Podcast Ep.10 — VMRS & Maintenance Reporting Part 1
Zach Searcy: [00:00:00] Welcome to the fleet code, a podcast brought to you by Fleetio, where we'll dive into the latest fleet trends, technologies, and best practices. Get the inside scoop. As we decode the challenges of fleet management. In this episode of the Fleet Code, Greg Madis, Fleetio's vice-president of product strategy is joined by two industry veterans, Jack Poster, and John White, who both have decades of experience, implementing and updating VMRS codes. This episode is the first of a two-part series, where we provide an overview of VMRS, its history and ways that fleets of all sizes can implement VMRS codes to standardize their maintenance.
Greg Mattes: [00:00:57] Hi, welcome to the fleet code. This is Greg Madis, the VP of product strategy at Fleetio. And today I'm joined by Jack Poster and John White, both VMRS experts. And we're here today to talk about VMRS. I'm going to let Jack and John just do a quick background on themselves. As you learn about their background, we've got two experts here to talk about VMRS today. So Jack.
Jack Poster: [00:01:19] Thanks Greg. And thanks for the invite. My name is Jack poster. I've been in the automotive industry for a little more than 40 years. The past 14 years I've worked for the technology maintenance council DMC. Of the American trucking associations. We are the caretaker of VMRS and I am the VMRS services manager. So I'm in charge of daily upkeep of VMRS dealing with the users of VMRS and adding new codes as needed for VMRS. And I appreciate the time and the chance to talk about my favorite subject.
Greg Mattes: [00:01:54] thanks for joining today Jack.
Jon White: [00:01:56] Greg, thank you, John White here. And it's nice to talk with you again, Jack. We've talked a lot over the last several years. I started working with VMRS in the mid seventies, as it was just starting to emerge in the industry and had a good career , nothing more than just looking at vehicle maintenance data with the objective of trying to minimize costs, minimize downtime, and certainly try to predict and forecast trends that are occurring with the fleet as regards maintenance spent a lot of time with literally hundreds of fleets that are using VMRs and I'm excited to be here and offer my perspective.
Greg Mattes: [00:02:36] Thanks for being able to join today, John really appreciate it. It's awesome to be talking to two experts. On this subject. Jack, what is the VMRS from your perspective? You're the curator of it, but what's your definition of, and what is VMRS?
Jack Poster: [00:02:49] The first thing I like to do is stress, what VMRS stands for, and that gives you an idea of what it's all about. It's vehicle maintenance reporting, and notice how I emphasize reporting standards. And John knows this perfectly well, cause he's the one that crunches the numbers. It is a universal maintenance language that gives the end user the ability to gather reports, to look for trends, to look for cost analysis, reliability analysis, with an easy way to do it. That cuts across any kind of anecdotal information. To me, VMRs is like zip codes and area codes. It's a coding convention. And I use the analogy it's like musical notes. It's the musical notes of fleet maintenance. You can put music in front of people, Beethoven, Beatles, don't have to speak the same language, but they can read the notes and play the music. So VMRS is a way of communicating, facilitating, benchmarking, and reporting. That's been in the industry since 1970.
Jon White: [00:03:50] There's no question that the reporting is the key. word in the acronym. The thing that comes to mind about VMRS is that back in the seventies, there was no standard way of communicating exactly what a truck is. And what are the components? What is an axle? Where does the actual end, and where do the wheels and brakes begin? And there was a structure that was needed not only internally to fleets, to communicate problems and insights about the trucks, but also externally to communicate between a fleet or a group of fleets and the manufacturer . To communicate problems that the industry as a whole was seeing. So this language, way of communicating what a vehicle is, emerged and it stuck, but because it was so needed back in the seventies, computers were just starting to get a foothold in the maintenance organization and it was needed. And so stuck and thank goodness for the ATA to keep it updated over the last 30 or 40 years. So that it's current and addressing what is needed in the fleet world today.
Greg Mattes: [00:05:08] Yeah, it's interesting. We talked to our customers did a survey we asked them about VMRs and about 65% of our customers had never even heard of VMRS. When you look across the industry I think we see something similar in the information. So curious, VMRs has been around since the seventies. And it seems like, there may be still people out there in the industry that don't know what VMRs really is.
Jack Poster: [00:05:32] Yeah. interesting Greg. The reason for that is VMRS is seamless . A lot of people are using it. They don't realize it. It's built quite a few fleet maintenance software products. But, like you said there is limited awareness. I deal with a pretty big core group of users. But there are people within the industry that have never heard of it.
