Today's Trucking

Daimler Talks Predictive Diagnosis, Zonar Relationship

Posted: July 29, 2015 by Rolf Lockwood

YOUNTVILLE, CA — Predictive diagnostics is closer than you might think.

“I don’t think we’re further than five or 10 years away,” said Friedrich Baumann, senior vice president, Aftermarket for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “I think it will be an iterative process.”

By “iterative” he means that development will be incremental, one advance leading to another and so on.

Talked about for many years now, the idea that truck makers and their customers could predict the moment of a turbocharger’s failure, for instance, is mighty compelling. It means being able to schedule the repair in advance and minimize the downtime, possibly avoiding an expensive and disruptive road call. The shop could ensure that parts are at the ready and a repair bay is available. Take the surprise out of things and both sides win. It’s all about efficiency.

“It makes the service side simple,” said Baumann.

Will predictive diagnostics be 100% accurate? Likely not, at least not in the early stages, but even if you replace a given component 10,000 km early, he said, the money saved in disruption and lost downtime would very likely be worth the trade-off.

The opportunity presented now, according to Baumann, rests in the huge amount of data being collected through the new connectivity that marks the modern truck. Some 65% of all Freightliners and Western Stars on the road have Virtual Technician on board, and it’s now standard. The remote diagnostics system is five years old.

And that represents an awful lot of truck and major component performance data just waiting to be analyzed. That’s the big hurdle: the data is there by the bucketful but the analytics job has yet to be done. Even now, though, enough is known that some recommendations about component life would be feasible.

Baumann and I were speaking after a press event focused on DTNA’s aftermarket business, where the subject of telematics played a big role. In particular, the company’s expanded relationship with Zonar Systems was a key topic.

DTNA has just taken a minority interest in the company, which provides electronic fleet inspection, tracking, and operations tools. It built the first Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report system that dramatically changed how pre- and post-trip inspections are conducted. It has grown into a comprehensive telematics platform with an installed base of more than 400,000 commercial vehicles.

The two companies have partnered for more than five years, starting with the launch of Virtual Technician. Today, Zonar’s products can be factory-installed in Freightliner and Western Star trucks as well as Thomas Built Buses.

The investment also underlines the ongoing evolution of Zonar’s diagnostic, safety, and tracking systems that are seamlessly integrated into all DTNA vehicles. The collective vision includes vehicles tailored for each driver, route, and payload. Every new DTNA vehicle coming off the line will benefit from this relationship, including vocational vehicles, school buses, and on-highway trucks, says Baumann.

And going back to predictive diagnostics for a moment, Zonar president and CEO Brett Brinton says his company has done prototype testing that allows fairly precise turbocharger failure predictions.

“It’s the next frontier,” he said. “There’s a real return on that development.”

Detroit Connect is in fact deepening its telematics strategy by re-aligning its offerings in collaboration with Zonar.

It will transition the branding of its Visibility Fleet Software and On-Board Tablet to Zonar. With this change, Visibility will take on Zonar’s Ground Traffic Control fleet tracking application product name, and the Zonar Android-based tablet will assume ‘2020’ branding. Current Visibility and tablet customers will experience no changes in product capabilities or pricing.

Detroit’s Virtual Technician on-board diagnostic system will maintain the same branding and will remain under the Detroit Connect umbrella.

In addition to the shift in product branding, the new business arrangement calls for Zonar to assume management of all Virtual Technician subscriptions, including the renewal process, on Detroit Connect’s behalf later this year.

“There’s a significant opportunity to gain important insights through connectivity to ultimately provide a more dynamic customer experience,” said Matthew Pfaffenbach, director of telematics for DTNA. “Our arrangement with Zonar ultimately strengthens our telematics capabilities.”

Virtual Technician is standard with a two-year subscription on all DTNA vehicles with Detroit heavy-duty engines, and Ground Traffic Control is available for order through DTNA dealers on those same models.


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