How To Not Get Overwhelmed By A Huge Trucking Parts Inventory

If there is one thing that every modern trucking shop technician frets over – especially those working in large fleets – it is the ability to effectively manage the massive jumble of truck parts that they must deal with on an ongoing basis. The fact is, a well-managed parts inventory can help motor carriers save both time and money.

From fleet manager to truck driver and technician, ask any of them and they will tell you that having a truck down and not having the parts on hand to fix it creates a major headache. Therefore, properly managing your parts inventory is a critical aspect to running a successful fleet operation. When you need the right part at the right time, not having it can result in lost business.

Operating an efficient supply chain is directly related to having the parts on hand when you need them. Far too many fleets suffer unnecessary downtime because they are not efficiently or effectively managing their parts inventory. In the end, it is all about having the right part when you need it and where you need it. Just having the part, but not knowing where it is when you require it, helps no one.

One way around this is for a motor carrier to partner with a reliable vendor who can provide the part when it is needed. Yet, not every fleet is in a position – whether financial or logistical – to find such a partner. In those cases, what is a motor carrier to do? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Step One – Coding to the Rescue

Have you heard of vehicle maintenance reporting standards? They are industry-wide standards designed to offer a level of consistency to parts utilization. By using VMRS codes, a motor carrier can examine which parts are used the most, when they are required, and if they fail. This allows motor carriers to better manage which parts they have on hand and avoid excess inventory problems.

Utilizing a system that relies on code tracking allows a motor carrier to take a long-term look at parts inventory management and procurement. A historical parts usage tracking system eliminates cost problems if you have more parts than you need, just as it eliminates downtime issues when you don’t.

VMRS codes were created to provide a universal language for motor carriers and manufacturers to rely on when specific components or parts are needed. Whether it be someone building the truck, computer, or otherwise, VMRS codes make a huge difference in effectively managing parts. If properly used, this coding system can not only help with inventory management, but also greatly improve preventative maintenance schedules and help fleets keep track of specific failures. They help shop technicians develop a long-term view of which parts are working and which aren’t.

For those learning VMRS codes, it should be advised that the most common code used is thirty-three. All the codes are nine digits long and are broken down into groupings. The first three digits describe the system being used, the next three describe the assembly the system is being used on, and the final three describe the component itself.

If you aren’t utilizing VMRS codes as a critical aspect of your inventory management system, you may not be as efficient at managing your overall inventory and eliminating downtime. Why not allow your shop technicians a better idea of which parts they will need and when they will need them? VMRS codes are your friend.

Step Two – Embracing Telematics and Software Solutions

While there have been programs and databases in place for a long time that help shop technicians better manage their parts inventory, the explosion of trucking technology has created an entirely new landscape. Whether it be using QR codes, apps, or advanced telematics, shop technicians have more technological tools at their disposal than ever before.

As an example, one manufacturer recently released an app that lets a parts manager or shop technician log into their inventory on a smartphone or laptop. They can interface whether it be an Android or iPhone device. No matter where they are, they can complete a comprehensive inventory analysis, figure out which parts are out, and which need to be ordered, look up a specific part by part number or type and even filter for missing parts or parts that often fail.

Fleets who already use telematics solutions are used to seeing efficiency gains. Are you ready for your parts inventory to see the same gains? Telematics providers built into their systems many ways to track inventory and manage parts. Their systems are designed to prevent downtime, and allowing their customers to better track their parts creates an added value proposition within the system.

When a motor carrier knows that a vehicle or group of vehicles have been placed into service at the same time, they can set up a reminder system that allows them to know ahead of time which replacement parts will be needed and when. A fleet manager can then order the parts well ahead of time. Once the trucks are then brought in to be serviced, the parts will already be on hand when needed.

Telematics also helps fleets assess long-term parts trends and component life cycle needs. When failures and defective parts are spotted ahead of time, fleets can use that data to address the situation before a minor problem turns into a major one.

Step Three – Track Service Events

Far too many motor carriers address maintenance needs in a vacuum. Rather than holistically looking at what failures are occurring and when, they are addressing service events from a reactive standpoint. By examining them closer, a motor carrier can go from a reactive stance to a proactive one.