Jon White: [00:05:50] Yeah. I Exactly Jack there's literally hundreds of implementations of fleet management, fleet maintenance, software packages. Thousands of implementations and very often you go into a fleet and they're using VMR. So you say, oh yeah, that's the VMRS, you're using reason for repair and they don't understand. They didn't know. Yeah. That's what we do. And that's great because it's just become the chosen methodology for communicating this thing that I would add. Greg hasn't been, over the last 20 or so years as a consultant to fleets around the country regarding asset and asset life cycle, there've been very few fleets that I've come across that don't use some level of VMRs. Whether it be in a homegrown maintenance reporting system or a commercially available fleet maintenance system, I don't know a software vendor out there. That's robust in the industry that doesn't align themselves with VMRs for reporting maintenance.
Jack Poster: [00:06:58] One other thing too. And I think John would agree with this. A lot of people call it ATA codes. I will get emails all the time. Can you talk to me about the ATA codes and when I emailed them back and I said, you mean, VMRS they don't see the connection. So you have to remember a quick history lesson from 1970 to 97 . American trucking associations were the caretaker of VMRs. It was called ATA codes, 97. TMC is a division of ATA. At that point, they passed the torch on to us. So we are now the caretaker. So that's when it really became vehicle maintenance reporting standards.
Greg Mattes: [00:07:35] Yeah it's interesting. You guys go back to how it originated and where it's from at the ATA and the referral, the ATA codes with that American Trucking Association who uses VMRS it sounds like it originated in the trucking space, but evolution, been over time for the use of VMRS.
Jack Poster: [00:07:52] At first admittedly, it was created for fleets. It was created by fleet managers for fleet use. And over the years, it has morphed to where some of the major OEMs, in fact, all of them are using VMRS in one form or another, in their warranty department, all makes websites, parts, websites. Over the years, parts manufacturers have been starting to use it. Service providers or the latest that are coming to the table. They are wanting to communicate with their customers, so they are implementing VMRS and a lot of states utilities and cities are using VMRS because we're branching out, putting in codes for lift equipment and off-road equipment. So it has branched out to quite a few other industries. Which I'm sure John has worked with quite a few over the years. You've seen the growth.
Jon White: [00:08:39] Yeah. It's been adapted to light equipment , and I think that started in the eighties. You're right. It was originally developed for heavy truck class seven and eight but very quickly the utility industry, the government sector recognize the power of VMRS for communicating information internally and externally and it stuck. The one thing that I would compliment ATA on about VMRs. And I can give you a good example during the eighties, As antilock brake systems were emerging on heavy trucks. Greg, do you remember the FMB SS 121? That regulation came up for requiring that all classes seven and eight vehicles would have any lock brake systems. There was a lot of maintenance problems to fix in the early eighties. The ATA adapted VMRS to cover all the new electronic components that were being put in a brake system. through that new coding structure, the industry could look at failure rates on anty-lock brake systems across the industry across multiple fleets and come to some understanding about what the true cost was and what the true failure rate was. this occurred again as we had to deal with diesel aftertreatment systems because of emission regulations. We've had to come up with new codes around the region and the after treatment systems in the exhaust system. I think ATA has done a really good job at adapting it over the years.
Jack Poster: [00:10:13] Yeah and the interesting thing that I deal with is I'm usually a year or two out before the technology hits of putting the codes in. For example, 2,009, 2010, I started working with two OE's on the SCR the EF system. Right now, I'm involved with a major OEM and a manufacturer on EV codes. That's the new horizon, that's the next horizon for vehicle code? So we try to get ahead of the technology to put the codes in. So they're ready for usage from day one. I have to say the EV codes are a whole new world, that is a whole new process. That's the hardest one I've dealt with so far. We're trying to enhance the descriptions because as everybody knows the data flow starts on the shop floor and it's gotta be correct. So We're trying to get the descriptions as user-friendly as possible. Whoever's inputting the data from at least start out on the right foot.
Greg Mattes: [00:11:05] Yeah, it's interesting. You're talking about the. EV and something, and a lot of the new, and I can imagine the technology and the differences. I know we're a few years away, but I got to think autonomous is that 10 times or a hundred fold of what Evie ends up being.
Jack Poster: [00:11:20] Yeah, that'll be really interesting, but getting back to how it's branched out just so everybody knows American trucking associations, we do licensed VMRS in the past month two provinces in Canada, Quebec British Columbia have licensed VMRS. It's being used all over the place. We've had an inquiry for the Philippines, Australia, Great Britain. So it's quite known all over , in certain areas.
