Tag: Technology


Top Trends in Utility Fleet Telematics

What’s next for fleet telematics? Utility Fleet Professional talked to a few experts in the field to see where it is trending in the coming years. The conclusions? By 2020, better data analysis, broader connectivity across platforms and devices, and more choices could mean increased safety, improved efficiencies and lower costs up and down a fleet’s hierarchy.

Data Analysis
“The most significant trend we’re seeing is the investment in data analytics,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI (www.arifleet.com).

Fleets are being swamped with the amount of data their telematics systems are delivering, but fleet managers have to know what data is important and what data is not. “Telematics solutions without data analytics to assist in trending, predicting and engaging with the outcomes will have minimal impact in how a fleet operates,” Candeloro explained. “Aggregating telematics data with vehicle life-cycle data, operational data and historical business data opens up tremendous opportunity to find operational efficiency opportunities.”

In the near future, predictive analytics – i.e., using data to predict what will happen next – will have a significant effect on fleet safety by identifying risks sooner than is currently possible, noted Kimberly Clark, product leader with Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

“Fleet managers will be looking at a broader array of data than has been available in the past, with the goal of preventing accidents,” she said.

Usage-Based Analysis
Clem Driscoll, principal with C.J. Driscoll & Associates (www.cjdriscoll.com), a consulting and research services firm, predicts that over the next five years, more utility fleets will adopt usage-based safety analysis, which assigns risk and premiums based on a driver’s real-time habits rather than past performance. The result will be reduced accident risk and insurance costs.

“Usage-based insurance for fleet operators is in the early stages,” Driscoll said. “But even today, many insurance companies provide a discretionary discount of about 5 percent to fleets using telematics. Usage-based telematics programs are expanding in the consumer sector, and the commercial sector will follow.”

Broader Connectivity
Utility fleets also should be looking at ways to connect all divisions of their organization because the trend toward greater connectivity across multiple platforms and devices will increase safety, improve efficiencies and lower costs, according to Tim Taylor, chief success officer with Telogis (www.telogis.com).

“Our focus as an organization is on how the truck, mobile worker, work, organization, customer, mobile device and software platforms all connect to drive improvement in safety, efficiency, sustainability, asset utilization and customer service,” Taylor said. “Our language has changed from ‘telematics’ to ‘connected intelligence,’ or mobile resource management. Telematics implies data from the vehicle, which we do for sure, but mobile resource management encompasses a much broader picture of the connected, optimized and automated mobile enterprise.”

In five years, that interconnectivity will include the infrastructure, Element’s Clark said. Ford Motor Co. is working with onboard systems that read road signs and automatically adjust a vehicle’s speed, but that is just a lead-up to RFID sensors that beam speed restrictions to the vehicle’s system, she noted.

Related to broader connectivity, collaboration between and among the telematics providers, fleet management companies and OEMs will allow for quicker, more informed decision-making by fleet managers, according to ARI’s Candeloro. “Whether it’s reduced total cost of ownership, improvements in driver safety or enhanced operational efficiencies, fleet managers will see a true return on their investment regardless of the telematics solution they choose,” he said. “Fleet managers will also see opportunities to not just impact the bottom line by reducing costs, but actually see opportunities to help their businesses increase top-line revenues.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Factory-Installed Telematics: Good or Bad?
Experts predict that over the next few years, commercial fleets are going to see more OEMs and third-party suppliers in the telematics arena. But choose suppliers and platforms wisely, or you may end up with the telematics equivalent of the Tower of Babel.

“The line is starting to blur when it comes to companies that provide telematics services to fleet customers,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI. “There are independent telematics companies, fleet management companies and, in some cases, OEMs that are all playing some role. In fact, it is not uncommon to have all three parties partnering together to provide the customer with a comprehensive solution. We are anticipating, however, that all of the various providers will eventually begin to develop the capability to offer and support a single-sourced solution. There are certain [OEMs] that have already integrated their entire telematics product offering.

“One particularly valuable role the OEMs will play in the future will be in streamlining the telematics device installation process,” Candeloro continued. “The more vehicles that can come off the line with a telematics device already installed, or line-fitted for a device, will drastically improve the supply chain overall.”

While that may make it easier for fleets to add onboard telematics systems, it presents a mixed blessing for utility fleets, said Ryan Driscoll, director of marketing for GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com).

“One of the biggest problems with OEM-installed [GPS] solutions is that they do not work for mixed fleets,” he said. “It is very unlikely for a business to have just one make of vehicle or all new vehicles throughout their entire fleet. So if you do have other vehicle types with varied ages, you will end up using multiple OEM solutions to track those vehicles. Using multiple GPS tracking platforms is complicated, expensive and will waste valuable time.

“It is also important to remember that GPS tracking solutions are not created equally, and it is certainly the case when discussing OEM solutions and third-party GPS-tracking software,” Driscoll continued. “OEM solutions are typically a one-size-fits-all solution with zero customizations available based on your business model. Software development is not a focus for vehicle manufacturers, so OEM solutions are typically very basic and [often] fall short of expectations.”

Driscoll recommends that fleets investing in GPS tracking to help solve business challenges ensure that they choose software that has the capability to do so.