Ask any fleet manager and they will likely be able to tell you down to the dollar what parts are costing them, whether it be in general maintenance or repairs. Whether repairs are done in-house or by an outside service provider, they should have this information always on hand. Still, are they digging deeper into the numbers?

By digging deep and proactively addressing parts and maintenance concerns, managers and technicians can follow a part’s history and know where money should be allocated. Repair dollars don’t come cheap, so knowing where your parts inventory is deficient can help trim costs and pad your bottom line.

Following service event reports closely can give your shop the critical information it needs to boost or decrease inventory where required. Whether it be the need for special equipment, a higher budget for more technicians, or improved training on specific parts usage, having a deep knowledge of service events and tracking parts can yield positive results.

Step Four – Utilizing E-Commerce

In the age of the internet, just about anything can be procured online. Many fleets have moved their parts procurement efforts to online purchasing, a move that can yield significant benefits. Still, motor carriers must be very aware of whether they are dealing with a reputable company or not.

If you work with a local vendor, you can pop in at any time to look at their operation. The same does not hold true for online vendors. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to evaluate if they are the company you should be partnering with. How long has their website been active, and do they publicly display reviews or testimonials?

Furthermore, do they have a customer service department on hand to answer questions in a courteous and expeditious manner? As with any vendor operation or partner, quick customer service is critical. This has become especially important in the age of the ELD.

If you aren’t quite sure what part you need, will your online partner be on-hand and ready to guide you? A good parts supplier – whether online or otherwise – should have a support staff on hand to assist their clients where required. It is also important to analyze whether their support department goes above simply helping you find a part.

A reputable vendor partner will be able to assist you far past the order process. A motor carrier should be able to expect their partner to provide information on the order replacement process, updates when parts are shipped, ways to track the parts once they have shipped, and information on return policies. Partners who have been in business for a long time will often cultivate several touch points with their clients.

The point is, you should feel comfortable working with a company, especially if they are an online vendor. A wise man once said, if you must think twice, think again. Your business isn’t buying something as simple as a hat or shirt. Having the parts you need on hand when you need them is a critical aspect of running a successful trucking company.

Now the question is, are you doing everything you can to run an effective parts management program? If not, you may be selling your shop short. Do your technicians and fleet managers a favor by keeping parts in mind.

Key Takeaways From Our First Month With The ELD Mandate

Once enforcement of the ELD mandate began in December, everyone was wondering: How will this all shake out? Today, we will look at what some of the problems are that truckers and fleets are facing as they adapt to the change.

The first problem, which many predicted, is in truck driver confusion. A large problem lies in truck drivers being unsure if their device is either a compliant ELD device or a grandfathered automatic onboard recording device (AOBRD). Other concerns surround vendor support and truck drivers running out of hours due to unforeseen delays.

Enforcement Problems

This problem isn’t with truck drivers, either. Enforcement authorities are also having a tough time isolating whether a device is compliant, simply due to the large amount and variety of devices being used. Truck drivers and fleets are also concerned with an increasing number of citations being issued, even though the truck drivers were in total compliance with Section 395.15.

It is important that both motor carriers and owner-operators understand the requirements of the device that is on their truck. While this may sound like a very basic requirement, with so much variety out there, it can be hard to discern which device you should be using. Yet, not knowing which device – or understanding the requirements of the device – could result in a miscommunication with enforcement or even a potential violation.

Still, the problem is compounded because enforcement isn’t quite sure which is which. Many reports have rolled in of truck drivers being cited for an ELD-related violation when in fact they were operating with a compliant AOBRD. The main violation being reported was for a “failure to transfer data.” Yet, the problem is that AOBRD’s are not required to have a data transfer function. They only need to be able to display the data or provide a printing function so that the data can be acquired by enforcement.

When something like this happens, it is important that the truck driver or fleet in question immediately contest the citation via the DataQs process. Fortunately, there need not be any worry about any CSA point impacts right away, since the official impact date doesn’t come around until April 1, 2018. Still, it is important to ensure invalid citations are contested even before the April 1 date hits. Insurance companies and courts will not look favorably on an outstanding pattern of ELD-related violations, no matter what your CSA scores are.

