Whether it’s a nationwide delivery service or a local lawn care company, companies that rely on vehicles to get the job done are facing a new speed bump as they wrestle a shortage of new replacement vehicles brought on by a global shortage of semiconductor chips.
As with consumers unable to buy new or used cars (or at the very least, pay steep markups), many fleet managers are wondering if vehicle replacement even makes economic sense right now. That’s because vehicle manufacturers have slowed or idled production due to a lack of parts, namely, the important computer chips at the heart of modern vehicles.
The chip shortage is fueled by supply chain changes that began when overall demand for vehicles decreased during the early days of the pandemic. The shortage shows no signs of ending soon, forcing many business owners and fleet managers to consider two options moving forward -- buy new and pay a premium, or maintain existing vehicle fleets longer than usual.
Increasingly, longer-term preventative and predictive maintenance is the preferred answer. And fortunately, there’s a lot business owners and fleet managers can do to extend the life of their current fleet.
It’s important to note that in addition to preventative and predictive maintenance, driver safety correlates to vehicle wear and tear. Utilizing data provided by fleet management technology such as GPS tracking or driver facing dash cameras can allow fleet managers to individualize driver training and help prevent distracted driving accidents or harsh driving. When fleet managers need to protect their bottom line and focus on extending the life of their current fleet, promoting driver safety should be top of mind because of its impact on vehicle health and overall vehicle condition.
The next evolution of fleet maintenance
The long-standing practice of preventative maintenance is more important now than ever. With a regularly scheduled process for routine updates like tire rotations and oil changes, it has always been a key way to manage the health and safety of all fleet vehicles.
That’s why predictive maintenance, fueled by a blend of artificial intelligence, machine learning, smart sensors and near real-time data analysis, is rapidly evolving as a key strategy to help keep fleets running optimally and for longer.
A predictive maintenance program helps owners and operators to know precisely when equipment or assets will need maintenance before things break down, regardless of what the pre-determined schedule may or may indicate. Using a set of pre-determined parameters continuously monitored via sensors, near real-time data is provided, triggering alerts when specific parameters or conditions have been met such as engine trouble, unusual oil pressure or some other problem.
For business owners struggling to find solutions, predictive analytics are a smarter way to help increase the longevity of current fleet vehicles, reduce downtime and provide added visibility in vehicle health when replacement vehicles are unavailable.
Putting predictive maintenance into practice
From increased safety to longer lasting, more efficient and better performing fleets, predictive maintenance truly is the future of maintenance. But, to make it work, owners and operators should start by building a foundation to help them better prepare for what’s to come.
Some key considerations to take into account while preparing for a successful predictive maintenance strategy include:
● Identify assets. It may not be necessary to develop strategies for every vehicle, but identifying which ones make the most sense based on factors such as utilization, critical nature to the business, high repair costs and driver safety is important to understand the scale of what’s needed.
● Invest in a technology partner. Whether you’re ready for advanced maintenance strategies or not, investing in a forward-thinking fleet management platform is one step closer. Look for providers who not only embrace future technologies, like AI and Machine Learning, but who also integrate well with other maintenance solutions that will expedite your journey.
● Create a data culture. Businesses of the future don’t just need to think about data; they need to live and breathe it. While technology should spoon-feed actionable insights, having one or more data-centric employees to digest and dig deeper is what will make an investment in predictive maintenance strategies fruitful for your business.
● Start tracking failures now. Predictive maintenance relies on data sourced directly from the vehicle’s “computer” system. That data, some of which comes in the form of diagnostic trouble codes (aka, your “check engine light”), is easy to track today, especially if using a quality fleet management solution. While it’s not predictive, establishing and tracking “failures” for each vehicle or asset now provides a baseline for the future.
● Measure results. A predictive maintenance strategy should be constantly measured and updated to achieve accuracy and success. As new vehicles or assets are added, it may be necessary to reconfigure or adjust the strategy accordingly. Be ready to discover new things and challenge the status quo.
Putting it all together
Of course, there’s more to fleet management than just breaking and fixing things. That’s where predictive maintenance can really shine -- its ability to inform decision-making across the entire process, from safety and maintenance, to scheduling, productivity and overall operational efficiency.
Because safety and maintenance are so closely related, dashboard cameras and other monitoring tools are one example of how to protect drivers and also inform important decisions on predictive maintenance and vice-versa.
Programs use GPS technology to help reduce maintenance-related pressures on fleet managers and maintenance teams to help focus on other productive activities.
A predictive maintenance strategy with GPS vehicle tracking can help make it simple and easier to predict when a vehicle needs to be pulled from operation for repairs or maintenance. Information from the vehicle connected to the fleet tracking solution monitors vehicle diagnostics and can signal when certain maintenance-needed conditions have been met.
The future of all maintenance is predictive
Even long after the current chip shortage ends, the benefits of predictive maintenance will continue to grow. In fact, the benefits are only just now beginning to be realized. The combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, GPS and rich sensor data transmitted in near-real time is poised to revolutionize how vehicle fleets are managed in the future.
Businesses will be able to establish a maintenance management strategy that keeps equipment in the field for as long as possible while also helping to prevent equipment failure. With predictive maintenance, business owners and fleet managers gain the important context they need to understand and predict maintenance needs based on individual drivers, driving habits, specific routes and drive times and more, which can ultimately lead to fewer accidents, longer vehicle lifespans and a more efficient overall business.