Greg Mattes: [00:11:44] So it sounds like it's primarily used here, but it sounds like it's being adopted globally in a lot of cases. Fleets all operate the same way. I'm assuming that the value of the standardization allows it to be adapted by a lot of fleets. We've talked a lot about the background of VMRs and I'm curious, maybe we can talk a little bit about, really what is the VMRS and both of you talked about it's reporting and the value you get out of the VMRS reporting, but maybe we can just talk a little bit about the system itself. And what are some of the outputs that you get from leveraging something like VMRS. We hear from our customers all the time, they don't talk about, they want to use the VMRS coding system, but they tell us they want to track planned versus unplanned maintenance. And I know it's part of that. So maybe we can talk a little bit about what really are some of the key things that people use the VMRS for?
Jack Poster: [00:12:36] Let me give you an overview and an explanation. VMRS is made up of 65 code key, which is a terminology from the seventies, basically code sets that are within VMRs. You can assign a code to your equipment. It'll tell you the vocation. There are codes to decide what's under the hood, the length, the width, what type of cab, but I'll tell you what VMRS is known for. the super code keys that most fleets use. Code key 14, which is the reason for repair. That's a high level overview of why a piece of equipment came into a shop. Then there's code key 15, which has work accomplished. And that is a listing of labor that a technician or an end user can just point and click and give a quick definition of what they did why did they replace that brake drum or alternator. Then there's code key 18, which is a failure code. So why did that alternate, or why did that break trumps fail? There are listings of pretty precise listings of why that part failed. And then the main thing that VMRS is known for is code key 33, which is the nine digit component code, which is a logical method of describing a part. Right now I believe they're a little over 34,000 components listed. We have anything from work shoes to brake drums, to sensors, you name it's in there. One thing I want the people to know is VMRS is always adding new codes in, it just doesn't ever stop. We're always adding new codes in. There's also a database of code key 34, which is the manufacturer supplier and the brand database. Every manufacturer would have a five letter alpha character code. So there are position codes and VMRS, there are codes for refrigeration equipment. So there are codes to track warranties. I used the word men number mate, and it's identification numbers. We all know what a VIN number. I coined the term in number maintenance identification. If you're using VMRs, you could put that string of information together and have a personalized maintenance identification number assigned to each piece of equipment. and they can design and look what reporting they want to get from that.
Greg Mattes: [00:14:42] So Jack 65 code keys, 34,000 at the component level seems pretty complex.
Jack Poster: [00:14:49] Well, but there's a logic. The other code keys are nowhere near that in depth. For example, in reason for repair, I believe there are about 45 different codes in work accomplished. Maybe 80 of failure codes are a little over a hundred. And the thing that I'm always fascinated with is the people that go back to the seventies that developed this, they had no idea what a personal computer was. For them to design this using numbers, it morphed right into the computer world.
And now that we live in a point and click world, it's perfect to be embedded in that software which you have to remember. And John could dig in deeper with this too. There's a logic behind the component code. For example, all brake parts start out with 013. That's the logic behind VMRS. All tires are O17. So there's a logic behind the VMRS as part number. Now it doesn't take the place of the manufacturer's part, but there's a logic behind that. Whereas the manufacturer's part number really has no logic. It could be a string of numbers, letters, but when you want to recall the information from VMRs, the computer recognizes the number.
Jon White: [00:15:58] A couple of things to add to that is the code key that defines the vehicle at the part level is tiered. And the terminology that ATA has adapted as system assembly and part. So in the cooling system, which is 042 there's assemblies, and one of them may be the radiator. The beauty of VMRs is that when a fleet is setting up a coding structure, they can choose the level of reporting that they want to code to. And I give you an example, most fleets will just code the cooling system as 042 and all the parts and labor associated with that would go in against 042. But if you were having water pump problems you may want to selectively code 42004 to track water pump failures. So it's structured in a way that the fleet can adapt VMRS to their own level of reporting they want to do and their application. The other thing that I would mention Greg mentioned I think the reason for repair codes and VMRS has got some hidden logic in it. So that in capturing costs associated with maintenance. You can segregate pure maintenance cost versus management decision maintenance costs versus outside influence maintenance costs. And a perfect example is when you're comparing one group of vehicles versus another group of vehicles you want to exclude all the accident costs. So VMRS allows you to capture costs associated with just pure maintenance or accident, or, when you're budgeting for maintenance, you budgeting based on the life cycle of the vehicle. You want to be sure that you are highlighting any costs associated with say operator abuse or operator neglect. you have ways inherent in the structure of VMRS to make those segregation so that you're talking apples and apples when you are making comparisons and doing benchmarks.
