With the arrival of Euro-6 trucks on many company’s fleets in the past 12 months, the challenge of servicing and maintenance, and general management of the vehicles themselves, as well as their components – has reared its head once again.
Given that the new models are a significant investment for the majority of operators, it is essential that they spend as much of their time as possible out on the road earning money, as opposed to suffering from unscheduled downtime. As such, many technicians have been subjected to extra levels of training, in order to cope with planned, and unplanned, issues when it comes to maintenance and vehicle upkeep.
While operators have got used to new specifications and running costs, in the workshop, technicians have faced more complex diagnostic obstacles on these cleaner vehicles. The act of diagnostics itself might not have changed, but the skills required of the technician have been broadened somewhat.
The combined introduction of SCR (selective catalytic reduction), cooled EGR (exhaust gas recirculation), DPF (diesel particular filter) and VGT (variable geometry turbocharger) in one engine will mean more sensors, thereby leading to added complexity.
“In order to make the most accurate diagnosis, technicians now not only need to understand the overall system, but also how to use diagnostics to interrogate the vehicle ECUs, using fault codes to examine the live data,” states Paul Sinderberry, European Product Manager, Diagnostics and Tooling, at Delphi.
Pressure – on the part of the engine, as opposed to the technician – is one of the big issues, says Sinderberry. “Euro-6 engines have fuel pressure exceeding 2,500 bar. To put this into context, you only need 1,379 bar to cut steel, so the pressures associated with Euro-6 engines are high.”
For Steve Ball, Technical Trainer at Diagnostic Tools Developer Texa, Euro-6 signifies an opportunity change the way that technicians deal with repair and maintenance work.
“The motor industry has, in the past, been guilty of looking at a fault code, replacing a component and hoping it fixes it,” he says. “But because the cost of new components is higher, diagnosis will have to be more accurate than ever to change that approach.
“The exhaust temperature sensors used to be a standard unit, but there are now three or four going into one module, which is communicated across the vehicle’s controller area network (CAN) back into the ECU. CAN plays a bigger role on the new engines. So understanding the CAN side of things is now key for technicians, and for them to properly test, as opposed to roughly guess, what the issues are.”
The end goal for many technicians undertaking the training is IRTEC accreditation – something that comes at a cost. But the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has calculated the return on investment in the training programme, and believes being involved in the independent technician accreditation scheme from the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE), which assesses the safety and competence of technicians, is worthwhile. Working with high-profile organisations, the institute sets about undertaking return on investment studies, in order to accurately measure and assess the benefits of the scheme to the heavy vehicle sector. Key areas covered included MOT first time pass rates; productivity and financial benefits as well as technician confidence, competence and professional recognition.
The results indicated a number of positive factors about IRTEC and it’s value to operators and the wider commercial vehicle community. There was an eight-fold increase in the number of operators achieving a 100% monthly MOT pass rate; a 200% return on investment; and £3 was returned for every £1 that was invested. Within the results of the study, there was also a step change in the increase of the overall MOT pass rate, which rose to 94%.
As part of the study, a number of operators were keen to speak out in support of IRTEC and communicate the difference it has made to their own businesses.
“Cemex, as a large organisation, felt safer in the knowledge that our service and maintenance provider has IRTEC licenced technicians throughout the DAF network. This gives Cemex peace of mind in the products we use every day in our business,” commented Mike Fowler, of Cemex – a customer of Watts Truck and Van (DAF) for all of its maintenance needs.
DSV’s Commercials’ Les Smith was particularly pleased with “less return of faulty workmanship, more available hours to sell, and technicians getting it right first time,” while Willie Hensman, Service Manager at Imperial Commercials Bellshill (DAF), believed that IRTEC played a fundamental part in bringing Greggs to Imperial. “It opened the door for negotiations based on a huge step change for their business,” he said.
There is clearly work to do with all kinds of training, but the growth of IRTEC, and the increasing number of companies – as well as technicians – involved is taken as a big positive.
“The ideal scenario for me is for all Arriva technicians and graduating apprentices to be IRTEC assessed,” says Lloyd Mason, Arriva UK Bus’ Engineering Development Manager. “I’m a big fan of IRTEC; it has really gained ground in the industry, especially after backing from both the DVSA and Traffic Commissioners. It’s a useful way for technicians to benchmark their competence and for organisations to identify the developmental needs of their staff.
“It also helps operators identify where they sit against national standards,” adds Lloyd. “That a technician needs to renew their IRTEC licence every five years means that there is an in-built CPD aspect to it, with the onus on technicians to maintain their skills.”
The industry is set up to further embrace training in the future, which can only be a good thing for operators, and the UK’s transport fleet as a whole. The popularity of IRTEC, combined with an increasing number of apprenticeships, and other training opportunities for technicians and maintenance staff, means that there is no excuse for staff to be under-prepared for any eventuality that they may have to contend with.