Taking advantage of telematics and remote diagnostics

In conjunction with telematics services, remote diagnostics systems allow you to be proactive and to address issues on trucks more effectively.

As more electronics systems are used on vehicles, the ability to employ remote diagnostics to streamline repairs becomes something fleet service managers can take advantage of. In conjunction with telematics services, these systems allow you to be proactive and to address issues on trucks more effectively.

“Depending on the application, remote diagnostics identify everything from basic fault data to predictive maintenance alerts,” says Terrah Stephens, product manager at Noregon. “The idea is to catch an issue that has a high likelihood of escalating if left untreated and to rectify the problem, which represents immense cost savings for the fleet.”

Telematics don’t necessarily have an innate ability to identify vehicle service issues, notes Chris Orban, vice president of data science at Trimble Transportation. However, the data coming off the devices can be used to either predict future faults or identify ongoing problems.

“Several systems are in use to predict ‘red lamp’ faults, or to relay information about diagnostics trouble codes [DTCs] that an engine produces back to a maintenance center,” Orban relates. “Then, action can be taken on those faults. The data from a telematics device, combined with the right kinds of algorithms and industry expertise, can point your technicians in the right direction and save time on the shop floor.”

Hard and soft indicators

Kevin Aries, global product success at Verizon Connect, points out that using telematics to regularly monitor vehicle service issues is an easy way to stay ahead of maintenance. “Telematics can provide both hard and soft indicators that a vehicle service issue may be present,” he says. 

“DTCs like a check engine light act as a hard indicator, telling you about things that need immediate attention,” Aries continues. “Soft indicators can be derived from vehicle data. For example, knowing when to perform regular maintenance can come from having a better understanding of data such as miles driven and engine hours.”

The Trimble Transportation Data Science team, relates Chris Orban, created models that predict DTCs with a high level of accuracy. “Unfortunately, while the data can be used to predict that these codes might appear, that does not mean that the corresponding repair will be required,” he cautions. “Think of it like a forward collision warning: Not every forward collision warning results in a crash. Therefore, we created models that are focused on the overall health of the vehicle.

“Additionally, we believe that data gathered from telematics devices can be used to predict part-level failures before they happen,” Orban continues. “Imagine being able to replace a truck’s brakes before they fail. That’s possible because telematics devices are not just capturing data that can be used to predict failures, but also capturing driver behavior. Certain drivers might be harder on a truck, or their routes and the freight they haul might put more strain on the vehicle. In this way, we can create a metric to track the actual wear on a part.”

Actionable information front and center

Noregon, notes Terrah Stephens, created a group of actionable faults for items that are most important to pay attention to because they are likely to escalate if left untreated. “These systems put actionable information front and center, with the ability to drill down into deeper levels of data,” Stephens adds. 

“For example, color-coded vehicle health and safety status based on aggregated data provides detailed fault and component information to pass along to service professionals,” Stephens explains. “You can also utilize the fault history feature to detect recurring problems and learn where your service team is potentially misdiagnosing or not detecting issues.

“Telematics data can help know when to perform interval-based maintenance by alerting you about performance-based issues,” Stephens continues. “For example, the system can alert the user when the truck has a fault that’s negatively affecting its fuel efficiency. These aren’t issues that necessarily require the driver to immediately pull over, but should be noted so they aren’t left unrepaired the next time the truck is in the shop for planned maintenance.”

Using telematics to create an accurate picture of how a vehicle is actually behaving can help prioritize which trucks might require maintenance, notes Trimble’s Orban. As an example, he says that information gathered from telematics devices can advise service providers which types of trucks are most fuel efficient, not by relaying MPG reading from the engine directly but by comparing fuel purchases, tank levels, engine data and miles driven.

“Telematics and fleet maintenance management systems provide an advantage by incorporating information from the entire lifecycle of the truck and driver in one system,” Orban says. “You know a driver’s behavior from onboard telematics and information about the truck for the management solution. Adding asset maintenance information on prior repairs can enable you to schedule service at the right shop, with the right technician using the correct parts, before any failure actually occurs.”

On the road and out of the shop

By using telematics and fleet management software, you can develop proactive maintenance plans, says Kevin Aries at Verizon Connect. “That way vehicles can stay on the road and out of the shop with the help of vehicle service alerts based on distance traveled, hours worked or predetermined dates,” he adds.

“Fleet management software, and diagnostics and service maintenance platforms as one comprehensive solution allow databases to be continuously updated,” Aries continues. “That way, reports are current and data is available as a single snapshot over a timeline or as a continuous feed.”

It is also important to ensure your remote diagnostics platform is configurable to your needs, does not inundate the user with confusing data, and has an alert system that empowers quick, impactful decision making for managing active faults, points out Noregon’s Terrah Stephens. “Tools that help analyze and aggregate the growing amount of telematics data are incredibly beneficial,” Stephens says. “We’re seeing historic levels of data coming off vehicles, which creates opportunities but also presents challenges.

“When remote diagnostics first came on the market, the average user was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data being passed along, which caused many to forgo adoption of the technology,” Stephens adds. “Today, however, a remote diagnostics system can provide a positive return on investment in the long run.”