August 3, 2015 2:30 AM, EDT

DTNA, Zonar Expect Growth in Predictive Maintenance

This story appears in the Aug. 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

YOUNTVILLE, Calif. — Advancements in predictive maintenance will accelerate in the coming years through the partnership between Daimler Trucks North America and Zonar Systems, executives with both companies predicted.

Friedrich Baumann, DTNA’s senior vice president of aftermarket, called predictive maintenance “the next big thing.”

He spoke here July 28 as the companies shed light on their shared telematics strategy. The media event came one month after DTNA announced it had taken a minority stake in Seattle-based Zonar.

In the near term, DTNA announced its Detroit Connect program will include Zonar’s 2020 tablet and come with Zonar’s Ground Traffic Control software. Zonar also will assume management of Detroit’s Virtual Technician subscriptions later this year, though the branding of the onboard diagnostics system itself will not change.

“There’s a significant opportunity to gain important insights through connectivity, to ultimately provide a more dynamic customer experience,” said Matt Pfaffenbach, DTNA’s director of telematics.

A factory-installed kit for the 2020 tablet is available on Freightliner Cascadia trucks with Detroit engines. That will expand to more Freightliner and Western Star models later this year.

The 2020 tablet includes hours-of-service software to meet the pending electronic logging device mandate as well as other operational software. During the event, DTNA previewed a Virtual Technician portal expected to roll out later this year.

DTNA and Zonar first teamed up on Virtual Technician for 2012 Freightliners with Detroit-brand engines. The system, created by Daimler several years earlier, is in use on more than 150,000 vehicles.

Pfaffenbach suggested there could be some retrofit-type technology systems that become available for trucks dating back as far as 2010, but much of what is being developed is targeted for the latest available models.

Baumann and Zonar CEO Brett Brinton discussed how better data analysis from onboard diagnostics systems will lead to better use of predictive maintenance that allows fleets to schedule a repair before a serious service event occurs. That is different from Virtual Technician and other current onboard systems that send out alerts immediately when a problem is uncovered.

“There is a real return [on investment] for fleets with predictive maintenance, said Mike McQuade, Zonar’s chief strategy officer.

Zonar has more than 400,000 telematics devices installed in commercial vehicles that offer inspection reports, remote diagnostics, vehicle performance and communications software.

Baumann suggested predictive maintenance could become a reality in “five to 10 years.”

The executives cited several examples of how it can benefit fleets, such as being able to detect ahead of time when a turbocharger will fail, allowing the fleet to make repairs before a human is aware it has become a problem.

DTNA estimated that about 20% of engine fault codes are nothing more than a fairly simple issue that a trucker can fix without a vehicle being removed from the road. In those cases, the Virtual Technician system sends automatic e-mails with detailed information instead of the generic “check engine” light that many vehicles currently feature.

Zonar’s Brinton pointed to the diagnosis of problems with diesel particulate filter systems as another area ripe for improvement with better analysis through predictive maintenance.

Baumann said these examples show how predictive maintenance in particular will benefit smaller fleets to make “more intelligent decisions on how to run their equipment.”

McQuade said systems such as Zonar’s ZFuel analytics package also will help better drivers receive more pay by documenting their ability to achieve higher miles per gallon than co-workers who are less skillful.

Separately, Baumann said better understanding of data through telematics was allowing DTNA dealers to enhance service to fleets through improved stocking of inventory and better use of maintenance bays.

He said a pilot program is under way in the northeastern United States to enhance retail inventory management. In addition, there has been some shift to dedicated delivery systems of parts, from a less-than-truckload model.

In some cases, that includes a truck driver having the keys to a dealership in order to make overnight deliveries, ensuring needed parts have arrived by morning.

Looking ahead, Baumann said he expects “flashing over the air” — the ability to change electronic parameters on a vehicle remotely — could become a reality as early as 2017.

“That will be a significant step forward,” he said.