Still, there have even been problems reported with ELDs that are supposed to be compliant. In these cases, truck drivers should be allowed to continue using the devices as AOBRDs if the display on the device was compliant with the mandate. In many of these cases, the problem is with the data transfer issues with the ELDs themselves, rather than any system issues related to implementation. Compounding the problem is the different enforcement mechanisms in place depending on the state or region an operator is working in.

When an owner-operator or motor carrier discovers an ELD malfunction, it must be repaired within eight days of discovering the malfunction. If you do not have the time or resources to fix the problem within the allotted timeframe, it is possible to file for an extension with the FMCSA office. If you plan to do so, you must file the extension within five days of the problem. In some cases, motor carriers have reported vendors who were unable to assist the motor carrier in replacing the problem device with a compliant one. In this case it is important the vendor issue be reported to the FMCSA or replaced with a different vendor.

Addressing Vendor Problems

As many a motor carrier will tell you, ensuring a device is compliant is important, but receiving actionable support from the vendor is even more important. Many fleets are reporting that vendors just aren’t ready to offer the kind of customer support they require.

Consider that there are over 174 vendors utilizing nearly 300 different ELD device models. Just look at the FMCSA’s ELD registry and you can see how complicated the problem has become. And since many of these businesses have never operated in this space before.

While fleets are expressing frustration that vendors that they have partnered with don’t offer the level of support needed to ensure equipment stays running and truck drivers don’t get frustrated, a lot of ELD vendors are brand new companies who themselves are trying to figure out the best ways to operate in this space.

Take a look at any trucking blogs operated by various trucking companies, and you will find that truck drivers and fleet managers are frustrated with the level of support offered by many of the companies they are spending their hard-earned dollars partnering with. One way to prevent this is to take a close look at the vendor you are choosing. Do they offer 24/7 customer support? Since most fleets operate on an around-the-clock basis, having all-day/all-night customer support standing by is critical to ensuring problems get addressed and questions get answered.

Also consider the amount of training, manuals, materials, data transfer procedures, necessary edits, and other factors that go into maintaining a functional ELD. If your vendor cannot quickly answer these questions, it may be time to switch vendors.

Keeping Hours of Service In Mind

Another problem many truck drivers and fleets are facing are with unforeseen delays. Although the hours of service requirements have not changed, ELDs do not take unforeseen delays into account. When a truck driver is stuck in a construction zone or at a shipper who is causing a major delay, it hits their hours of service metric.

Compounding the problem, truck drivers may not always be able to find a safe place to quickly park if they see that a delay may cause them to run over their hours. When this happens, it is important that the fleet back office square away the discrepancy to avoid the truck driver from feeling like the problem is theirs. Have their available hours been considered and potential delays factored in when the numbers are put together? Truck drivers should not be held responsible for issues that are not of their own making.

One way to avoid this is to ensure dispatching procedures allow for truck drivers to properly handle scenarios where there may not be enough capacity to handle specific loads. Which loads are priority? Policies must be in place to allow truck drivers to make the right decision – one that doesn’t negatively impact their performance for something that isn’t their fault.

Does your fleet have a procedure in place that outlines what a truck driver should do if they must leave a shipper or receiver and hit the road without enough hours to make it to a suitable place to park? In these situations, far too many motor carriers rely on what is considered “off-duty” driving, otherwise known as a personal conveyance. Yet, this isn’t the way to handle the issue. A personal conveyance will not hold up as an effective back-up plan if enforcement becomes a concern.

The main reason for this lies in the fact that if a truck driver runs out of hours, and must leave a certain location, if they don’t have permission to park, they are going to run into a conflict with their “on-duty” driving hours. Will the back office be able to square these inconsistencies away? To avoid a problem with enforcement or scoring, it will be critical that they do so.

Training and Safety

Finally, it is incumbent on fleets to make sure they are properly training their truck drivers on how to properly annotate and mark any exceptions used, especially if they think an hours of service violation may occur. While violation trends may be a concern for most fleets, if truck drivers and back office workers have a thorough documented paper trail showing what happened, it will prove to authorities and insurance companies that the fleet is not engaging in unsafe practices or putting their truck drivers at risk.

