Diagnostic Software Improves Maintenance Productivity

The Original Story Has Been Updated from Bus Ride Magazine

Electronic diagnostic tools for commercial vehicles have evolved significantly in recent years, from those that were dominated by hand held devices to those of today that harness the power of personal computers. The recent trend towards the use of personal computers is due in part to the development of software by the Original Equipment Manufacturers of heavy duty vehicle components. Software applications are now developed for the majority of engines, transmissions and braking systems. Technicians can find applications offered by the various component manufacturers including: Allison, Bendix, Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Eaton, International, Mack, Meritor Wabco and Volvo.

Diagnostic Software

Diagnostic software can go well beyond viewing and clearing of fault codes and monitoring of parameters like engine rpm, fluid temperature, engine oil pressure, battery voltage and fuel rate. Diagnostic software, depending on the application, allows technicians to view sensors and switch positions at the time a fault occurs, display data graphically, perform various vehicle tests including cylinder performance, transmission solenoid and throttle based cutout tests. At the same time it allows technicians to access a diagnostic tree that can guide them through troubleshooting steps. Some of today's diagnostic software has become so advanced that they will not only tell technicians the reason a fault may have occurred and the effect of the occurrence, but will simultaneously take them to the location and provide them with diagnostic steps to correct the fault.

A good example of the sophistication of today's software can be found in Cummin's Insite Lite diagnostic software. The technician can click on a specific fault and will see the fault number, the time the fault occurred and the effect. The technician can then drill into the fault to get location description and reason. From there the technician can choose to look at troubleshooting steps or view the snapshots of sensors and switches at the time the fault occurred.

Many diagnostic software applications will also allow technicians to pull vehicle log and trip information including the number of sudden decelerations, brake actuations and percentage of trip at max vehicle speed.

Meritor Wabco's Toolbox Software will allow the technician to test various components including valve activation which would be helpful in verifying proper operation, installation and wiring.

Many applications will provide the technician with the ability to program various vehicle data items. V-MAC diagnostic software for Mack Trucks will allow the technicians to set items like high idle engine speed and maximum vehicle speed.

  • Viewing and Clearing Fault Codes.
  • Throtle Based Cutout Test.
  • View log and trip information
  • Program Vehicle Parameters.

Computer Experience

As the use of computer based diagnostic solutions become more abundant on the shop floor, the need to have technicians with good computer skills will increase. Steve Mullaly, senior maintenance instructor at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, says "It has been determined through our technical training programs and from our maintenance instructors that computer experience for today's technicians is needed to be at least at an intermediate level as a starting point. Technicians not only need to have basic computer skills to open, save and copy files but they also need to know how to change parameters such as communication ports. Today's technician should also be able to setup software applications."

Computer and software training is critical to having an effective diagnostic solution. Technicians should be comfortable with computers and the diagnostic software applications. Lack of knowledge of the features of the various software applications can result in lost productivity of over 25%. Maintenance facilities should provide adequate software training for their technicians. The Los Angeles County Transportation Authority understands the importance of computer skills and offers in-house computer training for there employees.

Essential Features and Requirements

The key features one should be aware of when selecting a solution is an easy to use portable system, with a display that has a resolution of at least 1024 x 768 pixels. The system should have RP1210a compliant interface boxes along with the appropriate cables. Mike Verna, Director of Maintenance, at Coach USA says that “When buying a diagnostic tool make sure the system is user friendly, and is windows based so that a technician can point and click on an option or application. The system should also be portable and rugged enough to withstand its surroundings.”

Most of the current diagnostic software applications will work with Windows XP and Windows 7 operating systems. Generally, it is best to use a system with at least 2 GB of RAM and 30GB of hard drive space and a Intel Processor. You also need to have a USB and possibly a serial port for interface box connections.

Choosing a computer

When choosing a computer to run diagnostic software, fleets must pay close attention to the environment in which it will be used. A maintenance shop can be quite demanding, requiring a tougher than normal computer. Scott Thie, National Sales Manager, Field Automation, at Panasonic says that "As demand for portable PC based technology continues to grow well beyond the typical office environment into areas such as service bays, manufacturing, and warehouse environments, so does the demand for a technology reliable and rugged enough to survive. Our focus at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company is, and always has been, just that. Designing and manufacturing a line of Notebooks, built from the ground up to survive in what we refer to as, 'The Outside World'.

Great consideration is placed on the ability of our ToughBook line of notebooks to survive drops, spills, vibration, extreme temperature and dusty or dirty environments. So much so that our fully rugged products meet or exceed the industry standard Military Specification for rugged notebooks." Most companies can't afford to have vehicles out of commission for days or even weeks waiting for a replacement computer to diagnose the issue. Panasonic has designed the Toughbook 31 laptop so that it will stand up to the toughest environments.

Diagnostic System Costs

The price range of a computer based diagnostic system can vary significantly depending on the number of applications, the type of computer, the number of interface boxes needed and the support provided. Depending on the application, diagnostic software can range from $2000.00 to over $2,000.00 per application, while a complete system can range from anywhere between $3,000.00 to $15,000 dollars and upwards. Companies like Diagnostic Innovations LLC provide a completely integrated system with cables and software installed along with the necessary cables and interface boxes. Drew Gibson, manager of the commercial vehicle business team at Diagnostic Innovations LLC says "There are many benefits for fleets to purchase a totally integrated diagnostic system including support, notification of software updates, single sourcing of computer, cables and interface boxes, and assistance with the correct specification of hardware components and software applications." By having a completely integrated system fleets don't have to worry about issues that can occur due to software conflicts or be worried about the time and knowledge that it takes to install and validate a system.

Use of the Internet

Technicians can use their computers to harness the power of the internet. They can do things such as view OEM service bulletins, manuals, electronic schematics and parts illustrations. Also, there are websites available such as Technician DNA (http://www.servicebaydna.com) that provides technicians with a free interactive forum. Technician DNA offers an easy way for technicians to gain experience and information on various vehicle maintenance topics from a large pool of experts. The ServiceBay DNA website allows users to learn, share, and participate in discussions about the industry by merely registering and logging on. The technician can post a question and wait for an email notification of a reply. The technician can also search for earlier answered questions by doing a simple key word search to determine if the question has been previously answered. Forums are a great way to gain information when technicians have exhausted the usual references and still don't have a solution to a diagnostic dilemma. Forums are also a way to meet and talk to other technicians with similar issues.

Selecting the correct diagnostic system along with the proper training and support can significantly increase the productivity of a maintenance department resulting in a high return on investment. Lenita Tillis is the Marketing Manager at Diagnostic Innovations LLC. She can be reached at (248) 850-7690. More information on the company is available at http://www.diagnosticinnovations.com.

For more information on Panasonic computer products visit http://www.panasonic.com/toughbook