Predicting: the future

Predictive maintenance is revolutionising how commercial vehicles are maintained, making the process faster, more accurate and cheaper

When MAN launched its new truck generation back in February 2020, one of its major selling points was that it was billed as a digital truck, with enhanced connectivity that could be used for a range of applications to enhance the driver experience, as well as increase efficiency and save money.

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

A major part of that is predictive maintenance. “The whole electronic architecture and connectivity of the truck is state-of-the-art,” says David Cussans, head of truck sales at MAN.

“Every truck is built with the Rio box, which enables us to access a whole mine of data from the vehicle and that opens up huge opportunities and predictive maintenance is one of those key areas.”

Predictive maintenance is a technology that has been around for some years now and is something that all the major manufacturers are continuing to develop for their own vehicles, as well as telematics and other technology providers.

In basic terms, predictive maintenance uses the data the truck provides to estimate when maintenance should take place – and what that needs to be. It can also use data to detect faults on a truck before the driver or technical staff are aware that anything is amiss so the truck can be brought into a workshop and repaired before the fault has chance to develop into something major.

This means that transport managers or maintenance teams in dealerships can access the data and plan for maintenance. “For instance, if you know a vehicle is coming in next Tuesday, you can take a snapshot of the vehicle’s health and plan accordingly,” explains Cussans.

“We can extract all manner of information from the vehicle without have to trouble the customer, simple things like the mileage of the vehicle and location and a basic health check, so we can collect fault codes, brake wear etc remotely, so that prior to any scheduled maintenance events, the dealer can equip themselves with all the information for that event.

“They will know what type of service is required and if any fault codes need investigating, so they can load the workshop more scientifically and pre-pick the parts for maintenance ahead of time so when the vehicle comes in the technicians have a clear work instruction before they see it.

“You can then contact the customer and say: ‘we have talked to your vehicle and it tells us it is going to need a major service and a brake realignment, but there are no other fault codes, so that is going to take us 3.5 hours.”

This makes the maintenance process much more efficient. “As opposed to [previous times] where the vehicle arrives blind, we take the mileage off the dashboard, measure the brake wear, check for fault codes, then scrabble around for the parts and we might guess it will need two hours labour, but it then takes four and it presents a problem.

“Now, we can be prepared well ahead of time so that everything is ready for the vehicle’s arrival, we have built the job card, we have allocated the labour and the parts, we have told the customer what the scope of work is, those are clear benefits. The element of surprise is removed and that’s what always causes the pain – we haven’t got the parts, we didn’t realise we needed that much labour, we need the vehicle for longer – all those are eliminated with that advanced information over the air.

“Going forward, predictive maintenance will reduce drastically the amount of unscheduled stops and roadside breakdowns as we can intervene earlier and preventatively with the vehicle call it in before the problem causes a breakdown. Even if there is a breakdown, at the call centre we can get much more information so when the roadside technician arrives, they know exactly what they are dealing with and what the fix is and can take the right parts and equipment to fix the vehicle. It is the difference between flying blind and with full visibility. Therefore, we give the customer a much more efficient service.”

Increased efficiency saves money

With a more efficient service comes cost savings. For instance, trucks will spend less time off the road than they ordinarily would, which means they can be out earning again. It also makes workshops more efficient in terms of the workload of technicians, meaning they can do more.

It also helps to optimise stock levels and reduce unnecessary stock holding. “More importantly, the system ensures the operationally critical stock is always available,” says Patrick Tandy, managing director of telematics provider Freeway. 

“While overstocking is wasteful it can be more costly to be unable to complete a job because a part is out of stock. This can affect the whole schedule of work leading to inefficiency, wasting staff and management time and often extending VOR. 

“The software is smart as it starts a chain reaction, so when predicting required stock levels, it automatically initiates a replenishment request with the re-ordered parts then delivered without any human involvement. In some cases, this is the level of automation that is wanted, in others our customers also apply the order authorisation processes that they use for manually generated orders. 

“The level of saving that can be achieved varies on a case-by-case basis but some of our customers have reported a reduction by 30%.”

In addition, the software can highlight where workshops are – or aren’t – getting value for money on their parts purchasing. “Many workshops just order the same part from the same supplier year-in year-out,” notes Tandy. 