In the end, it is important to consider that the start date for full enforcement is rapidly approaching. With April 1 rapidly approaching, truck drivers and fleets will face serious enforcement issues – with being put out of service the most extreme – if they are not properly following the rules.

Whether it be finding the right vendor or outlining a comprehensive policy, fleets and owner-operators must ensure they are not relying on the excuse that they “simply didn’t know.” In the face of strong enforcement, this reasoning simply will not fly. Even more, truck drivers should not have their safety put at stake because there aren’t effective policies outlined to deal with any extenuating circumstances.

While some fleets may or may not agree with the ELD mandate, it is now the law of the land. Ensuring you are prepared for full enforcement will set you up for success and ensure you don’t get hit with a large insurance bill or enforcement concern.

Top Tips For Truckers Seeking To Increase Their Level Of Operational Safety

If there is one thing professional truck drivers dread dealing with, it is unsafe conditions. There is enough to deal with out there on the nation’s roads, from other truck drivers to passenger drivers to weather and just about anything else. So, what is a truck driver to do if they are faced with an increasing barrage of road hazards or tough weather conditions?

With the winter in America this season sizing up to be one of the coldest and most dangerous on record, keeping two eyes firmly on potential road hazards can make the difference between life or death on the road. That’s why we wanted to take a moment to bring up an important topic, road hazards, long-haul safety and preventative measures.

But first, let’s look at road hazards. The question is, what kind of road hazards must you look out for as you traverse our nation’s roads. First, let’s look at road hazards that are not weather related.

What to Look For

Road hazards don’t give you an opportunity to wait for them to move out of your way. The fact is, you must be proactive in spotting them to keep catastrophe from happening. The primary factor is maintaining control of your vehicle always.

There are specific aspects of road hazards that make them standout from one another. Whether it be a pavement drop-off or road construction, it is important to ensure you are maintaining a solid line of visibility. The last thing you need is for a road hazard to pop up out of nowhere.

Are you keeping an eye out for road debris? Whether it be a shredded tire or a construction cone, you could be putting yourself or others around you in great danger if a piece of road debris collides with your vehicle or causes an unwanted blowout.

Even simple aspects of road design can present themselves as road hazards if they are not properly navigated. Take off-ramps and speed bumps as an example. If you aren’t paying close attention to the trajectory and clearance of our vehicle, the varying heights and entry vectors that roads are built to could present a major problem.

The same goes for intersections and common streets. Consider that a road hazard does not necessarily have to be an object or aspect of road construction. It could also be something as simple as traffic or parked vehicles. If a passenger car is stalled out on the side of the road, and you aren’t paying close enough attention, you risk slamming into the car and creating a major accident.

The final aspect of potential non-weather-related road hazards lies in other people who you share the road with. Whether it be a driver who doesn’t know where he or she is going or is simply operating their vehicle in an overly aggressive manner, if you aren’t staying constantly alert to what is going on around you, this could present another accident danger.

How Long-Haul Truckers Stay Safe

While road hazards are one thing, long-haul truck drivers face other obstacles they must be constantly on the lookout for. Operating a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle over long distances can cause problems not just with those driving around you, but also with yourself. Are you well rested? Have you been behind the wheel for too long?

When you are behind the wheel for many hours at a time, road hazards and potential driving pitfalls come in many forms. Take blind spots as one example. There are certain no-go zones on a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle. Are you aware of yours?

The common blind spots that long-haul truck drivers should always be aware of include those in front of the cab, to the side of the cab, directly behind your cab’s side mirrors, and directly behind the vehicle itself. It is important to consider that others on the road likely aren’t aware of your vehicle’s blind spots. This is when your own awareness comes into focus.

Is someone driving too close to your vehicle? Does it appear someone might swerve into one of your blind spots? As a professional truck driver, it is your job to ensure these factors are always accounted for. While this can be frustrating for someone trying to get their freight to its destination as quickly as possible, in order to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you, these are rules that must be followed.

Consider work zones as one example. When an accident happens in a construction work zone, it is usually because a commercial motor vehicle is involved. As you enter and exit potential work zones, are you taking extra care to ensure you are operating in a manner that won’t create the potential for an accident?