Is 3-D Printing Shaping Up for Replacement Parts?

The mere presence of some cars can inspire creative journeys and wishful thinking. But a life-size Shelby Cobra, made with a 3-D printer? That takes even visionaries down a whole different road.

Cincinnati Inc. (www.e-ci.com) – an innovative machine tool manufacturer for more than 100 years – has been behind the printing of two such cars through its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology; the first was in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (www.ornl.gov), the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy lab, located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Over the past couple of years, the cars have been used as marketing tools, a clear demonstration of potential.

Even though the Cobras have been transported to events in enclosed trailers rather than driven, they’re still enough to make many stop and wonder: If a 3-D printer can make a car or other vehicle, wouldn’t it follow that it would soon be in use to supply equipment parts as well? Will we soon see maintenance shops creating their own replacement parts for utility and other vehicles, rather than having to store them, purchase them elsewhere or wait for delivery?

Time to tap the brakes. Three-dimensional printing is indeed showing promise in a variety of industries. But in terms of creating parts that can withstand heat, water, chemicals and other challenges facing current automotive materials, we’re not there yet. First, there’s a fundamental point of physics to be overcome, said Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications research for Deloitte Canada (www.deloitte.com/ca). Even if printers and processes become significantly faster – silencing those who believe no one will want to wait the hours it takes to create parts – there’s still the matter of allowing each printed layer to cool completely before the next one is applied. Eventually, the rate of progress will reach a saturation point.

“I am willing to say that 3-D printers will be faster in 2020,” Stewart said. “But that doesn’t mean that something that takes eight hours to print will take seven. It may go from eight hours to six, or maybe four, but it’s not going to be eight minutes.”

Listen to the current hype, and it’s easy to believe that 3-D printing is already being done en masse – and for a lot more than making Star Wars figurines. But as far as Stewart knows, based on conversations in recent years with those in the industry, there are no major manufacturers using finished parts in their production cars today.

What’s more likely is that 3-D printing will increasingly be used for tooling, jigs, dies, molds and rapid prototyping. Stewart also envisions a rise in service bureaus printing out specific items in “ones and twos” rather than larger quantities, as well as the use of 3-D printers for, say, items needed on an aircraft carrier or in space, where the wait for a spare would be significantly longer.

Overall, though, “we’ve got to dial this stuff back,” he said. “There are some unrealistic expectations.”

At Cincinnati Inc., BAAM is indeed available; the latest iteration can print objects as large as 20 feet long by 8 feet wide by 6 feet tall, at a rate of 100 pounds of material per hour. But it’s considered a beta machine rather than a product machine, and it’s offered through “pre-qualified sale,” said Matt Garbarino, marketing manager. Cincinnati’s forte is in machine building, not material development; the company wants to ensure that engineering resources and the right materials suppliers are able to join in the collaboration, so the company is more likely to sell to someone with like-minded objectives. Development must continue so that end products have the right properties.

Also of note is how a newly printed item comes off a 3-D machine. For the second Shelby Cobra, for example, the body took 12 hours to print, but sanding, painting and decaling it took weeks.

Regardless, 3-D enthusiasm continues to rise. When Cincinnati Inc. displayed one of the cars at The Work Truck Show 2016, which took place in March, Garbarino said many attendees were astonished. People’s familiarity with Cincinnati Inc. and the company’s understanding of fabrication made the conversations easy.

As for conversations about possibility? Those still come easy, too. But the path there may be a bit longer – and rougher around the edges – than many realize.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


In Some Industries, 3-D Printing Has Already Moved on Down the Road
No, the experts say – we won’t be printing spare parts from the back of a utility truck any time soon, due to cost, time and practicality considerations. But 3-D printing is making definite strides elsewhere.

Surgeons in numerous areas have begun using 3-D printing to provide new perspectives and practice for particular procedures. These might include, for example, the replication of a baby’s heart or skull. Training on the printed parts can reduce the time the child would have to spend under anesthesia.

Phoenix-based Local Motors (www.localmotors.com) is working toward the creation of a 3-D printed car that will exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards by 2017. Partners include IBM, integrating Internet of Things technology through IBM Watson; Siemens’ Solid Edge to provide CAD modeling; global design firm IDEO to “renew” Local Motors Labs (the company’s small-footprint micro-factories are aimed at sustainable, community-based vehicle development); and SABIC to improve materials.


The Future of Drones in the U.S. Utility Market

In the past year, a handful of U.S. utility companies – including San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern Co. of Atlanta and Commonwealth Edison Co. of Chicago – have received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform limited testing with aerial drones for transmission and distribution line inspections.

“Utility assets require regular inspections that can often be dangerous, time consuming and costly for human personnel,” said Christian Sanz, founder and CEO of Skycatch Inc. (www.skycatch.com), a San Francisco-based drone developer. “However, drones outfitted with different types of sensors and cameras can perform aerial surveys and provide high-resolution imagery at a much faster, safer and cheaper rate. We’ve seen this with using drones to detect things like defective panels on solar farms or blades on wind turbines, cracks in pipelines, and malfunctions with heavy machinery and equipment.”

