Fiona Soltes

Putting a Lock on Lost Keys

Putting a Lock on Lost Keys

Keeping track of keys in a utility fleet environment – which may have thousands of assets, from pickups to bucket trucks and beyond – can be a costly endeavor. In fact, the price tag associated with maintaining fleet vehicle keys and replacing those that are lost can hit well into five figures each year.

“Keys are pretty much a nightmare for every utility,” said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager at Eugene (Ore.) Water & Electric Board. With roughly 350 pieces of equipment, he has a lot to keep up with. Two keyboards – one master with keys that never leave the property and another keyboard for the shop to use – help some. In addition, two more keys for each vehicle go directly to the department receiving the equipment. But problems still arise.

The biggest culprit? When departments make their own additional keys, not realizing that for some vehicles, OEMs will only allow eight keys to be programmed the same.

“And if you’ve got four, and then someone goes back and makes a couple more, you’re at five and six, then we hit seven and eight, and when you go to make the ninth key, the number one key drops off,” Lentsch said. “It’s deactivated. That could be the one on your master keyboard. … It’s actually happened quite a bit.”

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Jim Galligan

The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

In-cab cameras have gained a foothold and acceptance among numerous service and freight delivery fleets for the technology’s ability to improve safety and lower accident and claim costs.

Utilities, however, perhaps because of their different operational model and high system costs, appear to be relying on more traditional methods to manage risk and improve driver skills. In calls to six electric utilities across the U.S., only one – National Grid, which provides electric and gas delivery in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – is using the technology as of press time.

National Grid uses about 3,600 recorders fleet-wide. For Frank Prost, director of downstate gas construction, the 316 units in his department’s trucks have worked as advertised: They’ve helped to boost safety by improving driver skills, assigning accountability and preventing accidents.

The group has seen a significant improvement in driving, according to Prost. “We’re in a much, much better place with our driving,” he said. “It’s a safer environment for employees and the public. [The cameras have] helped us numerous times. We’d get complaints about incidents but didn’t have any proof. If there’s an event, now you have a video telling us what the driver was doing. Now you can prove it.”

The cameras also have all but eliminated backing-up insurance scams, Prost said. People would intentionally back into a National Grid truck at a traffic light and claim the driver hit them. Now, drivers can get out of their truck, point to the camera and say that the video will show the truth. “The people drive off,” he said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

In 2014, heavy equipment theft cost U.S. companies about $400 million, and only 23 percent of stolen machines were ever recovered, according to a report by the National Equipment Register and National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Beyond a utility fleet’s loss of a machine itself, the fleet manager also has to factor in the costs associated with short-term equipment rentals, project delays and valuable personnel time consumed by dealing with the incident.

So, what can you do to protect your equipment and your organization’s bottom line? Here are three anti-theft technologies to consider.

1. Keyless Ignition System
Equipment manufacturers have traditionally opted for a one-key-fits-all approach that makes it convenient for equipment operators at job sites to operate any one of a number of similar machines without having to carry numerous unique keys. But this approach also makes it much more convenient for thieves, who can easily purchase these keys online (see www.ebay.com/bhp/heavy-equipment-keys as just one example). Then they can go to the nearest job site, find an accessible machine and drive it onto a trailer to haul it away.

How can you make it tougher for thieves? Consider a keyless ignition system.

One example is Start-Smart by Keytroller (www.keytroller.com), which provides a hidden wireless relay installed in the starter circuit that – when the relay is disabled – cuts off power to the starter, preventing a key or even an attempted hot-wire of the machine from being able to start the engine. The operator then uses the Start-Smart programmable keypad ignition to input a valid code or radio-frequency identification card, which enables the wireless relay and provides power to the starter circuit. At that point, the user can press start on the keypad and the engine will fire up.

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Sean M. Lyden

4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

If you’re among the 64 percent of Americans who own a smartphone – up from 35 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research – you hold in your hand a powerful tool to record great ideas, facilitate collaboration, avoid traffic and make faster decisions, with thousands of apps available today.

The most obvious mobile apps discussed in fleet management circles are those associated with telematics providers to give you real-time access to fleet asset data on your smartphone. But beyond telematics, what other useful smartphone apps can help make your job easier and boost your productivity as a fleet manager? Try these four tools.

1. Evernote
URL: https://evernote.com
Cost: Free for basic plan

Think of Evernote as a virtual library of notebooks that you fill with important ideas, documents, emails, pictures or audio files – all in one place, accessible from any device.

For example, suppose you’ve found an interesting article and want to reference it later. With Evernote, you can clip the entire article or a part of it, place it in a note and access it anywhere from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. And if you don’t remember the name of the article, you can find it fast on Evernote by searching keywords.

Or, perhaps you’ve just finished a highly productive brainstorming session with your team and want to capture everything written on the whiteboard. Through the Evernote app, you can snap a picture of the whiteboard with your smartphone, and it’s automatically recorded on a note and organized in the notebook of your choosing, which you can easily share with others on the team.

