What Can Telematics Do For My Maintenance Operation?

BUSRide Maintenance recently convened a group of industry experts to discuss the latest in telematics technology, and specifically how it relates to a well-running maintenance operation.

Our panelists for this discussion were:

Brian Nelson

Engineering Manager

ABC Companies

Robert Hitt

Director of Aftermarket Training North America


Fred Fakkema

Vice President, Compliance

Zonar Systems

Which areas of need do telematics most help in a maintenance shop?

Brian Nelson: Telematics provides service teams the ability to troubleshoot before the coach even reaches the shop floor. Having the ability to view data points like temperatures, voltages and active fault codes provide the end user with complete transparency and skilled technicians will know how to act upon these findings. Owners can automate service tasks using fleet insights, and place vehicles into service at the appropriate service level, with the right-fit technician based on the simplicity or complexity of the service task.

Robert Hitt: Telematics can send fault codes with definitions back to the shop through email alerts or an online portal.  You can see where a vehicle was and what it was doing when the code was triggered to help determine what is causing the issue and how to reproduce it, if necessary.

Fred Fakkema: A maintenance shop without a telematics system doesn’t have any knowledge of what a bus needs other than what a driver says is going on until he or she plugs into a bus’ engine control unit to read its diagnostics and/or opens up the hood.

This approach can lead to preventable inconveniences and cost-prohibitive practices. If a fault code lights up on a bus driver’s dashboard, he/or she will likely be instructed to pull the bus to the side of the road and wait for a mechanic to arrive to identify and fix the problem as well as have a second bus come to continue the original bus’ route. Upon plugging into the bus, the mechanic may still have to return to the maintenance garage to get the appropriate parts or order for a tow.

With a telematics control unit (TCU) that is directly connected to the bus engine control unit (ECU) to access vehicle diagnostic and electronic inspection data, mechanics can from the maintenance garage receive fault codes from buses, often before the driver is aware of a problem. Real-time fault code descriptions and vehicle performance data help the mechanic schedule shop time and maintenance resources to increase school bus uptime a keep up with preventative and active maintenance. In the event there is an issue with a bus, the mechanic can identify what course of action the bus driver can take. The driver may be able to complete his or her route safely. The issue could also be something the driver can fix. And if the driver does need to pull over, the mechanic will already know what is wrong with the bus allowing him or her to bring appropriate parts or take other timely actions.

Monitoring and collecting data on engine diagnostics has gone on for years, but using it to prevent breakdowns before they happen is gaining significant ground. Just one unplanned road call costs more to a company than an entire telematics system costs for three years. Predictive maintenance can help mechanics maintains equipment with minor repair costs, scheduling the repair based on the priority of the vehicle’s problem.

Telematics devices can capture diagnostic trouble codes as well as monitor engine hours, odometer and idle time. Data can then be analyzed to determine trends, like which make/model has specific failures and how those makes/models compare to others. Telematics can improve preventive maintenance plans, but can also affect purchasing decisions. Leading telematics vendors are working with the customer to mine this data for patterns that can determine future maintenance issues.

Mechanics positions are evolving from being someone with automotive repair knowledge to a highly technical skill position that combines automotive repair with computer and analytic skills. The right telematics solutions should go beyond vehicle diagnostic and electronic inspection data for maintenance and efficiency. It should also improve driver performance with vehicle stops, speeds, routes, excessive idling, geofence crossings and fuel efficiency reporting. These added capabilities can further evolve a mechanic’s traditional role.

How does telematics help take the guesswork out of preventive maintenance?

Hitt: You can keep constant updates on mileage and see trends across one bus or the whole fleet to help plan work to be done at the right mileages more accurately than waiting for drivers to return.

Fakkema: Bus operations with telematics can be more proactive in their maintenance efforts. This can happen when fault codes and diagnostics coming off of buses are identified before the mechanic even opens the hood. Maintenance personnel can then stay informed with actionable insights on critical engine timers within seconds of being triggered by fault occurrences, helping them to prevent unnecessary repair expenses and minimize unplanned downtime of buses.

This advanced notice and accuracy of information allow bus maintenance shops, who’s maintenance schedules may not be in-line with engine issues, better prioritize and expedite the most needed repairs. Additionally, these tools take the guesswork out of the hands of drivers and put accurate, specific engine information with recommended actions right in the hands of maintenance. They, in turn, can make better decisions on when to have a bus stop in route or be brought in for maintenance with the ranking fault codes in order of severity and reporting the suggested root cause of system failures at the component level.