As a long-haul truck driver, highway construction zones can be particularly dangerous. If you aren’t scanning the road in front of you on a near-constant basis, you may find yourself entering a work zone without a proper understanding of any potential road hazards that construction zone may present.

Road Conditions and Pedestrians

While road hazards can present themselves in the form of road design or debris, the road itself can also become a hazard if it is not properly maintained. Take bad road conditions as just one example. Whether it be from potholes or uneven lanes, not every road is built or kept up to the same standard.

It is important to not only scan the road for debris or other passenger drivers making poor decisions, but to also watch for problems with the road itself. Some states also follow different road exit and entry rules. Are you making sure you are fully aware of the road conditions and rules in the states you operate in?

Another consideration for a professional truck driver seeking to operate with maximum safety is that of those who aren’t behind the wheel at all, but are rather walking down the road. Heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles are wide, heavy, and not easily maneuverable in a quick pinch.

Whether it be adults, children, or even animals, potential hazards on two or four legs are things every professional truck driver must be on the constant lookout for. This is especially true if you operate in a regional or city environment. If you are operating your vehicle anywhere near pedestrians, make sure you slow your vehicle down enough to react if someone steps out quickly in front of your vehicle.

While you might consider it common instinct to swerve if you see someone or something in front of your vehicle, that action may lead to an even more serious accident than if you had just slowed down enough to react in a different fashion.

Driving with Prevention on Your Mind

If there is one way to ensure road hazards don’t cause a major problem for the every-day truck driver is to always have prevention on the front of one’s mind. There are plenty of preventative steps a truck driver can take to ensure they aren’t operating in an unsafe manner.

As we mentioned before when discussing how long-haul truckers can get through their run safely, no matter what type of freight they are hauling. Part of proper preventative truck driving includes proper self-care. Are you taking enough breaks and getting enough sleep? Furthermore, how focused are you on wellness?

Another preventative safety measure too few truckers consider is what to do with the vehicle when they are sleeping, loading and unloading. Ensure the vehicle is shut off, flashers are turned on, and triangles are pulled out in the case of any mechanical problems or delays.

Also consider:

  • Using flashers if you are driving below the posted speed limit (for whatever reason).
  • Signal early to ensure those around your vehicle have ample warning that you are about to make a move.
  • Keep your fuel tank full during the cold winter months (like right now) to make sure water doesn’t build up in your fuel lines.
  • In wintery conditions or blustery weather make sure you lower your speed.
  • During rain or snow, make sure to increase your following distance.
  • When driving conditions in mountainous regions become icy or treacherous, make sure you have chains on hand.
  • Bridges freeze faster than roads during winter months, so make sure to take extra care when traversing them.
  • Because others on the road may not be aware of your blind spots, try to minimize lane changes as much as possible.
  • When you are idling, make sure to have your windows closed, which will reduce your exposure to fumes and increase your overall level of health and wellness.

We could probably spend another thousand words or so covering so many other aspects of safe truck driving and preventative safety measures, but for now, we will leave it here. Just remember, as a professional truck driver, it is your responsibility to ensure you are operating in a manner that is safe to both you and those around you on the roads. If you keep these principles in mind, you will set yourself up for a long, safe, and rewarding career as a professional trucker.

How Tanker Design Has Changed Over The Years

Many a passenger car driver will tell you that as they drive down the highway, more than once have they taken a couple glances at tanker trucks as they pass by. While these vehicles and their cargo are generally safe and proceed without incident down our nation’s road on a constant basis, they often carry volatile or hazardous materials.

Even more, truck drivers themselves face a number of potential dangers operating tanker trucks. There are various ways that a truck driver working on a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle can find themselves on the wrong side of an injury. Perhaps this is why the truck manufacturing industry is making efforts to make tankers easier for truckers to work around. Still, this doesn’t mean tanker trucks are unsafe.

Examining Potential Instabilities

In fact, whether they are liquid or dry bulk, tanker trucks are statistically among some of the safest vehicles on the road today. If you take a closer look at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts from 2012, it shows that cargo tanks were involved in significantly fewer crashes, whether they resulted in an injury or tow-away, then trucks operating as dry vans or flat deck equipment haulers.

