Management & Operations

Maintenance Software: Keeping Fleets, Shops Running Smoothly

Posted on February 26, 2008 by Jenna Curry, Assistant Editor

With fleet operating costs continuing to skyrocket, fleet managers must look for more innovative and efficient ways to save time and money. Both can be achieved with fleet maintenance software, most of which is easily customizable to fit the operator’s needs. Whether your fleet is small or large, these software systems can help you organize your preventive maintenance schedules, track labor and employee efficiency, and manage your overall fleet operations.

Some of the newer trends in fleet management software include integrated fueling systems, GPS tracking and touch-screen capabilities. For companies with national or even global operations, the Web-based module offered with many fleet management programs enables managers to retrieve real-time data for more efficient analyses. Here’s a look at some of the new features and updates from five companies offering the latest in fleet management systems.

Chevin Fleet Solutions

Chevin Fleet Solutions offers two fleet management software programs, both capturing flexible and adaptable solutions for finance, maintenance and compliance practices.

Launched in 2001, Chevin’s FleetWave is a true, Web-based application that can be accessed from anywhere in the world at any time. The application provides users with accurate, real-time information from status and compliance reports and can be used internationally with compliance of a specific country’s legislation requirements.

Chevin’s software highlights parts and vehicle warranty claims to help customers save money. By automatically sending computer updates, the system helps users comply with important issues such as Motor Insurance Database changes, duty of care and more.

The company’s other offering, RoadBASE, is a Windows-based enterprise (Vista-ready) system that increases the customer’s awareness of costs by validating data directly upon entry in order to reduce mistakes. Users can also customize the software to fit their fleet management needs by adding fields, text, calculations and corporate branding to the programs.

Both Chevin software products help vehicle operations of any size keep track of both fixed and variable costs. “The software can pull everything from standing costs like finance components to variable costs such as fuel,” says Ron Katz, Chevin’s vice president, North American sales. The software also enables users to keep track of driver management, accident management and marketing revenue.

RoadBASE has benefited Pittsburgh-based New Castle Area Transit Authority (NCATA), by giving it an organizational tool to manage its assets. The agency has a better grasp of its real inventory because the system accurately expenses items out as soon as they are entered into the system.

“We never got true figures (with previous programs). We could run the same reports and they would come back differently every time,” says NCATA Assistant Manager Vicki Antonio. “If you’re off by a couple of pennies, (Chevin) can tell you what you’re missing and give a true figure.”

The transit authority also plans to use the data from work orders to compare mechanic performance. In time, the agency hopes to use the information to have mechanics specializing in certain tasks, based on who completes the work most efficiently.

Maximus

Maximus’ complete transit software, FleetFocus, helps users capture and analyze the real-time costs associated with managing fleet operations, including equipment and inventory tracking, work order processing, preventive maintenance scheduling and vehicle warranty costs.

FleetFocus is used by small and large transit agencies to manage vehicle fleets, linear assets (rail and bridges), infrastructure (equipment and rail signals, switches, etc.), and facilities and maintenance management. The software includes remote processing with “AutoInput,” which automatically keeps track of system functions, such as parts inventory, labor, employee attendance, equipment condition and mobile work order processing. Every version of the FleetFocus software is Web browser ready.

Two new additions to FleetFocus M5, one of the more recent versions, are dashboards and notification capabilities. The dashboards consist of graphs and gauges that offer snapshot views of current activities, as well as the state of affairs in the shop, on the rail line, or in the parts room, says James Schnepp, Maximus’ vice president, sales and marketing. The dashboards are visible in real-time and can be placed on the user’s homepage or throughout frequently used system pages.

Another intelligent tool is the ability to set up automatic notifications or status reports to email daily, weekly or monthly to as many employees as needed. This feature saves time for managers who would have routinely sent out the same information themselves, says Schnepp.

St. Louis Metro implemented Maximus’ M4 fleet maintenance software in 2000, and upgraded to the Web-based M5 version in 2005 to maintain its operation of 408 buses, 123 vans, 87 rail- cars, six facilities and about 300 other vehicles that support equipment. Since 2002, the agency’s maintenance productivity has increased 400 percent.

“Without a tool like this, we wouldn’t have been able to receive the results that we have today,” says Metro Chief Maintenance Officer Carl Thiessen. For buses, the agency has gone from an average breakdown after 6,000 miles to 20,000 miles in between delays.

St. Louis Metro keeps track of maintenance requirements and needs for 30, 60 or 90 days into the future, and is one of the few transit agencies to implement an 18-month maintenance work outlook program.

Maximus customers are also adding the fully-integrated automated fueling system option, called FuelFocus, to their programs. This hardware and software system is unique because it manages fuel and fluid dispensing in the same database as the maintenance management application, rather than in two different programs.

Collective Data

Collective Data’s most recent version of its maintenance software, collectiveFleet 5.2, is a complete rewrite from previous versions. After reviewing customer satisfaction surveys, feedback from current clients and national trends, Collective released the newest version of its fully-integrated fleet maintenance software in early January 2008.

