Organize the shop, and keep chaos at bay

by Eric Berard

The Kenworth Québec dealership in St-Augustin-de-Desmaures was built from scratch, considering factors from ergonomics to the placement of every tool.

MONTREAL, Que. — The way a truck maintenance shop is laid out and organized can make a major difference in the uptime it can help to realize, making it a vital profit center.

Good organization will also benefit technicians’ safety and help attract new ones, finding comfort in a logically arranged workstation.

A clean floor that’s free of obstacles is the first common denominator to a successful shop, regardless of its age or size. Grease or oil deposits make surfaces dirty, but slippery as well. Hand tools, air lines or creepers lying on the shop floor are accidents waiting to happen, and they’re also counterproductive if technicians keep looking for the equipment they need.

“Somewhere in the world, there’s this massive collection of 10-mm sockets,” says Jeff Lindsay, a Mac Tools distributor out of Orangeville, Ont., referring to some tools’ ability to just vanish.

Optimizing space

As the fixed operations manager of the multi-store Kenworth Québec dealership, Sybille Lafrance says she and her team took advantage of their experience in existing locations when preparing the layout of the new facility in St-Augustin-de-Desmaures that was built from scratch.

Engine oil and various fluids are accessible via hose reels hanging from the ceiling. “The technician brings it down directly to the vehicle,” Lafrance says. The vertical configuration saves space and minimizes the risk of spills or tripping hazards associated with the use of funnels or jugs being carried around.

National Tank Services – Trimac’s maintenance division – also uses hose reels for fluid access, says vice-president Jan Cybulskie, who oversees 44 shops throughout North America.

Although, most of its sites are not brand new.

“Retrofitting some of these facilities is still a little bit of a challenge,” Cybulskie says.

But he and Lafrance share many organizational methods.

For obvious reasons, creepers need to be stored upwards when not in use. They can be hung to the side or left leaning on the tractor or trailer being serviced, Lafrance and Cybulskie suggest.

Wheel chocks can also be handy without obstructing the shop floor. Kenworth Quebec had horizontal bars similar to towel racks welded on work bench sides, where the chocks can be stored close at hand.

While the vast majority of mechanics and technicians across the country use their own tools and toolboxes, some tooling —  ratchet heads, drill bits, torque wrenches, weights used for precision engine re-assembly, and charging system testers — is usually shared by maintenance personnel and should be stored in a dedicated room or space so it’s always easy to find.

“We try, where possible, to have common used tools centrally located within our facility to minimize the back and forth,” Cybulskie explains.

“When things are placed in a clean and visually logical manner, it’s easy for anybody to find them,” Lafrance adds, referring to methods such as color codes for tool categories.

Painted markings on the floor can be a good way to identify the place where items such as jack stands should be put back after use. Drawn outlines on perforated boards with hooks can also help identify the specific location of a given hand tool.

Still, the policies to optimize shop spaces seldom restrict the shape or size of a technician’s personal toolboxes.

“From an overall recruitment perspective, if we started stipulating the sizes of toolboxes in a pretty tough employment market, I think it would impact our ability to hire new employees,” adds National Tank Services’ vice president.

As he visits the shops that form his customer base, Lindsay sees how attached mechanics are to their gear.

“Tool storage is a funny thing. There’s customers that will spend a lot of money on tools and then there’s some who will spend a lot of money on storage,” he says.

Lindsay also recommends using colors to help track of tools. He gives the example of a dark-colored flashlight that can be forgotten and unnoticed in the shadows of an engine compartment.

A shiny green or other bright color will be more convenient, he says. Mac Tools doesn’t sell any of the “black chrome” ratchet sockets for the same reason. “Colors, shiny chrome, [they] make a big difference in technicians losing tools,” he insists.

Shop ergonomics

One trend that Lindsay has noticed is the wider use of small carts to carry around tools and parts needed for a specific job, leaving the technician’s main toolbox to serve as the main storage area.

Lafrance agrees on the convenience of the multistage carts with lockable casters. The technicians she works with use them to place parts in a logical order, such as when they’re tearing down an engine. Those who take over the job will quickly understand what has been completed, and be able to roll everything into a different service bay if needed.

Each of Kenworth Quebec’s new service bays has also been standardized to ensure a familiar workspace for every employee.

Access to electricity should also be taken into account in such spaces. Parts catalogs have been replaced by laptops at workstations, and technicians use a growing number of battery-powered handheld diagnostic tools that all need to be recharged at some point.

“It definitely had an impact on the way we designed the location and number of outlets,” Lafrance says, referring to the dealership design.

While magnetized toolbox surfaces or tools could help keep those tiny screws and springs in place, there’s a downside to such a solution, Lindsay warns. A magnetized socket or wrench could cause electric interference to highly sensitive electronic components like an engine ECU because of the threat of magnetic induction, he says. If you’re testing a component, the magnetized tool could lead to an incorrect reading, whether it’s measured as voltage or milliamps, and potentially affect the functioning of the vehicle. The same caution should be applied when using devices equipped with a positioning magnet at the back.

The location of the compressor that drives air tools can also make a difference in productivity. Lafrance stresses that air lines should be of similar length so that each technician benefits from equal pressure. As compressor noise can also irritate workers, Cybulskie suggests that it can very well be installed outside the building.

Swinging glass doors similar to those used in restaurants are a great way to facilitate access and exit of the shop, especially when a technician has his hands full and can’t turn a knob. “In the diesel truck industry, parts are often large and heavy,” Lafrance says, referring to the need.

Meanwhile, vending machines located at strategic locations within the shop can be used to access high-volume consumables and avoid stock outages with the support of computerized inventory management. “We use them for fast-moving items such as tie-wraps or collars, things that mechanics use on a regular basis. They enter their employee code, take the quantity they need, and it’s automatically added and billed on the work order,” Lafrance says.

“We can monitor usage and set thresholds in terms of how many and how often an employee can access it,” Cybulskie points out, referring to the secured system.

And according to Kenworth Québec’s Lafrance, shop employees should be consulted from the very beginning and on an ongoing basis when it comes to organizing their work environment. “Everyone’s a winner when the whole team is involved in the process. People who are in the thick of it have great ideas,” she says.

“Even carriers with small shops can optimize what they do with simple management methods.”


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