Guesswork gone

Guesswork gone

As a business tool, a commercial vehicle is an unpredictable asset, exposed to all manner of risk as it executes its daily duties out there in the traffic. Accidents, hijackings, breakdowns, errant drivers, excessive fuel consumption and mysterious vehicle damage all serve to keep fleet owners awake at night, wondering “where?”, “why?” and “how?”. However, as RYAN JOHNSON discovers, anxious guessing is becoming less necessary, thanks to ever-evolving fleet management technologies and services…

Apart from the aforementioned risks associated with operating an extra-heavy “mobile” asset, commercial fleet operators have a set of traditional business imperatives they need to satisfy in order to sustain their operations. These include keeping vehicle running costs to a minimum, employing skilled drivers and making sure customers are kept happy through punctual and efficient service delivery.

Now add to these a set of new requirements, including changing labour and environmental legislation, and you’re looking at a management/reporting scenario complex and demanding enough to scare the braces off your most rampant control freak. What’s needed is a “holistic” approach to mitigating risk, where people are properly educated, held accountable and rewarded accordingly, based on unbiased reports that clearly show where drivers and vehicles are failing or succeeding.

The good news is that there are technology platforms available that go beyond the standard monitoring of vehicle location and revs per minute, or kilometres per hour reports. Systems are available that pinpoint precisely where problems with both drivers and vehicles exist, effectively removing any guesswork from the equation, while also enabling swift remedying of the situation before costly mishaps occur.

Traffic analysts the world over concur that around 90% of all vehicle collisions are due to driver error. This should come as no surprise to local fleet owners, given our country’s shoddy road safety record. It takes no great leap of the imagination to arrive at the conclusion that most of our truck and bus fleet drivers need to up their game.

One solution making great strides in improving driver behaviour is DriveCam USA, an in-vehicle video event recorder (VER) that captures all risky driving events in the form of a 12-second video clip showing both the driver and the road ahead.

According to Louis Swart, managing director of Drive Report, the official SA partner to DriveCam USA: “While the video clips from DriveCam’s VER serve as irrefutable proof of who or what caused an accident, fleet managers are also served by DriveCam’s in-house Driving Risk Analysts who provide daily analysis of those driving events that did not result in a collision, but that clearly represent a risk to the fleet. This effectively streamlines the video filtering process, enabling fleet managers to focus on those drivers needing immediate coaching.”

Apart from its ability to fast-track driver training and thereby allow fleets to expand without undue risk, DriveCam’s 3G data transmitter in the video event recorder brings near-live “sight and sound” reporting via the internet to fleet owners, allowing them to monitor the progress of all their drivers from anywhere in the world.

Furthermore, DriveCam owns the planet’s largest repository of video footage showing risky driving behaviours and collisions. When coupled with ongoing development on its “Predictive Analytics” technology, this enables DriveCam to benchmark driver performance and predict which drivers are likely to suffer a serious accident, enabling preventative measures to be taken to avert disaster.

According to Paul Roberts, managing director of Global Telematics, Orchid provides solutions for fleet and driver intelligence issues, vehicle tracking and mobile workforce management. “Global Telematics’ provides globally proven telemetry solutions that can be tailor-made to meet specific business and industry needs,” he tells FOCUS.

Guesswork goneThe company’s products enable fleet managers to view multiple vehicles on one screen, providing a visual status update in real time. “The Configuration Management System allows you to create specific zones – customer site zones, no go zones and speeding zones – as well as defined event alerts, such as route deviations and check points. A driver identification system means only preauthorised and system-recognised drivers can start up the vehicle. The identification tags make it possible to monitor driver behaviour as well as fatigue. Ultimately you are able to develop your drivers better,” Roberts points out.

The Fleet Interface System is installed on the fleet manager’s PC but it’s possible to network via a central server if a multiple user environment is preferred. “Simply logging on to a web site enables you to track any of your vehicle’s information from anywhere in the world,” Roberts notes.

