Predictive Maintenance

Helping predict the lifespan of equipment can positively impact the bottom line.

By William Wagner

How far can you stretch a buck? That’s the basic premise behind predictive maintenance, except we’re talking several thousand bucks here instead of just one.

When heavy equipment is the focus, accurately predicting the lifespan of its various equipment, parts, and tools can mean the difference between being in the red or black for a company.

So, what exactly is predictive maintenance—specifically in comparison to preventative maintenance that many groundwater professionals are more familiar with?

“Preventative is just like you do in your own vehicle, like your oil change,” says Gerry Mead, executive vice president of Hub Group USA in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Look at it this way: In preventative medicine, you’re going to get a physical; preventative maintenance is basically [the same thing in that you are] maintaining your vehicle.

“Preventive is preventing stuff from happening; predictive is predicting when something will occur.”

Mead gave a presentation on heavy equipment predictive maintenance at Groundwater Week 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Here, Mead shares his expertise in providing an overview of predictive maintenance.

Precise Predicting

The importance of predictive maintenance, or forecasting what might need to be fixed or replaced on your vehicle and when, can’t be overstated. With the abundance of sensors on today’s vehicles, it can be done more precisely than ever.

When will your brakes give out? When will your battery run out of juice? Sensory technology can tell you, and in the process, keep everything progressing according to plan on your jobsite.

“Is your vehicle sitting in park?” Mead asks rhetorically. “Because if it’s broken down, you’re not getting its intended use. You’ve got to start leveraging today’s technology, and what you see from your preventative maintenance. ‘What different items are failing?’ or ‘What different items are causing issues?’

“And then [it is a matter of] taking the analytics and establishing an expected life expectancy, and then pulling [a particular] part before it fails. That way you’re maximizing the life of your asset. When you look at today’s vehicles, there’s a treasure trove of data coming off them. It really provides you with the information you need to get to predictive analytics, which, at that point, helps you to maximize your cost of ownership.”

Mead divides predictive maintenance into three clear-cut categories:

  1. Vehicle records. “The first thing is you have to have accurate [maintenance] records,” he says. “Accurate records are key because that’s the first part of the information you need to take steps toward getting to predictive maintenance.”
  2. Historicals. “You have to have a history of what’s gone on with the vehicle and what happened to it in certain situations,” he says.
  3. Vehicle data. “The information coming off your equipment that’s available today is amazing,” he says. “It’s like OnStar—all the information is in there.”

There you have it: You combine the vehicle data with the historicals and vehicle records to give you established predictability.

Mead stresses that data is the key to the whole deal. In fact, his PowerPoint presentation from Groundwater Week 2021 borrows a 2017 quote from The Economist that reads, “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”

Avoiding Costly Downtimes

Even though data can be worth big bucks, those greenbacks might not initially be easy to see. Mead says the warranty needed to monitor your vehicle “could cost anywhere from $2500 to $7500.”

While it’s difficult to quantify the return you’ll get on predictive maintenance, he believes that shouldn’t stop a company from making the investment. To prove his point, he had an important piece of information in his presentation in Nashville that demonstrates the value of predictive maintenance:

The average cost of operating a truck in 2020 was $66.87 an hour. Maintenance and repairs accounted for 9% of that cost. If vehicle owners can streamline their maintenance and repair costs through predictive actions, that percentage should drop.

“It’s really more of a savings, because you can’t afford not to do it,” he adds. “Look at your downtime [in the event of a breakdown], and then go backwards and say, ‘How much of that could I have prevented?’ You can save yourself 50 percent of your costly breakdowns.

“In all the math I’ve ever figured out, it’s always a positive return on your investment. It might cost you a full-time employee to monitor everything, but in the end it’s all about if you break down on a job, what’s that going to cost you? If you don’t break down on the job, how much revenue have you generated?”

The problem seems to be in today’s busy world of long job logs is that many companies are not making predictive maintenance a priority because the benefits of taking the time to do so aren’t readily apparent.

“Usually, the records on equipment are documented really poorly by companies,” Mead says. “It’s the old adage of garbage in, garbage out. I want to say 25 percent of the companies have good information today. That means 75 percent just do not. That’s a huge problem.”

Indeed, as the costs associated with doing business soar and parts supply shortages continue to hamper the industry, predictive maintenance has become more important than ever. It is, as Mead puts it, all part of “doing things properly.”

Three Keys
1. Scheduled Services

  • Pre- and Post-Trip Inspection
  • Correct Scheduled Predictive Maintenance/DOT
  • Overdue Compliance
  • Audits
  • PM to PM Failure Analysis

2. Inspection Process

  • Ground Level Ownership
  • Vendor Ownership
  • Area/Shop Ownership
  • Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly Equipment Audits Locally
  • Corporate Level Audits

3. Compliance & Reporting

  • OOS Reporting (Out of Service)
  • Overdue Service Reporting
  • P&L (Specific–Job/Equipment)
  • Business Reviews with Top Vendors/Suppliers/Job
Listen to Heavy Equipment Ownership Presentation from Groundwater Week 2021
Sign up to listen to Gerry Mead’s Groundwater Week 2021 workshop, “Heavy Equipment Ownership: Annual Costs and Predictive Maintenance,” on the NGWA Learning Center.

Failure to adhere to prescribed maintenance impacts your drilling and overall business operations and can even prevent your safely getting to and from the job. Technological advances in tires and low-sulfur and biofuels have altered some maintenance procedures and time frames, so reviewing the manufacturers’ suggestions for your “new” equipment is imperative as it could dramatically differ from previous practice.

Click here to learn more and register to listen to the recording.


William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area, and can be reached at william.wagner7@gmail.com.