Saturday, 19 April 2014

Challenges of fleet maintenance and management

How to diagnose faults using OBD device and fleet tracking system?
Fleet managers face ever increasing pressure to cut back costs. “Meet targets, cut costs,” comes the mantra from the top. The management expects them to achieve more with less resources. Controlling operational costs without compromising driver safety is a key challenge for most fleet managers. A challenge made tougher by the cutting cost mantra.

Maintaining a fleet is costly – maintenance, repairs, insurances, licences and the volatile price of fuel. One problem with a vehicle can leave it sitting idle at the depot. Sometimes indefinitely. This is down time a business cannot afford.

In a well-maintained fleet, every vehicle operates at peak performance with minimal time off the road. Fleet maintenance and management challenges include:

●   reducing fleet costs
●   tracking vehicle health
●   simplifying vehicle scheduling
●   managing driver safety
●   managing fleet productivity
●   volatile fuel prices
●   changing regulations
●   understanding tracking software.

No matter how hard fleet managers look for savings there is usually little room to move any further.

Reducing fleet costs

Reducing fleet costs is a challenge. No matter how you look at it, cutting costs any further is not easy. Yet down come orders from the top – cut more costs! This is tough. You may have nothing left to cut. But, you still need to follow best practice and maintain safety standards.

Fuel is the biggest expense. Then there are the rising costs of acquiring replacement vehicles with features like GPS tracking and built-in entertainment systems. Procurement and lifecycle costs, and ongoing maintenance and repair costs can all vary without any notice. While advanced technologies provided by the vehicle manufacturer are very helpful and attractive, any maintenance associated with failures can be very costly.

No matter how hard fleet managers look for savings there is usually little room to move any further.

Failing to track vehicle health

Fleet managers must keep all vehicles in a safe, roadworthy condition. This is not only to comply with local legislation, but to keep everyone’s safety in mind. Failing to track vehicle health can mean missing regular maintenance, which can put everyone at risk. Serious faults can develop causing unscheduled vehicle down time resulting in costly repairs or replacements. When unplanned costs keeps adding up, reduced profit margins can impact the organization. So, knowing the exact health of the vehicle is key for success.

Simplifying vehicle scheduling

Most vehicle preventive maintenance is mileage based. Usually accessed through onboard vehicle tracking devices. This information allows fleet operators to simplify vehicle maintenance scheduling to ensure it is done on time. But, for untrained operators the influx of data coming in from vehicle GPS tracking devices is a nightmare when they do not know how to process it. The costs and repairs drive each other - cut costs and repairs go up or spend enough to keep repairs down. It is a balance the fleet manager has to manage to achive his and organisation's goals.

Imagine how quickly the level of data builds up when you add up the number of vehicles in a fleet. Fleet operators need a lot of knowledge to track high volumes of data correctly. Without knowledgeable staff, it can turn into a data overload that can hinder rather than help daily operations.

When you have trouble finding the data you need from what comes in daily, it is a challenge that needs a solution.

Managing driver safety

Driver safety is the single most important thing when maintaining an efficient fleet. You need all drivers to work to the same set of rules to get consistent outcomes across the company. For example, driving fleet vehicles aggressively exposes the company and drivers to high risk. Accidents, injuries, the resulting trauma and vehicle damage can leave the company facing serious consequences. Then there are the driver fines and combined these can cause insurance costs to go up because of poor company driving records.

Managing driver safety is a constant challenge, organisations need to defeat.

Managing fleet productivity

While managing a fleet is a tough job, managing fleet productivity is tougher. Many fleet managers are being forced to increase productivity with less.

What is fleet productivity?

Productivity is how you measure the results generated by a worker or a process. Every unit of productivity has metrics attached to measure costs based on the ratio of outputs to inputs. These are key metrics fleet managers use to measure operational costs.

Measuring worker productivity is not so easy to track. With employees spread all over the place, you cannot control what drivers do. It is important fleet managers find a way to track vehicle movements and employee utilisation to find further cost cutting measures. The challenge is working smarter, not harder with diminishing resources. That is not easy in the current economy but advanced digital technologies can provide insights for improving productivity at an affordable cost. Technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence can help find patterns which are difficult to observe by most people. They bring expert knowledge to the use of everyone without high costs.

Volatile fuel prices

Volatile fuel prices going up and down on what seems like a whim leaves major impacts on fleet managers’ budgets. It is impossible to forecast fuel prices, so it is hard to budget for fluctuating expenses. Fuel costs are a variable no fleet manager can control.

What you can control is the fuel efficiency of the vehicles you buy and keeping up vehicle maintenance. But, running on tight budgets can mean there is not enough money to buy fuel efficient vehicles or keep up with vehicle maintenance. The biggest uncertainty around the price of fuel is just how high they will go in the future. This uncertainty puts pressure on profit margins, especially, when working on a fixed fee, project basis.

The hardest challenge is educating drivers that four-cylinder vehicles are as good as a vehicle with six cylinders. The biggest difference is fuel efficiency. Drivers understand wildly fluctuating fuel costs and profit margins.

These are enough to give many fleet managers sleepless nights trying to find a solution.

Changes to regulations

New and changing regulations give fleet managers a headache. Managing reminders can be painful especially when you have to deal with road tax, insurance, driver compliance, periodic inspection, etc for a range of makes and models. They have to find the time in a busy day to review regulations to ensure the business complies. While safety is the top priority, complying with changing regulations adds extra costs to the budget. Some businesses may struggle with updating compliance measures. For those already on tight budgets, it can be enough to break the bank. Avoiding penaties is the easiest thing a fleet manager can do to improve the bottomline.

Understanding tracking software

Knowing where fleet vehicles are at any given moment in a day is vital to fleet efficiency. So is planning the best routes and minimising the time drivers spend at each location. Fleet operators need to understand how GPS tracking software works. They also need to know how to read the data sent through vehicle GPS tracking devices. Good staff can be the difference between cutting costs or adding to the budgetary strain.

There are many car and GPS tracking devices in the market but the fleet management can maximise value when the GPS tracking is combined with the knowledge of the vehicle health.

Fleet managers have to solve the operational challenges of fleet management and maintenance within budgetary constraints. With so many challenges, it is a constant battle to maintain a profit.


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