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Does Your Fleet Have a Comprehensive Maintenance Strategy?

We’ve talked a lot in past articles about preventative maintenance (PM), maintenance technologies, and maintenance techniques. We spend a lot of time on this topic because it is such an important one for trucking operators to pay attention to. Ensuring freight gets delivered is about more than just truck drivers and trucks. It’s also about having a comprehensive maintenance strategy. But what is a comprehensive maintenance strategy? Consider it all the above… and more!

New Technology Sets the State for New Maintenance Strategies

The last decade has been full of innovation, challenges, and big advances for maintenance and fleet professionals across industries. We aren’t talking about just trucking, transportation, and logistics. From manufacturing to warehousing, the evolution and innovation brought on by new technologies has shifted the landscape for many business verticals, regardless of size or type.

As a result, businesses of all shapes, types, and sizes have invested heavily in digital transformation. And they have done this regardless of size and scale, to address operational challenges, save money, and deliver an improved customer experience. Some of the technologies that have paved the way to get the trucking industry to this point include:

  • Telematics systems
  • Electronic logging devices
  • Maintenance management systems
  • Workflow collaboration tools and systems
  • New training and maintenance technologies
  • … and more!

One of the methodologies that has seen most attention has been that of preventative and predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance technologies leverage the underlying set of data, infrastructure, and operational practices to help operations and maintenance staff gain a greater level insight into their maintenance operations from a higher level.

A Higher Level of Precision Leads to Better Maintenance Outcomes

Fleet managers of today use a long list of technologies to manage their business. Data from telematics/ELD devices, OEM proprietary tools, maintenance applications, ERP applications, and others all feed into central fleet management systems. The result? A wealth of information shooting at fleet managers like water from a firehose.

Fleet managers are going into multiple disparate systems, with different data sources and are collating this information to drive action within their business. On the opposite end, many maintenance professionals still track this in mundane and manual processes like Excel spreadsheets, or a pen and paper. This is overwhelming, ineffective, and often these systems are not utilized to their fullest. The problems are not difficult to see.

One of the biggest problems that comes from this style of operation is a major lack of precision. Why? Because typically, fleet management and maintenance professionals have used industrial engineering practices to implement scheduled preventative maintenance of assets based on usage, wear, and specialization of the equipment. For motor carriers, it has always been odometer reading, engine hours, cost of assets relative to cohort, and other financial motivations. All of these practices are best guesses, OEM recommended, and lack precision. Fleet managers and technicians should consider these practices costly and unwelcome.

Communication as a Key to Setting Up a Comprehensive Fleet Management Operation

Setting up a new comprehensive fleet maintenance strategy can seem daunting. But with the right tools and people in place, you’ll be able to properly plan, implement and execute a new cross-functional predictive maintenance solution that helps the company as a whole. And one of the more important aspects of this strategy is communication.

Communication is critical for the success and adoption of any new technology or project for a business. For larger companies, for example, you’ll want to introduce and embed your new comprehensive fleet management plan within the existing program management and project delivery framework. Without a proper framework, your plan is likely to fail before it even gets off the ground. A business plan must be put into action.

This is how you engage and involve stakeholders across the organization. For smaller organizations, a combination of scrum-like regimented communication channels can serve as the project management platform for key players up and down the chain. This is also an area where technology and new systems play a key role. Project management platforms like Trello or Asana go a long way in helping you stay organized.

But beyond platforms and project delivery frameworks, there is another aspect of a proper comprehensive fleet maintenance strategy you cannot forget. It is a key player in the role of communication between individuals and departments, and that’s people.

Putting Emphasis on the People That Power the Program

Maintenance teams provide support for a greater organization of truck drivers and fleet or field managers. Their primary objective is to provide maintenance service timely and effectively to their own organizations. And yet far too few fleets pay enough attention to the very people that power their comprehensive fleet maintenance programs.

The maintenance operations leaders and employees must be the key drivers, champions, and enablers of predictive maintenance within a comprehensive framework. All maintenance operations are mission-critical operations and should be treated as such. And yet the people responsible for ensuring mission-critical maintenance operations remain so are often not treated as such.

Fleet maintenance teams provide support for a greater organization of truck drivers and fleet or field managers. Their primary objective is to provide timely and effective maintenance service to their organizations, no matter size or type. Ensuring these people are well taken care of should be a philosophy championed both across the organization and within the fleet maintenance department. Fleet maintenance managers must be empowered with the tools they need to ensure technicians remain motivated and armed with what they need to get the job done right.

What Are Your Comprehensive Maintenance Program Operational Objectives?

Best practices dictate that fleet operations focus and target areas of improvement. These should start from simple things like effectively coordinating maintenance issues to increasing overall ROI. Furthermore, the goals need to align with the overall enterprise strategy. It will take some elbow grease but is not impossible. The ability to determine operational objectives is key to maintaining an effective and comprehensive fleet management strategy.

For example, if a trucking company uses advanced alerting to drive uptime, the upside benefits go beyond maintenance. They also improve the customer experience for their customers, ensure timely deliveries, and minimize missed commitments. These should all be key metrics in field services, logistics, and other organizational aspects which impact corporate goals.

Predictive analytics comes with a pre-canned set of data and tools that can be leveraged to address multiple organizational and corporate goals. This is critical to align stakeholders internally and address objectives and motivations in multiple business units. This is just one of many reasons why predictive analytics and maintenance tools are critical to maintaining an effective fleetwide comprehensive maintenance strategy.

And yet, there is another area where a comprehensive fleet management strategy can make all the difference. And that’s in the area of compliance. Regulatory requirements and compliance objectives should align to ensure vehicles are properly maintained and workflows remain intact. Organizations and leaders need to improve and add predictive maintenance workflow in their compliance checks and audits. Compliance managers should also have access to predictive alerts created and implemented by the fleet to showcase to insurance, regulators, and other key players.

From the Processes to People: What Resources are at Your Disposal?

Management teams should focus on applying new technologies on top of existing processes and programs. Proper change management of processes and people ensures buy-in across your organization. However, this is especially true if you are adopting new or unfamiliar technology or a set of procedures.

The proof of concept should be a minimal change in the overall process. This is to ensure you do not overwhelm the operations teams. Doing so can easily impede the success of the program. It’s important to assign project and program managers to lead the cross-functional effort across the organization. Who should you focus on to do this?

  • Maintenance Manager: Your manager should engage resources and outline their involvement in the pilot program and prepare for greater rollout. Managers need to fully understand how the day-to-day will change in the future, leverage the right resources within their organization, and ensure communication and feedback protocols are in place to support their own staff.
  • Maintenance Technicians: Select an individual or a group of individuals to act on the predictive insights gained from your comprehensive maintenance program. And empower them to provide feedback through the communication channels implemented by the maintenance manager.
  • Third-Party Shops: Involve vendors or third-party shops depending on the fleet’s comprehensive maintenance structure and program.

The key to a successful comprehensive fleet maintenance program is to work closely with front-line management, mechanics, administrators, and contracted vendors. Proper coordination between these groups is critical to the success of such a program. Engaging these stakeholders early in the process and involving them in vital decision-making ensures buy-in and benefits the program in its entirety. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to run an effective and well-oiled comprehensive fleet maintenance program.

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