And the future looks bright for drones in the utility sector. According to a recent report from Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com), global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for utility transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024, about a 31-fold increase over 10 years.

The biggest constraint for the growth of drones in the U.S. utility market is FAA regulations, said James McCray, senior research analyst with Navigant Research and author of the report. “The potential for high growth is there,” he said. “But it’s more of a question as to when the regulations will permit the utilities or service companies to operate drones on an as-needed basis rather than having to file a 72-hour-prior flight plan to put one in the air. So, I’m postulating that it will take until about 2018 before we begin to see dramatic growth in the commercial drone market.”

Drone-Guided Machines
Beyond line inspections, drones are also being tested for use as aerial 3-D mapping devices that transmit real-time job site data to help guide autonomous construction equipment on the ground.

The most prominent example right now is Skycatch’s partnership with heavy-equipment manufacturer Komatsu (www.komatsu.com) in Japan. Since there is a shortage of skilled construction laborers qualified to operate heavy machinery in Japan, Komatsu has developed autonomous excavators, guided from the air by Skycatch drones, to take the human operator out of the equation.

This combination of drones and robotics could have interesting implications for utility fleets in the U.S., with applications ranging from autonomous trenching machines to self-driving all-terrain utility vehicles with mounted robotic heavy equipment.

“Given our partnership with Komatsu and their strong presence in North America, we are optimistic about the future of bringing similar [drone-to-machine] solutions to the U.S. over the next 10 years, or even sooner,” Sanz said. “The highly accurate intelligence that drones are able to provide will become more compatible with heavy equipment and machinery, making them smarter, safer and faster.”

The Value of Drones is in the Data
Will utility companies manage their own fleet of drones?

That will depend on the organization, according to McCray. “While some utilities will manage their fleet of inspection drones, many will choose to contract under a drone-on-demand services model.”

In other words, the drone company would have the expertise and responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the drone hardware and software, while also ensuring that all drone operations are FAA compliant. The utility companies would then lease the drones and the software associated with them on an as-needed basis, which would help keep costs down.

McCray said that the drones themselves will eventually become commodities. “You buy one, run it for a year or two, and then you buy the next generation, like we do with mobile phones right now,” he said. “The real money in the drone market will be in the integration of the streaming information coming off the drones – such as visual, temperature, 3-D mapping data – with the analytics systems at the utilities’ operations centers.”

Sanz agreed. “The drone [hardware] is simply the tool we are using now to capture the data – and it’s in the data where the greatest value exists for customers.”


The Boundaries
The FAA requires special certification for commercial drone users, like utility companies. As of press time, here are the FAA’s conditions and limitations governing commercial drone operation:
• A drone operator needs a pilot’s license.
• The drone must weigh fewer than 55 pounds, including payload, such as cameras and sensors.
• Flights can go no more than 200 feet above the ground.
• The drone must be operated in the pilot’s line of sight.
• A Notice to Airmen must be filed no more than 72 hours in advance, but no fewer than 24 hours prior to the operation.
• A Certificate of Authorization report must be filed with the FAA every month, reporting the user’s number of flights – even if there were zero – pilot duty time and equipment malfunctions.


Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

In order to keep employee health costs and downtime to a minimum, ergonomics – or fitting a job to the person performing the job – must play a big role in upfitting fleet vehicles.

Many of today’s fleet administrators are tuned in to the importance of employee ergonomics, and an ever-increasing number are focused on keeping their utility fleet vehicle drivers safe and efficient, rather than simply giving them the tools to do their jobs. The mindset has evolved from determining vehicle shelf capacity and how ladders will be stored to asking questions of individual drivers such as:
• Do you need to carry all of your inventory and multiple ladders at all times?
• Which frequently used items can be located near the doors so you don’t need to climb into the vehicle?
• Is there a safer way to transport and access your ladders?
• How can you stay safe on the job without sacrificing productivity?

For cargo van drivers, one of the primary ergonomic issues associated with using that type of vehicle is climbing in and out of it, often while stepping over items on the floor with their arms full of gear. To minimize the need to enter the van – as well as the risk of back or joint injury – drivers should determine the tools and inventory they frequently use and place those items near the doors for easy access from outside the van. This can be accomplished using shelving and bins located within arm’s reach, drawers that open out through the cargo door and hooks for quick grab-and-go items.

Another major safety concern that stems from the use of cargo vans is the accessibility and use of ladders. Ladders have traditionally been carried on the roof of service vehicles, posing great risk to employees’ shoulders and backs when they attempt to retrieve, carry and stow these heavy pieces of equipment. Today, the goal of fleet administrators and upfitters alike is to find a way to make ladder use less of a liability. One solution is drop-down ladder racks. On a cargo van equipped with a drop-down rack, ladders are still carried on the vehicle’s roof, but a mechanized rack raises and lowers the ladders up and down the side of the van, delivering improved ergonomics for loading and unloading.

A second option to consider is keeping ladders inside the van. Workers can store short ladders upright on the partition or shelf end, hang them from the ceiling, or stow them under a subfloor or on a ladder shelf. By determining the ladder or ladders that need to be carried first, and by considering the vehicle being used, a utility fleet’s upfitter can suggest the best ladder storage options for optimal ergonomics.

