Mobile asset fleets need to be managed differently

David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says your CMMS can be an active partner in minimizing mobile asset operating cost.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Most companies have a broad range of asset types — such as plant equipment, facilities or buildings, infrastructure assets, computer equipment and fleet or mobile assets — to maintain. Although these asset classes have much in common, there are some key differences in the processes, systems and resources used to manage them. This column describes some of the unique requirements in managing fleet assets.

Defining fleet/mobile assets

A simple definition of mobile assets is “any motorized equipment on wheels.” This includes fork lift trucks, automobiles, buses, trains, trucks, tractors and lawnmowers. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some mobile assets, for example, snowmobiles or some military vehicles, do not roll on wheels. Some mobile assets such as a gondola or tram pulled along by chain or cable don’t have a built-in motor. Essentially, the entire transport system is a motorized asset. However, the vast majority of mobile assets are on wheels and consume fuel or electricity to power their movement from one point to the other.

There are many mobile assets on wheels that are not powered, such as carts, lift trucks, wagons and trailers. These can be used for transport, material-handling or people-moving applications. In some cases, these assets are accessories to powered mobile assets, such as rail cars attached to an engine train or mobile devices attached to a tractor. However, without a power source and drive system, these assets are far less complex and not all that unique in terms of maintenance management requirements. Mobile assets that lack a power source won’t be the focus of this column, except as accessories to mobile assets defined above.

The term “fleet” implies that there are more than a few mobile assets, such as a fleet of vehicles or trucks. Sometimes fleet assets are identical, but not necessarily. For example, in referencing a fleet of mobile equipment used in mining, there might be 20 or more different types of automobiles, trucks, earthmoving vehicles and transportation assets, with different specifications, model years, attachments and accessories.

Within the mobile asset class, many companies distinguish between light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. Cars and small trucks are included in the light-duty classification, and large industrial equipment such as front end loaders, aerial trucks, zambonis and dump trucks would all be considered heavy duty.

Processes to support fleet assets

As with any asset requiring maintenance, key high-level processes include work order management, preventive maintenance, condition-based maintenance, spare parts inventory management, asset lifecycle management and managing equipment history. But there are some interesting characteristics that apply to a fleet of mobile assets. One of the most important differentiators of fleet maintenance over maintenance of other asset classes is the relatively high percentage of use-based or condition-based maintenance, as opposed to unexpected failure-based maintenance.

This column describes some of the unique requirements in managing fleet assets.

– David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Although numbers vary by fleet and application, the relative percentage is typically greater than 80% maintenance triggered by condition or usage — time, meter or event. This might be explained by a number of possible factors, but perhaps the most significant reason is the high consequences of unplanned failure in terms of health, safety, the environment, regulatory penalties or loss of revenue. This is especially true when failure occurs in locations that are difficult to access.

Another factor is the relatively high volume of mobile assets of a similar nature making it easier to establish industry norms, such as use of similar technologies for component systems such as brakes, transmissions and exhaust systems, and specialized tools and facilities such as lube pits, vehicle paint facilities and wash bays. Standard operating procedures and job plans are often available from the manufacturer, based on many hours of experience across multiple industries. Job plans provide guidance as to when and how to do various inspections and preventive maintenance (PM) procedures, once a certain milestone is reached in terms of time passed since purchase, time driven or distance travelled.

With many similar assets in the field, historical data can be compiled to determine the optimal interval between inspections or when it is best to perform maintenance tasks such as changing the oil, replacing the timing belt and rebuilding the engine. The bigger the fleet and the more similar the mobile assets maintained, the easier it should be to achieve economies of scale. At least that is the theory.

However, in practice, there is no lack of inefficiencies in a typical fleet maintenance shop. In my experience, this is in part because of the usual bureaucracy of big companies, but it’s the attitude of management and workers that largely prevents fleet maintenance shops from achieving their potential, especially in the public sector. Although contracted service garages are far more efficient because of their fleet maintenance focus and profit motivation, they have a reputation for sacrificing quality for price.

CMMS requirements for fleet maintenance

A CMMS is certainly relevant to any fleet maintenance shop; however, there are some specialized features and functions that are highly desirable.

VMRS codes: The American Trucking Association established the Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards codes to standardize on the hierarchy of vehicle assets in terms of systems, subsystems and components. As well, progress has been made in building a hierarchy of essentially problem/cause/action codes related to the asset hierarchy. Some of the CMMS vendors ship their systems with VMRS codes loaded and allow users to edit the coded fields to better match their specific fleet specifications or to provide greater detail.

Fuel management: One of the largest ongoing costs associated with maintaining a fleet is fuel, as well as costs related to fuel consumption such as maintenance of tires, fuel systems and engine. Modern CMMS packages that accommodate the needs of fleet maintenance can track odometer readings and fuel consumption on work orders and then use condition-based maintenance and asset history to adjust the maintenance plan for better fuel management.

Campaigns and product recalls: Sometimes a vehicle manufacturer has a product recall to address a safety-related issue. Some CMMS vendors have features to help manage the recall, such as ensuring that all of the vehicles are brought in for service at the appropriate time and the work is completed by a designated date. A campaign is the internal version of a product recall, for example, a decision by the engineering department to replace a given part with a superior-quality, third-party brand.

Warranty claims and tracking: Although there’s a need for warranty claims and tracking for any type of asset, the needs of fleet assets are typically more acute and complex. Vehicles can have different warranties for the vehicle overall, as well as individual systems, subsystems, components and even parts. Many CMMS vendors recognized the value of a comprehensive warranty management system for many industries. Their software has advanced features such as tracking multiple warranty types per asset, handling parent/child and master warranty relationships, favoring parts closer to warranty expirations for stock issuance and preparing a warranty claim.

Facilities scheduling: Most CMMS packages have some method of scheduling work orders — matching work backlog to available labor, parts and tools. However, few CMMS vendors also will help users to book an appropriate garage bay as part of the scheduling complexity. Fleet maintenance planners need to ensure an asset brought in for service will have the appropriate facilities, such as a bay with an inspection pit, heavy duty lift or paint booth.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at david@wmc.on.ca.