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Calling All Technicians: APTA Talks Maintenance

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Nearly 175 industry members gathered at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel in Charlottetown, Mar. 28 for a three-day Truck Technology and Maintenance Conference.


SHOP TALK: Moderator Bill Power, Canadian sales manager for Stemco Canada (right), led a panel of component representatives, including (right to left): Scott Mahar, Atlantic Carrier Transicold; Robert Goodwin, Parts for Trucks; Brent Talbot, Roadranger Field Marketing; John Birtwistle of Arvin Meritor; Mike Sollows of Stemco Canada and Alan Hicks of Maritime Thermo King. Some of the issues discussed were corrosion of parts, torque checks and wheel end issues, reefer maintenance and optimum oil change intervals.  Photo by Katy de Vries
SHOP TALK: Moderator Bill Power, Canadian sales manager for Stemco Canada (right), led a panel of component representatives, including (right to left): Scott Mahar, Atlantic Carrier Transicold; Robert Goodwin, Parts for Trucks; Brent Talbot, Roadranger Field Marketing; John Birtwistle of Arvin Meritor; Mike Sollows of Stemco Canada and Alan Hicks of Maritime Thermo King. Some of the issues discussed were corrosion of parts, torque checks and wheel end issues, reefer maintenance and optimum oil change intervals. Photo by Katy de Vries

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Nearly 175 industry members gathered at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel in Charlottetown, Mar. 28 for a three-day Truck Technology and Maintenance Conference.

The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association’s Associated Trades Council organized the event and, judging by the response and turnout, it was a success.

“By and large, everyone seems impressed with the presentations and have hopefully had some of their questions answered, or at least know now who they can speak to in order to have them answered,” said Ralph Boyd, president of the APTA. “We surveyed our members last fall to see what sorts of topics they wanted covered at this conference and I think we have pretty well fulfilled those requests.”

Boyd acknowledged that carriers find it difficult to let their people go for a couple of days and lose out on the work at the shop but added that technicians require such a scope of knowledge that it’s critical to gain the information and knowledge available at these seminars.

“Although some companies couldn’t afford – time-wise – to let all their employees attend, a good number of them were represented in some fashion, and that is a positive indication that the industry is busy and things are looking good,” said Boyd.

What follows is just a sample of what invited speakers had to say to conference delegates.

Emerging technologies

The growth of new trucking technologies is dictating the need for more maintenance and technology best practices, according to Carl Kirk, the Technology and Maintenance Council’s (TMC) executive director.

Kirk kicked off the conference with a talk on emerging technology trends.

(TMC, part of the American Trucking Associations, is an organization dedicated to providing maintenance and technology solutions to the trucking industry through education, networking and standards development.)

Kirk identified three major technology developments that will require the adoption of best practices when it comes to maintenance.

“Electrification, the advent of multiplexing and service and diagnostics challenges are three things that we are up against and that have potential to change the way we drive, repair and manufacture trucks and components,” said Kirk.

Truck stop electrification (shore power availability) goes hand-in-hand with better cab design (it’s easier to hook up and more efficient for the driver than leaving the cab) and the fact that drivers’ growing infotainment needs are outstripping the 12-volt power available in their own trucks.

That raises safety concerns, said Kirk.

“Anything above 42 volts, we start to deal with health issues namely for the technicians using and working with the systems, especially when we start getting all sorts of different systems out there, so this pushes the need for standardization and reinforces the need to identify best practices,” said Kirk.

The average tractor already has over five miles of wiring, said Kirk, and multiplexing eliminates a good deal of it.

“We can think of two trucks sharing information back and forth as an ethernet connection in a computer,” said Kirk. “Two trucks can more readily talk to each other, which eliminates wiring needs.”

Diagnostics are going to be particularly important in the coming years, said Kirk, and technicians will need to know many more procedures and use more diagnostic tools than ever before.

“Equipment has to be redesigned to become more user friendly,” said Kirk.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will revolve around attracting employees willing to use the tools and adopt best practices.

“By 2010, the population in the 18-24 age group will decrease by 20 per cent, and this is the age group where most of the entry level technicians are drawn from,” Kirk said, adding the technician shortage currently plaguing the industry could prove even more crippling than the driver shortage.

For those already in the field, access to information and regular educational updates will be critical. By 2010 truck technology equipment usage will have increased by 10-20 per cent, Kirk said.

The TMC is hoping to deal with ongoing technological development through the Fleet Portal.com Web site.

Concerned with the amount of knowledge that the industry’s technicians are acquiring and maintaining, the TMC has developed a service allowing manufacturers and suppliers to upload parts information and maintenance practices information to the Fleet Portal.com Web site.

“Often shop manuals become obsolete or disappear completely and so this way the information will all be contained on one Web site and the technician will not have to waste time searching the Internet for the correct information. It will also serve as an important dissemination tool for suppliers,” said Kirk.

For more information visit www.fleetportal.com.