Education is Essential
In order to create the most ergonomic vehicle work interiors, it is critical for utility fleet managers to research options, interview drivers and collaborate with the fleet’s upfitter. But what happens if – after the vehicles have been upfitted – driver feedback is still less than ideal? What’s missing? Is it possible that the drivers don’t fully understand how to make the upfit work for them?

Driver education is an essential part of the process of upfitting vehicles for improved ergonomics. When the vehicles are first delivered, fleet managers should be sure to lead a walk-around with their drivers to explain in detail why a shelf or drawer is located in a specific place and what cargo it is intended to hold. Recommend that frequently used items be positioned near the door, while other items can be stored deeper in the van. Demonstrate how to safely load and unload ladders. In addition to being an ergonomics and a safety imperative, training drivers is key to getting the most out of the fleet’s upfit investment.

And make no mistake, it is an investment. Fleet managers invest time and money upfront to create a work environment that suits employees, with the goal of improved efficiency and minimized downtime. When upfits and employee training are properly executed, the utility’s return on investment will include greater driver satisfaction, increased productivity and more satisfied customers.

About the Author: Tricia Singer has been writing for the commercial vehicle market for more than 18 years and has extensive experience within the commercial van equipment and upfitting industry. Her background includes marketing and graphic design for the Adrian Steel Co. (www.adriansteel.com).


Make Your Current Vehicles Work Better for You
If new vehicles or upfits aren’t in your immediate future, here are a few ideas to improve the ergonomics of your current interiors.
• Re-evaluate the cargo you are carrying. Do you need everything?
• Items that are used on most jobs should be stored near the van’s doors so you don’t have to climb into the van to reach them. Add storage hooks or removable totes to these areas for additional organization.
• Store items that aren’t accessed every day – but must be kept on hand – deeper in the van. They’ll be easy to locate without getting in the way of other items you need to access more frequently.
• Store large and heavy items on the floor or as close to waist-high as possible to ease in lifting.
• Learn the proper, most ergonomic way to load and unload ladders from the roof racks you are using.


How Plug-In Hybrids Impact Vehicle Maintenance

Utility fleets are leading the way when it comes to the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – a growing solution for operations that must work around the clock to provide vital services to the general public.

While going green and convenience are definite pluses, plug-ins also enable significant operational savings over conventional vehicles and typically have longer useful lives, according to the Edison Electric Institute. Extending vehicle life also means lengthening purchase cycles and really getting the most value out of these units.

Fewer Parts Provide More Savings
Part of the value of owning and operating plug-ins is reduced maintenance expenses. Manufacturers and fleets agree that electric-based vehicles have lower maintenance costs due to fewer parts and less engine use. Some manufacturers even purposely design their trucks with that in mind.

VIA Motors (www.viamotors.com), for instance, did away with the transmission, starter motor and alternator in designing its “virtually maintenance-free” single-speed, extended-range electric pickup, according to Jeff Esfeld, VIA’s director of national fleet sales and business development. The company currently installs its technology on GM platforms, specifically the Silverado truck and Express van. Installed components are maintenance-free except for coolant. Any component failure is a plug-and-play replacement.

“Maintenance is a function of components,” Esfeld said. “When items are not there, obviously you’re talking of a lower maintenance cost situation.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), which operates 1,500 electric-based vehicles and has even made the plug-in its standard company car, can attest to the maintenance reductions from these models. Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services, said the utility hardly uses the internal combustion engine, which has stretched time between oil changes from quarterly to yearly.

On top of fewer moving parts in the electric drive tank, he also noted extended brake life as a result of regenerative braking.

“On an internal combustion, we take our foot off the gas and put our foot on the brake. Now, in many cases, we’re just taking our foot off the gas,” Meisel explained.

Keeping Vehicles in Top Shape
Manufacturers typically service vehicles, but they also provide training to larger fleets with in-house mechanics.

Maintenance for VIA Motors vehicles is done by its dedicated team of master technicians or through specific GM-authorized service centers. The company also trains GM technicians to get them up to speed and to the level of its master technicians, some of whom have come off the production side and moved into service and maintenance because they know the VIA pickup so well, Esfeld said.

Odyne Systems (www.odyne.com), a manufacturer of hybrid systems for medium- and heavy-duty work trucks that is partially owned by Allison Transmission (www.allisontransmission.com), uses Allison’s service and warranty network throughout North America.

The company also offers a two-day course for larger fleets with in-house mechanics.

“It gives them a good base for common repair work,” said Matt Jarmuz, director of sales for Odyne. “If it’s a major issue, we’ll take that to the Allison dealer for repair.”

Using the train-the-trainer model, PG&E spent about three days training its in-house technicians to work on the utility’s electric vehicles. With 63 garages in its service territory and about 380 shop-based and mobile mechanics, PG&E had the vehicles’ manufacturers train some of its best technicians and then let those technicians train their peers on how to work the high-voltage systems.