The ability to proactively mitigate mechanical risk is as important as having safe drivers. Arguably, FleetBoard, the proprietary fleet management system from Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles, has the most advanced remote diagnostic tool for trucks in the world.

“An ongoing challenge for fleet managers is to gain greater insight into the mechanical or geographical status of every fleet vehicle at the press of a button. Managers want to maximise the in-service hours of every vehicle and because FleetBoard has direct access via CANbus to all 400 fault-codes in the truck, it can immediately notify fleet managers of vehicle technical faults and errant driver behaviour,” says Pascal Weiss, sales and business development manager of FleetBoard.

With over 300 units currently operational in South Africa, FleetBoard has a dedicated 24/7 call centre which, coupled with its ability to allow Mercedes-Benz technicians to diagnose vehicle faults from a remote location, has dramatically reduced vehicle downtime across the fleets using the system.

“Through early warning signals on imminent component failure, we are able to prevent major damage happening to the truck. Should a vehicle break down, FleetBoard identifies exactly what and where the problem is, allowing repair technicians to take the correct parts to the truck, rather than having to tow the truck to the workshop. This alone has effectively redefined the benchmarks governing truck repair and downtime,” says Weiss.

“Our pilot fleets are reporting fuel savings of between five and 10%, reductions in wear and tear up to 10%, as well as significant decreases in vehicle downtime,” he notes. “We can now say with confidence that the potential savings per vehicle fitted with FleetBoard are in the region of R60 000 per year.”

Fleet management solutions are increasingly being used worldwide to reduce operational costs, improve customer service levels and enhance safety and security.

Guesswork gone“But,” says Gert Pretorius, managing director of MiX Telematics (Enterprise), “although advanced technology is at the core of all these solutions, it’s how one helps customers use this technology that generates the real value for organisations.”

Pretorius says the best strategy for making fleet management as efficient and cost-effective as possible is a strong partnership with the fleet operator or customer. This requires strong buy-in from the customer and a relationship that is a long-term partnership and not a standard customer-supplier relationship. “A thorough understanding of the customer’s business at implementation phase allows for a solid footing moving forward,” he says.

Pretorius believes that telematics has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which fleets are managed. “Commercial telematics solutions are not potential changers, they are proven changers,” he notes.

Given the importance of on-time delivery and the high cost of fuel, knowing exactly where vehicles are, and monitoring their drivers, are definite advantages in an industry where profit margins are habitually low. As a fleet manager, the more information you have about every aspect of an individual vehicle trip the more efficiently you can plan and manage fleet operations.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages telematics offers to fleet operators is the improved security it provides. Pretorius says that fleet management solutions, designed specifically for this sector, can substantially reduce accident rates; drive improvements in fuel economy and CO2 emissions, and lower maintenance costs.

Controlling fuel spend is crucial for most companies. “The way vehicles are driven heavily influences this spend, but if you’re in the office and drivers are out on the road, how are you going to influence your drivers’ behaviour?” asks Pretorius. He says the only way is by being able to provide timely feedback to drivers on their performance and by rewarding them for any improvement. It’s a principle as old as mankind itself – punish or reward actions when the action is fresh in the mind (in this case the driver’s).

MiX Telematics’ in-cab display and onboard computer help customers change driver behaviour, achieve substantial bottom-line improvements and earn a return-on-investment in a matter of months. The onboard computer connects to the vehicles’ control systems and captures detailed information about the vehicles and how they are being driven.  “The data is then transmitted over the air to secure data centres. This device and the in-cab display work together to actively notify drivers with a buzzer and light when they are over-revving, idling excessively, braking harshly, accelerating harshly or speeding – the key factors that influence fuel economy,” he says.

The advantage of this kind of system is that it allows drivers to instantly correct their behaviour and improve fuel efficiency. “It’s almost like having a permanent in-cab driver trainer providing them with continuous feedback on their style,” says Pretorius.

