Gareth Evans reports on the launch of AD Connected, Alexander Dennis’ cloud-based online fleet management and pre-emptive diagnostic system, alongside its new parts website
ADL took a major step towards revolutionising the process of vehicle inspection, servicing and maintenance last week, when it launched a radical new cloud-based online fleet management and pre-emptive diagnostic system.
Branded as AD Connected, ADL says the new system underpins its commitment to embrace the latest technology to help it remain market leader in terms of customer support.
Trialled and developed over a period of 24 months by several well-known UK customers, AD Connected transforms the traditional approach to vehicle inspection by providing the most in-depth level of operational analysis and preventative diagnostics on the market.
The cloud-based system provides a clear, concise pathway, linking direct to operators either by registration, fleet or chassis number. The system has various support approaches that can be tailored to each customer’s needs.
AD Connected can also be used on the entire fleet range rather than be specific to one product or commodity type – it can be adapted for different types of fleet. The system is said to be compatible with CAN (Controller Area Network) bus on other manufacturer’s vehicles – the protocols being almost all the same.
“We recognise there is no one size fits all,” explained George McAdam, ADL’s Group Quality & Aftermarket Director. “I liken it to the old Woolworths pick and mix. It’s been set up to be as user-friendly as possible. We’re using this system to carry out all our inspections at our facilities.”
Asked whether it can be retro-fitted to Euro 4 and Euro 5, George replied: “The basic concept can be retro-fitted but it will depend on the level of technology on the older vehicle.”
Touchscreen menus simplify the whole process, enabling engineers and inspectors to move quickly around a vehicle, scrolling through options and selecting the appropriate, easy to use icon. Previous vehicle issues and recorded fault codes are also displayed on the tablet to provide a preventative maintenance guide, allowing operators to carry out repairs before issues occur.
There is also an option to add text notes, images and recordings that can assist engineering teams and mechanics to initiate modifications and repairs quickly. In fact, as soon as the inspector presses fail, the camera is brought up to prompt the user to take a photo. Video clips cannot be taken at present due to storage issues, but it is hoped to offer the feature in future. The system also has the flexibility to be customised to meet the needs of individual operators.
Forms can be bespoke to vehicles types and sub types – if a vehicle is fitted with seatbelts or a tachograph for example. A failsafe against the inputting of an incorrect fleet number is that the system can be set to only show vehicles scheduled for inspections – or similarly, vehicles can be allocated to an individual member of staff.
Recognising not all staff start their inspections in the same place on a vehicle, the system allows them to jump to a particular area, such as the inside. The form can be paused if an engineer is called away to deal with an emergency. To assist those who may not be confident at spelling, the system uses predictive text.
ADL personnel recommended having the system replicate an operator’s current sheets as far as possible to make it easier for staff. The form can be updated from one place across all locations – something that is sure to be of interest to larger group operators.
Bulletins from DVSA, manufacturers and operators can also be displayed – the system can be configured to not allow users to progress until they’ve clicked a read button for the memo(s).
After completing vehicle checks, AD Connected synchronises data to the main system, giving engineers immediate access to accurate information through web applications. Faults are scrutinised, organised and incorporated in a report that highlights how vehicle performance can be improved and up-time maximised.
On the web application, operators can also access a dashboard that enables them to view live information, service management and diagnostics, along with current vehicle status reports. Announcements can be made via the system to selected users, such as engineering management.
Other AD Connected options include a comprehensive telematics suite providing in-depth, live vehicle data on faults, predictions and recommended actions, fuel and driver performance. In addition, ADL has developed AD Protect, a bridge warning system that uses geo-fencing to trigger an audible alarm for drivers on the approach to low-height hazards.
Highlighting some of the features, Craig King, Aftermarket Business Development Manager, said: “This system allows an informed decision to be made by an engineer, rather than necessarily relying on the description from a driver who may not know what to look for if they have a problem out on the road. Therefore, for example, an engineer can decide that a vehicle is safe to drive back to a depot or is in need of recovery, saving the cost and time of despatching engineers to the vehicle at the roadside.
“It can also provide data to help with collision investigation, as well as fuel economy – if a vehicle is using too much, operators can see accurately. You can start to see recurring faults and begin to drill down on them.
“Electricians no longer need to wade through dusty, ancient manuals or to rely on their own pocket books when trying to diagnose a fault – they can access the latest information.
“Traditionally, maintenance has been paper-based. This is cloud-based, which leads to lower storage costs and less time spent on administration. It also means information can be retrieved rapidly.”
Commenting on the system’s development, George said: “AD Connected is an exciting bus industry first and we are delighted to be leading the way with this breakthrough technology. We have developed it in conjunction with customers such as Trent Barton, Blackpool Transport and Whitelaw’s Coaches, along with key providers in our supply chain network. I am grateful to all of those who have participated in this crucial development phase.
“Today is a milestone in terms of the aftermarket support we offer operators. AD Connected is unique in many ways, particularly in the options that can be configured, thereby enabling operators to bolt on the preferences that best suit their budget and operational needs.”
Chris Pannell, Blackpool Transport’s Head of Engineering, who was present at the launch, said: “This system is going to be a great asset to our business. ADL is future-proofing us. It’s vital for us in the engineering department to keep up with the latest developments.”
Asked by CBW if an electronic driver walkround system is to be available, Craig replied: “The ability to undertake a driver walkround check is expected to follow in due course. The reason we’ve not gone ahead yet is cost volume. Of interest to operators, particularly those who run coaches, it will be able to tell where the check has been carried out and how long it’s taken.”
In a further exciting development, ADL revealed it is integrating AD Connected into its new parts website, with the ability to link faults to parts, saving time and making easier for those at the sharp end.
New parts website
ADL’s new parts site was due to go live on Monday (April 23), offering the sort of practical, clear, easily searchable features commonly found in popular retail websites such as Screwfix and John Lewis.
Set to be user-friendly, ADL said it has listened to feedback from engineers. The site will work either on its own as a portal or it can be accessed by those using AD Connected.
“It doesn’t mean you have to buy a part from ADL, but you can see which bit to get,” explained Richard Jackson, ADL’s Aftermarket Technology Director.
“22% of our technical queries are about part numbers – a striking statistic. Our new website system has the ability to be searched by multiple part numbers such as ADL’s catalogue and that of the OEM.
“Users can create lists of components routinely ordered together, such as the parts required to carry out a service on an E200. That saves manually finding them.
“We’ve got schematic drawings – all engineers like them. Each part has a picture too – a photo paints a thousand words, especially for an engineer.”
The parts bulletin will also be available via the website, as Richard explained: “There is currently a risk that the updates can be emailed to someone who no longer works there if we’re not informed.”
Richard highlighted more features: “Each user/ operator can have a tailored experience. Pricing is dynamic – such as if we’ve previously agreed a rate, the site will know that. We’re looking at having the ability to create a single monthly invoice for operators if they want, thereby helping to minimise waste and maximise efficiency.
“As part of trying to make it as efficient as possible for all, we’ve added a ‘frequently bought together’ feature. For example, we’ve added gasket information to a compressor as when a compressor was ordered, no gasket was supplied, so some operators would have to order one. It’s a small but hugely beneficial change.”
Delivery options include customer collects, next day, Saturday, Sunday or before 1030hrs.
Customers will be able to return parts through the web portal too – they’ve currently got do it via the call centre.
Richard concluded: “It’s been independently tested for security. Launching in the UK market, it’s then going worldwide. We’re going to continue to evolve this.”