The pandemic deepened existing challenges, including tech and driver shortages, and made remote monitoring and digital maintenance systems critical. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/Jirsak

The pandemic deepened existing challenges, including tech and driver shortages, and made remote monitoring and digital maintenance systems critical.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/Jirsak

Though COVID-19 sent shockwaves through supply chains and continues to ripple as areas see cases fluctuate, many fleets today have emerged as leaner, more efficient operations.

While accelerated by the pandemic, the emergence of leaner fleets couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the industry. The pandemic deepened existing challenges, including tech and driver shortages, and made remote monitoring and digital maintenance systems critical.

The pandemic also introduced new challenges. Because of health protocols, shuttered repair shops and understaffed maintenance teams cut into network efficiencies. Many carriers — small and medium-sized fleets in particular — delayed vehicle replacement cycles, having to run older assets for longer. Procurement delays and thinner maintenance teams led to an increase in maintenance costs. Average roadside repair costs were up 30% last year. The holiday season, vaccine rollout, and supply chain instability stretched fleets to their limits and resulted in a capacity crunch. 

It wasn’t all bad news — far from it. The industry has shown remarkable resilience. Transportation and logistics have been fundamental to the swift rollout of the vaccine and recovery of supply chains from earlier disruptions. The industry has a new level of visibility unmatched by pre-pandemic attitudes that took stocked shelves for granted. Also, many carriers saw their business skyrocket with surges in e-commerce. 

Despite its share of serious challenges, fleet maintenance has been a steady hand amid all this upheaval. Efficient repair shops have been crucial to the development of the leaner fleet. 

With the capacity crunch, better fleet maintenance has ensured greater vehicle availability. On average, fleets extended their mean time between failures by 7% last year. Like the industry as a whole, maintenance teams undertook far greater digitization in the past twelve months. 

Not only has the use of digital fleet management systems reinforced the health and safety measures required to combat the virus, but it has also energized initiatives to adopt tech-forward solutions, including ones that make maintenance techs and supervisors more efficient. Maintenance productivity has been vital in allowing fleets to do more with the same or fewer resources.

A year on, fleet management today is far more efficient. In this new and uncertain environment, repair shops have increased asset availability and enhanced supply chains’ resilience. Here are the three ways carriers have strengthened fleet management in response to COVID-19. 

As the pandemic still casts a shadow over the near-term outlook, leaner fleet management capabilities will remain vital components in how carriers navigate our new normal. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/mladenbalinovac

As the pandemic still casts a shadow over the near-term outlook, leaner fleet management capabilities will remain vital components in how carriers navigate our new normal.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/mladenbalinovac

1. Automated Workflows Boost Back-Office Efficiency

The days of sticky notes may be numbered. Digitized workflows have promoted social distancing measures and limited the need for face-to-face meetings. Many fleets have transitioned back-office operations to work from home for the foreseeable future. 

Given the need to manage in a remote environment, many have also experienced greater efficiencies with a new urgency to optimize workflows. 

Small and medium-sized fleets, which tend to be later adopters of technology, have hopped on the trend and reaped the benefits of digital tools, which are easily integrated into their existing software.

2. Prioritizing High-Value Maintenance Steadies Shop Operations

In the uncertainty of the pandemic’s early days, with the initial downtick in consumer demand and freight traffic, many repair shops found themselves conducting maintenance orders in their backlog to keep busy. Digital tools that provided advance notice, including virtual diagnostics and predictive analytics, enabled many shops to conduct maintenance that was only strictly necessary. 

Such tools have also empowered fleets to guarantee they have the right skills at the right time. With advanced visibility into vehicle conditions and repair needs, technician scheduling can be better aligned with the need for certain skills. Staggering technician schedules provided a new way to organize high-value maintenance tasks based on available talent. Digital tools like predictive analytics software have also increased technicians’ efficiency, allowing them to begin virtual diagnostics before the asset rolls in the shop. 

3. Predictive Analytics Inform Capacity Decisions

Like general consumers stocking up on household items, many repair shops stockpiled spares when concerns emerged around maintenance capacity and parts availability. By giving greater lead time on vehicle conditions, digital tools empowered shops to adjust parts inventory to meet fleet needs cost-effectively. 

Working with fleet management software, many fleets also took advantage of a shared view of vehicle availability from remote condition-based monitoring to guide their asset utilization. For private fleets, visibility into all vehicles highlighted the need to tap into their pool of for-hire carriers. 

Once the wave of the future, digital tools that automate back-office and technician workflows have brought a sweep of operational and maintenance process improvements that are making fleets more efficient.

From increasing the value of prioritized maintenance to making data-informed decisions about capacity, carriers are leveraging technologies to enhance fleet management procedures already in place. As the pandemic still casts a shadow over the near-term outlook, these leaner fleet management capabilities will remain vital components in how carriers navigate our new normal. 

About the Author: Braden Pastalaniec is VP of sales, transportation, and logistics at Uptake, a provider of intelligence solutions for industrial assets. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.

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