Inspection advice

Ron Richard, an inspection officer with the Department of Public Safety for the province of New Brunswick, addressed delegates on the topic of what they should expect during a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection – the visual procedure examining major component – used to determine whether a truck is road worthy.

Particularly problematic for North American trucks are their brake systems, said Richard. Inspectors keep a close eye on whether brakes are properly adjusted and whether the brake hoses are chafing.

Inspectors also examine exhaust systems to ensure they are properly placed and not leaking; fuel systems to ensure they are properly secured and not dripping, and frames to check for cracks.

Lights are another critical area inspectors check, as are tie-downs, particularly on flatbeds and log trailers, said Richard. Inspectors look for damaged tie-down straps and improperly secured stakes.

Improper securement of battery boxes and the spare tire are also noted.

The steering mechanism cannot have any welding repairs on it, said Richard, adding he’s seen a number of vehicles with components that have been welded to cut costs.

Suspensions are a big concern because there are so many different versions, he said. Inspectors examine the axle-positioning members. If they have broken or missing springs, air leaks, or if the bushings are worn or the component is loose, the truck may have to be repaired in the field.

Everyone wants to get the most out of tires in their fleet, said Richard, but if the tire standards are not met, there will be trouble come inspection time.

Wheels, rims and hubs also come under scrutiny. If one stud is broken, Richard said, then more than likely the others could be close behind. If the hubs are hot, it could indicate bearing failure and that is another thing inspectors watch out for.

Windshield wipers may be overlooked by maintenance staff and maybe even the driver, but not by inspectors, Richard said.

Unfortunately, some of the standards that can render a vehicle out-of-service following an inspection can be jurisdictional (provincial) in nature and cause headaches for drivers who drive cross-country.

“Atlantic Canada hasn’t caught up to the rest of the country with some things,” said Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. “For example, when drivers start mixing axles they cannot leave this jurisdiction, because if a driver is in Ontario and adds a lift axle, the vehicle will be impounded. Often times the driver may not know where the axle is supposed to go and that means the load is delayed and the carrier has to pay a fine of up to $20,000.”

Drivers need more education when it comes to such issues – something they can get from their provincial trucking associations and educational seminars, Boyd said.

As for inspectors, they have to be certified in order to perform inspections, said Richard, who has been inspecting vehicles since 1989.

“Often officers will say that once they go through training and see a few inspections, they view commercial vehicles very differently. They see the potential they have for both good and for causing problems on the road,” said Richard. “Inspectors aren’t technicians, t
hey are just out there to see what they can see. Teamwork is an important thing. If the technicians do the job in the shop to the best of their abilities and comply with their manuals, and drivers inspect the vehicle and if we, as officers, are out there inspecting and pulling unsafe vehicles off the road, we can create safer roads for everybody.”

Shop hazards

The shop can be a hazardous place – something technicians don’t always realize, until it’s too late, said speaker Matthew Tingley, health and safety officer for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, during his presentation.

“Until an incident occurs, we might not consider it (risk) something that we have to address,” said Tingley.

For every 600 near misses there is one fatality and $50 to $100 of lossed revenue or property damage, Tingley pointed out.

Technicians face all the hazards related to working in a closed environment with heavy equipment and potentially dangerous substances, Tingley said. They frequently have to climb on top of a trailer or look under the tractor. They have to look out for slippery surfaces, and take care of their tools to keep them functioning safely.

They have to avoid being electrocuted. And they have to make sure the other technicians around them are being just as safe as they are.

When an accident does happen, the effects aren’t just physical, said Tingley.

“We also have to consider that although property can be fixed and revenue can be regained, injuries carry on forever for the injured person and have a deep psychological impact. If a person is injured, he or she may not be able to return to doing the work they love to do,” he said.

Tingley stressed that when it comes to occupational health and safety issues, a wait-and-see attitude is a dangerous strategy.

Thinking ahead is essential, he said, and prevention, in the form of education, is key.

“You can have all the programs you want but it’s the people who make things work,” said Tingley.

To go through an accident investigation, a workplace inspection or to implement preventative measures, it’s critical for the management staff to know about every job and the hazards and possible incidents that could occur. He suggested that managers and supervisors receive the same training their employees must go through under the federal and provincial labor codes.

Safety procedures to prevent falls are also helpful (e.g. always keep three points of contact when climbing a ladder – don’t talk on your cell phone).

Technology can also make the maintenance shop a safer place – eye wash stations, safety showers, and carbon dioxide detectors that turn ventilation fans on automatically.

Tingley added that the material safety data sheets (MSDS) must be updated and revised regularly, and be in an easily accessible location, including information on hazardous materials.

Tire blowups during changes also present a hazard, Tingley said.

When a tire needs to be changed, it is best to do the pressure check when the tire is still in the cage and ideally with at least 10 feet of hose on the pressure device so that the technician can stand a safe distance away from the tire.

Develop a safety checklist and follow it, was Tingley’s final piece of advice.


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