One of the challenges in explaining how this technology works is adjusting how people think about transit bus maintenance. Where the service mechanic in the past would look at the problem, he or she would pull out the manual and look into the ladder logic that is behind that portion of software programming of the bus and work through to diagnose where the problem lies.
Williams compares this to the mechanic working on a car and when there’s an issue, they simply hook the vehicle up to a machine and all that data is pulled off the machine and the vehicle itself tells the mechanic what is wrong with it. “I have a hard time explaining why that was always the case,” Williams says. “It’s because there is so much customization done at very low volumes for different cities.
“The idea with this ladder logic is just outdated,” he stresses. “Our system can provide the ability to connect all the different subsystems on the vehicle. You put all that information together and just provide the diagnostic codes in one place, just like you would with an automotive system.
“The question keeps coming up, ‘Can you do ladder logic?’ And the idea is, it’s not even a relevant question anymore. We make ladder logic obsolete.”
As for software integration or network integration, Williams says they don’t do that themselves, they have partnered with Logena Automotive who’s been doing it for decades. This allows the bus manufacturer to focus on what they do best, and Logena consults and assists with integrating the system and getting together all the subsystems together in the most effective and cost-effective way possible.
NetworkFleet just celebrated its 10th anniversary last August. Founded by Diego Beiego, now the vice president of hardware engineering, while he was at MIT in grad school and working at General Motors, he came up with the idea of plugging into the OBD port of a vehicle and getting the information off of that.
The remote diagnostics interfaces with the engine computer to quickly provide valuable information to fleet managers when a problem occurs and provides diagnostic summary reports. It can communicate with a variety of vehicle protocols and standards, including CAN, ISO, J-1708 and J-1939.
When a diagnostic trouble code is triggered, an email notification is sent specifying the code and a description of the problem.
“He came up with this concept where we have this black box that’s underneath the dash, that’s inside as a GPS module and it has a cellular modem so it can transfer the information. It has a computer and it then plugs in to the engine computer,” says Craig Whitney.
If it’s a light-duty vehicle like a car or smaller trucks, they have an OBD port that the scan tool plugs in a heavy-duty vehicle, explains Whitney. As for buses and trucks, they have a J-1708 to plug into. “One of the pieces that we do is we plug into the engine computer, we have the ability to get the diagnostic information.
“So then it goes through and every two minutes it keeps track of where the vehicle is based on the GPS coordinates, how fast the bus is going, how the engine is running; it is pulling all kinds of different engine information out of there.”
He explains, “If you’re driving a car and that wonderful check-engine light comes on, it triggers what’s called a diagnostic solo code and whether it’s in a car or big trucks or buses, they all generate these diagnostic trouble codes and they basically give you information about what’s wrong.
“If one of those diagnostic trouble codes gets triggered, it automatically gets sent from the unit back to the Web site, so now the fleet manager or the maintenance manager knows this vehicle has this issue and they’re warned that it may be early indications of a problem.” He stresses, “You know in real time that this is happening.”
Whitney says that with the buses and heavy-duty vehicles, the diagnostic codes have three parts to it and they indicate which major system it is and the second piece that talks about the module components. “So it may be that the engine is the problem, the subsystem is the coolant and the operational thing is that it’s overheating.” He continues, “It sent you this series of codes and it’s a numeric code that the maintenance manager gets and can translate and know what that code says.”