Maintenance

Commentary: The Best Maintenance Tools May Not Be in the Shop at All

February 2017, TruckingInfo.com - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

You can’t maintain and repair your trucks without tools. But the tools available to you today go far beyond wrenches and multimeters, even beyond portable diagnostics tools or computer tablets.

The most powerful tools you may not be fully taking advantage of in the shop involve information.

Of course, you’re holding one basic information tool in your hands. HDT has been bringing you the latest maintenance trends and practices, and basic how-to refreshers, for more than 90 years.

Last year, one of the things we told you about was using Lean and other waste-reduction systems in the shop. You don’t even have to officially use Lean tools, but the ability to analyze your shop processes and make it easier and faster for your techs to do their jobs is a powerful tool.

That’s just one way to use information as a tool. More data is available to the trucking industry today than ever before in its history. An amazing amount of information flows from the truck itself, much of it available at your fingertips via telematics even though the truck may be hundreds of miles away, from engine fault codes to the pressure in the tires.

In this issue’s story on uptime, Randy McGregor tells about how he looked for patterns in the data to determine patterns in emissions system failures, allowing him to get ahead of potential problems before they resulted in downtime.

But it’s easy to feel like you’re over your head in a sea of data. One tool that can help is standardized Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) — a system that uses numbers to describe parts and maintenance activities. This series of codes is used to describe virtually every facet of the maintenance operation, from parts to manufacturers to technician work to vehicle location. Although it was unveiled in 1970 by the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations, the latest version is proving an ideal tool at some fleets to help categorize and track some of that sea of information.

And speaking of TMC, not all useful shop tools involve physical tools or data. The Technology and Maintenance Council last year celebrated its 60th anniversary at its annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. If you don’t belong to TMC, you could be missing out on a lot of valuable information.

For starters, members get TMC’s Recommended Maintenance & Engineering Practices Manual on CD ROM, which includes 450 industry-recognized standards to help fleets run their equipment more efficiently and cost-effectively. We often cite these Recommended Practices, or RPs, as they’re known, when writing about maintenance issues. They’ve been developed by committees that include both fleet and supplier members of TMC, and voted on by the full membership.

At the annual meeting, you can listen in on these committee meetings, called task forces, and participate in developing new RPs. General technical sessions feature panels of fleets and suppliers to discuss the latest maintenance issues and practices. At the meeting coming up later this month in Nashville, for instance, there are will be sessions on diagnosing J1939 communication failures, VMRS, and preventing corrosion in wiring harnesses and connectors, as well as sessions on equipment spec’ing and design trends that can affect reliability, such as the limitations of downspeeding, and how greenhouse gas regulations will affect fleet operations.

And there’s simply the wealth of information — and the lasting friendships — that come from spending a few days getting to know your colleagues from other fleets.

Last year, TMC added a small fleet category, allowing carriers with 100 or fewer power units to join for only $150 annual dues.

So if you’ve never been a member of TMC, I urge you to look into it as a valuable tool to help you and your company be successful. And if you’ll be in Nashville, I’ll see you there!

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