The vehicle intelligence revolution has arrived (here is how to thrive in it)

By Brett Koenig

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For years, a common theme at bus maintenance conferences has been how real-time asset health data collected by on-board technology (telematics) will spur a new wave of condition-based (CBM) and predictive maintenance (PdM) approaches. In recent years, the term Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is the catchphrase that has emerged to encompass this idea. The many benefits touted for transitioning away from fixed-time maintenance to the new CBM and PdM paradigm are: real-time visibility into the health of your infrastructure, improved asset reliability, prolonged asset life, decreased costs associated with component failures, improved safety, and increased customer satisfaction.

And yet, for most agencies, this “Holy Grail” of maintenance has remained an elusive goal. At long last, it now appears that we are approaching a tipping point – the conditions are finally right for this sea change to occur.   

The smart infrastructure revolution

Today, a convergence of political and technological trends are driving increased use of the asset health monitoring technologies, influencing the IIOT revolution in transit. The passage of the MAP-21/FAST Act laws in the U.S. (along with the ISO 55000 standards) has placed renewed emphasis on asset “state of good repair”. The most significant trend, however, is technological.

We are in the midst of a “smart infrastructure” revolution, with sensors embedded into the major bus and facility equipment systems being the norm. The widespread proliferation of these telematics technologies has turned new fleets of vehicles into rolling supercomputers, capable of monitoring their own health in real-time. Leading agencies have embraced these trends, even to the point of creating the role of Data Scientist (in function, if not in name) to turn the avalanche of data generated by these systems into “actionable intelligence” for making better business decisions.

While all of that may sound good, you may be asking:

How will this really help us better manage our fleet on a daily basis?

Preventing component failures

Telematics technologies provide visibility into the condition of major vehicle systems: engine, transmission, brakes, retarder, and body controllers, to name a few. A key benefit of tracking real-time fault data on those systems is the ability to alert maintenance that a component failure is about to occur (e.g. conditions have reached a user-defined min/max threshold). This notification gives operations staff time to proactively swap-out the failing bus and to minimize disruptions to service.

In addition to fault monitoring, operational characteristic data can provide information to better understand the expected useful life of a system. Major systems (switches, motors, pumps, etc.) can be timed/counted for how long they operate before failure, providing valuable data on the actual life expectancy of the component under your local operating conditions. This information can then be used to optimize your maintenance intervals (such as component rebuild frequency) which are often based upon overly-conservative manufacturer-recommended intervals.

So, how can you fully benefit from these advances?

What you can do – now

Second, for your highest priority equipment systems (bus engine, elevators, etc.), build interfaces to send fault codes to your enterprise asset management system to alert maintenance and generate work orders.

Third, consider your strategy for consolidating and analyzing the large amount of data. While significant benefits can be realized by automating the maintenance follow-up activities when faults occur (EAM integrations as described in steps one & two above), over time large gains will be realized through analysis of the patterns in the data. This can be achieved by consolidating your various streams of asset health monitoring data into a single database and analyzing it using software designed to visualize trends in the data such as commercially-available Asset Performance Management, or Predictive Analytics tools.

Lastly, for maintenance departments, a key goal of IIOT is realized by using this deeper understanding of your infrastructure’s health patterns to optimize your maintenance program. Real-world outcomes include switching certain inspections from fixed-interval (time or meter) to condition-based, and refining the frequency of selected services (increase component rebuild intervals, etc.). The transit smart infrastructure revolution is happening quicker than most realize. Embracing this trend will more closely align your maintenance organization with the cost, safety, and customer service benefits at the core of your agency’s mission statement.


Brett Koenig is the industry solutions manager for the Trapeze Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution in use by over 100 public transit organizations in North America (including Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Seattle). Brett has 18 years of experience implementing public transit and rail asset management systems. As the solutions manager for EAM, Brett advises customers on industry trends (e.g. State of Good Repair) and speaks at conferences about how transit-focused asset and maintenance systems can yield real-world efficiencies and measurable cost savings. Visit www.trapezegroup.com for more information.

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