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Shop Talk

The popular Shop Talk information-sharing session was back at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars this year, with an overview of Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) kick-starting discus...

The popular Shop Talk information-sharing session was back at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars this year, with an overview of Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) kick-starting discussions.

Darry Stuart of DWS Fleet Management and John Sullivan of First Student -both Technology and Maintenance Council stalwarts -hosted the session. VMRS was presented as a way to track shop-related costs and inefficiencies using industry standard codes. About 25% of US-based fleets are using VMRS and others are using some form of the system without even realizing it, Stuart explained, since most maintenance software is based on some variation of the theme.

The goal is to be able to account for nearly 100% of a shop’s parts and labour costs by better tracking them and improving accountability.

Or as Stuart aptly explains: “VMRS is a process of organizing buckets of costs and finding where money is going into buckets every day.”

The premise behind VMRS is that, “Long before costs hit the reports, they’re visible on the shop floor.” One key element of VMRS is the so-called “five minute rule.” If a technician or mechanic has not figured out a vehicle’s problem within five minutes, he should notify a supervisor, Stuart explained. This eliminates the many hours of troubleshooting that are often wasted in maintenance operations that could easily be avoided by seeking a second opinion early in the process.

Using VMRS allows fleets to drill down to identify inefficiencies and using industry standard codes allows fleets to compare costs and establish benchmarks. It is also effective at bridging the gap between maintenance managers and bean-counters, by enabling managers to show money is being well-spent. VMRS allows users to compare work orders to time cards and ensure that nearly 100% of a mechanic’s paid time is being used effectively.

“So often, the (fleet) owner wants to crucify as opposed to manage and lead, and you need to have a defense mechanism,” Stuart said.

From there, it was time to open the floor for a no-holds-barred griping session. The only ground rules were that specific companies were not to be dragged through the mud or shamelessly promoted.

One manufacturer representative kicked things off with a complaint that too many fleets remove a part that’s covered by warranty, stick it on a workbench and leave it there indefinitely. Then they call and complain that it’s taken too long to get the part back.

This brought the discussion back to VMRS, which can help avoid such situations, according to Stuart.

“The part comes off, goes on the bench, goes on the floor and there’s no tagging system,” admitted Stuart. “There’s got to be a process put into place. Warranties are tightening up. We as fleets need to do a better job.”

Stuart said maintenance operations should be run like a supermarket -well-organized and clean. His criteria for a well-run shop is that anyone should be able to walk through it with their dress shoes on, get into their car, drive home and then walk through their living room without getting the rug dirty.

Some in the audience questioned how to get mechanics and technicians to buy into a VMRS system. Stuart summed it up succinctly: “COE -condition of employment.”

“You have to explain to them that they are an important part of the business, they are in control of the money being spent,” he added.

Sullivan suggested to “make it easy for them.” He said using point-and-click systems, laminated coding cheat sheets and other handy tools will ease the transition.

Stuart admitted many mechanics will initially resist the prospect of having their time tracked. But he pointed out, “We have a right to know what they’re doing.”

Another problem that was identified during the session was the unwillingness of managers to give mechanics and technicians enough time to properly get the job done -especially when it comes to wheel-ends. Stuart said if ever there’s a job that shouldn’t be rushed, it’s those involving wheel-ends. He provides legal consultations to fleets and wheel-offs are usually the worst cases to deal with, he said, while heaping praise on Ontario’s stringent absolute liability legislation that holds fleets 100% responsible for any wheel-off incidents they’re involved in.

“We wish we had that law in the US,” he said. “We preach about the Canadian law.”

Stuart instils a unique philosophy into the fleets he advises in the US: Refuse to place a time limit on preventive maintenance.

“Let them do the job right,” he urged. If one mechanic is regularly taking longer than others, then find out why, he added. It could be that they need further training or it could be they’re doing a more thorough job than their peers.

With maintenance managers facing cost-cutting pressures from upper-management, attendees asked about the feasibility of moving towards flat-rate pay for mechanics. This was quickly discouraged by both Stuart and Sullivan.

“I worked as a mechanic in a flat rate shop,” said Sullivan. “I know I cut a lot of corners when I was a flat rate mechanic and I don’t want my guys cutting corners.”

Stuart cited the example of a mechanic who’s been assigned a clutch replacement and then detects a leaky seal in the process. The temptation is to turn a blind eye to the leaky seal when he’s only being paid to replace the clutch.

Naturally, the topic of engine emissions came up eventually. One delegate complained about problems with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) being rendered ineffective by failing injectors, turbos, etc. Stuart and Sullivan said they haven’t heard of any widespread problems with DPFs. In fact, they said DPFs have been a non-issue with US fleets, most of which haven’t even switched to the recommended CJ-4 engine oil and have yet to experience any of the feared repercussions, such as the premature clogging of the DPF.

Despite their vast experience with US fleets, Stuart and Sullivan said they’ve yet to hear from a fleet that’s had to remove a DPF for cleaning or exchange.

“I’ve yet to talk to anybody who knows when they’re going to have to be changed,” Stuart said of the DPFs. “Nobody has yet had the experience of the cleaning.”

On the topic of 2010 engines, Stuart voiced concern about urea, which will be required by engines using selective catalytic reduction (SCR).

“I’m not upset about 2010 -I believe 2010 is really just a little bit higher level than 2007. But I am concerned about the urea,” Stuart said. “I’m personally not happy about it…I know it’s been used in Europe for eight to 10 years and it seems to work over there. But now we’re going to add an extra tank for urea, buy it, find it, make sure that it’s filled. And this sensor issue, we haven’t been able to get a fuel gauge to work on a truck in 30 years and now we’re going to have a sensor that, when the urea is low, is going to shut the truck down? Well, hopefully that sensor is not the same as (with) the fuel gauge. In the US, we don’t plan on buying a lot of trucks in 2010. Maybe in 2009, but I think most people are going to stay away from 2010.”

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