Many private fleets have to justify their existence versus for-hire carriers every few years. Better service and cost competitiveness are the key justifications for keeping a fleet. A private fleet manager is often responsible for both operations (the drivers and fleet planners) and fleet maintenance. Achieving strong performance on the cost-per-mile-driven metric requires not just better routing, more backhauls, better trailer utilization, and so forth, but also having fewer truck breakdowns and using trucks for longer than the depreciation period (among other things).
I’m a supply chain guy, not a maintenance guy, so I’ll probably get myself into trouble if I try to tackle this topic in too much detail. But in the course of researching fleet management, I’ve learned a few things about fleet maintenance that transportation managers might find useful.
- As I discussed in a recent posting, the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) offers benchmarking data for large truck fleets, not just on total cost-per-mile-driven, but also on the maintenance components of that calculation. Fleet maintenance benchmarking of smaller and more specialized vehicles is difficult.
- Fleet maintenance software can improve the productivity of the maintenance staff. This is particularly true if maintenance software is used in combination with mobile computers and barcode scanning solutions from vendors like Motorola. Typically, a maintenance person scans a bar code on the truck and then scans the component he is installing, thus linking the truck with the work to be performed. Scanning helps maintain an accurate count of spares inventory, and it limits the amount of data a worker needs to enter into the mobile computer. If you are replacing an alternator, for example, the reason codes might include bent or cracked component, but not chipped paint.
- The American Trucking Associations has developed, and continues to enhance, a universal coding convention known as Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) that helps maintenance groups analyze and compare repair parts from different vendors. Parts from different OEMs or retail outlets all have their own codes. By using the VMRS, you can perform apples-to-apples comparisons in a way that would be almost impossible without a standardized topology. There are other analytical and reporting advantages to VMRS (see the website for details).
- Best-of-breed fleet maintenance solutions from vendors like Cetaris and Arsenault Associates are built from the ground up using the VMRS topology and they come preloaded with these codes. Best-of-breed applications tend to be used specifically in fleet maintenance scenarios, whereas Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions from vendors like SAP and IBM are designed to support many different types of assets and a broader range of transactions. You can configure these broader EAM solutions to support the VMRS topology and load them with the codes, but the implementations would take longer. Further, for particular operations, best-of-breed applications have better usability features than EAM solutions (e.g., users can execute their tasks via a single screen versus opening multiple windows).
- There is some debate about whether labor standards can and should be used for maintenance operations. I talked to one fleet maintenance supervisor that was using preventive maintenance standards from the OEMs to evaluate his workers. He believes this has led to a big jump in productivity. Other managers don’t believe you can have anything but rough labor standards because the maintenance problems you encounter in the winter in Maine are very different from what you see in the summer in Arizona, and because fleets are used in such different ways.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention that even though I am not an expert on maintenance technologies and best practices, ARC Advisory Group has more analysts devoted to enterprise asset management than any other analyst firm, and my colleagues have developed some interesting and proprietary models focused on asset lifecycle management.