Greg Mattes: [00:18:06] Yeah. So you've got a high level that you can do from a report. You talked about 042 John the . Cooling system. And that's important to understand like where you're spending your dollars on, maintenance and repairs. But some of you said it was interesting, the reason for repair and the accident. So I guess when I think about it with total cost of ownership accidents are not really tied into overall maintenance. And if you're thinking about the reason that you're repairing vehicles in case of an accident or a decision that the overall management and organization made to add something or do something on a vehicle, those all inflate the overall total cost of ownership of a vehicle. And if you can't segregate that you're maybe making some decisions and things that are standard across the vehicles, it gives you the ability to reserve the standard maintenance items across the vehicle and make sure you're making the right decision for your fleet. Am I hearing that right from you?
Jon White: [00:18:58] Yeah, I may be running on a fleet of tractors and trailers, and I decide that I want to put a fender skirt underneath the trailers for aerodynamic efficiency to save fuel. And that would fall right on the maintenance department and add the fender skirts below the trailer. And that might cost tens of thousands of dollars if I'm doing a few hundred trailers so that maintenance costs can be segregated as capital improvement under a reason for repair, so that when you're making those lifecycle costs, you can exclude a management decision or capital last cost across the fleet. The other thing that I mentioned about that when you set up, Greg mentioned that there's 30 or 40 reasons for repair, most applications that I've been involved in implementing VMRs. The fleet manager wants to keep it simple for his surface riders. He wants to keep it simple for his technicians. And he may say of these 30 or 40 reasons for repair. I'm only going to use seven. Three or four for maintenance, one for capital improvement and one for accidents and outside influence for operator abuse. And you can structure it the way that you want to manage the fleet and implement the fleet at whatever level you want to.
Greg Mattes: [00:20:13] Yeah. So I know I asked this before, but it's, again, sounds pretty complex overall. When you've seen implementations and fleets implement what have you seen the most successful leads do? How do they go about the implementation? How many codes do you think they start with, again, it seems complex. So what do we think about when a customer is wanting to implement the coding system with VMRS?
Jon White: [00:20:34] Let me jump in on this. Cause Jack, you know, how I feel about metrics and I feel that VMRS offers a way to build high level metrics that point to potential problems. For example code keys that scheduled and unscheduled repairs it's repair class, I think. And if you drive a metric based on that, you can see what's causing unscheduled repairs. How frequently are unscheduled repairs occurring and what's causing it. Is it the cooling system? Do I need to maybe have more training for my technicians around breaks because I'm having too many reworks. So you can structure VMRs in such a way that metrics rise to the top of all of this data and allow you to look at the fleet at a high level and then get some indication of where problems may be occurring.
Greg Mattes: [00:21:31] So if I'm a fleet manager and I'm not using VMRS or I'm not necessarily taking the time to capture some of the information or some of this data. As we know, there's a ton of data now with telematics and the amount of data that a fleet manager can potentially have today there's a ton of it out there. So it sounds John, like you just described, take the time, have a standard coding system that you use. VMRS sounds like it's the standard that most we should be using if not all fleets. But it's really about driving the high level places to go look for where there are potential problems with your fleet. We hear from fleet managers all the time that there's so much data I don't know where to look or I don't know how to start. So it does the work on the front end to make sure you're standardizing your data. And then the output can look high level and I can go find where my potential problems are quickly at a glance.
Jack Poster: [00:22:25] The other thing too Greg. One of the unique things about VMRS, that makes it less complicated, no two fleets are alike. So no two VMRS users are going to be alike. If a fleet manager or the fleet does their due diligence and selects the code keys and the data that they want to use, that makes life a lot easier. I don't know of any fleet. And I don't know if John uses all 65 code keys. a rarity. Most of them use maybe 5, 6, 7 at the most 10 Code keys. Start small. I tell people this, if you're not refrigerated, if you're not hauling reefers, don't show the reefer code. If you're not doing bodywork, take the bodywork codes out, make it light, make it a lot easier, but you can get as granular as you want with VMRS or you could just skim the top, but by using those code keys, it gives you a bucket where that data resides. That your failure codes are going to be in code key 18. That your work accomplished is going to be in code key 15. It makes it easy. You actually know where everything is housed and each fleet. And the one rule with VMRS is don't make up your own codes. That's a no-no because you can mix oil and water, but As long as you're using the codes that are set, you can tailor it to each individual fleet and go as granular as you want.
