind of using the antiquated Excel spreadsheets. We're doing PM schedules based on what somebody told us 10 years ago, and it hadn't really evolved.

And Uptake's really at the forefront to try and create this new kind of predictive maintenance plan for trucks, and combine with preventative maintenance, and really with the focus on trying to get more out of your existing assets. We know that there's a lot of parts, trucks, all that stuff is hard to come by. And so we're trying to really help emphasize and give fleets and empower them with the data they need to make better proactive maintenance decisions on their existing fleets. But it's new order, old trucks

Jason Cannon:

As fleets are well aware, maintenance programs have been pretty strained the last two and a half years, since the Covid pandemic due to the new truck shortages and part shortages.

Jim Rice:

It's been frustrating. So I think there's a chain reaction when you can't get trucks and you're running older vehicles or well past the existing mileage that you're used to. That has an impact all the way throughout the organization, not just on the trucks, maybe breaking down, but an impact on drivers. Driver turnover and driver shortage is such a big issue that if you're running older trucks that are breaking a lot, you now have exacerbated your driver turnover problem. And so it kind of is a chain reaction. Much like supply chain. One kink breaks, a lot of stuff downhill does. It's the same thing.

So when you can't get the trucks, you can't get the new ones, and you haven't invested in technologies or ways to make your existing ones run better, run longer, run more efficient, there is downstream impacts across your entire organization with customer service, with all that type of stuff that trucking companies need, there is a chain reaction. And so what we're seeing is more people wanting to get ahead of this, trying to figure out what tools are available, what data is available out there to try and say, "Hey, I can cut the head off the snake a little bit earlier to not have so many problems downstream just because my truck doesn't run right."

And so the shifting is, it's starting to happen, I won't say away from safety and ELD and cameras and things like that, but a lot of these fleets have that stuff. And so it's like, what's next? And so now they're moving a little bit sooner in the cycle and trying to take care of the trucks.

Matt Cole:

With the challenges we've already seen in 2022, more money has had to go toward fuel and labor costs further exacerbating those problems already strained maintenance departments are dealing with.

Jim Rice:

As you look at the dollars, and we know margins are thin in the trucking space, the dollars are now going to fuel and they're going to labor to retain drivers and things like that. So the buckets got to come from somewhere. Where are those dollars coming from? And oftentimes it's maintenance and or other technologies where they're running thin. Just like any software company, kind of look at tech stacks and what are you doing internally? And you got to kind of cut some stuff.

And so oftentimes this has been an area that may get overlooked and you got to do more with less and things of that nature. And so what we're trying to do, and what I think a lot of people are doing is there is some cost effective ways and good short term ROI type of solutions out there, but we got to get used to them. We got to get introduced to them. And the maintenance shop has traditionally been a little slower in the technology curve to adopt. And so they've had ways of doing things for a long time.

And so getting that kind of mindset to say, "Hey, there is technology, it is affordable, I can achieve some quicker ROI." Is what we're seeing and why we're seeing momentum in the marketplace at Uptake, is people are realizing now, "I have to take care of the truck, but I don't have a big budget. I can't just go hire more techs and do things more efficiently unless I'm using the tools and the data that helps me make those right decisions." So that's been the pivot is we know that their budgets are getting shorter, money's go to gas, money's going to labor.

But there's a little bit there that says, "Hey, if I can spend $2 here to make $3 back." We're seeing that. And in the maintenance, there's some pretty quick ROIs available. You can make some pretty changes quickly. It doesn't need to be a complete overhaul of your system, get the right data in front of you, make some good decisions, and you can make an impact pretty quickly.

Jason Cannon:

Fleets have a bevy of data at their fingertips with all the technology that's strapped to a truck today. The challenge is knowing how to use that data to your advantage. Jim explained some ways to do that after word from 10-44 sponsor, Chevron lubricants.

Protecting your diesel engine and its after treatment system has traditionally been a double edged sword. The same engine oil that is so essential to protecting your engine's internal parts is also responsible for 90% of the ash that is clogging up your DPF and upping your fuel and maintenance costs. Outdated industry thinking still sees a trade off between engine and emission system protection and Chevron was tired of it. So they spent a decade of R and D developing a no compromise formulation.

Chevron lubricants developed a new ultra low ash diesel engine oil that is specifically designed to combat DPF ash clogging. Delo 600 ADF with omnimax technology cuts sulfate ash by whopping 60%, which reduces the rate of DPF clogging and extends DPF service life by two and a half times. And just think what you can do with all the MPGs you're going to add from cutting your number of regents. But Delo 600 ADF isn't just about after treatment. It provides complete protection, extending drain intervals by preventing oil breakdown. Before you had to choose between protecting your engine or your after treatment system, and now you don't. 600 ADF from Dell with omnimax technology, it's time to kick some ash.

Jim Rice:

When you look at the systems that are in the truck today, whether that's an ELD, whether that's a telematics device and cameras and things like that, there is a lot of information that's available. And when you look at it, oftentimes it's a data dump. So you look at DTC codes, one truck can fire off hundreds of DTC codes and fault codes in a short period of time. And oftentimes that just gets overlooked. And if it's too much, the noise is you're getting an email every 20 minutes on this. You kind of put all that stuff to the side.

And so folks are finding that, "Hey, there's data there. But now I've got to make use of it. How do I do this?" And so whether that's an internal project that they put data analysts on and BI teams on and things like that, or they'll come to us, someone like an Uptake that can say, "Hey, help me make sense of all this. I got this good data. It's really useful, I think." But until you put it into a digestible format, it's useless. And so I think what you're seeing is folks saying, "I need to kind of take some more time, evaluate what's out there, and give better direction to my maintenance shop."