The collectiveFleet system helps customers keep accurate data of their PM schedules to help them later analyze which vehicles are most cost effective. Fleet operators can keep track of all the vendor fleet metrics that will enable them to make informed decisions on power train configurations, what type of fuel to use and its efficiency, as well as how many people are needed to work in the shop.

“Virtually every cost can be taken into account with this system,” says Bill Wessels, Collective Data’s vice president of marketing.

The software is traditionally a desktop application, but also has Web-based and mobile functionality for users who need to access the program from outside the office. CollectiveFleet 5.2 offers a truly customizable system, allowing users to add fuel, bar code, touch-screen or motor pool modules. Users can also create, modify or customize reports and work orders with the program’s many new editing features.

The company says that downtime has a major effect on the bottom line, but good preventive maintenance procedures can limit the costs of downtime. The company’s software tracks not only routine maintenance, but also the costs associated with unpredictable issues in order to help transit agencies adjust future plans and budgets.

As technology continues to progress, portability becomes increasingly important for users, says Wessels. CollectiveFleet products let users export any data form or work order into other programs such as Excel.

The software’s architecture allows for continuous modification to provide for the changing needs in the user’s organization or industry. Wessels says the 5.2 version has the capabilities to store an unlimited amount of equipment entries, pictures and user accounts with group settings.

Zonar Systems

Zonar Systems’ fleet management software helps users find the defects and other maintenance issues before the driver takes off with the vehicle.

According to federal law, any person with a commercial driver’s license must perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections of the vehicle. Zonar’s Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR) is a verified visual inspection system that enables companies to perform pre-trip inspections electronically, eliminating paper-use. Drivers are also held accountable for performing an accurate inspection of the vehicle every day.

“For transit agencies, their customers are the passengers they pick up,” explains Eric Manegold, vice president of business development for commercial vehicles. “It’s critical for performance that any issue (or defect) is found prior to leaving the yard.” To use the EVIR system, each vehicle is first equipped with up to 11 weather-resistant tags, which are placed in “zones” that contain information about the tag’s location on the vehicle, components to inspect and vehicle identification. Drivers use a handheld reader to conduct their inspections, placing the reader within two inches of each tag. Once the tag is identified by the handheld device, a list will pop up on the screen for the driver to fill out.

Drivers record maintenance issues for each section of the vehicle, and the system searches through a pre-defined list of defects to let drivers know if a vehicle is safe to operate with the noted defect. Transit companies, such as Zonar customer El Dorado Transit in El Dorado Hills, Calif., can track whether their drivers are performing the inspections and how long they take to inspect each zoned area.

“The most important aspect is that we can verify if inspections were done properly,” says Scott Ousley, El Dorado Transit’s operations manager. Rather than mechanics transcribing each driver’s handwritten inspections, El Dorado is able to save a “tremendous amount of staff time,” Ousley adds.

The inspection information is transmitted to a secure database and can be easily accessed from any Web browser. The company’s Ground Traffic Control application keeps track of inspection reports and continuous records of the vehicle’s location through Zonar’s HD-GPS system, which is available for any vehicle.

Later this year, Zonar plans to release a Windows-enabled mobile application that can be accessed through the Internet on cell phones or other PDA devices. An infrared reader is easily attached to the driver’s phone so they don’t have to carry around the extra handheld for inspections.

Ultramain Systems Inc.

Ultramain has been designing fleet maintenance software for more than 22 years, providing transportation companies with software versions that encompass the four preferred technology platforms of their day: host-based mainframe, open systems UNIX, Windows global user interface, and its most recent web-based application, Ultramain v9.

Ultramain v9 covers all aspects of maintenance, materials and purchasing that is designed to operate buses, trains and facilities. The comprehensive system offers 14 integrated modules to provide the tools necessary to manage day-to-day operations, as well as long-term planning and budgeting.

Software users start out with a universal screen structure that has many different adjustable components that can be privately customized to meet the organization’s workspace needs. The saved private structure will remain unchanged by product updates, which Ultramain sends out as patch enhancements each month.

While the company’s primary industry serves airlines, Ultramain President Mark McCausland says that transit and airline companies have the common role as providers of safe and reliable transportation to the public, and therefore up-to-date maintenance of all associated assets is important. The FTA doesn’t yet have as many maintenance requirements as in the airline industry, but McCausland sees a trend toward more enforced transit fleet maintenance than in previous years. “Ultramain’s software is capable and poised to work with the types of regulations for enforced maintenance (an upcoming FTA requirement),” McCausland says.

One unique feature is Ultramain’s Action Desk “push”-oriented architecture that keeps users from having to hunt for information. The sophisticated workflow routing automatically delivers necessary information, such as urgent work orders, to those who need it — when they need it.

To make the transition to Ultramain software easier for customers, the company offers a full range of professional services, including best practices, gap analyses, modification design and development, user training, data migration and project management.

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