The trucking industry continues to make progress on safer, more efficient, and more profitable operations. Technology has played a significant role in these advances. Getting better information and doing more with it has gotten easier thanks to computers and software in our offices, shops, and the trucks that make up our fleet. One area that has been impacted is our maintenance programs.
What is preventative maintenance? At the most basic level, preventative maintenance (PM) is simply an approach that seeks to prevent failures by inspecting and servicing equipment and replacing parts before they fail. A routine can be based on calendar days, hours of service, or mileage. Software isn’t a necessary element of PM but it can make staying on top of multiple units much easier.
If your fleet operates on a reactive (run-to-failure) maintenance plan, you might think that it’s silly to take a truck off the roads when it could be making money. Consider the increased costs of emergency roadside service, the additional demands on administrative staff when loads are sidelined, and the potential loss of customers. When you consider those costs, you see that PM is a plan for safety, efficiency, and profitability.
Why Preventative Maintenance?
It takes more than an annual DOT inspection and drivers’ pre-trip inspections to keep a commercial vehicle running—especially if you’re looking to eliminate breakdowns, minimize downtime, and maximize fuel efficiency. When you schedule thorough maintenance inspections at regular intervals and budget for maintenance tasks that prevent in-service breakdowns, you’ll see across-the-board benefits that improve your bottom line.
What are you preventing when you put your fleet on a preventative maintenance program (PMP)? The goal of any PMP is to prevent breakdowns and failures. One major benefit of avoiding those headaches is making sure that you’re eliminating the higher cost of repairs when they take place on the side of the road or in somebody else’s shop. Another significant benefit is knowing that a load will make it to its destination without delays.
Still, many fleet managers have resisted the idea of putting their fleets on a preventative maintenance program. They worry that a PMP will add to their staff’s administrative load and take working units out of service without resulting in any real benefits. Implementing and optimizing a PMP will take some time and effort, but it’s important to see it as a process that gets better over time.
(Re)Defining Preventative Maintenance
The folks at FleetOwner Magazine offer us a few alternative definitions of what PM can mean for your fleet:
- Preventative Maintenance Service: This is the definition that most of us associate with PM. It highlights the part of the process where technicians are empowered to inspect and repair units and spend what they need to in order to eliminate breakdowns and failures.
- Planned Money Spent: This definition goes to the budgetary concerns that fleet managers have about PMPs. But when you see PM as an opportunity to budget the money, time, and resources that it takes to keep units running, you also work to reduce urgencies that can temporarily overwhelm your resources and lead to higher costs through emergency repairs and overtime hours.
- Procrastination Maintenance Science: We think that this is the definition that will mean the most to fleet managers who worry that PM will add to their workload and budget without paying off in safety, efficiency, and profitability. The general idea is that when you first start a PMP for your fleet, you will tend to see over-maintenance when compared to your run-to-failure strategy. However, as time goes on and key performance indicators (KPIs) are established, your staff will strike a balance between getting full use out of parts before replacement and avoiding breakdowns and failures that disrupt service.
When you look at FleetOwner’s three different definitions, you see that the long-term goals of a PMP are to optimize budgetary efficiency at the same time that they improve uptime and safety. You might see a net-loss on the program in the first weeks and months of implementing it. But when you take the long view, you can recognize the opportunity to add real value to your fleet’s bottom line.
Implementing a Preventative Maintenance Program for Your Fleet
If you want a preventative maintenance program to take hold in your shop and produce measurable benefits for your fleet and your business, you’ll need to support it with enough resources to give it a chance to become part of your company’s culture. Change can be hard and change for the sake of change can be foolish—but a well-planned and executed transition to a PMP can be efficient and effective.
It will take more than meetings and memos to make PM happen for your fleet. To ensure a successful transition and see more benefits sooner, you’ll need to use good information and put together a sound strategy with a realistic budget. You’ll also need to secure buy-in from technicians and drivers and provide them with the tools to record, track, and report their work.
- Fleet Information: To make sure that your plan addresses the actual needs of the equipment that makes up your fleet, it’s important to lay a solid foundation of information. Work with manufacturers and dealerships to gather the information that you’ll need to give drivers and technicians the plan that your fleet needs.
- Solid Strategy: Once you have the information that you need to know what your fleet needs to maintain optimum performance; you’ll need to set a big-picture strategy for preventative maintenance:
- Calendar Days
- Service Hours
- Preventative Maintenance Goals:
- Extend component life
- Reduce failures and breakdowns
- Increase maintenance efficiency
- Improve downtime
- Comply with manufacturer warranties
- Avoid fines and out-of-service units from failed inspections
- Optimize maintenance expenses
- Getting Buy-in From the Staff: Managing organizational change is one of the hardest jobs that a fleet manager has to tackle. Even when you can show your staff the benefits of the change and offer them a solid plan for getting to where you want to be, you should expect some skepticism, pessimism, and resistance. That’s because many people find change itself to be scary—regardless of what kind of change or whether it is good or bad. A PMP relies on the drivers and technicians, so getting them to buy-in to the program is essential to its success.
- Budget for Success: It will be hard to get the buy-in that you need or realize the benefits you’re hoping for if you don’t support your PMP with a realistic budget and an authorization process that will allow it to progress toward the goals that you’ve set for it.
- Recording, Tracking, and Reporting: As you’ve probably realized by now, keeping track of more than a few units in a PMP can be a challenging and time-consuming prospect. Fortunately, there are great Preventative Maintenance Software options that will make meeting the information demands of your program easy and efficient.
What Should A Preventative Maintenance Program Cover?
Part of making sure that your fleet’s PMP brings the three separate definitions of preventative maintenance together to the benefit of your operation is setting guidelines that both motivate maintenance routines and provide boundaries at the same time. Every maintenance professional has their own take on what PM should include, but there are some systems that almost everyone agrees on.
American Trucker magazine interviewed a couple of the industry’s leading authorities on preventative maintenance. All of the following areas were mentioned by one or both of them as systems where finding problems before they happen will save your fleet time, money, and headaches:
- Batteries/Charging and Cranking System
- Coolant System and Exhaust Treatment
- Front-Axle Toe-In
- Tire Pressure
- Air & Fuel Filters
How Can Preventative Maintenance Software Help Manage Your Program?
Electronic control modules (ECMs) and electronic logging devices (ELDs) mean that both drivers and units are now sources of information for your fleet’s PMP that can be seamlessly integrated into your maintenance routine. Most preventative maintenance software can use the information from these sources to generate work orders and schedule shop time.
The software can also be integrated with your parts room’s inventory to make sure that technicians have what they need when the unit comes into the shop. That helps them get the driver rolling again without unnecessary delays while they wait for parts deliveries.
Preventative maintenance software doesn’t just streamline the operational aspects of your PMP. It will also make the recording, tracking, and reporting the information that the program generates more efficient. It will allow you to generate reports to manage your current budget and anticipate future needs. The software also creates a paper trail that can make warranty and insurance claims much easier to manage.
If you stick to your guns on run-to-fail maintenance, you’ll be missing out on what preventative maintenance can do for your fleet’s bottom line. If you try to manage a preventative maintenance program for a small- or mid-sized fleet without the help that software can offer, you’ll be pulling your hair out before long. The benefits of a preventative maintenance program aren’t a luxury that only big national fleets can afford anymore.
At FleetPal, we work hard to bring small and mid-sized fleets the tools that they need to take advantage of the technological advances that the industry has made. Contact us today to learn how our cloud- and mobile-based applications bring fleet managers, maintenance managers, and industry suppliers together.