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Equipment Operator Doesn't Equal Being a Technician

Monday, April 17, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Georgia Krause
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By Georgia Krause - AEMP Staff Writer

While making dinner the other night, I did the wifely thing of asking how his day had gone. Now, in full disclosure, Husband - who is very smart and hardworking - seems to have a built-in word quota that often limits his answers to my questions to one or two words. (Near as I can tell, his word quota is around 500 words per day and I think he banks some for use on weekends.)

So when Husband answered my "Hi, honey, how'd work go," with an outpouring of conversation, I knew I'd stumbled on something important.

Here's what happened: Husband's employer has a small fleet of tractor trailers, off-road construction vehicles, and some ag equipment. The trucks vary in age but are emissions compliant. The company added three brand new trucks with all the latest bells and whistles within the last month, one of which was assigned to one of the company's senior drivers. The company has a modest repair and maintenance shop, and prefers to outsource much of its work to a certified independent service.

While pulling a load to a nearby distribution point about 50 miles away, the driver of the brand new truck noticed one of the new bells & whistles, specifically the DPF warning light, had lit up. The driver knew the warning light was important but didn't really know what level of seriousness the warning indicated, so he called the office while still on the road to get some instruction as to how to handle the DPF warning. Better safe than sorry and, after all, he's the driver, not a technician. That's when things went south.

As luck would have it, the owner of the company took the call, and having just spent BIG money on three shiny new semi's, got excited and wanted the driver to pull over, stop the truck, just stay there. Another driver standing around the office put in his 2-cents, saying the emissions system just needed to regenerate, no biggie. A shop technician, who has been working on diesel engines for decades but not very long on Tier 4's, got into a discussion with the owner's son about what to do with the driver and the possibly broken truck, which only served to get the owner even more upset. Dollar signs were flying everywhere, along with opinions, ideas, and free advice. Eventually, the independent field service company was called for a quick solution. According to Husband, it was quite the dust-up.

So, you may ask, what was the problem?

As times and technology have changed, so have job descriptions and responsibilities. Years ago with simpler engines, a driver/operator might have a fairly good guesstimate of what was causing his vehicle to fail, based on his years of hands-on experience with the equipment.

However, newer technology-rich vehicles aren't designed for the driver/operator's breakdown diagnosis. That job, the diesel equipment technician, is now a specialty profession of its own that requires specific training, tools, and certifications. An operator's 'best guess' as to what to do when an alert sounds can do more damage than good.

The driver at Husband's company is a good, experienced driver but isn't a Tier 4 technician. When the DPF warning light lit up on the brand spanking new truck - that shouldn't have anything lighting up at this point - he had no clear instruction as to how to proceed.

Now, don't find fault with the driver. Newer technology-rich vehicles aren't designed for a driver/operator's on-the-fly breakdown diagnosis especially with on-road vehicles that can still run while wounded. That job, the diesel equipment technician, is now a specialty of its own and requires specific training, tools, and certifications. A non-technician's 'best guess' as to what to do when an alert sounds could do more damage than good.

The solution is simple, though. Fleets must have a clearly defined set of procedures that will be followed when a driver/operator gets an alert or finds the equipment is malfunctioning, especially when the alert points to a computer-controlled component.

Working with the driver/operator, diesel techs, OEM dealership, and outside service vendors, the fleet manager should build a clear plan of action for each alert (those bells & whistles) particular to the vehicle, as well as some broad procedures for observed malfunctions.

The plan will vary of course by how the company operates and its resources. At the very least, every driver/operator needs to know if he should call dispatch for instructions, contact the shop, call the field service vendor directly, sit and wait? Keep working?

All the preventative maintenance schedules, fluid analysis, and telematics data won't be of any help if the operator just disconnects the alert because no one seems to know what to do next.

Develop a plan, create a new policy, and manage your fleet's technology before it manages you.

Husband says to tell you the truck's going to be ok. Some sensor thing.


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