There’s nothing more frustrating than having a truck in for maintenance or repair and wondering when it will be ready to go back into service. Communication between the fleet and the shop does not always go smoothly, and the fleet maintenance manager is besieged by calls from dispatch and operations wanting updates on the status of the repair.
Add to that the fact that “all too often maintenance is seen as lowest on the totem poll. [Other people in the organization] figure anyone can do it, but to do it well, that is not the case,” says Robert Braswell, technical director of the American Trucking Associations Technology and Maintenance Council.
Consider this: The impact of a fleet’s maintenance staff goes far beyond just the maintenance department. When the maintenance and repair is handled properly, you’ll see gains from fewer roadside breakdowns, the need for less safety stock, and insight into the right time to retire assets. According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s recent “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: A 2014 Update,” in 2013, maintenance accounted for 14.8 cents of the cost per mile of operating a heavy-duty truck. Only the vehicle-based costs of fuel and the equipment itself contributed more to the cost per mile figure. The report also found that repair and maintenance costs are up 7% from 2012 to 2013.
This makes the role of maintenance and repair even more important to the successful operation of a fleet. However, a well-oiled maintenance and repair process does not happen magically. It takes work, an investment in training, collaboration and a commitment to adhering to certain standards.
The good news is that there are efforts underway to help improve the maintenance and repair process for everyone involved.
TMC’s Service Providers Study Group has a task force working on a recommended practice to help shops with scheduling workloads more efficiently. Its goal is to come up with an approach to scheduling maintenance and repair work that considers technician skill and availability, the nature of the repair, and the level of urgency to have the repair completed.
If they are able to come up with a standard that can be used by all shops, that should give fleet managers better insight into how long their trucks will be out of commission and allow them to better plan.
TMC is also working to improve the professionalism of maintenance personnel. It has joined forces with the North American Transportation Management Institute to update and enrich all aspects of NATMI’s certification programs for maintenance supervisors and directors. Beginning in October, TMC is working with NATMI on all aspects of the programs including certification requirements, scope, class schedules, locations and educational content.
“Once we enhance the program, we think the person that completes the [certification process] will have exposure to best practices that TMC has been promoting and developing over the past 50 years,” Braswell says. “And in doing so, they can demonstrate to their employers and to the industry at large that they have knowledge in a wide variety of areas.”
Carl Kirk, vice president of maintenance, information technologies and logistics for the American Trucking Associations, says that fleet maintenance managers do much more than direct vehicle maintenance. “They are responsible for managing the lifecycle of multiple vehicles and parts, maximizing fuel efficiency and productivity, supervising the training and usage of sophisticated instrumentation and data systems, staying up-to-date on regulations and compliance, budgeting, and so much more.”
His hope is that the enhanced program will ensure they receive quality training and the recognition they deserve.