Additionally, tying inspections to one’s telematics solution is just one more layer of data input that can be leveraged for preventative maintenance. By leveraging telematics for pre- and post-trip inspections helps drivers, operators and fleet managers easily and quickly manage their vehicle inspection process and meet compliance standards. Some of these inspection processes are still done with pen and paper, and it can take up to two weeks to send, collect and store information which can delay vehicles from getting back on the road. Consider using a solution like Zonar’s Electronic Verified Inspection Reporting (EVIR®), which automatically captures, transmits and records inspection, compliance and maintenance data. By shifting from paper-based inspections to the EVIR system, fleet and equipment managers can reduce the processing time for inspections by more than 50% and have the data integrated into their maintenance software.

Nelson: Many operators have personalized maintenance schedules that aim to address common failures before they happen. As coach technology evolves and becomes increasingly more complex, it is critical that maintenance schedules are realigned to adapt.

Analyzing historical data and interpreting specific data points leading up to an event, will allow operators to create more accurate maintenance schedules. This ability to more accurately predict maintenance management can give owners unprecedented control — providing key metrics to help optimize service department resources and justifying service costs.

Can telematics be helpful with warranty claims? If so, how?

Fakkema: Components fail, sometimes within a predictable timeframe, sometimes not. But what happens when a warranty-protected component fails because of a component that’s not protected by the warranty? Data gathered through an end-to-end telematics solution provides detailed insight into what fails repeatedly when used in conjunction with another part. This data can be used to help fleet managers identify when falls under a warranty and bus manufactures develop better warranty mitigation and in the end, parts that tend to break sooner than anticipated.

Nelson: Telematics improves the relationship between the customer and warranty provider. Evidence is crucial to a warranty claim and can many times determine the approval status of a claim. Warranty providers can use telematics to collect valuable data, and customers can use telematics to provide as much detail as possible when filing a claim.

Hitt: You can use telematics reports to help show specific fault codes happened, especially if they are inactive or cleared before the vehicle returns to the shop.  You can also get odometer readings in the event they aren’t recorded when the work is done.

How can a telematics system improve fuel consumption?

Hitt: Telematics data can be used to compare different vehicles and different drivers’ behavior. Vehicles consistently getting lower fuel economy can be brought in for service to identify the root causes.  Drivers consistently getting lower fuel economy may gain from speed limits or training.

Nelson: Telematics allows the operator to monitor when the coach is idling and how much fuel its consuming, and ABC Connect provides additional data like fuel consumed while idling in its scheduled reports, to help combat unnecessary idle, and automated alerts and notifications can be configured by the operator to improve its fuel efficiencies.

Unnecessary idling can lead to many negative impacts on diesel equipment, fuel consumption is one of them. According to energy.gov, transit buses consume nearly 1 gallon of fuel per hour of idling. The average price of diesel, during the study was $3.05. If one coach accumulates just 3 hours of unnecessary and avoidable engine idling every day for one year, that can cost the company over $3,000 in wasted fuel cost. Spread out over a fleet of 100 coaches and the cost grows to over $300,000.

“Fact #861 February 23, 2015 Idle Fuel Consumption for Selected Gasoline and Diesel Vehicles,” Energy.gov. [Online]. Available: https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/fact-861-february-23-2015-idle-fuel-consumption-selected-gasoline-and-diesel-vehicles. [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

Fakkema: Monitoring driver fuel usage by miles per gallon (MPG) and driver speeds alone is not enough to improve operations or drive cost efficiencies. Fleets need to take into account additional data points that influence fuel consumption and make appropriate adjustments with drivers, buses and fleet operations. If they don’t, fleet owners are missing an opportunity to maximize their fleet’s fuel efficiency. Fortunately, new technologies are enabling fleets to eke out extra MPGs, which adds up to a lot of money across a long haul and a fleet’s yearly operations. In an era of smart fleet management and connected vehicles, bus technology for better fuel economy now includes telematics, algorithms, and sophisticated real-time data analysis.