Still, this doesn’t mean the tanker industry isn’t without areas for improvement. As one example, tanker trucks face dynamic stability issues, as well as safe operation techniques for handling and transporting potentially hazardous materials.

The main issue lies in the fact that many chemical and food-grade liquid tanks are shaped in such a way that their high center of gravity can cause potential rollover concerns. When turning, the liquid inside the tank tends to slosh up against the internal sides of the tank, which shifts that already-high center of gravity both up and outward, creating a potentially destabilizing effect.

Yet, it isn’t easy to simply change the shape of the tank and hope for the best. Tankers of this type require a special shape due to their unique cleaning requirements. Since the shape is largely a requirement, manufacturers and fleets utilizing these vehicles are increasingly spec’ing them with advanced safety technologies such as roll-stability control or collision avoidance systems.

Fleets are driving the push for these additional safety technologies to account for the weight, application, and reliability requirements pushed by both federal and state governments. The fact is, safety-conscious customers are asking fleets to implement these technologies at a far faster pace than ever before. What were once considered fringe options, such as roll stability and tire inflation systems, are growing in popularity and becoming standard-issue on factory roll-out truck and tanker models.

Where Design Can be Changed

Still, while some argue that the tanker shape is critical to its use profile, others argue that there are stability improvements to be found by changing the tankers shape or lowering its center of gravity. Sure, petroleum, oil and machinery lubrication tanks have had the same cylindrical and elliptical profile for many, many years – but why?

To start, this design creates a wider stance at the bottom of the tank. By lowering it even further, even by a matter of inches, OEMs can realize even greater levels of safety. But how?

While many tanker manufacturers already employ low-profile-ellipse tank shapes, they can also go a bit further by utilizing an integral chassis frame or inserting a fifth-wheel plate, as opposed to a raised bolt-on plate. Utilizing this design both brings the tank body closer to the ground, lowers overall center of gravity, and increases structural stability.

Yet, many of you may be asking, “How does that help me, the truck driver?” It helps you in the form of increased safety while operating on the nation’s roads, but there are certainly other improvements that can be made to improve truck driver safety without compromising overall design.

Preventing Falls Through Trucking Technology

If there is one aspect of being a tanker truck driver that truck driver’s dread the most, it is when they have to climb on top of their trailers or tankers. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing the truck, trailer, and tanker manufacturers has been building in technologies that mitigate or prevent falls.

Over the years, the search for a safer tanker to work around has led to all sorts of innovations, from lifting guardrails to wider catwalks. Technologies requiring operators to tether themselves to gantries have even seen adoption within some fleets. Yet, not all innovations are perfect.

Utilizing cables means truck drivers could potentially trip on them. If a guardrail gets caught in a loading rack, it could wind up becoming twisted or warped. In some cases, if not properly reinforced, they may not be able to properly support a driver in the event of a fall.

That’s why manufacturers are beginning to look towards other innovations to reach peak level of trucker safety. Modern day fall protection measures include reinforced hand railings and lanyard attachments. But who is responsible for setting these standards?

Industry Safety and Tanker Design Advocacy

Most tanker manufacturers receive guidance from two specific industry standards groups: The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association and the Cargo Tank Risk Management Committee. These groups represent a synergistic partnership between not only tanker manufacturers, but motor carriers, tractor OEMs, shippers, and more.

Some integral safety measures have resulted from this partnership. One such example is a tram system built by one manufacturer that employs the use of a waist-high support belt. The proprietary design provides the truck driver with a greater degree of mobility while preventing any unwanted harness entanglements.

The design itself is based on a reinforced rail that runs along the entire length of the tank. This design allows the truck driver to more easily access the dome covers on the top of the tank without having to worry about getting tangled up. Yet, the design innovation doesn’t stop there. When not in use, the rails fold down to prevent interference with loading racks. For fleets focusing on fuel efficiency, the fold down racks don’t negatively impact trailer aerodynamics.

Even more advanced designs seek to prevent unwanted falls or injuries an even more obvious way. Rather than developing advanced rail and climb technologies, why not prevent the truck driver from ever having to leave the ground in the first place?