Jarmuz described the training process as more electrical than mechanical. “It’s a different skill set – troubleshooting wire harnesses and trying to solve issues on a hybrid vehicle versus a mechanical failure where a part’s broken and you have to replace it,” he said.

Preparing Your Fleet for Plug-Ins
Luckily, fleets don’t have to change much to outfit their shops for plug-in vehicle maintenance. For example, PG&E had to purchase specific plug-in tools, but its shops stayed the same.

“The manufacturers were really clear on what we were supposed to have, so we created a high-voltage kit for every garage when they work on a high-voltage unit,” Meisel said.

VIA customers need two specialized pieces of equipment: a custom transmission lift that drops the battery pack and the H bracket, and a special hand-held diagnostic tool. The tool recognizes every GM and VIA part and also codes all their parts and labor jobs. In addition, it has a video camera and light that connect to the company’s technical assistance line. “A technician can actually call and speak to the engineer and tell them what issue they’re having and our guy can see it,” Esfeld said.

Overall, preparing for plug-in vehicles is not a highly complicated process, Meisel said.

“Train your people how to use them, teach your technicians how to work on them, have your hardware in place and have charging infrastructure in place,” Meisel said. “Buying them and fixing them is the easy part.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


The Payback for Plug-Ins
Are plug-in hybrid vehicles the right fit for your fleet?

A plug-in hybrid system will cost more upfront versus a conventional model, but the initial investment will pay back over the years through reductions in fuel and maintenance.

Payback depends on the application, according to Odyne’s Jarmuz.

“The big thing about plug-ins is the more miles you run or the more hours the vehicle engine operates, the more that you save,” he said. “Primarily, you’re exchanging diesel/gasoline for electricity and you’re extending the mileage intervals – the oil changes and those scheduled maintenance items. So the higher the miles or engine hours, the better the return.”

Jarmuz recommends calculating your direct costs, such as fuel and maintenance, but also factoring in soft costs, which are more difficult to assign a dollar figure and include items such as refueling time and the time a vehicle is out of service while in the shop.

“We see payback anywhere from five to 10 years depending on how often [utility fleets] use the vehicle and number of miles or engine hours per year,” he said.


Using Gamification to Improve Employee Performance

Today’s utility fleets have a powerful tool at their disposal, and it’s one that nearly everybody already carries with them: mobile apps that run on cellphones and tablets.

By tying new apps into existing fleet and work order management systems, fleet managers can help employees improve their execution of day-to-day tasks through use of their mobile devices. This article will take a look at exactly how today’s utility fleets can use gamification to coach and improve worker performance in real time, and why utility fleet managers should consider engaging with gamification to drive a more satisfied, efficient and safe workforce.

What is Gamification?
Gamification is the use of game mechanics in a context that is typically not game-oriented. It is used by software companies to build business applications that increase engagement and participation while accelerating learning. Gamification leverages our human nature to compete with ourselves and others, with the objective of encouraging teams to achieve company-wide goals and – in the fleet world – deliver greater safety, productivity and compliance. To accomplish this, the apps provide real-time data to users so they can track and eventually improve their performance.

So, how can you integrate gamification into your organization? There are three phases you must complete: establishing your mission, aligning objectives with your mission and deployment.

Establishing Your Mission
While your crews may be a subset of a larger business, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have their own mission that aligns and supports the overall corporate mission. Once the mission is established, it’s time to break it down into individual objectives that support the mission. For example, the mission may be to operate the safest utility fleet in your region, so the objectives may include reducing speeding incidents, hours-of-service violations and vehicle idle time.

Measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) should be created based on the established objectives. Make sure they are as specific as possible. No sport would ever achieve popularity if the goal was unclear to players. Regardless of what your objectives are – increasing productivity, decreasing fuel costs or improving the safety of your crews – the secret to achieving them is to keep them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Aligning Objectives
The next step is to review your objectives to ensure they align with business operations. For instance, if your company puts working as quickly as possible first and safety second, then setting an objective to reduce speeding won’t align with the mission. Get your company influencers – typically managers and supervisors – involved to review objectives and ensure they align with operations.

It’s important that managers are on board with the new objectives; as leaders, they will play an important role in influencing others and working toward a successful outcome.

After reviewing and refining your objectives and aligning them with your mission, you’re ready for the deployment phase. This phase should go relatively smoothly if you correctly execute the first two phases. The size of your organization will determine the scale of your deployment planning.

In the case of rolling out the use of an app such as Telogis Coach, which provides proactive driver coaching with gamification, smaller utilities may only need brief training. This would include a review of a quick-start guide that explains how the app works, as well as instructions about how to download, install and log in to the app. For larger utility organizations, a more tailored implementation would be beneficial.

But don’t be fooled – deployment involves more than merely instructing your employees to install the gamification app and leaving them to it. For the game element to be most effective, it needs to be refereed. This means determining how long a game will last, monitoring results and celebrating wins.

Employees will soon tire of a game with no end in sight, so set a length of time and make them aware of it. A 90-day game period is most common for achieving fleet KPIs.

