Repair information technology solutions offer a clear route to enhancing vehicle maintenance shop productivity

The road to improved shop productivity for vehicle maintenance operations is often filled with obstructions. For managers and technicians alike, however, there is an alternative route to follow.

The clearest path to improving the productivity of shop operations is one that includes the use of information technology, notes Dave Costantino, Director of Heavy-Duty Market Development at Mitchell 1. “Computers have become commonplace in vehicle maintenance facilities.” he says. These technologies can be used to enhance the productivity of shop operations because they make vast amounts of repair and service information readily accessible.

“This compilation is increasingly important for maintenance operations that need access to up to date, accurate, comprehensive information.” Costantino adds. “Additionally, these systems also employ computer and web-based features that make the data easy to access and use.”

Mitchell 1 first started looking at ways to meet the information needs of vehicle maintenance and repair operations several years ago, and for opportunities to leverage the power of information to meet those challenges. In January 2006, the company announced Tractor-Trailer.net, a web-based 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. Updated monthly, Tractor-Trailer.net incorporates information on over 3,000 year/make/model configurations, including 1,100 Class 7 and 8 tractors, 1,800 trailers and 200 reefers.

Developed by a team that included 45 ASE certified technicians, content in Tractor-Trailer.net — which includes over 100,000 illustrations-covers automatic, manual and automated manual transmissions, single and tandem axles, air brakes and anti-lock braking systems, and spring and air suspensions. There are also more than 6,000 sub-circuit color wiring diagrams, accessible with a feature called Circuit Select that lets users trace and highlight wiring circuits, isolate circuits using different colors, and hide unneeded circuits. The system also has features such as IP Authentication, which eliminates the need to remember a password, and a VIN Decoder that allows access to comprehensive vehicle information without knowing the exact year, make or model.

Tractor-Trailer.net also provides access for five users simultaneously and has Internal and External Hyperlinks that allow users to jump forward or backward within an article or from one article to another, eliminating unnecessary scrolling. The system has quick and full word search with text highlighting as well, and links trouble codes to diagnostic solutions. In addition, there’s a repair history function that allows technicians to rapidly return to their last 50 lookups.

“Information technology helps address obstacles to improving shop productivity.”  Costantino states.  “One of those is the growing shortage of technicians, especially in the heavy-duty trucking industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while the U.S. employs about 250,000 truck, bus and diesel engine technicians annual demand will grow more than 12% by 2012 and generate a need to fill over 100,000 new positions each year.”

That challenge will also be impacted by demographic trends, according to Costantino. A survey by Mitchell 1, he points out, reveals that today’s diesel technicians are retiring at an average age of 51. “According to BLS, by 2012 the labor force for entry-level technicians will not even expand 10%.” he says. “The upcoming retirement of baby boomers in larger numbers and the smaller size of the next generation of workers means help wanted signs for technicians will continue to fill the landscape.”

Costantino goes on to point out that making a career in vehicle maintenance more attractive, especially to high school age vocational students, is part of the solution to filling the ongoing technician shortage. “For students with strong computer and technical skills.” he says, “advanced information systems can be attractive, and a competitive advantage in the market for help.”

Another challenge to shop productivity is that vehicle technology is becoming more complex. “This means a change in the types of technician skills is required for servicing vehicles with advanced electronics systems.”  Costantino relates. “At the same time, 2007 and 2010 diesel engine emissions standards will also mean that more advanced systems will be in use. Advanced information technology can be very effective in addressing these shop productivity challenges.”

The obstacles on the road to improved shop productivity are apparent. Equally clear, however, is that high tech information resources offer a viable alternative route to avoiding those hurdles.

About the Author

Jill Schafer

Jill Schafer is the Marketing Communication Manager at Mitchell 1 and has over 20 years of marketing experience with high-technology organizations, including over 10 years in the automotive information industry.