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Prime Mover Magazine

Key maintenance trends for 2016

Key maintenance trends for 2016

With record attendance and heated debates over a three-day period, last year's ATA Technical and Maintenance Conference in Melbourne indicated just how important vehicle maintenance will be in the 2016 season.

The rising importance of Chain of Responsibility (CoR) compliance is only one reason why maintenance is the new buzzword in commercial road transport, as the ATA’s 2015 Technical and Maintenance Conference (TMC) in Melbourne proved. Equally important is the economic impact well maintained equipment can have on fleet performance and safety, Prime Mover’s research team found when compiling the most pressing maintenance issues of 2016.

With the National Transport Commission (NTC) currently reviewing the duties imposed on parties in the Chain of Responsibility by the Heavy Vehicle National Law, getting accustomed to CoR legislation is arguably the most pressing issue for many a transport business. Abiding by it dictates that every party in the chain should have the confidence that a commercial vehicle will pass any inspection at any time, especially the most important test of all – an emergency situation where the brakes, suspension and steering are under maximum stress. As such, CoR means that a problem is no longer just the fault of the driver or the person who told the driver to take off in the truck, but a multitude of stakeholders from top management to maintenance personnel – forcing industry to embrace the topic as quickly as possible to remain ahead of the game.

Despite widespread agreement on the importance of maintenance for safety, the cost of it is still a polarising topic and can directly affect a company’s competitiveness. While large-scale businesses have developed the economies of scale to maintain high quality maintenance without passing on too much of the cost to the end-customer, most trucking operations in Australia cannot compete under the same model and are therefore unable or unwilling to make the commitment for a new truck, TMC showed. In line with that, there is a lack of understanding as to how long a new truck can be assumed perfectly roadworthy, and whether or not a truck built a decade or so ago must necessarily be considered ‘old’. After all, trucks can be a bit like Granddad’s proverbial axe – it had three new handles and two new heads since he bought it, but it’s still regarded as the same axe.

A key cost-driver, downtime will be a reoccuring talking point in 2016. Maintenance is no longer seen as an umbrella term for the procedures that need to be performed to ensure warranty coverage or compliance with roadside inspections – it is a make-or-break issue for the entire operation. Maximising uptime will be a crucial challenge to remaining commercially viable in the year to come, with every minute off the road eating into a company’s profit margin – regardless of whether maintenance is performed in-house or not. A complicating factor is that even though the development of cleaner, more efficient engines has helped extend oil change intervals, there are now even more components that require regular inspection, adjustment or replacement.

Small operators who still perform all maintenance in-house feel increasingly disadvantaged, TMC showed. Modern trucks require a lot more specialised servicing equipment than even a decade ago, and along with it comes the need for the expertise in using it to diagnose, service and repair the current range of sophisticated vehicles – effectively widening the gap between corporations and small businesses.

Workplace Health and Safety
Workplace Health and Safety (WH&S) continues to be a key issue in that context, both in the workshop and during roadside repairs. The safety risk of working unprotected just metres from 100 km/h traffic, combined with the cost of equipping a service vehicle and staffing, is quickly making towing a broken down truck to the nearest service centre the preferable option. While this may be the best result for the service provider in terms of safety and investment, it will substantially add to the costs of the vehicle owner due to towing fees and additional time off the road.

Driver education
Next to regular maintenance in the workshop, the drivers’ daily checks continue to be a cornerstone of vehicle safety, compliance and reliability.  However, the system has shown flaws as of late as fewer current truck drivers have the same degree of mechanical aptitude than those taking the wheel in years past. Despite having less technical knowledge, they have to take on the same responsibility, though – not only for their own lives and those of other motorists, but also for millions of dollars in freight and equipment. As a result, pre-drive check will become more critical in 2016, with fleets trying to prevent drivers from simply ‘ticking and flicking’ a sheet of paper. A program to address the issue is already underway and based on a number of QR code decals close to specific areas of the truck that need to be scanned prior to take-off.

At the 2015 TMC, it became obvious that there is a strong feeling in the industry that enforcement agencies should focus on the bigger picture and involve operators who exhibit systemic non-compliance rather than those who may have a cracked reflector on an otherwise exemplary maintained vehicle. However, it was also evident that inspectors, police, operators and even OEMs still have divergent views about what is critical to roadworthiness, and the severity of individual defects. In an effort to address this, the NHVR has undertaken a review of the National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual, with extensive consultation involving jurisdictions, the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA) and industry associations. The manual, due to be released in 2016, is meant to lead to national standardisation and consistency, which in turn will lead to improved compliance.

There will a renewed focus on tyres, wheels and hubs in 2016, as they can be the source of major of problems if not subject to correct maintenance. As many trucks no longer carry spare wheels in order to save weight or to prevent drivers from performing roadside repairs, experts stress that wheel nuts should always be tightened with a calibrated torque wrench rather than pneumatic rattle guns, which can leave nuts loose or studs stretched. The same rigorous attention should be paid to all nuts and bolts associated with steering and suspension. Every OEM has bolt torque specifications for these critical fasteners and they should be maintained throughout the life of the vehicle. The correct lubrication and preload adjustment on wheel bearings is another area of concern, as failure of these components can create a lost wheel situation with its inherent dangers to the stability of the truck and risk to other road users. What’s more, incorrectly maintained wheel hub bearings can also lead to devastating truck fires, making wheel-end monitoring a top trend for the year to come.

This story was featured in the December edition of Prime Mover. To get your copy, click here.

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