This is what you need to focus on. And the prime example is people are doing PM schedules based on either OEM recommendations or just what they've done for the last 10 years. And what we're finding is maybe those oil filters don't need changed at that interval. And so your mechanics only have so many hours a day, they're doing stuff that doesn't need to be worked on while there's a truck out in the yard that's saying, "Hey, work on me, work on me." But the PM schedule says, "Hey, nope, I'm supposed to work here."

So we're trying to help fleets be smarter with the decisions that they make, knowing that we're not going to hire a bunch more techs. We're not going to all of a sudden find a bunch more people and time in the day and all that kind of stuff. So we got to work smarter and put the attention on the vehicles that actually need it, as opposed to the way we've always done it. And so that's really a big mind shift for a lot of folks is, "Hey, I get it, great PMs are great. Maybe it's not always the most efficient. If I got other problems outside the PM schedule."

Matt Cole:

Not all fault codes stemming from a truck are critical. Some by themselves do not need immediate attention. However, certain individual fault codes, seen together over a short period of time, might indicate a more serious problem. Jim explains how Uptake can help fleets decipher those codes and determine when a truck has a more serious problem.

Jim Rice:

Think of it in our data science models, and our diesel engineering team has spent many, many years kind of ingesting data, and fault codes, and sensors, and things like that. And the way I like to explain it is, fault code A on its own may not be very, very impactful. You can live with fault code A. Fault code B fires six hours later. On its own fault code B's not very bad. Fault code C does the same thing. If you're getting these emails, you're like, "Hey, okay, file it, file it, file it." What happens is A, B and C happen within a certain amount of time within a 48 hour period, now that's a problem.

But it doesn't give you one consolidate. The engine doesn't tell you that. And so what Uptake does is try and consolidate a lot of this information that's coming over and say, "Hey, not only was these three kind of combined an issue, but combined within a 48 hour window, now you have a problem." To where if you're only getting the fault codes, hey that's fine, no big deal. This one's no big deal, because it doesn't give you that major thing. So what we're trying to do is work smarter, and that's just through years and hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the system ingesting that stuff and putting our data science models to work to really spit out some actionable things that you can work on.

Jason Cannon:

Jim says, going into 2023 fleets should be proactive in their maintenance practices and make any changes to help save money, but also extend the useful life of their trucks.

Jim Rice:

Have a good plan going into the year. You need to take some time and evaluate what worked and what didn't in 2022 and say, "I need to double down on what worked, eliminate some of the stuff that didn't." But we got to have a strategic plan on how we're going to approach things. And even if that means you tighten up the maintenance schedule a little bit because they are getting older. So yeah, great. Every hundred thousand miles worked on miles one through 400K from 400 to 600, maybe it's an 80,000. And when you're doing that, it's not just working on what you're supposed to, but it's also looking for other things while the truck's in the shop.

And so I think a nice part about Uptake is we'll expose a lot of different areas and say, "Hey, this doesn't necessarily need to be fixed today, but the truck's in the shop. So while it's here, you got to just make a little bit more due with the information that you have." So it's just kind of reevaluating what your current schedule is, how you're kind of approaching business and say, "What tweaks do I need to make? And what technology could I invest in to help me make better decisions?" It's not like we're making the wrong decisions, it's can we make better ones at the right time? Timing has so much to do with this. But you fix eight things on the truck, the ninth one is just kind of hiding out over there and 10 days later that ninth one comes up and now the truck's down again. That's what we got to avoid.

Matt Cole:

Jim says, one of the biggest challenges he's seen in truck maintenance has been with knock sensors in the after treatment systems. A number of fleets, swap them out every 200,000 miles or so. That's not always the best practice.

Jim Rice:

One of the big issues that a lot of our fleets like to get their hands wrapped around and things of that is in the after treatment system on the trucks around emissions and things like that, is knock sensors. And there is a segment of the industry that changes them out every 200,000 miles come heck or high water. And that's just part of the schedule that they do. What we found with one of our large fleets is they were doing that and it was capturing about 60, 70% of them needed that exchange at that time. But then another 30% you could've got another 10%, 20%, 30% out of them.

And then there's other ones that are 10 and 20 or 30% earlier, they needed them changed at 170, and those were what's causing breakdowns and things like that. And we're able to detect a lot of that stuff. And we're saying, "Hey, this knock sensors having issues. You're not broken down yet, but we're well ahead of that." And so what they've done is actually implement and say, "Hey, scrap the 200, let's look at these insights." And really say, "Hey, the accuracy of what they're telling us is true." Scrap that one piece, oil filters, all that. But they're kind of adopting it and saying, "Hey, we really trust that after a few validations, like, hey, this one needs changing."

"It's like it's at 160,000, not 200." We're like, "Well it needs changing." They pull it in and go, "Yeah, it's actually accurate." Now then that becomes a new replacement. Or in lieu of the PM schedule that's been around for years. That's just the way they did it. And so the proof is in the pudding. You got to validate, you got to be accurate. Cause the worst thing you can do in this world is be like, "Hey, this truck is having this malfunction." You pull it in, the driver's upset that he had to pull it in, and you go, "Nothing's wrong."

So there is some false positives out there with any predictive software, but you have to be right more often than not. And we pride ourselves running that 90% accuracy range to say, "Hey, we're going to tell it to you." And then you look at the macro fleet. If you miss one, it's okay, but you save nine. That's it. You save nine out of 10, everybody's going to take that all day long.

Jason Cannon:

That's it for this week's 10-44. You can read more on CCJdigital.com, and as always, you can find the 10-44 each week on CCJ's YouTube channel. If you've got questions, comments, criticisms, or feedback, please hit us up at 1044trucking@gmail.com or give us a call at (404) 491-1380. Until next week, everybody stays safe.