While a number of factors are challenging truck fleet maintenance shop productivity, part of the solution lies in repair information technology.
By Dave Costantino
Director of Heavy-Duty Market Development
Help wanted signs for technicians are everywhere. In many segments of the heavy-duty trucking industry, an ongoing and growing shortage of qualified maintenance personnel is a formidable challenge to shop productivity.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. employs about 250,000 truck, bus and diesel engine technicians. BLS also estimates that annual demand for technicians will grow more than 12% by 2012, generating a yearly need to fill over 100,000 new positions.
That challenge will also be compounded by demographic trends. For example, a survey by Mitchell 1 indicates that the average retirement age of diesel mechanics is 51. Coupled with the upcoming retirement of baby boomers in larger numbers and the relatively smaller size of the next generation of workersâ€”according to BLS the labor force for entry-level technicians will not grow by even 10% by 2012– the odds are stacked against filling the shortage of technicians anytime soon.
There are other challenges to shop productivity as well. One of those is the increasing complexity of vehicle technology, changing the types of skills required by technicians who must service trucks with increasingly advanced electronics systems. In addition, the strictest diesel engine emissions standards in history are set to take effect in 2007 and 2010 bringing about the advent of even more advanced vehicle systems and causing some fleets to keep trucks longer, adding to long term maintenance needs.
The trucking industry is working hard to address shop productivity challenges. Internships and scholarships to vocational schools are helping recruit tomorrow’s technicians. One notable effort is the Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) Friends of the Technician program that funds efforts to improve the image of truck technicians and attract new technicians to the industry.
A key part of the industry’s success in improving the productivity of shop operations will be to use information technology resources to its advantage. Today’s younger technicians are increasingly computer literate, so the presence of high tech information resources can be a competitive advantage in the market for qualified and capable help.
Several years ago Mitchell 1 first started looking at the heavy-duty market to identify maintenance and repair information needs that were not being met and to look for new opportunities to leverage the power of information to meet those challenges.
In January 2005, Mitchell 1 took a large step in that direction by announcing the availability of Tractor-Trailer.net, a web-based, heavy-duty vehicle service and repair information database that contains complete service and repair information for heavy-duty tractors, dry vans and reefers dating back to 1990. Tractor-Trailer.net, which is updated monthly, covers more than 3,000 year/make/model configurations, including 1,100 Class 7 and 8 tractors, 1,800 trailers and 200 reefers.
Computers and the Internet have increasingly become commonplace in a fleet maintenance manager’s arsenal of information technologies that can be used to enhance the productivity of shop operations. These systems put vast amounts of up to date parts, repair and service information at the fingertips of managers, supervisors and technicians.
Maintenance information technology also enhances shop productivity because it can be updated as frequently as needed with the latest data on vehicles, and major components such as engines, transmissions, axles, brakes and suspensions. These systems can also hold vast amounts of repair history data and information on high frequency maintenance areas, such as wiring diagrams for complex electrical systems. Additionally, computer and web-based features allow for communication between facilities or trucking companies and their suppliers for multiple users in one shop or in a number of facilities.
Repair information technology addresses the challenge of improving shop productivity by aggregating a vast amount of data in one application. This compilation is increasingly important for maintenance operations that need access to up to date, accurate, comprehensive information. While the challenges to shop productivity are as clear as the help wanted signs that dot the trucking landscape, information technologies are visibly positioned to meet them efficiently and effectively.