Keeping Feet Planted

Some manufacturers have begun to look to technologies that keep truck drivers from ever having to climb around their tanks. But how do they do this? Methods include everything from bottom loading tankers to advanced vapor recovery systems. Both setups eliminate the need for a truck driver to crawl around on the top of a trailer. Other specs include pneumatic recovery systems and ground-activated actuating vents.

Still, some point out that chemical, food-grade, and dry-bulk tanks are not always conducive to such systems. But that doesn’t mean tankers operating within these applications are not without change. One tanker manufacturing company has developed a remote-controlled port cover, which allows truck drivers to operate dry-bulk tanks from the ground, with no need to climb around the tanker.

When a tanker cannot be remotely operated due to the type and condition it operates in, other technologies come into play. Safe tank-top access ladders provide a more ergonomically beneficial design and allow truck drivers to maneuver without the risk of a fall.

One example of collaboration at work was when the aforementioned tanker safety organizations teamed up with OEMs and motor carriers to design the Vision 2020 ladder, which fleets report greater safety outcomes when in use in their fleets.

The fact is, there may be some time to go before the need for a truck driver to climb around the tank is completely eliminated. But until then, tank and trucking designers are doing everything they can to ensure greater levels of safety for those operating around tanks. In those situations, perhaps one should look to lighting.

Illuminating the Way to Greater Safety

One area where tank builders are finding innovative ways to help truck drivers do their job is in lighting. Manufacturers are now offering comprehensive lighting packages that include auxiliary lighting systems, LED rows, and movement-sensitive flood lights.

Manufacturers are looking to lighting bars that range from 3 to 10 feet long and can swing out from a stowed mounting position on the body of the tank. What are these for? These lit barriers provide an added layer of protection for truck drivers who are loading or unloading. They create a greater awareness of the truck drivers work area as well as a way for others on the road to easily see the operator and avoid a potential accident.

If there is one lesson to be learned as we examine the plethora of tanker safety technologies hitting the scene on an almost-daily basis, it is that the risks truck drivers face when operating tankers are quickly fading. As manufacturers continue to innovate and release designs specifically catered to truck driver safety, expect to see the tankers of tomorrow looking little like the tankers of today.

Truck Driver – Why Your Wheels Matter More Than You Think

For many, the true tire part that gets no love are the tires. Yet, so few think about the foundation upon which those tires rest. The fact of the matter is if you haven’t done a comprehensive review of your wheel installation procedures, you may be missing a critical step in ensuring your vehicles are safely maintained and kept up.

Ask any fleet technician and he or she will tell you that wheel installation is about a lot more than simply putting them on and torqueing them down. If you operate with that belief in mind, you’ll have more than one-wheel separation incident in your future. Still, this doesn’t mean proper wheel installation is rocket science.

From a Technician’s Perspective

When a technician goes about changing a wheel, they often refer to the tightening process as torqueing the nut, yet there is far more to it than that. What is more important is the amount of force being clamped down. Clamping force is happens because of the amount of tension placed on the stud. When the proper amount of force is applied, tension results from the ensuing interaction between the amount of torque applied and level of friction.

Fleet technicians must consider the wheel’s limitations. If a combination requires 40,000 pounds of clamping force, then 400 lb-ft of torque must be applied. So, where is the problem? The previous scenario takes for granted that you are completing the work under optimal conditions.

Is the assembly you are working with brand new? Have you completed all the installation steps required and is the hardware in good condition? If these variables are different, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. Now the question is, where does one start to ensure the job is done right?

Take A Closer Look at the Hardware

How should you handle the hardware during a wheel change? Take your first hard look at the hardware you’re working with. Is the wheel cracked or broken? Are there any imperfections, blemishes, or damages to the stud holes that may interfere with getting the job done right?

It is important to never overlook the condition of your vehicle’s stud holes. When a stud hole is overly elongated, that could be an indication that the wheel was loose on the hub in some fashion, at some point in time. Elongated stud holes generally point to a wheel that should be put out of service. The last thing you want to do is risk the safety of your truck driver – or those around him or her on the road – on the hopes that a wheel may or may not be serviceable.

After you have assessed that your stud holes are the proper shape, it is important to check for corrosion. Are the threads in good condition? Look specifically at damage or corrosion. Ensure there are no paint contaminants and that the length and diameters are all correct. There is a lot of careful attention that must go into ensuring a wheel is not compromised.

