Parts shortages are beginning to affect fleet maintenance and repair activities, while a large portion of fleets are reporting delays in new truck deliveries due to shortages of parts and raw materials. From semiconductors to tires and even lumber for trailer floors, parts production is under pressure from stockpiling, rising prices and delayed deliveries.
Three-quarters of the fleets attending the Fleet Talk session at the opening of the ATA's Technology and Maintenance Council's virtual Annual Meeting indicated they are experiencing delays in new truck deliveries due to the parts shortage.
Reporting on the results of an online poll of attendees, TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell said, 75% of their respondents indicated they were having problems taking delivery of new vehicles because of parts shortage. "It's not anecdotal evidence, there's some empirical evidence right here," he said.
TMC had previously surveyed general members and found that more than 43% of the respondents said the parts shortage was impacting maintenance and repair. "More than half of them said downtime-related delays were stretching more than two weeks because of parts shortages," Braswell said.
Remarking on a recent visit to an OEM manufacturing plant, Kevin Tomlinson, the maintenance director at South Shore Transportation of Sandusky, Ohio, saw trucks parked all over the place waiting on parts. "I was lucky to get seven trucks out of 20 I had on order," he said. "The OEM couldn't offer any timeline on when they'd be able to get parts. It's terrible."
The shortage of semiconductors has been well reported, but the problem is now even filtering down to even the controllers for electric windows.
"I'm working with a fleet that has brand spanking new tractors, that because of parts, the electric windows won't go up and down," commented Darry Stuart of DWS Fleet Management, a panelist on the Fleet Talk forum. "We waited a lifetime trying to get electric windows, now we don't have parts to make them work."
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Braswell noted that rubber supplies are getting tight now too. Anything that uses rubber and rubber components are going to be in short supply, too, he warned.
"It's kind of becoming a perfect storm," Braswell said. "A rubber shortage is just one more thing we're going to be facing in the coming weeks."
Acknowledging that parts shortages could wreak havoc on preventative maintenance schedules and repairs, the panelist agreed it was time to get creative in the shop. Tomlinson of South Shore Transportation said he has taken to cannibalized old or wrecked trucks he still has on the property, while DWS' Stuart said they might have to reexamine things like filter change intervals.
"This could force fleet managers to look at things and maybe change some of their styles of performing maintenance," he said. "Maybe if there's a filter shortage, maybe we'll have to get a bit aggressive on the mileage or try to keep the tires on the trucks a bit longer than we're used to."
One attendee said his company started a year ago assessing the idea of pre-buying parts that could affect downtime. They pre-bought based on usage, pre-stocking items like turbo actuators, water pumps, ATR components and sensors. Because of that strategy, the fleet manager said he hasn't experienced any untoward downtime.
Stuart agreed, saying fleets should probably be stepping up stocking levels on certain items. "It's not only the truck being out of service, but also the technicians, whose time is now worth more than a dollar a minute, are waiting around on a job while the parts are tied up."
Right behind reports of shortage, of course, come price increases. We've seen double-digit increases in tire prices already. Are other rubber-based parts next, like air bags, o-rings and the like?
TMC's Fleet Talk forum can be a good indicator of what's going in in the maintenance world, as attendees are free to bring issues to the floor that are affecting their operations. While this year's discussions were dominated by parts shortages and procurement strategies, few chronic equipment problems other than some premature EGR cooler failures were brought to the table.
Stuart raised the question based on conversations he had a fleet that was seeing early failures of the EGR coolers. Tomlinson acknowledged he was pulling some of his EGR coolers earlier now than he has had to in the past.
"They seem to be having problems a little earlier in life than I'm used to, I mean 100,000 to 150,000 miles," he said. "That's a bit early for me. Now I don't have a lot of them because I don't have a lot of trucks in that area, and it seems specific to one OEM."
Maybe that's a bit of good news (for some fleets anyway) amidst some of the doom and gloom predictions we're hearing about parts supplies and pricing.