Commercial vehicle technicians are highly trained experts, but are they ready for what's to come in digitalization and electrification? - File Photo: ASE

Commercial vehicle technicians are highly trained experts, but are they ready for what's to come in digitalization and electrification?

File Photo: ASE

Class 8 trucks are being reimagined to solve today’s most pressing challenges — lowering emissions, increasing fuel efficiency, and improving safety, to name a few — and maintenance technicians need to keep up with a host of additional, specialized skills.

Traditionally, fleet maintenance technicians are highly trained experts that perform pre- and post-trip inspections, preventive and seasonal maintenance, and repairs on commercial vehicles, but are they ready for what's to come? Digitalization and electrification are no longer on the horizon; they are here now.

The Advancement of Commercial Vehicles

Since the start of the digital age decades ago, incremental improvements have been made to commercial vehicles, often including sophisticated technology that enhances the mechanical functions of the vehicle. Digitalization has overhauled the CV industry. Many modern trucks have more than 20 computer processors.

In addition, today’s commercial vehicles face regulatory and market demands to emit fewer emissions, leading to electrification as the newest advancing technology targeting the CV industry. With innovations focused on electric mobility there will be increasing demand for electric motors and components. In the past few years, electrification has become somewhat a new buzzword throughout industry conversations and publication headlines.

Technology’s Impact on Maintenance Technicians

While overall these advancements make the industry more efficient, they also will require fleet technicians to use new tools and skills to do their jobs.

For example, with digital telematics, fleet technicians are expected to diagnose and troubleshoot computer system issues and manage software updates. These are skills that must be learned in addition to the mechanical skills that have always been central to the job. Electrification, too, will eventually require specialized skills.

Getting Over the Retraining Hurdle

A highly trained master technician may have no interest in altering or disrupting the skillset he or she has honed for years. Requiring these masters of fleet maintenance to relearn their craft with more emphasis on electronics and software may be a significant challenge. These new skills are evolving quickly, and training may not be readily available yet.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 8% growth between 2020 and 2030 for diesel truck service technicians and mechanics and projects about 28,000 openings for these specialists each year, on average, throughout the decade. According to a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence survey, 42% of newer tech talent leaves the industry within the first two years on the job. Creating lifelong, fulfilling careers for a new generation of technicians is another challenge.

Industry experts must collaborate more with vocational schools to better prepare students for success in the field. Curriculums must teach new students about tractor and trailer systems standard in today’s fleets and adapt to the methods of the future. Creating the foundation for evolving curriculums and continuing education is a significant part of the complex yet solvable problem of developing and retaining top talent.

The Future is Bright for Fleet Maintenance Technicians

The demand for smarter, more sophisticated commercial vehicles is here to stay. As OEMs continue to roll out new innovations, the role of the technician will become more critical than ever. And although the evolution of skills needed for fleet technicians presents some challenges, it comes with many benefits.

For instance, connected sensors can identify and precisely communicate issues, making pre- and post-trip inspections far more effective. Thanks to precise measurements of temperature, alignment, weight, vibration, stud tensions, lube quality, axle load, trailer line pressure, and more through back-end algorithms, technicians will know exactly where issues are and when to resolve them. Plus, through user-friendly dashboards, a tech can easily and quickly receive an alert with diagnostic issues even if a truck is miles away, which can improve service job efficiency.

Electric-powered vehicles also come with enormous benefits. Reefer trailers and trucks, for example, can now be retrofitted with electric-powered transport refrigeration units. The batteries in these systems can power auxiliary and propulsion-assist systems. How does this affect technicians? Although the technology involves more complex system controls and software updates, the electronics, in some cases, eliminate the need for preventive maintenance.

As ConMet trains techs to install, monitor, and apply new technologies and wheel hubs on more sophisticated commercial vehicles, we are excited to help unlock the potential of fleet technicians of the future.

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About the author: Beto Dantas is the chief technology and innovation officer at ConMet. He joined the company in 2015 as the vice president of marketing, strategy and innovation. Previously, Dantas spent 10 years at Flextronics International, where he held several positions, including VP of innovation and new ventures.

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