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August 28, 2018 11:45 AM, EDT

Opinion: Sensing the Future of Fleet Maintenance and Efficiency

Fuel is often one of the first considerations in calculating annual expenses. According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2017 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, nearly 40% of operating costs are derived from fuel alone.

Given the high demand for freight hauling capacity and the always volatile nature of fuel prices, that percentage may grow even larger over the next few years.

Stegall

Stegall

However, you can keep a close eye on fuel costs with the help of the Internet of Things.

The IoT offers the ability to share data among devices that communicate within a system — either between enterprise entities or among groups — as well as the ability to analyze mass information, or “big data.” By connecting the physical world to intelligent systems, the IoT can improve efficiency and optimize the economic benefits of enterprise systems and equipment.

This includes uncovering how every ounce of a fleet’s fuel is being consumed. Sensors located in wheels, wheel ends, brakes, air lines, electrical systems and other locations can provide detailed feedback on axles, wheels, electric motors, loading and more. This communication can be achieved through a combination of wired data bus, local area wireless spectrum such as Industrial, Scientific and Medical bands, and wide-area communications, including cellular

These sensors — or, more specifically, connected sensors — gather performance data throughout the vehicle and communicate this data to help fleets decrease fuel and maintenance costs, and to fine-tune duty cycles. For example, data from IoT sensors may indicate that specific equipment is more suited to certain jobs and point to areas that can be improved by driver training or to a configuration change for the vehicle. Conversely, if some pieces of equipment are already more fuel efficient than others, consider sending more work their way.

For larger operations, big data can affect the business by combining pure mathematical analytics with the hard-won know-how of commercial vehicle service professionals. Looking for correlations among data collected from a single asset and the big data collected across the enterprise can help companies locate opportunities to reduce fuel and maintenance costs.

Beyond the potential individual benefits, there is a greater good that companies should consider when looking to add IoT capabilities to their fleets — industry interoperability, which will allow the sharing of data while protecting intellectual property. Big data analytics shared industrywide could profoundly impact the entire asset supply chain. This includes future development of predictive maintenance and automated technology.

Regardless of mileage, there is always risk of breakdown with a piece of equipment — but that risk could be mitigated if the industry can develop sensor-enhanced maintenance to monitor the health of a component, system and asset. To get to the point where systems can proactively trigger scheduled maintenance without disruptions requires an enhanced sensor. Designers of these sensors will need to develop IoT algorithms that can process this health data, and that work is underway; companies are slowly introducing these solutions at industry events, while standards groups work to create an IoT environment for them.

In a perfect world, this sensor network would have an overall sense of system integrity of structure, including electrical, electronics, drivetrain and even the driver — if there is one. And as laws and regulations continue to evolve, and autonomous vehicles develop, an IoT sensor network of this nature will be required.

Ultimately, IoT analytics will move your company’s mission forward by impacting fuel consumption, efficiency, tires and safety — ultimately transforming the enterprise. And the eventual addition of IoT health-ready components will move your company and the industry forward even further.

Stegall leads the engineering, sales, technical management and business development efforts at Morey, which develops and manufactures technologies in the smart connectivity and energy efficiency electronics sectors globally. Its products and services serve markets including commercial vehicle, automotive, off-road and industrial, among others.