Dec 28, 2000

Big Brother Keeps an Eye on Trucks

For the truck operator who has wished for something close to a
Big Brother to keep an eye on the trucks that he sends down the
road every day, Mack Trucks has introduced what sounds like an
answer. It's called SmartLink and has been developed by Mack and
IVS Intelligent Vehicle Systems. The computerized system is said
to, among other things: -- Monitor trucks in operation and
provide alerts on impending mechanical failures; -- Deliver
a measure of theft protection with its Global Positioning System
(GPS); -- Operate on a "real time basis," much like the
telemetry setups that keep tabs on spacecraft; -- Catch
those intermittent problems, which plague all vehicle service;
-- Be set up to support over-the-road trucks or vocational
units operated locally; and -- Send its information to the
truck's headquarters, the Mack support system or an independent
monitoring setup. One special Mack service is a 24-hour roadside
assistance program. Information on the new product was
discussed by two of the Mack executives working with the
plan--Russ Raine, vice president of customer product support,
and Scott Hinkson, service systems development analyst.
Billed as "a new diagnostic and life-cycle vehicle management
tool," SmartLink is an exclusive Mack aftermarket product, which
"uses computer technology and wireless communications to
analyze, in real time, a vehicle's location, performance and
overall operating characteristics." Raine remarked, "Fleets
are always trying to squeeze the maximum performance out of
every vehicle. With this system, fleet managers can
monitor--locally or remotely--critical fleet data and management
information anytime, anywhere." The system incorporates the
GPS to track the vehicle's geographic location across the globe.
In addition to providing a valuable service with respect to
vehicle maintenance, it also acts as a theft deterrent. If
stolen, Mack said, the exact location of trucks equipped with
GPS can be identified quickly and accurately. While the
product has been extensively tested during development, Hinkson
said theft protection has yet to be fully tested. The obvious
reason, no prototype has been stolen. He said the units
scheduled for testing in real-world work are in production with
the Mack leasing operation lined up as one of the first
customers. The hope is to have upwards of 5,000 units on the
road before the end of this year, Hinkson said. SmartLink is
tied into Mack's 24-hour Roadside Assistance program. Trained
technicians are always on hand to help diagnose a problem,
immediately dispatch roadside assistance or arrange for towing
to the nearest Mack facility. Hinkson said the system
monitors many operating details including coolant and oil
temperatures as well as fuel consumption plus a large number of
internal measures. "We feel that it can point out troubles,
which are about to occur," he said. "That should enable the
owner, driver and our service people to make a sound decision on
when they should be repaired." Introduction of the system is
the latest in a series of developments that have put Mack in a
leading position in an industry-wide swing that has
manufacturers offering leading-edge technology in truck
products. The company has joined other diesel engine producers
in offering advanced electronic controls for the powerplants,
which curb emissions, improve operations and ease the driver's
work. Alternative Systems In addition, Mack has been in
the forefront of efforts to test alternative (non-petroleum)
fuels in heavy trucks, a campaign with two goals: curbing
emissions and reducing the nation's dependence on foreign
petroleum. "We are pleased to see these efforts convincing
customers that Mack is a technical leader in the industry as
well as a producer of dependable work trucks," said Hinkson. "We
plan to keep moving in both directions." The two executives
detailed how SmartLink strikes out at two nagging problems in
truck service work. First come intermittent problems, which go
away when someone starts looking for them, just like the aching
tooth that gets better when its owner gets to the dentist's
office. Such intermittent problems are recorded on the
system's computer and then transmitted to the remote diagnostic
site, Raine said. That way managers can review critical fleet
management data "anytime, anywhere it is available." Just as
automated diagnostics has helped by easing the collection of key
service information on advanced components, the companion
"prognostics" is coming along in SmartLink to collect data on
likely future malfunctions. That is the plan, which helps ease
the burden of upcoming service problems. Raine said this
information on "pending events" is an invaluable SmartLink
service tool because it can detect "a fault in the early stages
of a vehicle system failure so that action can be taken to
correct the problem while it is still manageable."

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