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21st Century Maintenance

By on May 1, 2016

Is Military Plug-and-Play Technology on the Horizon?

Amazing progress in vehicle maintenance practices has already occurred, so far, in the 21st century. By 2000, what had been done electromechanically was being recorded and tracked electronically. Data was gathered, but the ability to process it into useful information lagged behind.

Back in 1965, Gordon E. Moore, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, formulated what became known as Moore’s Law: the ability of a computer processor to process information would double every one to two years. That represents a 6,400-percent capability improvement in just the last 16 years.

How has this altered our lives? Take cellular telephones for example. Early brick-style behemoths, once reserved for an elite few and aided by Moore’s Law, have become commonplace. Virtually everyone has one. These sophisticated devices have morphed into integrated information and entertainment systems, which, by the way, also provide telephone communication.

Consider the latest developments in vehicle technology. Autonomous vehicles make news almost every day. From experiments a decade ago, you’re now seeing trucks that know exactly where they are with pinpoint, three-dimensional accuracy, and they have the ability to identify moving vehicles and pedestrians within their range of influence. Sensors in prototype trucks not only see and sense all the inputs we humans use to make driving decisions, sensors act on those inputs many times faster and are never distracted.

I’m not making a case for autonomous or self-driving trucks. I believe we have many obstacles to overcome before they become practical. Technology aside, high public fear factors and low comfort levels are significant hurdles. But new and ever-expanding data processing capabilities can and are being applied to vehicle maintenance right now.

Two Maintenance Types

Consider the two types: preventive and immediate. “Preventive” is the act of treating a part such as a tire or a group of parts and consumables working together, such as a cooling system, to prevent anticipated failures. “Immediate” is the restoration of an unanticipated failure to proper operating condition. Preventive maintenance involves such tasks as adjusting SCA (supplemental coolant additives) levels in the coolant or changing oil and filters. Immediate maintenance is replacing a blown-out tire, or a cracked wheel, or a faulty brake drum. But thanks to computers, the processes of diagnosing problems and performing maintenance have changed.

An old rule of thumb said that 95 percent of road failures occurred within 100 feet of a payphone. Remember payphones? Drivers would limp along to where it was convenient to call for assistance. Today, we have sensors in our trucks that tell us when tires are losing air, engines are running hot, or oil levels are low. Once, it was up to us to notice a problem and call ahead for maintenance before it became more serious.

Today’s automated systems detect these problems, identify your GPS location, determine their degree of seriousness and notify either your dispatcher, and/or your preferred service provider. Appointments are made. You receive a message to head for the closest authorized repair facility, minimizing the probability of downtime. More than ever, TA Service Centers with their emergency capabilities are connected to many customers for both preventive and immediate maintenance. If you drive a Freightliner or Western Star, that may be particularly true.

Military Sets the Pace

Computer analysis, global positioning and telemetrics all play key roles in keeping you on the road. But what will future maintenance look like? For a glimpse into the future of trucking, let’s look at the progress of military maintenance. If you think getting your truck back in operation quickly is critical, compare that to getting a tank or a fighter jet back into battle. Though you may not always think so, our armed forces lead the way in turnaround times.

Assets are designed from the ground up for maintenance. Unlike many truck components buried under other parts that must be removed first, combat vehicles and modern aircraft have all critical parts accessible under individual panels. Using the plug-and-play concept, each of these modules performs a specific job. When a failure occurs as a result of enemy action or routine maintenance is needed, the nearest repair facility is informed.

By the time the asset arrives, parts, necessary tools and trained technicians are standing by to begin work. Modules are removed and replaced and the unit is quickly returned to service with minimal lost time. When extensive diagnosis or repair is needed, it is done at a specialized facility behind the lines. The objective is returning the asset to service without delay.

This works with the military because all components, equipment and repair facilities have common ownership, but can it work in the private sector, in trucking? It can if common repair items, major components and key systems are leased to operators rather than being owned and assigned to specific trucks. They can be inventoried in emergency pools, to be used as needed, where and when needed.

That sums up one observer’s thoughts on the future of truck maintenance. What do you think?


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