To monitor results, you will need a scoreboard to help reinforce the KPIs so drivers know what they are trying to achieve. Gamification apps use predetermined metrics to generate a score, which an employee can access to see how he or she performed against his or her peers. A utility fleet manager can also compare employee scores. The ability to view these scores – and, more importantly, the ability to review the direct correlation between what an employee is doing and how it is impacting the operation – presents an opportunity to improve employee behavior, which is a direct intention of gamification apps. Fleet managers can also use these apps to review the types and frequencies of training content being accessed. By comparing scorecards and training content metrics to fleet’s rates of accidents, lost-time injuries and productivity, managers can draw correlations between what’s working in terms of meeting objectives – and what isn’t.

And finally, celebrate employee wins. You don’t need to do cartwheels in the office every time an employee achieves a perfect score, but there should be recognition and reward. In most cases, the size of the reward isn’t important; it’s about making sure the employee knows you are aware of his or her accomplishment, and that it means something to you and the company.

Real Results
Done right, implementing gamification into your work can be much more than a passing fad. The data derived can be a powerful force for change in your organization, and you’ll have employees who feel more engaged, recognized for good performance and motivated to do their best.

About the Author: Tim Taylor is chief customer success officer for Telogis (www.telogis.com).


Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Winter is approaching, and for utilities operating in the Frost Belt, keeping crews warm isn’t just a good thing to do – it’s a safety imperative.

For vehicle cab comfort, the choices fall between keeping the engine running and using the truck’s HVAC system, or using an auxiliary heater. As always, the choice depends on the fleet’s desires.

The simplest solution is to keep the engine running, but that’s a costly option for fleet managers focused on keeping down fuel costs. Idle-limiting systems help fleets get over that hurdle. With numerous choices available on the aftermarket, these systems automatically shut down the engine at a work site, periodically turning it on for a few minutes to recharge the batteries to power the PTO and hydraulics. They significantly reduce fuel use, and the length of time the engine runs can be adjusted to ensure the truck’s heater keeps the cab comfortable.

Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., is testing a system from ZeroRPM (www.zerorpm.com) that has a cab comfort setting to maintain temperatures when the truck is on-site. The system automatically starts the engine and will run an average of five to seven minutes every hour, depending on the level of heat needed, according to Evan Miller, ZeroRPM’s vice president of sales. “The system can provide full HVAC service if [the fleet] wants. There are different applications for heat,” he said.

Avista’s primary goals are to reduce fuel costs while keeping the crew’s safety at the forefront, and the ZeroRPM system suits their needs, said Greg Loew, fleet manager. “We do burn a sizable chunk of fuel a year idling vehicles, but you have to think about how to take care of the guys who are out there,” he said. “It’s a safety thing and it’s a critical thing to consider. You need systems that allow the guys to be comfortable.”

If the idle mitigation system performs well this winter, Avista will consider adding more during the next buying cycle, Loew said.

Don’t want – or need – to run the engine, even periodically? Auxiliary air and coolant heaters from companies such as Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems (www.eberspaecher.com) and Webasto (www.webasto.com) will handle cold-weather needs while saving engine use. These systems operate independently of a truck’s temperature control system and typically use a fraction of the fuel a truck would use while idling, according to the manufacturers.

If all you need to heat is the air inside the cab, auxiliary air heaters are the way to go. These are mounted inside the cab and tied into the truck’s fuel line.

Hydronic (coolant) heaters are integrated in series or parallel to the existing coolant lines and will preheat the engine and also supply warm air into the cab via the vehicle’s heat exchanger, explained John Dennehy, Eberspaecher’s vice president of marketing and communications. The heaters are mounted inside the engine compartment or along the frame rail.

Detroit-based DTE Energy uses a variety of systems to keep trucks operating and crews warm in winter temperatures that often hit below zero, said Gerard Huvaere, procurement specialist. The hydronic system from Eberspaecher (formerly Espar) heats the coolant to help engine starting, ensure cab comfort and warm the aerials’ hydraulic oils. DTE also uses Eberspaecher space heaters as well as Altec’s JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System), an auxiliary battery-based system that provides power for job site needs and cab comfort systems.

DTE is looking for “startability and employee comfort” in its heating systems, Huvaere said. “All closed work spaces have some sort of heating.”

Crews like a system that gives them the ability to set the start time, but in the end, Huvaere said, it’s “any system that keeps them warm.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Selecting Auxiliary Heaters
The first decision utility fleet managers have to make when considering an auxiliary heating system is which type fits their needs: hydronic or air.

The simple answer is that if all the fleet needs to heat is the vehicle’s cab, an air heater will do the job. Air heaters consume a fraction of fuel per hour compared with an idling truck. The Air Top 2000 ST from Webasto, for example, will use about 1 gallon of fuel per 22 hours, according to the company. Air heaters also are easier to install and cost less than hydronic systems.

Size depends on the space to be heated, but John Dennehy, vice president of marketing and communications for Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems, said the company’s smaller model would be appropriate for most utility cabs.

Hydronic systems, on the other hand, are used to preheat the engine coolant, provide heat to the cab and warm the aerial hydraulics, if needed. Suppliers offer multiple sizes depending on engine sizes and the fleet’s needs, but the smaller sizes may suffice for most utility fleet needs.

