In her last issue as Consulting Editor, Sharon Clancy delves into the archives and discovers just how far workshops have advanced since that first issue in 2004.
In the first issue of CVW, we remarked that commercial vehicle servicing was embarking on a period of change, but I don’t think we appreciated quite how wide-ranging some of those changes would be.
HGV and PSV servicing occupied an under-the-radar place in the industry: it was necessary but not high profile. As a technical journalist, I had been writing about trucks and components for 10 years, but the focus of industry publications then was on new products, not so much on how to repair and maintain those already in service. It was also the time of dial-up internet, few companies had web sites, so finding technical information meant resorting to manuals, not YouTube guides.
Our aim was to make key information easily accessible and also to provide workshops with the information they would need to meet the challenges ahead.
The changes and challenges have been huge, the transformation great. Here’s a few of the highlights:
In 2004, electronic controls systems were just starting to become more common but doubtful operators had to be convinced they would be as reliable as mechanical systems. Fast forward to today, and it is accepted that electronics played a key role in improving reliability, fuel economy and safety, among other benefits.
Service intervals have been extended, EBS has transformed braking performance and stability, automated transmissions have helped extend clutch lives, and LED lighting has improved electrical reliability. These developments mean servicing demands have changed dramatically and workshops have had to adapt.
In the first issue of CVW, we noted that workshops would need to invest in diagnostic equipment to be able to service this new breed of high-tech truck. Today, diagnostic software has become as essential in a well-run workshop as a correctly calibrated torque wrench.
It makes fault-finding quicker, which is turn is reducing the time a vehicle spends in the workshop – all good news for the operator who benefits from the lower costs and short downtime.
The paperless workshop
Back in 2004, we were still in the age of dial-up internet access and computerised workshop management systems were largely for those with both an IT support department and deep pockets.
The growth of internet-based pay-per-vehicle subscription software has made sophisticated but user-friendly workshop management systems much more affordable and user-friendly. These cloud-based systems are underpinning the drive towards digital service records and demonstrating real-time compliance.
Fleets can ensure records are up-to-date and third-party workshops are increasingly expected to provide digital proof of inspections and maintenance work done.
Compliance and testing
The HGV testing and compliance regime has seen one of the biggest transformations in the CV servicing sector for many decades, driven by the DVSA’s Next Generation Testing programme, launched in 2007. This has seen a huge shift from the majority of testing being undertaken at government-run testing stations to over 98% being at privately-run Authorised Test Facilities. More change is on the way, outlined in the just-published review of testing.
The other development has been a focus on year-round compliance, with well-behaved operators rewarded with less intrusion from enforcement authorities. The Operator Compliance Recognition Score scheme began the trend, and advances in computing and real-time communication has enabled the introduction of the Earned Recognition scheme – the compliance ‘Gold Standard’.
Braking systems have featured prominently in CVW since that first issue, and we make no apology for that – they are arguably the most important safety-related component on a truck.
Disc brakes were on vehicles in 2004, but the fact that they were low-maintenance alternatives to tried-and-trusted drum brakes – not no-maintenance – was a message the brake manufacturers were keen to get across. Today, braking systems are even more sophisticated with electronic control, AEBS and integration into systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control.
The parts market is another area that has undergone a transformation. In 2004, bargain parts from unknown sources in Asia had started to appear on the market, few truck manufacturers had an all-makes parts programme; and CVW was warning about the dangers of “bogus bargains”.
The parts aftermarket still poses challenges for workshops, despite the introduction of legislation such as ECE R90 for brakes. The globalisation of truck manufacturing means that cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality, buyer beware remains important: where did that white-labelled or distributor-labelled part originate?
Remanufacturing has continued its transformation from being thought second-best by many fleets, to its current position as a cost-efficient “green” alternative to buying new. Buyers still need, however, to distinguish between remanufactured and repaired or reconditioned parts.
There’s no doubt there is a shift going on towards what some have dubbed “intelligent maintenance”. The on-board condition monitoring systems for key vehicle systems such as brakes and emissions control will allow more precise predictive maintenance.
Operators will know exactly when a brake pad needs changing or an oil change needs doing, for example, before the vehicle is in the workshop. It will eliminate premature, just-in-case changing of parts and it is hoped it will save off-road time.
Electric vehicles and alternatively fuelled vehicles look set to be two of the biggest serving challenges for workshops in the next decade. But, just has the industry has risen to the challenge of increasingly complex electronics and emissions controls, so it will respond to these new challenges.
The commercial vehicle industry may have a Cinderella reputation but that doesn’t mean it is not one of the most interesting to be involved with. I have enjoyed my journey immensely and wish you all the best for the future.
Rise of the RBT
Demand for year-round compliance has seen sales of roller brake testers increase rapidly. We asked VL Test Systems to tell the story of the rise of the RBT.
Since CVW was first published in 2004, the number of roller-brake tester installations in workshops has increased significantly, driven in part by greater awareness of the need for trucks and trailers to demonstrate their roadworthiness throughout the year and not just at annual test time. commercial opportunity and, later, through commercial opportunity for independent workshops to improve their services to customers.
Back in 2004, testing was done mainly at VOSA testing stations and eight VOSA stations remain operating in the UK. Some large fleets, including large bus operators, recognised the enhanced safety assurance benefits of RBTs and were early adopters of RBTs. VOSA introduced on-site testing for fleet workshops with Designated Premises, the forerunner of the Authorised Test Facility programme introduced in 2009 that now accounts for over 95% of HGV testing in the UK.
Some of those early machines are still operating after 25 years in service, more than justifying the initial investment. Regular maintenance and calibration ensure they still perform satisfactorily and the demand for refurbished brake testers confirms operators appreciate this level of reliability.
The clearest example of productivity improvement was the change from two-man operation to one-man operation for brake testing. Originally, one technician had to sit in the vehicle, while the second controlled the test. Now, thanks to the introduction of Bluetooth wireless communication and improved electronics, a brake test can all be done from the cab by one technician using a dedicated handheld remote controller or a tablet with the brake test app installed.
The days when HGVs and trailers had just one brake test a year (or maybe two, with the other happening immediately prior to annual test) are in the past.
Large fleets have robust compliance testing regimes in place, requiring a RBT when the vehicle is in the workshop for a routine inspection. This attitude is spreading towards smaller operators and to independent workshops whose customers are demanding routine brake tests.
The sixth generation of VLT’s RBT software is in its final testing phase and will be available in the summer. It will enable the sending of brake test results in real-time to authorised receivers including operators and will help operators demonstrate compliance.