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March 27, 2003

Software streamlines vehicle maintenance

  • Most equipment managers still aren’t using it
  • By TERRY STEPHENS
    Special to the Journal

    Carl Kirk, executive director of the trucking industry’s Technology and Maintenance Council, revealed an amazing statistic recently. It was not about how many fleet operators are using computerized maintenance programs but rather how many are not — 80 percent.

    Given the cost-saving efficiencies of software programs that track, document and pre-plan maintenance for construction equipment and vehicle fleets, Kirk said the technology is definitely being under-used.

    Sensing the enormity of the maintenance-software market, increasing numbers of program marketers are rushing to fill that void. Once equipment managers are lured by claims of more efficient, accurate and cost-saving ways to track and manage maintenance and repairs, the next step is selecting the best software for any particular business.

    All of the programs require the usual laborious entry of equipment and vehicle information into the system’s database as a prerequisite to being able to maintain complete descriptions of each one, compile maintenance histories and predict future service schedules.

    Once set up, however, the savings can be significant, according to both industry spokespersons and those promoting the software. Fortunately, most of the programs marketed through the Internet offer on-line demonstrations that help fleet managers test and compare the ease of use and breadth of coverage of each one.

    But programs differ in the variety and depth of the information they track and how many different reports the software will provide. Cost also varies widely, from a couple hundred dollars to $8,000 or more, depending on how sophisticated the program is and how many computers will be using it. Be aware that prices listed on Web sites are often for single-user copies and the total will be dramatically different if you need to outfit multiple machines.

    A software program’s extra features often make the buying decision easier.

    EZ Maintenance (www.ez-maintenance.com), for instance, not only tracks and schedules maintenance times, it also tracks vehicle licenses, driver information, incidents and accidents, tire wear and nearly 80 other categories for topical reports.

    The program has been featured in 40 magazines since its marketplace debut some months ago and purchased by businesses from small companies to national firms that want it for their smaller divisions.

    “Companies used to hire us to create custom maintenance software programs because they needed one and couldn’t find any,” said Wayne McFarland, CEO of Link It Software Corp., producer of EZ Maintenance and Job Master software in Santa Clarita, Calif.

    “After three to four years of interviewing equipment and vehicle users, we were able to create a simple box program that can be configured to handle any kind of equipment or vehicles,” McFarland said. “Because 85 percent of the businesses in the country are small businesses, we targeted that market.”

    Although the program costs $1,495, pricier than much of the similar software on the Web, EZ Maintenance is licensed for use on networks (more than one computer user), has no limit on how many vehicles or pieces of equipment are tracked, and produces work orders, vehicle histories, cost accounting and maintenance schedules up to a year in advance.

    “You can ask it for all the expiring vehicle licenses coming up in the next six months, log work orders for both routine and emergency maintenance, track tires to know when they need to be replaced and figure when an older vehicle is costing more than it’s worth and should be replaced,” said McFarland, who is also setting up distributors for the software.

    “Computerized maintenance tracking is coming of age because too many business owners are seeing money go down the drain because they are not servicing equipment regularly.”

    Innovative Maintenance Systems (www.mtcpro.com) in Butler, Pa., offers single-user software packages ranging from $179 to $649 for its Fleet Maintenance Pro program and $34.95 for a five-vehicle tracking program, Auto Maintenance Pro, and $49.95 for software that will track 10 vehicles.

    Since 1994, the company has been developing software tracking programs. Its Fleet Maintenance Pro, for instance, monitors an unlimited number of vehicles or pieces of equipment, tracks drivers and employees, issues reports on periodic maintenance, runs on computer networks and comes in “standard,” “deluxe” and “enterprise” editions to fit varying budgets.

    Data-Trak Inc. (www.data-trak.com) in Lake Jackson, Texas, has its own computerized maintenance management system on the market, offering inventory, leasing and maintenance tracking for a variety of items that includes aircraft, construction equipment, vehicles, hospital equipment and transformers at utility companies.

    OmniFleet (www.omnifleet.com) software programs, produced by Resolute Solutions Corp. in Kenner, La., include OmniFleet Shop Product Information in a variety of programs for fleet owners, all with demo downloads from its Web site. The lower end of the product line is for owners of a single repair shop, while the larger programs handle maintenance tracking for fleets of vehicles.

    IronRhino (www.ironrhino.com) in Austin, Texas, develops asset management software for businesses with capital-intensive fleets and equipment inventory — including “heavy iron” assets like the trucks, cranes, bulldozers, forklifts, skid steers that do the heavy-duty work on construction sites.

    Using new software based on Microsoft’s .NET architecture, the IronRhino programs include wireless data devices in the overall scheme of automating the tracking, management and operations of construction equipment.

    The programs capture true historic costs of equipment with usage information from day-to-day operations, providing companies with immediate savings by knowing when maintenance is due or equipment is wearing out or malfunctioning.

    National Equipment Services, a leading equipment rental business, recently selected IronRhino AIM+ software for real-time asset management of its $700 million worth of equipment.

    “The program allows us to use data stored in our MTA transaction management system to (provide) information our managers use in the care, custody and control of our powered mobile equipment assets,” said Bob Bogardus, vice president of national accounts for NES.

    He said NES is saving as much as 22 percent per unit in some cases by having the unit-by-unit, location-by-location equipment information available for managers at the company’s 190 locations.

    The software tracks more than 60,000 pieces of equipment, of 750 different types, as well as links to more than 10,000 customers. The software provides real-time information on schedules, lease status and usage that maximizes the company’s return on investment.


     


    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at features@gte.net.



     


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