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Technology Continues To Reshape Trucks And Provides Data Dividends

The trucking manufacturing landscape continues to change as new technologies and initiatives emerge from OEM labs. Just take Mercedes-Benz Vans Future Transportation North America as one example. Located in Menlo Park, California, that vast technological hub of innovation we know as Silicon Valley, Daimler AG is on a mission to tap into the future.

A team of 30 engineers are working day-in and day-out on bringing elements of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced technology into the brand’s mainstay Sprinter and Metris work vans. By linking everything from telematics to ERP systems and more, these types of work vans have evolved into something far more than boxes on wheels.

Much more than an office, but something different from a manufacturing facility or proving ground, Mercedes’ Future Transportation shop is strewn about with skeletons of vans, motherboards, and electronic components just about everywhere, and there is a reason for this. Mercedes is not the only OEM working to change how work vans are developed. All the buzzwords are in play:

  • Autonomous Technology
  • Big Data
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Machine Learning

Yet, companies are not designing simply for designing’s sake. New technological implementations on a vehicle must be able to show a tangible ROI benefit. Big fleets who buy commercial motor vehicles don’t want to spend money on a piece of technology without knowing that it will somehow save them on money, time, or resources.

As a result, OEMs are coming up with solutions to address the development problems of the day. While many pundits have expected vehicle manufacturing to follow a predictable arc leading to the inevitable self-driving rig, things are progressing in a different manner. A motor carrier’s current needs must be addressed before any other long-term planning.

Still, there are considerable roadblocks within the truck manufacturing sector. If one were to follow the design-to-implementation process all the way through, they would see that the process of integrating new technologies into commercial motor vehicles is somewhat fragmented. Several teams work on handing off projects and keeping watch over their “sacred cows” all throughout the process.

Companies are trying to change that paradigm, however. Daimler’s Future Transportation lab has given its engineers the clearance to invent, build out, and then begin working with the end customer to try and figure out implementation. In some cases, the lab comes up with an idea and then begins testing it with truck drivers, couriers, and dispatchers a mere few weeks after the idea arose.

Certainly, many of the labs neighbors may be doing highly visible innovation, such as Facebook and Google, the logistics sector is just as important – if not more so – than the digital technology sector. Indeed, the two are quickly combining. The freight sector must be able to keep up with the high growth rate of courier, express, and parcel services. Bottlenecks and constraints in this sector are evidenced by the multiple Christmas delivery problems that plagued shippers in the U.S. and U.K. over the past several years.

Manufacturers are looking to change the game when it comes to last-mile logistics by turning the space within the van into an intelligent and connected cargo space. Although manufacturers are holding their cards close to their chest, anecdotal evidence points to the direction the industry is heading, and much was on display at the 2018 Fleet Forward Conference held this past October in San Francisco.

With the logistics category of trucking often finding itself undervalued and overlooked, there are a lot of potentially game-changing technological applications for the sector. By eliminating legacy processes through innovation, OEM’s save fleets big on their bottom line. In fact, that is where those working on powertrains are headed right now.

Telematics Teams Up with OEMs

A large fleet management technology provider recently announced that they would be partnering up with big engine-maker Cummins to provide wireless uptime technologies built-in to Cummins engines. The technology will be designed to provide fleet managers with daily and monthly health reports comprised of information relating to immediate and upcoming engine repair needs.

Building on the diagnostics codes already manufactured into the system, actionable information would be relayed to customers through a telematic control unit. This unit will provide real-time engine fault reports and suggested root causes and actions to fleet managers. This will help fleet managers remove the guesswork out of addressing engine maintenance needs. Vehicle service scheduling works smoother when systems can talk to each other.

The telematics control unit essentially wirelessly connects to the Cummins engine and monitors it around the clock. Advanced analytics and algorithms are built into the unit to analyze fault information and translate it into expert maintenance recommendations that come straight from the manufacturer.

Enhancements to the system come in the form of deeper analytical tools that isolate and interpret key engine and aftertreatment data. After analyzing the information, the system will provide a recommendation and timeline for acting. The system can also be configured to send email alerts to specific people within the company depending on the alert generated.

As partnerships like this develop across the OEM and vendor spectrum, expect to see even more integration between advanced analytics and algorithms and seemingly old-fashion powertrains. These melding of techniques and principles will ensure that fleets are slowly pushed into the digital age. At some point it will be too much of a missed opportunity to not take advantage of the marriage between trucking and technology.

The Telematics Gold Rush

As we have reported on before, telematics represents the brave new frontier in so many industries. From telemedicine in healthcare to telematics in trucking, the world of automated systems and big data analytics is changing whole marketplaces. Even in the past few years alone, technologies that once may have become exotic are not ubiquitous.

Telematics in trucking has evolved from simple position and routing technology to a critical fleet management tool. Telematics now offer a wealth of data points that can be used by decision makers at every level of a company. Still, fleets must have a comprehensive data management strategy in place, otherwise the deluge of data coming in could be paralyzing.

Investing in a telematics solution that helps one implement a data strategy is the best way to handle the massive shift in data collection and sorting. Still, the last thing a fleet wants to do is send their money down the well of a solution that may not be applicable to their business.

The primary consideration is avoiding a process that generates way more feedback than can be managed. There is no need to process all the data at once. The first consideration should be choosing the metrics that will address your most pressing operational concerns.

It is important to not be overcome by alerts, either. Implementing alerts that provide near-real time data about how the metric is performing should be first and foremost. The most important alerts are generally those related to safety, risk reduction, and streamlined operational capacity.

Once the fleet has overcome the initial data dump, it will be important to set up reporting feature that offer up insights into longer-term trends, that way they can see where more training, preventative measures, or specific actions should be taken. Benchmarks can be built in to help fleet managers isolate areas of success and then move on to the next step, which would be implementation of new features and additional metrics.

Depending on the provider a motor carrier chooses to partner with, it will be beneficial to establish roles and communication channels for applying telematics insights across the organization. As fleet needs change, managers will need to work with providers to ensure the technologies they are implementing are helping to pad the company’s overall bottom line.

Managing Truck Drivers and Data

When fleets are managing large volumes of data, it is important that the data is assessed by professionals who know how to read said data. The information must be properly interpreted for the right actions to be taken. The data must be regularly reviewed to prevent lapses from occurring.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that front-line truck drivers and dispatchers will be using this data. Communication lines should be open and pertinent information should not be stuck in bottlenecks. Only by ensuring everyone, at every level of the organization, is properly utilizing the technologies the fleet has invest in will hidden costs be uncovered and potential efficiencies be maximized.

The most important thing to remember is that data carries little value if it is not properly acted upon. It is one thing to discover a problem, but it is another to appropriately act on it. Best-in-class fleets are utilizing insights and solutions provided by telematics and data mining, but they are doing it the right way.

The trend towards telematics integration within legacy operations in a fleet will continue unabated. It could very well be that the fleets who are able to capitalize on this change will be well-placed for success and leave their proverbial competitors in the dust.

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