Driven by Data: Harnessing Telematics

When it comes to fleets of trucks or buses, the data gained from telematics can make a huge difference in the operating costs and efficiencies. However, making sense of it all on the business level is complicated by the scattered nature of the data. Disparate streams of data come through multiple diagnostic devices connected to different makes and models of vehicles.

Extracting actionable insight from all that data requires something with massive capacity for both information and analytics. That’s what Navistar, a manufacturer of commercial trucks, buses, defense vehicles and engines, delivers in the form OnCommand Connection, an all-makes diagnostics system that’s designed to help fleet managers monitor and manage vehicle performance.

Navistar uses telematics and cloud computing to deliver measurable improvements for its customers. The company uses 13 different telematics services that feed in data on 160,000 different trucks. That generates 20 million records each day, which are taken in and analyzed through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Terry Kline, senior vice president and CIO at Navistar, explains that his company brings all the streams of data together in order to effectively leverage it and deliver the clarity and convenience of one-stop shopping for its customers. By staying abreast of the conditions of the vehicle and its environment in real time, managers and drivers can make informed choices to optimize productivity and minimize downtime

Enhancing Performance

The fact that most fleets incorporate at least two different brands of trucks can be used as a data advantage. With one dashboard, it’s possible to stack the information of the different types to compare their performance on the same route and find which one is the most efficient.

Kline adds that correlations with trucks can also point to warranty issues—like what happens when a particular model exceeds certain speeds or a certain amount of driving time. Having that combined data “can quickly put things in perspective,” he says.

That kind of insight can let companies know if the engine needs calibration for better fuel economy or a new setting to fit a new use—such as a route involving hills after one that was all flat—or a new driver with a different style of driving. The comparative data also forms the basis of recommendations of what type of truck would be the best choice for a particular type of use.

Another related service is over-the-air programming, which makes it possible to reprogram engines remotely using WiFi to swap in new software on the engine control module during its scheduled time at rest.

The bane of fleet operations is downtime or dwell time because when trucks are idle, they are not productive. “This system has proven that they can reduce that,” Kline says. That results in greater uptime and lower cost of maintenance per mile. He reported that a truck fleet in Mississippi drove maintenance costs down to 2 to 3 cents per mile, compared with the industry average of 15 cents per mile.

In some cases, efficiency can be improved by something simple.  For example, a school bus fleet uses OnCommand to check the voltage on bus batteries on cold mornings.

Other times, it involves more advanced diagnostics of the health of a vehicle, which can trigger alerts via email or SMS to let the driver how if the problem needs to be addressed within a hundred miles or a thousand miles. “It’s almost like having the mechanic in the truck with you,” Kline says, telling you what you need to know and what you need to do.

That’s the value add on top of the standard dashboard diagnostic code. Not only does it clarify how urgent the issue is, it can also inform the driver of the location of the closest dealer with the necessary part in stock. That reduces the possibility of the truck breaking down, which leads to unscheduled and unproductive downtime.