Jon White: [00:23:49] One thing I've noticed with the vendors that offer software systems around vehicle maintenance and use VMRS is that over the course of the years software providers initially were trying to get their hands around VMRS. How are we going to code it? What are we going to offer to our customers? What do our fleets like to use in terms of code keys? And Jack's exactly right. I usually don't see very many fleets implement many more than a half, a dozen code keys. And what happens is over the course of the year as VMRs have been used more and more, we're starting to see refined and very specific metrics that are becoming standard across the industry. And in fact, there is a task force, I think in TMC, that's dedicated to keeping a set of standard metrics and they've done a good job in selecting a few that are important . But the beauty is that a metric can be trended. So you may have a metric, let's just say percent scheduled repairs. And I want this number to be above 75%. And let's suppose that over the last six months it started to drop and it's still above 75%, but I can look at that trend and I can see that it's falling and that indicates a lot about the operation. What I'm seeing in the industry is the software providers are doing more of this looking at trendable metrics so that we can generate insights about problems a little bit and lots of times before they even occur.
Greg Mattes: [00:25:30] Both of you have mentioned a few times and I've heard it come up, around doing maintenance in house and and the technicians using some of this. So would you say it's primarily used in-house? Do people use it when they outsource maintenance? We know that there's a lot of fleets out there that don't do their own maintenance in house. How do you see VMRs being adopted from that perspective?
Jack Poster: [00:25:49] Well, I can tell you who has reached out to me recently with more and more fleets using outside sources, they are going to the service providers. It could be a major OEM service provider. It could be a mom and pop and asking them, could you please communicate to us somewhere in your work order or my invoice for the MRS code? That is a new area that BMRs is getting into. I've had quite a few conversations with service providers recently, but when a major fleet comes to a service provider that says, we'd like to do business here, but we need the VMRs codes. That's when they contact me or they'll contact someone like John and say, we need some help here. The best word of advice I can give to anybody using VMRS. I . Don't care who you are, the word I stress is auditing. If you're dealing with a service provider that's giving you VMRs codes, audit some of the codes they're giving you. If you're dealing with a parts supplier, that's giving you VMRS codes. Double-check if your people are giving you VMRS codes, try to train them, it should be an ongoing process. You should develop a process of VMRS ongoing training. VMRS Auditing has someone like John come in, spend a couple of days. He can even do it virtually I imagine and double check what you're doing. Because that data flow is valuable and it's important that it's done right.
Jon White: [00:27:12] That's a real good point. Jack, I worked with a fleet that was implementing VMRS across about 600 shops. And we did the training and we had a software product that we were putting in. What we found was that we needed to have a way of monitoring the degree to which different shops and regions activate VMRS correctly. So we developed a little set of compliance indicators. That allowed us to look at the degree to which VMRS was being used at this shop versus that shop or this region versus that . So that we were sure the data that was coming into the let's call it, the central fleet organization was reliable. And then, the great thing about VMRS is that if Jack was running a fleet and I was running a fleet and we wanted to look at cooling system repairs, we'd have apples and apples. You can homogenize this data across the industry or across the industry fleet segments because of the nature of VMRS . And I think that's a real, beautiful thing about it.
Greg Mattes: [00:28:20] That's awesome. Just to talk through a few things and recap what I've heard so far, so VMRS is really just a standardization of your maintenance data or your fleet's data. It's used heavily by fleets to drive, reporting and KPIs to improve their overall fleet operations. Many of the fleets don't even know they're using VMRS today that are out there that are using it. They're using it as a way to drive those KPIs. I heard start small as you start to think about implementing some of the standardization and also the last piece was auditing. So it's the constant training and following up and auditing of both, if you're using in-house maintenance and then how shops as well as your third-party has its part suppliers, OEM service providers sounds like there's definitely a path and a best practice around how you would go about starting to use the VMRS standardization.
Zach Searcy: [00:29:03] Thanks for listening to the Fleet Code. If you're looking for a modern software solution to effectively manage your fleet, be sure to check out Fleetio.com/podcast to learn more. Join our monthly newsletter to stay up to date on all things, Fleetio. And don't forget to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by following at Fleetio.