The principal benefit of auxiliary heaters is lower fuel costs. Suppliers have simple fuel-saving calculators on their websites, but beyond direct fuel savings, the total cost savings from using an auxiliary heater in lieu of idling the engine may also come from longer service intervals, longer engine life and improved startability on cold mornings.


Using Video Monitoring Wisely

Whether the goal is to improve driver performance, protect against fraudulent claims or reduce accident and liability costs, in-cab video monitors can provide utility fleets with another tool to aid their safety improvement efforts.

But if they are installed without laying the proper groundwork with employees or not used wisely, they can also be a waste of money at best and, at worst, a disruptive force that can push safety efforts in the wrong direction, fleet executives cautioned.

Northern Indiana Public Service Co., a NiSource subsidiary, has been piloting the DriveCam system from Lytx (www.lytx.com) in more than 200 systems for over six months, said Chuck Bunting, NiSource fleet manager.

NIPSCO uses both union and nonunion drivers, and the utility’s approach has been to pitch the DriveCam system to them as another layer of safety and a way to help people become better drivers, according to Bunting. “We tell them it’s something else in [their] toolbox,” he said.

“We’re using the system in situations where it’s warranted, where the driver needs coaching,” Bunting continued. “It’s too early in the pilot to have any data on its efficacy. We are looking for the ROI on it, but we have no hard data to date.”

Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive Systems (www.smartdrive.net), said it’s most important for companies to be transparent when rolling out the system to fleet drivers. “Explain clearly what the system does and what it doesn’t do,” he said. “The biggest mistake a fleet can make is to just install the system and not tell drivers.”

This is especially critical with utilities that often use union workers, he said. “We meet with the company and the union stewards ahead of time to explain the system and work with them. Drivers are concerned that the camera is recording them all the time, so we explain that we’re only recording when something happens, when there is an event.”

System Differences
In-cab video systems differ from telematics and other event data recorders by providing a visual and audial record of actions. In these systems, the in-cab camera is continually on, but video and audio are captured only when a G-force event occurs, such as a hard brake or avoidance maneuver. In Lytx’s case, for example, when an event as determined by the customer occurs, the recorded video and audio, consisting of up to eight seconds before and four seconds after the event, are saved and uploaded to the company’s center for analysis. If the event meets preset conditions, such as driver error, it will be forwarded to the fleet for action.

Fleets can set the event trigger depending on their priorities, Palmer said. “Utilities most of the time have zero tolerance for any cellphone use in the truck. We allow the customer to set the [system triggers].”

Drivers could also actuate it if needed, such as when entering a potential problem area in a rough neighborhood, for instance, explained Greg Lund, director of corporate communications for Lytx.

A basic system consists of cameras that record the driver and what’s occurring in front of the vehicle.

Systems can also tie into other radar-based safety systems, such as those that focus on collision avoidance and lane departure warnings, as well as provide a visual record of outside activities 360 degrees around the truck. Costs range from $500 to $1,000 per unit for hardware and $30 to $50 per unit for monthly subscription costs, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan (ww2.frost.com).

The most common use of an in-cab monitoring system is to coach drivers on how to eliminate poor habits, but it also provides a visual record of accidents, regardless of who was at fault.

“Not only are fleets using it for improving driver behavior, but we’re seeing more exonerations where a video can show a driver not at fault for an incident,” Lund said.

The use of these systems has grown substantially over the past few years as technology has improved, and the rate of growth is only going to increase. A June 2015 report from Frost & Sullivan noted that there are about 300,000 units in use worldwide, with North America accounting for about 90 percent of those installations. Growth in the use of onboard safety sensors – such as the previously mentioned collision avoidance and lane departure warning systems – will drive a fourfold increase to between 1.3 million and 1.5 million units by 2021, the report predicted.

“This represents a compound annual growth rate of over 25 percent, which seems reasonable, but we believe there is even more opportunity,” Lund said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Overloading trucks and trailers can be an expensive habit. It puts the safety of operators and the public at risk, increases fines and leads to premature wear and tear on vehicles. But when you can’t physically inspect drivers’ loads throughout the day, how do you ensure your trucks are operating at a safe weight?

One solution is to install onboard scales, which help operators immediately determine whether loads fit within the allowable weight capacity of a truck and/or trailer.

How do onboard scales work? Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx system (www.air-weighscales.com) measures change in pressure within an air suspension and then converts the scale’s measurements into comparable on-the-ground weights displayed on an in-cab digital gauge. For axles with leaf-spring suspensions, LoadMaxx uses a deflection sensor that measures the flex in the suspension to determine weight.

Vulcan On-Board Scales (www.vulcanscales.com), which are compatible with most suspension types, use load-cell technology with built-in strain gauges that monitor changes in electrical resistance when the cell is deformed by a load. The system transmits and converts the cell’s resistance signals into actual weight readings.

Hauling Variable Loads
While onboard scales can be applied in a wide range of straight truck and tractor-trailer applications, they are especially useful when hauling variable and unpredictable loads.

