We've written previously about the benefits fleets can realize from automating their shop operations. Using maintenance software allows a fleet to track vehicle histories, work orders, technician performance, warranties, PM schedules and other maintenance-related tasks.

Plus, many of these products - either as part of a larger enterprise system or a stand-alone maintenance package - integrate with the fleet's dispatch and accounting systems for even greater management capabilities.

The result: Fleets have more efficient and productive shops.

Perhaps the first benefit many fleets realize from using maintenance software is the ability to control inventory. Most maintenance software provides this capability. Many enterprise packages and middle-ware vendors also offer maintenance modules that automate tracking and ordering inventory. When coupled with wireless devices, such as bar-code scanners and mobile PCs, shop managers know when parts arrive, when they are used and how many are in stock.

From tires to hoses, filters to belts, an inventory system can keep track of all the parts a fleet uses, even the ones they purchase from third-party vendors.

"One of the first savings you'll see with maintenance software is in parts inventory," says Charles Arsenault, Arsenault & Associates in Burlington, N.J, the developers of Dossier Maintenance Software. Arsenault says a fleet could see as much as a 30 percent reduction in on-hand parts once it begins using a software package.

Ed Cooper of Washington-based Squarerigger Software agrees. He says fleets can often reduce their inventories as much as 50 percent with an automated system. "Being able to manage your inventory is the immediate savings that people see." Cooper says fleets that do not use some sort of inventory system have little idea how many parts they have, or even which parts may be obsolete.

A number of vendors offer trucking-specific maintenance software as a stand-alone product. Many integrate with leading enterprise software products. Some enterprise software vendors offer separate maintenance management modules. (For a listing, visit the Product and Service Guide at www.truckinginfo.com.) Whatever the configuration, they all do one primary thing: organize the shop operation.

"The software will be the impetus to organizing your parts inventory, in many cases for the first time," Arsenault says.

Automating the parts inventory makes a dramatic difference in shop operations, says Jeffrey Sipio, strategic vertical marketing director for Intermec Technologies Corp. Moving from a paper-based inventory system to an automated, bar-coded system not only gives shops better control of their inventory, but also enhances a fleet's ability to keep trucks on the road.

"If you have better control of the parts in your parts room - in your inventory - you can do a better job of making sure that you have replacements for a frequently failing part or a consumable part on hand when you need it," Sipio says.

Plus, the better your inventory control, the more you know about which parts are failing more frequently. To track such data, you need an automated system.

"In an old-time environment, you had purchase orders going out, bills coming in and checks going out. An inventory system manages exactly what parts you're taking in and what parts are actually getting billed out to a repair order," Sipio says.

A bar-coded parts room allows a maintenance manager to set minimums and maximums for each part. Another plus, according to Sipio, is that you don't have to do physical inventories. Scanning the part updates the inventory.

"When you go to a system where everything that comes in the back door is bar-coded and inventoried and everything that goes into the shop is billed to a repair order the minute it leaves the parts room, that helps that entire flow."

Cooper says even small fleets can benefit from an automated shop. Maintenance software allows fleets to predict in advance what parts will be needed based on PM schedules that are coming due. Automating parts purchasing is a huge benefit for fleets of any size. "Purchase order management, even for a small fleet - linking to their accounting or dispatch system such as McLeod or even Quickbooks - is something they can benefit from," he says.

Some larger fleets control their parts in concert with truck and engine dealers, with parts replacement orders generated each day. The systems also can generate purchase orders automatically, based on preset inventory levels.

Managing your parts inventory does not necessarily mean a huge investment in computer hardware and software. Some fleets can benefit from the various web-based applications, such as the Cetaris Web Fleet Assistant. The system can be hosted on a fleet's server, or on Cetaris' servers. This web-based maintenance application includes a parts module for parts inventory management.

The system supports bar-coding, maximum and minimum levels, re-order points and part number cross-referencing, among other capabilities. Wireless hand-held devices allow technicians to access work orders, scan parts and look up repair documentation from anywhere in the shop.

Targeted at smaller fleets is a recently introduced parts module for EBE Technologies' SHIP software package. The module allows for automated repair order and purchase order generation. The module is now in beta testing and is targeting fleets of 250 or fewer trucks, according to Larry Kerr, EBE president.

The system automates parts management by using bar codes, Kerr says. "You create bar codes on the receiving side. As you use a particular item, you can scan the bar code of that item and then scan the vehicle's VIN number." That data is then integrated into the software's AP application so that if required, a purchase order for that part is generated and automatically routed to the appropriate person for approval. When the PO is approved, it is automatically sent to a vendor. When the part comes in, its bar code is scanned and that goes into both the AP and inventory systems.

Parts can be automatically reordered on daily or based on minimum and maximum levels.

Maintenance software also keeps track of that other inventory - trucks and trailers. While asset management is usually the job of the dispatch and management systems, maintenance software tracks vehicle repair histories, PM schedules, warranties, recall and campaign information. All the data eventually provides historical information on how well vehicles, components and parts perform over time, the kind of information that is vitally important when spec'ing new equipment.

Inventory control is important in most businesses. Trucking companies, no matter how large or small, are no different.

About the author
Jim Beach

Jim Beach

Technology Contributing Editor

Covering the information technology beat for Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Beach stays on top of computer technology trends from the cab to the back office to the shop, whether it’s in the hand, on the desk or in the cloud. Covering trucking since 1988.

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