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When it comes to trucks and engines, knowledge is power

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Managing Editor of Fleet Equipment Magazine

It always pays to know more. That may seem pretty obvious, and really, it is; but it’s also hard to argue with. After all, who wants to go around knowing less? That goes double when running a fleet: ignore relevant information, and you’ll soon find yourself lapped by more knowledgeable competition.

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With all the ways technology has made our lives easier over the past few years, that’s really the main reason it’s so useful: it allows us to know more than we ever have. Nowhere in trucking is that more true than in telematics. Most truck and engine OEMs have by now adopted their own remote diagnostic systems, each specially tuned to that maker’s equipment: they include Cummins’ Connected Diagnostics; Detroit’s Virtual Technician; International’s OnCommand Connection; Kenworth’s TruckTech+; Mack’s GuardDog; Peterbilt’s SmartLinq; and Volvo’s Remote Diagnostics. For each of them, adoption rates are growing rapidly.

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“Since we began tracking the number of vehicles enrolled in OnCommand Connection (OCC), the adoption rate has grown dramatically, especially in the last year,” says Terry Kline, senior vice president and chief information officer for Navistar. “In September 2013, the service was launched with 95 enrolled vehicles. By the end of 2014, OCC had more than 30,000 vehicles enrolled, and by the end of 2015, we had reached 142,000. We are currently at 190,000, and are moving quickly towards half a million enrolled vehicles.”

These systems monitor the health of trucks, and can identify a potential problem even before it occurs. They can tell you what the fault is, what caused it, and whether the truck is still drivable—all things that in years past would be down to mere guesswork on the part of the driver.

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The systems can even identify tendencies with particular engines or trucks, so other owners of the equipment know when problems tend to happen, and can perform preventative maintenance before it ever even becomes a problem. No one’s guessing anymore: fleet managers know what’s wrong, and they know how and when to fix it.

“We often hear from customers that their fleet managers know what’s going on with their trucks even before their drivers know,” says Anthony Gansle, marketing manager of on-highway products for Peterbilt. “That’s one of the most significant SmartLinq advantages: instantaneous fleet health information automatically communicated to customers. They can designate who in their company receives SmartLinq email notifications and set preferences to receive only certain types of alerts and during designated times, or they can receive all alerts 24/7 if they’d like.”

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“The vehicle health report is the core of OCC,” explains Navistar’s Kline, “and the basis from which all other reports are derived. It provides information on all major components in the vehicle, including component history data, recall status and fault codes. It also ties into our diagnostic or fault code action plans. We also have created a standard report dashboard, which consolidates results from a group of reports into an easy-to-read format.”

Some fleet managers are using data gathered from remote diagnostic systems in ways that surprise even the OEMs themselves.

“Fleet customers are using the probable root cause information from the Connected Diagnostics report to make decisions on where to send the truck for service,” shares Bryan Brunner, the marketing director for Cummins Product Connectivity. “For example, faults with a high probability of a relatively simple repair are being routed to the fleet’s own service shop for attention while faults that will likely involve a more complex engine system repair are scheduled with a certified Cummins repair facility.”

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“Customers request a wide array of reports that are specific to their needs,” says Navistar’s Kline. “In fact, we currently offer about 300 different reports, most of which are the result of specific requests from OCC customers. With the amount of data we’re collecting, the possibilities are almost endless. Customers can use OCC to see their assets in any kind of grouping, and with many different filters. For example, they can associate fault codes for different components with the appropriate replacement parts information, so they can be ready with the right part at the right time.”

And this growing field shows no signs of slowing its advancements. What’s next for telematics?

“Remote diagnostics systems will continue to grow in functionality and sophistication,” Peterbilt’s Gansle predicts. “There will be increased integration with other truck components and systems, eventually providing a total picture of truck health. This, of course, will allow for improved maintenance strategies, more predictive parts replacement prior to failure, and overall greater uptime and reduced operating costs.”

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“Only time will tell,” says Cummins’ Brunner on what the future holds, “but Cummins has always used multiple sources to collect and analyze performance, reliability and durability data in the new product design process. Better understanding of in-mission performance is expected to aid in improved efficiency and lower total cost of operation for Cummins engine systems for our customers.”

Another step forward in the near future will come in the form of over-the-air (OTA) reprogramming, allowing companies to wirelessly update engines over a cellular connection without a service visit. Navistar and Daimler both have announced plans to implement this technology. In fact, Navistar recently announced that OTA reprogramming of engine control modules (ECM) over a secure Wi-Fi connection will be available for its N9, N10 and N13 engines this year.

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Technology is taking us all to exciting places, and trucks aren’t merely along for the ride—they’re at the forefront, as every truck increasingly becomes a technological marvel.

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