January 29, 2019
technology | Fleet Management

Fleet maintenance goes digital

Fleet maintenance goes digital

Penske Truck Leasing has replaced its manual vehicle inspection process with voice-directed technology that is improving fleet inspection and repair accuracy, while delivering more uptime to customers.

By Victoria Kickham

Using technology first applied in its warehouse, Penske Truck Leasing is streamlining its preventive maintenance inspection process by going paperless—a feat the company says is delivering big improvements in productivity, quality, and equipment uptime.

The transportation and logistics services provider is applying voice-directed technology to the preventive maintenance inspection process across its fleet of nearly 300,000 trucks, eliminating the manual, largely paper-based process its technicians traditionally used. Today, Penske technicians have traded clipboards and laptops for headsets and software that converts spoken information to text that is communicated directly into the company's data system. Going digital has allowed Penske to improve inspection efficiency—cutting a two-hour inspection down to an hour and a half in some cases—and has dramatically reduced the number of customer shop visits for service. Gregg Mangione, Penske Truck Leasing's senior vice president of maintenance, says the company is seeing about 60,000 fewer shop visits annually since implementing the system in 2017.

"[That's a] tremendous benefit for our customers," Mangione explains, noting that the less time a vehicle spends in the service bay, the more time it spends in service for the customer.

The system is yielding big benefits internally as well. Mangione says it streamlines technicians' jobs, saving time, improving the quality and accuracy of their work, and allowing them to tailor the maintenance inspection process to each of the many different types of vehicles in the company's fleet.

It also helps create a better work environment, according to leaders at Honeywell Safety & Productivity Solutions, which partnered with Penske to develop the voice-directed system.

"With this solution, workers make fewer errors, have higher job satisfaction rates, and are more productive," says Taylor Smith, president of Honeywell's Workflow Solutions business. "Penske's transportation expertise and Honeywell's software and hardware are delivering gains in compliance, quality, and productivity."

DEVELOPING THE SOLUTION

Penske managers worked with Honeywell and technology partner Vitech to customize the voice-directed maintenance and inspection system. The partnership stretches back to 2012, when Penske Logistics, a Penske Truck Leasing subsidiary, implemented voice-directed technology from Honeywell and Vitech for warehouse picking operations. Mangione says Penske was immediately interested in using similar technology to guide technicians through the vehicle inspection process but soon learned it would require a fair amount of research and development because the technology companies hadn't yet applied the solution in that way.

"We spent a few years going from concept to [implementation], working in teams to develop it," says Mangione. "There are similarities in how we use it for warehousing, but a lot of customization has been built in the background."

Penske's system combines a robust, high-speed indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi network with rugged mobile tablet devices, supplemented with Honeywell's voice-directed preventive maintenance and inspection (M&I) solution, which uses voice-directed technology from Vitech. Wearing a headset, technicians are guided through the vehicle preventive maintenance inspections via voice prompts—basically, the voice M&I solution walks them through a series of checklists, incorporating voice commands and technicians' verbal responses. Technicians interact with a display on the rugged tablets to review images or descriptions. Their spoken responses are then converted to text and communicated back to Penske's data system with real-time updates.

Mangione says Penske's technicians were a crucial part of the research and development phase, providing insight and feedback along the way.

"We were careful to involve technicians in the development process," he says, pointing to concerns Penske had about technicians' reaction to having to wear a headset on the job, for one thing. "But we found that they like that more than they like carrying a clipboard. They say they enjoy being hands-free as they work."

REAPING THE BENEFITS

Improved uptime for customers is the main benefit of the system, and Mangione emphasizes that several factors contribute to Penske's ability to keep vehicles in the field. First, the automated voice-directed system streamlines and standardizes the preventive maintenance inspection process, he says, leaving no room for technicians to "do their own thing," as was common with the previous manual system. This not only speeds up the inspection process but also reduces the potential for errors, Mangione adds. Going digital has also helped Penske streamline the compliance and regulations portion of its work.

"A preventive maintenance paper form is a legal document. Some of these serve as highway inspections and some serve as state inspections and regulations," Mangione explains. "If there's any kind of issue with the vehicle, those records are critically important. We've digitized the process and streamlined all of that."

The system also allows Penske to customize its inspections to the specific vehicle, an important benefit for a company that has a variety of makes and models of trucks in its fleet. Instead of performing the same inspection points on all vehicles, this allows the company to tailor inspections to certain types of trucks and certain manufacturers' engines, making inspections more efficient and targeted, and allowing Penske to be more proactive when making repairs and maintenance updates.

"And that all drives uptime for customers," Mangione explains. "Which is, quite honestly, what we're doing this for."

LEADING THE WAY

Leaders at Honeywell and Vitech say Penske Truck Leasing was way out in front in applying voice-directed technology to the preventive maintenance inspection process. Honeywell developed its Voice Maintenance & Inspection Solution based on its work with Penske and is marketing the technology more broadly for fleet maintenance applications today. Mangione says he expects the solution to go even further, moving beyond commercial trucking to related fields such as railroad and airline maintenance. For its part, Penske says it performed its one-millionth voice-directed preventive maintenance inspection last May and as of late 2018, had nearly doubled that figure.

"We really believe in this, [and] we want Honeywell to be successful with it," Mangione says. "This will probably continue to evolve as a capability. What we're doing, we believe, will be the future."

About the Author

Victoria Kickham
Senior Editor
Victoria Kickham started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for DC Velocity.

More articles by Victoria Kickham

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