Today's Trucking

The Productive Shop

Posted: December 28, 2015 by Jim Park

Downtime costs money. Nobody wants to keep a truck in the shop any longer than necessary. So here’s a question to consider: is your shop as productive and efficient as it could be? Some things you just can’t change; for example, you can’t suck oil out of an engine any faster than it wants to flow, but could you be doing something else to the truck while it’s in the oil change bay, like topping up its tire inflation pressure or checking its alignment? 

So much of what used to require manual hands-on labour can now be automated, and many tasks that once had designated areas in a shop or even needed dedicated personnel can now be done simultaneously, thus reducing the time the truck is unavailable.  Let’s use the basic PM as a starting point. The truck is in over a pit for an oil change, so it’s sitting still on a level floor. Modern laser or infrared alignment tools can now be mounted on the truck in a matter of minutes and the alignment checked before the oil has drained. Tire tread depth and inflation pressure can be checked by simply driving over a plate in the ground. Brake performance can be verified as you’re driving the truck over the pit, or on the approach to the pit. Using multiple tire inflation chucks, all tires can be inflated at the same time using a preset pressure gauge.

By the time fresh oil has been poured into the engine and the filters tightened up, the truck could have had four or five service procedures done. 

Here’s a look at a few technologies that can help refine the service process and save some real time on basic maintenance procedures.

Tire & Wheel Service

* Calibrated air systems and multi-fill tire inflation lines. It’s easy to build a multi-hose manifold with a calibrated pressure gauge where any number of tires can be inflated simultaneously. Once the chuck is on the tire, the technician can go on to some other task, like retorquing the wheel lug nuts or visually inspecting the tires.

* Taking the multi-port inflation concept a step further, dual-tire pressure equalizers from Link Manufacturing (Crossfire) or Dual Dynamics (Cat’s Eye) provide a visual indication of the inflation pressure and a single inflation point, saving the time and trouble of checking and inflating the inside tire.

* Check your tires just by driving over a plate in the floor. A system from PNEUSCAN uses sensors embedded in a plate to read the footprint of each tire. They capture information about the truck and its tires as well as the load, profile and pattern of the tire while measuring tire pressure and tread depth. Data is displayed on a screen and can be printed or uploaded to a maintenance database.

* Check your tire pressure on the fly. Many contemporary tire pressure monitoring systems, such as TireVigil from TireStamp or Bendix’s SmartTire, now offer a telematic component that sends collected tire data right to the fleet maintenance manager’s desk. While that total volume of data can be overwhelming, managing by exception has become the standard practice. Maintenance staff can be alerted in advance to a problem tire and the truck can be scheduled for service at the earliest opportunity.

* Check your tires by proximity. Systems such as Stemco’s BAT RF read data from sensors mounted in the tire or on the wheel by proximity to a reading device. Some can be mounted at the entrance to a terminal or technicians can “wand” the tire during a yard check to upload pressure and mileage history. Again, anomalies can be singled out for further attention.

* Portable systems like the Mobile Tire Pressure Equalizer from IPA Tools can be moved around the yard to service parked equipment.

* Installation and balancing. It’s still common for fleets to mount and dismount tires manually, with hammers, irons and a good strong back. The problem is, those strong backs are getting hard to find, for one thing, and that mounting process can be fraught with problems, from non-concentric mounting (which leads to imbalance issues, driver complaints and premature tire wear) and to possible wheel and tire damage from careless or inexperienced use of the tools.

Mounting machines from suppliers like Babco, Hunter, Hitin Enterprises and others can speed the process, make it safer and improve the accuracy of the mount, which will make the tire easier to balance the improve tread life.

As we just noted, improper mounting can contribute to an out-of-balance condition, which takes time to resolve (deflate, reposition the tire on the rim, re-inflate, etc.), but if the tire is mounted properly from the start, adding a little weight to balance it doesn’t seem so unreasonable. And balanced tires tend to run longer to removal, thus improving the ROI on the tire. Tire balancing machines, such as Hunter’s ForceMatch, can give you a better mounted and balanced tire every time, more accurately and faster, in all likelihood, than a tire technician can using a hammer and a tire iron. The payoff is faster turnaround time, better tread-life and possibly improved fuel economy.

Alignment & Chassis

* In-floor brake performance testers are becoming more common, and less expensive. After the initial modifications to the floor, brakes can be checked at low speed on the approach to the oil change pit. Any adjustment or service that might be needed can, again, be performed while the oil is still dripping from the pan.

* Portable Alignment Systems. Until recently, checking alignment was a pretty big chore. Now, the checking part of the job can be accomplished in literally minutes. Infra-red and laser systems from Bee Line, Hunter, MD Alignment, and others can be mounted on the truck and the checks performed before the oil plug is even out of the engine. With the process that simple, it makes alignment a more compelling maintenance proposition. According to Hunter, about 7 out of 10 trucks suffer some sort of misalignment. Since alignment can impact driver satisfaction, fuel economy and tire wear, keeping the truck on the straight and narrow pays off in more ways than one. The more alignment checks you do, the faster the equipment pays for itself. The beauty of it is, you can do it in the oil change bay while something else is going on. If repairs are required, you can move it another bay or schedule the repair for another day.

Batteries & Electrical

* Batteries are critical to today’s heavy reliance on electronic components, those same always-on electronics conspire to sap batteries of their life-giving juice. Why risk a no-start situation when you can easily check the batteries during an oil change, even if the driver isn’t complaining?

* This bit of advice comes from Bruce Purkey of Purkey’s Electric in Lowell, Ark. He’s a regular contributor at ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council’s S-1 Technical sessions. Purkey suggests fleets keep a store of freshly charged and serviced batteries on hand. Rather than replacing one suspected bad battery on a truck, change them all out and service the originals while they are off the truck. Generally only one of the batteries in the pack is bad; the rest are likely discharged due to the bad battery, he says.

* A critical part of a successful battery program involves setting up a “battery room” with a staging area, a test area, a waiting area and a ready for service or scrap area. Batteries removed from a truck are set in the staging area to be charged prior to testing. This area should be equipped with smart chargers that do not require constant monitoring. Once they are charged they can be moved to the test area, where they are tested and then tested again a couple of days later to ensure they are good enough to be put back into service. Good batteries can be set aside to replace troublesome batteries on trucks, while the bad batteries can scrapped or returned for warranty credit.

Automated Reporting

* Trucks are spitting out more and more data all the time. The question is what to do with it. Maintenance managers who have learned to drink from the proverbial fire hose are better positioned to get all the information working for them. From tires to emissions systems, data can keep managers ahead of the maintenance curve.

* As we have already noted, tire pressure monitoring systems generate plenty of data on tires managers can use to predict pull dates and mileages, when to inspect a tire and when to ignore it and even when to pull a tire because it was run underinflated sometime in its past.

* ECMs, anti-lock brake systems, collision warning systems, and more all generate data that can be sorted by exceptions for the maintenance department’s use. Plenty of maintenance management software programs can help with the sorting and alert managers to pending troubles so the truck can be serviced in the shop rather than at roadside following a failure.

* Drivers’ daily inspection reports have been automated now and can alert managers to vehicle defects as the driver spots them. Devices such as Big Road’s electronic vehicle inspection smartphone app and CollectiveData/Zonar’s EVIR device transmit noted defects in real time. Some devices guide the driver through the inspection and use all the same check boxes as a paper report. They come through electronically so they are legible and accurate and don’t have to be deciphered by a driver-lingo translator.

Importantly, such devices alert managers to potential troubles so a go/no-go call can be made in exceptional circumstances, or at least the defect can be noted and scheduled for repair and the next opportunity.  



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