At a minimum, fleets with a good telematics solution should be working to track the following:

  • Maximize but measure more than just MPG and controlling hard dollar fuel costs
  • Creating efficiency scores, by driver, to uncover training gaps
  • Normalizing metrics across the age of bus and route terrain
  • Tracking key metrics that impact fuel costs, such as speeding
  • Flagging idle times outside of company policy, by individual bus profile
  • Protecting against fuel theft
  • Monitoring driver behavior and monitor improvement over time
  • Mapping cruise control

Can telematics provide special advantages to smaller fleets? Larger fleets?

Nelson: Telematics, when properly integrated with secure connections into fleet maintenance and service operations, can be tailored to any fleet size. Functionality like customized maintenance programs, alerts and reports allow the telematics platform to conform to the demands of the operator.

By pulling real-time readings and automatically updating maintenance workflows ABC Connect can help the operator improve fleet maintenance with greater precision, and owners can shift the time spent on manual tasks to action-oriented tasks.

With large fleets it can be difficult to keep track of each asset without connected systems, especially when operations span multiple market areas. Knowing where your assets are and how they are operating is extremely powerful for all operators and owners. Connected telematics devices together with ABC Connect allows users to utilize and integrate detailed data within operations. By enabling information to move from less reliable lagging indicators to real-time current status telematics can drive predictive maintenance and improved operations throughout the business enterprise, help identify issues before they can become major problems and provide higher fleet utilization.

Hitt: Larger fleets can benefit more from comparison between different vehicles because they have a larger group of vehicles to compare.  They also have the need to see where vehicles are at any given time.  Smaller fleets may not have the resources to do the tracking and data analysis internally that can be achieved through the manufacturer’s telematics system – they can take advantage of services provided by their OEM systems to schedule service with the OEM network when services are due.

Fakkema: Regardless of the size of the fleet, telematics provides advantages. With telematics adoptions grows, fleet management is being entirely transformed by the influx of technological advances and opportunities. With the industry becoming more progressive, fleet operations are adapting to achieve higher levels of organization, accessibility and efficiency.

To utilize the operations and technology the telematics industry provides, many fleets of all sizes use web-based applications to provide a real-time picture of bus operations. These fleet management applications allow users to customize features to ensure maximum productivity. These features can include GPS tracking, fleet monitoring, updated time-stamped reports and asset/fleet management. For fleet manager’s convenience, many of these provide access to vehicle speeds, idle times and geofence entry.

What factors are driving innovation in connected telematics systems? What can operators expect in the future from this technology?

Hitt: Over the air programming will be available soon on newer vehicles. This will help customers keep their fleet software up to date and handle campaigns with minimal impact. Customers will get the benefit of improvements to diagnostics and solutions to issues without needing to plan a trip to the service provider.

Fakkema: Uptime, safety and efficiency are the driving forces in connected telematics. Data capture via telematics is happening across fleets today and those fleets are gaining more and more actionable insights into their operations. For example, your bus with a computer becomes an intelligent device that can now track your engine’s health and proactively alert you when it’s time for maintenance updates. It’s an undeniable fact that more things are being connected to the internet, including just about everything on a bus. The next generation of power and the potential of these connected devices comes not just in connecting these things to the cloud, but in having them receive information from the cloud. This is opening up entirely new streams of revenue for fleets. It’s one thing to push data out, but another for a bus to receive data and augment its functionality or implement operational changes to improve safety uptime and efficiency through remote updates.

Nelson: Understanding the needs of operators and listening to their feedback is a driving force in platform development. We want to know what our customers are looking for in telematics.  As we continue to pilot and document learning from our larger fleet pilot programs, we’re excited to share valuable insights and create a scalable solution that delivers the same advantages to any size fleet owner — a solution purpose built to support a single unit asset or up to 100+ operation. Refinements can occur at any level which can then be migrated to other assets. Whether large or small, we have a very comprehensive view of how buses operate within its service applications which can be tailored based on each owners’ need. For larger fleets that may look like full fleet asset management, for smaller owners, equipment idle times may be an important area of focus.

Other factors like DOT requirements, warranty and feedback from our technical support team also help guide us in our development of new features and technology as well. ABC has been working with our partners to develop advanced electrical monitoring systems, to improve battery life and performance. And, DOT programs like the “Periodic Smoke Inspection” allows us to utilize our telematics system to generate these required reports and submit them autonomously.