Another useful tool for fleet managers is easy access web-based driver profiles and reports that help them actively manage their fleet. Pretorius says these reports not only help managers measurably improve driving styles to benefit fuel consumption, but also better manage maintenance schedules and decrease accident rates.

The fleet management solutions easily integrate and communicate with a customer’s other systems such as order management, finance, and routing and scheduling packages. They allow consignment and job information to be sent to and from drivers, but only when it is safe to do so. Once a driver has accepted the job all it takes is one simple click for navigation instructions to be displayed on screen.

“The advantage here,” says Pretorius, “is that if there is any delay in the estimated time of arrival, the customer service team can be notified immediately.”  As the status of all deliveries is automatically updated to a customer’s back-office systems, together with electronic proof of delivery, one is also able to invoice straight away and capture important information to help manage service contracts more effectively.

“These solutions help customers safely and cost effectively communicate with their drivers, improve timeliness of deliveries and optimise fleet utilisation.  Ultimately they help improve service quality, reduce the number of disputes and queries, and speed up cash collections,” says Pretorius.

As the fight against global warming and climate change intensifies, fleet owners will have to comply with emissions-limiting legislation that will be introduced in the near future, according to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

C-track – a division of DigiCore Holdings – is a well-known fleet management system now boasting a new CO2 Emissions Report that has already proved a great success in truck and bus fleets in Europe. It is a first for South African fleet owners. (See the cover story of FOCUS May 2010.) “Fleet operators looking to gain early-mover advantage on the “green” front now have the perfect tool to not only proactively reduce their CO2 emissions but also to generate reports quantifying their carbon footprint. This will assist them in gaining valuable contracts, while receiving tax breaks from SARS,” says DigiCore managing director, Mark Rousseau.

Guesswork goneDeon du Rand, DigiCore’s technical director, says: “A vehicle group is created for each category of vehicle, including the make and model. Fuel consumption and emission values as stipulated by the vehicle manufacturers are then entered into the
C-track database. We then enter a CO2 grams-per-litre value, a CO2 grams-per-kilometre (distance) value and a corresponding CO2 grams-per-hour value. If we receive fuel consumption figures through the CANbus or through a fuel flow meter, the value according to CO2 grams-per-litre is displayed. If we do not receive a fuel consumption reading, we generate a grams-per-kilometre report.”

When it comes to equipment that logs hours rather than distance, the company uses the CO2 grams-per-hour value. “The new C-track CO2 Report also boasts a ‘green’ dashboard, which graphically represents CO2 emissions as well as fleet CO2 emissions trends,” Du Rand explains.

With drivers and vehicles performing at their best through proactive intervention by management, all that remains is to improve the efficiency of the supply chain so that vehicles work according to the needs and capacity of consignors and consignees.

A leading exponent in this field is Crickmay & Associates which, via a vehicle scheduling system known as FREDD, has revolutionised productivity levels in the local sugarcane supply industry.

“Using a standard personal computer linked to the internet, FREDD communicates with every sugarcane truck’s on-board computer, all of which are fitted with a GPS and GSM modem. FREDD constantly monitors the progress of all vehicles while they’re travelling or loading, effectively reducing standing times at mill yards by nearly 70 percent,” says Ryan Giles, special projects manager at Crickmay & Associates.

According to Giles, apart from impressive fuel savings due to reduced vehicle idling at the respective mills, FREDD has set new productivity benchmarks within the sugar industry. “These include cost savings for growers and hauliers, such as the reduced mill turn-around times in excess of R12.7 million at one mill alone. For the mill owner, savings associated with the reduction in mill stops are estimated to be in excess of R14.7 million per annum,” he says.

No two transport operations are alike and finding the ideal fleet management solution requires due diligence and much research of potential suppliers. Hopefully, the vendors who contributed to this article have provided you with a useful point of departure in your quest for a good night’s rest.

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