It is hard to escape the topic of technology and the evolution of transportation these days. Yes, this is another commentary related to technology but it is necessary as we are experiencing such a monumental shift in the way we apply technology into the fleet from an equipment and maintenance perspective.
Change in technology has been marching on since the earliest days of invention. Some periods in history reflect more rapid advancement than other periods. Today I believe we are in the midst of another great leap.
Recently, technology giants such as Amazon, Tesla, Uber and Google have forayed into the transportation industry. These non-traditional transportation companies are joining the existing manufacturers in this sector with the intention of adapting and developing new technologies to radically reshape the industry. Data-management companies have also stepped forward with tools built around AI (artificial intelligence) helping to decipher the mountains of data being produced by the vehicles and in-shop management systems.
The mechanical diesel engine and drivetrains have advanced in leaps and bounds through the development and application of technological controls over the past 30 years. It was during this period that electronic controls started to work their way into engine and drivetrain management. Fuel efficiency and performance gains that have been achieved over the past three decades have been nothing short of incredible and today we are on the verge of the next great advancement in propulsion and control.
Electrification has pushed to the front of the alternate fuel line with the advancements in battery technology. The interesting concept with electrification is that it reduces the overall complexity of the drive system by eliminating the diesel powerplant and necessary emission-control systems. There are fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle, therefore fewer things to fail. These systems will require changes in the maintenance team skills to support the infrastructure and upkeep of the units. Even though they might be less complex, they are a departure from what is deployed in our fleet today.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the evolution of control systems has added to the complexity of the vehicle. These systems have greatly improved the safety of the driver and those around them through collision mitigation, traction and stability control and lane-departure warning. These systems add to our training requirements as we need to keep pace with the changing diagnostic skills required to investigate and correct faults with these systems. It is clear that the benefits to the driver through enhanced safety, the environment through clean operation and economically through productivity improvements far outweigh the challenges they present to the maintenance team in learning and tooling needs.
Not only is technology playing a major role in the advancement of the vehicle we are now being introduced to technology that changes how we manage and predict what maintenance is due and what will be required before a failure occurs through advancements in data management. Companies are hard at work building software that can review literally billions of bits of data and develop predictions on when a powertrain component is likely to fail, allowing the maintenance team to proactively schedule and repair the vehicle with a minimal disruption to service. These programs are in their infancy but early models are showing promise at being able to deliver reliable results.
It is easy to see that the future is here through the application of innovation to the vehicle and systems that support operating and maintaining today’s modern fleet. The key challenge lies in understanding how the technology integrates into our fleet and developing the support within our group to maximize its effectiveness. This will require education related to the design and function of these systems and training to support the deployment into our business.
Regardless if the technology reduces the complexity as we see with electric propulsion or adds to it with driver-support systems, there is a need for the maintenance teams to adapt to meet the requirements.