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Three diagnostic trends shaping maintenance in 2024

Feb. 5, 2024
Noregon’s 2024 report on the commercial vehicle diagnostics sector found that telematics, remote diagnostics, and even AI are working to address evolving complexity concerns.

Economic uncertainty, rising demand for uptime and utilization, and the technician shortage are creating challenges for maintenance providers and fleets alike, but the convergence of connected vehicle and shop technologies is helping to increase efficiency, streamline repairs, and minimize dwell time.

Noregon’s “Unpacking the Commercial Vehicle Diagnostic Market 2024” report found that the trucking industry has embraced advanced electronic and remote diagnostics solutions, and maintenance providers are tapping into data while adding electronic scan tools and shop automation solutions to help meet fleets’ changing needs.

The report also found new opportunities for shops. The truck population continues to age, driving revenue from parts and service. Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer at Noregon, said he expects fleet managers and owners to focus on service and maintenance throughout 2024 to help control costs.

Here are three key takeaways from the report.

Available data exponentially increasing

The amount of electronics used in today’s trucks is at an all-time high, with most new powertrains, chassis, safety technologies, and emissions control systems generating a tremendous volume of data, including information on system and component performance and the vehicle’s health.

Interpreting and analyzing that data can significantly enhance a technician’s ability to diagnose faults accurately. A key focus for diagnostic solution providers is utilizing and harnessing sensor data to develop and deliver actionable insights for shops and fleets. According to the report, diagnostic data analysis will continue evolving in 2024, with the insights delivered to technicians and shop and fleet managers becoming increasingly descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive.

 

“This will be particularly important in 2024, as shops deal with the pressures of handling a high degree of workflow caused by the rising average fleet age and fears of a recessionary environment,” the report stated.

Data analysis and the use of artificial intelligence can aid repair facilities by minimizing vehicle downtime, reducing the time spent waiting for parts and increasing safety. AI in particular could aid in vehicle intake, data diagnostics, data interpretation, repair guidance, and workflow automation. The report found that 35% of shop personnel surveyed had at least moderate interest in AI, versus 36% not interested. At the fleet level, 32% expressed at least moderate interest versus 38% not at all. Initial applications, which Noregon expects to see adopted beginning this year, will likely focus on areas where a technician or shop manager performs repetitive functions to enhance productivity.

Noregon also expects the demands from fleets requiring vehicle data access and regulatory pressures on the industry to provide vehicle data access to vehicle owners to increase throughout the year.

Demand for connectivity on the rise

The ability to remotely diagnose and re-program vehicle systems and components without bringing them to a shop is resonating with fleet maintenance managers and technicians and can help reduce service and maintenance costs and dwell time.

“Technologies enabled by connected vehicles such as remote diagnostics can not only help in reducing dwell time in shops by diagnosing vehicles even before the vehicle reaches the service and maintenance location but also enable better management of scheduled and planned maintenance events and reduce parts expenses,” Kar said. 

Noregon has seen a significant increase in demand for remote diagnostic solutions from fleets of all sizes, vocations, and duty cycles. In the report, connected vehicle technologies such as telematics emerged as the most important technological focal point for both the demand and supply side of the commercial vehicle industry. Kar said 98% of fleet maintenance managers taking part in the report said they have used telematics for fleet service and maintenance. Respondents rated remote diagnostics as the top telematics-­enabled feature.

Kar added that diagnostic OEs offering electronic diagnostic tools, repair guidance solutions, diagnostic tool management programs, remote diagnostics, and on-demand remote access to skilled technicians are best positioned to create value for shops and fleets alike. Remote diagnostics was identified by one-third of respondents as the most important telematics-­enabled feature. Video telematics was the least important.

Read more: The rise of diagnostic tools… and shop profits

“Fleets will demand not only products but also services and solutions that provide both descriptive and pre­scriptive insights to help reduce downtime and dwell time and enhance the shop’s ability to quickly and com­prehensively service and maintain commercial vehicles,” Kar said.

A growing number of fleets with vehicles used across disparate climates, operating conditions, and duty cycles are transitioning from planned and scheduled maintenance to condition-based maintenance to help minimize scheduled downtime and maintenance costs.

“While this trend was found to be of moderate severity in 2023, we expect economic environment and profitability pressures on fleets will lead them toward greater focus in this area in 2024, which can lead to accelerated demand for telematics-­enabled, condition-based maintenance solutions,” Kar said.

Maintenance providers’ adoption of diagnostic tools

Commercial trucks and trailers are becoming more complex, which Kar said is exacerbating the shortage of skilled technicians.

“Our customers and partners are seeing the technician shortage as a ticking time bomb that requires defusing through solutions that not only reduce the burden on the current pool of technicians but also attract new technicians to the service and maintenance industry,” Kar said.

Hiring technicians is one of the top challenges listed by independent repair facilities and dealership service managers and fleets. Compared to last year’s report, the challenges of hiring techs at the fleet level rose from 49% to 52%, and accurately/effectively troubleshooting/diag­nosing increased from 45% to 48%. The bigger issue was having enough work to keep techs busy, which doubled from 10% in 2022 to 20% in 2023.

Hiring techs was far less problematic at independent shops, however, with the number of those who said it was a challenge steeply dropping from 72% to 58%.

One thing is clear: More are turning to electronic diagnostic tools and solutions to help increase efficiency, enhance overall shop productivity, and reduce dwell time.

Among respondents, 35% of shop managers said they will increase the number of electronic diagnostic tools in their shops in 2024.

“This year’s study showed how rapidly this increase is manifesting in shops and fleets. In 2016, the diagnostic tool to technician ratio—the number of tools per technician—was 1:6, which is now expected to reach 1:3 by the end of 2024,” Kar said.

Looking ahead

Despite economic uncertainty and a generally soft freight market, 62% of shop and fleet managers have a largely positive outlook for their service and maintenance shops, Kar said. “This can be attributed to the fact that the average age of Class 8 trucks is now 12-plus years, and in periods of economic uncertainty, fleets typically delay purchase decisions and extend trade cycles, which causes heightened reliance on service and maintenance locations,” he explained.

Kar expects fleet managers and owners to focus on service and maintenance throughout 2024 to help control costs. Service and maintenance costs amount to about 9% of a Class 8 truck’s total cost of ownership and are one of the few levers that fleets and their maintenance teams have at their disposal to control costs.

“Equipment costs, fuel costs, driver costs, insurance costs, tolls, etc., are beyond a fleet’s control,” Kar said. “This will lead to greater reliance on connected shop and connected vehicle solutions.”

The report predicts that shops and fleets will increasingly leverage electronic diagnostic tools, troubleshooting guidance, repair services, remote diagnostics, and shop automation solutions to future-proof their businesses while mitigating operating challenges such as the technician shortage, increased workflow, and demand for fleet uptime.