“Analysis of historical data can reveal poor products. Using tablets, engineers can immediately see the vehicle’s maintenance history and spot recurring defects. Freeway can also pool data from multiple locations, gaining, for example, an insight into variations in the prices paid for a particular part from different suppliers.

“Again, the software can learn and then alert managers if they are paying too much when signing off a purchase order.”

Artificial intelligence identifies patterns

As Tandy mentions, the software used by Freeway, in common with other providers, is smart. “Using artificial intelligence – or ‘machine leaning’ – to generate analytic frameworks the software now presents large data sets in formats that are readily understandable and provides the information needed for management action.

“The maintenance record data utilised to generate these approaches has been stored in the Freeway fleet management system from the inception of electronic data entry.  [Some customers have] used the system for decades and there are many hundreds of years of data that provides the foundations for the approach that has been taken. 

“This system also helps to identify recurring trends and anomalies such as fluctuating seasonal demand and likely extra demand for particular vehicles scheduled for servicing. The software continually learns from historic data to create a more accurate predictive model by tracking performance of all assets at the level of individual components so that entire-life costs of individual vehicles as well as groups of vehicles by make and model or type of asset or user-defined dimension can be understood.”

But it isn’t just about automated learning, Tandy adds. “The software has also benefited from many years of ‘human learning’ over the last 25 years with our customers’ requests and suggestions equally adding to the utility of the data frameworks.”

Predictive maintenance takes the pressure off

Predictive maintenance is also helping to address a perennial problem for commercial vehicles – tyres blowing out or deflating. There are now providers selling technology that can spot faults before they happen, such as TyreWatch.

TyreWatch is smart connected technology that monitors all tyres, looking at changes in pressure and temperature. When it sees an issue developing alerts are sent via email to the operator and tyre service provider, so action can be taken in the most efficient manner. In the case of a blowout on a trailer the driver himself may not even be aware there’s a problem, whereas TyreWatch will pick it up immediately.

Glenn Sherwood, CEO of TyreWatch, says that the technology can eliminate 95% of all blow outs caused by underinflated tyres. “By delivering real time proactive pressure and temperature alerts operators now have for the first time the ability to plan in tyre repairs and replacements while the vehicle is in motion,” he says. 

“One of our customers has recently saved a £7,000 dump truck tyre from destruction by using our system. The tyre had deflated over the weekend due to a damaged valve and although the tyre looked visibly unchanged, it was running at half of its normal pressure.

“Our system picked this up, alerting first thing Monday morning. The customer and their service provider were alerted simultaneously allowing for the machine to be stopped and a repair was carried out that morning. If TyreWatch had not have been fitted this would have led to a premature failure of the tyre.” 

Systems like TyreWatch can also save operators money is on vehicle servicing.  “We deliver regular time saving reports that signpost which tyres on the vehicle to inflate and which to leave alone.”

This can also lead to environmental savings. “By maintaining an optimum tyre pressure and using the data that is delivered from our platform operators are able to make operational changes to maximise their vehicles tyres lifespan,” Sherwood says.

“This in turn will reduce carbon emissions and keep PM10 and PM2.5 tyre particulate emissions to a minimum.” 

The technology behind the system, which fits onto any type of commercial vehicle, has been developed over the past seven years in conjunction with technical and industrial partners, including three leading universities and key fleet customers.  TyreWatch is a cloud-based product combined with GSM and satellite connectivity.

“The tyre pressure and temperature algorithm can accept not only data from our own tyre pressure sensors, but it can also condition sensor data from OEM and other makes of sensor types as well,” adds Sherwood. “All this is achieved using API feeds into the TyreWatch cloud-based system.”

A new industry standard

Predictive maintenance is now well on the way to becoming an industry standard, adds Sherwood. “The efficiencies delivered by artificial intelligence have now become must haves for operators as they look to remain compliant in the future,” he says.

Freeway’s Tandy agrees, adding that while there is often a reluctance to adopt new technology and move away from tried and tested methods of decision-making, progress depends very much on leadership and attitudes. “There is, however, an irreversible shift to digitisation and artificial intelligence is being incorporated into software, although it might simply be presented as ‘another feature’.  

“As with air travel and passengers not being able to see the pilot and understand how safety systems work, we come to trust in the technology. The same applies to intelligent software in the workshop and early objections soon disappear once the benefits begin to be realised.”   

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

Dan Parton
Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now writes for The Van Expert and The Truck Expert.