One day, for example, a Class 8 tractor-trailer might haul a heavy transformer. The next day, that same unit could be transporting a large backhoe. When you’re dealing with variable weights from load to load, onboard scales give crews visibility into the weight of the truck and individual axles (or axle groups) during the loading process.

And the weight of each axle is important to get right. As Tricia Baker, marketing manager for Air-Weigh, put it, “The DOT will still issue a fine when you have just one axle that’s overloaded, even if the total vehicle weight is OK.”

To help ensure compliance with individual axle weights, onboard scales enable crews to quickly identify the optimal load placement relative to each axle. “If you place the transformer too far forward on the trailer [ahead of the trailer axle], your drive weight will be too high because too much weight has been transferred toward the fifth wheel [the hitch above the tractor’s rear axle],” Baker explained. “But if you load the transformer too far behind the axle, the trailer’s axle weight will be too high.”

With onboard scales, crews get immediate feedback on load placement so they can make adjustments, if necessary, without having to drive to the nearest truck scale and wait in line.

Both Vulcan and Air-Weigh systems offer wireless communication capabilities to transmit vehicle weight data to fleet managers and other authorized personnel, giving them greater visibility into their crews’ performance with their day-to-day vehicle payloads.

Baker also said that Air-Weigh’s customers have talked about using onboard scale technology as an effective CDL driver retention tool. This is because onboard weighing helps CDL drivers ensure their load is always compliant, reducing the risk of truck-weight violations being placed on their safety record.

According to Baker, an Air-Weigh tractor and trailer system starts at about $1,000 and goes up from there, depending on the configuration that best fits the application. The company’s online return on investment calculator (www.air-weighscales.com/roicalculator) offers scenarios of how much time it can take for fleets to recoup their investment based on the system type, projected number of weekly loads and the estimated scale fees that are eliminated by using onboard scales.

A Practical Application
When you can’t personally inspect each vehicle before it leaves your yard, onboard scales offer a practical way for you to hold crews accountable, ensuring they are operating their vehicles within the proper weight limits. This protects their safety while reducing your organization’s liability exposure.


The Expense of Excessive Weight
Onboard scales can help your fleet reduce these costs associated with operating overweight trucks and trailers:
• Increased liability and safety risks to crews and the public.
• Department of Transportation fines.
• Accelerated wear on tires and brakes.
• Premature failure of major components such as engines, transmissions and axles.
• Potential loss of warranty coverage.
• Shorter vehicle life cycle.


Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

According to the National Safety Council, the average medium-sized truck has a blind spot that extends up to 160 feet behind the vehicle. So you can imagine that for larger utility trucks that sit higher off the ground, with wider bodies, it’s even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, other vehicles and property when backing a vehicle.

That’s why a growing number of utility fleets are installing backup cameras on their vehicles: to enhance rear visibility and to reduce incidents – and the expense – of backing crashes.

But a new breed of vehicle camera systems is taking visibility to the next level.

Imagine a backup camera that’s also equipped with a motion sensor that automatically turns on the camera, records footage and alerts the fleet manager in real time when someone is attempting to steal equipment or tools from the truck. What if the video data captured by that same camera could also be combined with GPS telematics data to help exonerate drivers and the company from false claims?

This combination of advanced camera technology, digital video recorders and telematics is the promise of a new product that Newport Beach, Calif.-based Convoy Technologies (www.convoytechnologies.com) has aptly trademarked as Videomatics.

In a nutshell, Videomatics integrates driver behavior software and telematics (GPS and routing) with live and recorded video from around and inside a vehicle, so that drivers and management can see everything with video that’s accessible via PC, tablet or smartphone. That way, fleets can be better equipped to eliminate backing incidents, improve overall driver behavior and generate high-quality video evidence for the purpose of proving fault.

Video data is stored locally on an external hard drive and can also be accessed remotely from the cloud. The local hard drive offers storage capacities up to 2 terabytes, which translates to about 45 days of data.

“What we’re seeing in the market is that backup cameras are becoming a standard, a commodity. Now the big question is, how do we turn vehicle camera technology into a tool for overall risk mitigation?” said Blake Gasca, Convoy Technologies’ founder and chief executive officer. “That’s what has led us to building motion detection sensors into our cameras and making sure the camera system can integrate with a monitor and external device to either broadcast video to the cloud or store it locally on the vehicle.”

Videomatics tracks and records events such as speeding, G-shock (impact and vibration), GPS coordinates, geofencing, route deviation, mapping and positioning of an entire fleet. Fleet managers can select whether they want continuous, event-driven or scheduled video recording.

How exactly does crash data recording get triggered?

“It can happen with a hard brake or hard stop or some sort of G-force event,” Gasca explained. “Video is stored 20 seconds before the event and 10 seconds after, so you have visibility into what happened before, during and after the event.”

While Videomatics can connect up to eight cameras per vehicle, the company said the typical configuration deploys three to four cameras.

How much does the system cost?

Videomatics’ monthly subscription pricing is based on a customer’s specific system requirements, starting at $59 per system. The company said hardware cost ranges from $300 to $1,700, plus installation, depending on the number of cameras.

Videomatics is available through participating truck equipment manufacturers and upfitters or directly through Convoy Technologies at www.convoytechnologies.com.

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