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Sean M. Lyden

On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

Only a decade ago, the idea that self-driving cars could ever become mainstream within our lifetimes seemed far-fetched. Then came Google in 2009 with its fleet of retrofitted Prius hybrids and Lexus SUVs, which have since logged over 1.5 million autonomous-driving miles. And today, most major automakers, including upstart Tesla Motors, have also entered the race, with industry experts predicting that fully autonomous vehicles will enter the market within the next five to 10 years.

What’s fueling this momentum toward a self-driving world? There are many factors, but here are three interesting recent developments to keep your eye on.

1. Connected Convoys
Imagine three semitrailer trucks traveling at highway speed, one behind the other, with fewer than 50 feet between each vehicle. With conventional trucks, that’s a surefire recipe for a multivehicle pileup. But what if those three trucks were “connected” as a single autonomous platoon? Daimler is banking that its answer to this question will lead to improved safety and fuel economy, while contributing to advancements in the company’s autonomous truck technology.

In early April, three autonomous Mercedes-Benz semitrailer trucks completed a cross-border convoy drive from Stuttgart in Germany to Rotterdam in the Netherlands – about 400 miles – as a connected platoon.

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Sean M. Lyden

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

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.

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Cheryl Knight

The Latest Developments in Self-Sealing Tires

The Latest Developments in Self-Sealing Tires

For utility fleets, being able to travel across hazardous terrain – such as storm-impacted areas covered in branches, glass and other debris – is a must. Self-sealing tires can be a great asset during these times, allowing vehicle operators to continue driving even after a tire is punctured.

How do self-sealing tires work? Each tire contains an extra layer comprised of a sticky substance that covers the inside of the tire from one shoulder to the other. As a puncture occurs, the substance automatically seals the hole, staving off a flat tire. For instance, DuraSeal Technology developed by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com) seals punctures up to a quarter-inch in diameter in the repairable area of the tread. And as long as the sidewalls aren’t punctured, drivers can continue operating their vehicles indefinitely. In cases where tire repair or replacement is necessary, self-sealing technology gives drivers time to navigate to a safe place where the work can be done.

Overall, self-sealing tires offer both safety and response-time benefits to utility fleets, helping to ensure that crews can reach isolated areas to restore power to customers without worrying as much about getting a flat tire and the additional man hours such a situation can require.

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Jim Galligan

Using Video Monitoring Wisely

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

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?

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Sean M. Lyden

The Rise of ePTO Systems for Utility Trucks

The Rise of ePTO Systems for Utility Trucks

When it comes to electric vehicles (EV), what usually garners headlines are consumer cars, like the Toyota Prius, Nissan LEAF and the eye-catching Tesla Model S sport sedan. But the future expansion of the EV market will likely be driven by commercial fleets, including electric utility companies, which are stepping up investments in all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

In November 2014, the White House and Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, announced that more than 70 electric utility companies have committed at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchasing plug-in EVs and technologies. This adds up to total investments of approximately $50 million per year, or $250 million over five years, starting in 2015.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Latest Developments in Crash Avoidance Systems

Daimler-Mercedes-2-WebIn July, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, debuted its fully autonomous Future Truck 2025 with an on-highway test drive on the Autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany.

And while a production model of the self-driving truck may be more than a decade away, many of the technologies required to make autonomous driving a reality are available today. They're known as crash avoidance systems, which serve as an extra set of eyes to help keep drivers and the public safe.

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Sean M. Lyden

Four Technologies That Curb Distracted Driving

Origo-1-WebBing! A new text message. Your phone is facedown on the passenger seat. You know you should ignore it and keep your eyes on the road, but you’re curious. Is it urgent? Is it my boss? A quick look won’t hurt, right? I’m a good driver; I can handle this!

But the research says otherwise.

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Sean M. Lyden

Latest Developments in Self-Inflating Tires

Halo-V2-WebWhat if tires could inflate themselves and maintain optimal pressure at all times, with no human intervention required? How much of an impact could that make on fuel efficiency, tire life cycle, driver safety and a fleet’s bottom line?

New self-inflating tire technologies being developed today may provide a glimpse into future possibilities.

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John Dolce

Fleet Telematics: Technology on the Move

When it comes to onboard vehicle technologies, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. We’ve advanced from rudimentary tachographs and not-always-reliable engine control modules to globally connected, high-tech telematics that provide real-time data and automated maintenance solutions.

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Seth Skydel

Software Solutions

Management-Telogis-2-WebWiregrass Electric Cooperative Improves Safety and Efficiency with Telogis
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative provides electric services to 24,000 members across six counties in southeast Alabama. Technicians are responsible for keeping the electricity flowing across the region, each one assigned to cover a specific area or zone. Unfortunately, in order to keep track of where the technicians were during the course of the day, the dispatch team had to constantly communicate with them via two-way radio.

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Seth Skydel

Progress Report

Fuel-1-EUFMC-WebSuccessfully implementing new technology into fleet operations is a major challenge for managers. In the past few years, perhaps no greater challenge has been faced than the adoption of 2010 emissions-compliant diesel engines. During the 2011 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (www.eufmc.com), two fleets detailed their programs and the performance of these engines in their operations.

Since the most recent diesel engine emissions standards took effect at the beginning of 2010, trucks equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) engines have been fitted with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tanks. DEF is a necessary component of emissions compliance using SCR technology.

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