Ask the following:

  • Do the wheel threads match the nuts?
  • Are you working with English or metric sizing?
  • Will you need to replace adjacent studs should you need to replace one?

Some say that if you have two or more damaged studs, it is safest to replace all 10 studs with new hardware that matches the size and placement requirements. Other motor carriers operate with the belief that good quality studs will last a long time provided there are no catastrophic failures.

Remember, a stud stretches like a spring. Therefore, the amount of torque you apply is so critical. Since torque and clamp load are so interrelated, you cannot make a mistake in the amount of pressure you apply and not expect there to be a countervailing problem. When you under-torque, you risk having loose wheels and when you over-torque you risk stretching your studs.

Taking a Closer Look at Wheel Surface

When a fleet technician encounters loss of clamping force when they are changing a wheel, it is usually because there are other installation problems. Had the hub and wheel mount been properly cleaned prior to installation? It is important to make sure that surfaces encountering each other are not contaminated with rust, dirt, or any other substance that could interfere with the amount of clamping force being applied.

While these materials will eventually wash away for fall off, they can create problems during a wheel replacement. Steel wheels are especially vulnerable to corrosion. Old steep and paint can flake away over time and use. If these substances are found, what is a technician to do?

First, it is critical that a fleet technician getting ready to change a wheel have a wire brush handy. Wire brushes are vital tools for removing loose material or excess paint from steel wheels. Since paint compresses under a heavy load clamp, over time the loose material can compound on the wheel’s surface. Wheel loss could result when excess material is not cleaned from the wheel’s surface.

When wheels go through a refinishing, a paintbrush should never be used. Wheel painting is only successful when there is an even thickness to the coating. The coating should not be any more than three to three-point-five millimeters thick. This rule should be especially followed where the mounting surfaces and bolt holes are concerned. When a wheel is excessively coated with paint, you wind up with a loss of clamping force, which itself can compromise the wheel.

Refinishing wheels can save your fleet some money, but it can also cost a lost more if it is not completed properly. When a wheel goes through the stripping process, it needs to be carefully controlled to ensure the original wheel or paint surface is not left over. If your wheel is deeply pitted, it may be wise to consider retiring it and moving on, otherwise you may be putting the safe operation of that vehicle at stake.

Paint should always be applied to a wheel’s surface as evenly as possible. Although wheel refinishing spray can be used, you might not end up with the most even application, which can cause problems down the road. Has your shop supervisor considered a paint thickness audit? It is of vital importance that wheels receive a consistent, even coating to prevent mounting surface problems.

Taking Proper Re-Installation Precautions

Have you inspected all your wheel studs, replaced any that may show damage and/or removed rust or taken a wire brush to them? With that done, you now must consider the proper procedures to hoist, place, and install the wheel with minimal headache.

Are you utilizing two-piece flange nuts? Make sure you are not reusing nuts that have seized up or given you difficulty in the past. Finding nuts that are in good shape should be of minimal cost compared to what might happen if you reuse bad nuts and wind up in a dangerous situation with an accident at risk.

If you do find you need to replace nuts, studs, or any other parts, make sure you replace them with manufacturer-quality parts that have the same grades and ratings. The last thing you want to do is buy a new part in the hopes you avoid a catastrophic problem only to cause a catastrophic problem because you bought the wrong parts!

When you are utilizing a part that isn’t up to the job, you risk a failure down the line that could lead to an unnecessary road accident. It is important to remember that there are no regulations or industry oversight regarding equipment that is either deficient or too damaged to function. Of course, if an inspector finds problems with your wheels that could present a safety danger, you may wind up on the wrong end of a violation.

The Final Word

If you are working with nuts that are in good condition, try using a couple drops of motor oil on the studs and threads to ensure they are clean. Another one or two drops between the washer and the nut couldn’t hurt. The point is reducing friction, which provides a better environment for strong clamping force when the wheel is torqued.

If there is one adage that a fleet technician worth their salt lives by, it is that tighter is not necessarily always better. Do not use more than the appropriate amount of clamping force, otherwise you risk facing unwanted consequences.

If there is one note of caution in this entire post, it is that you should never underestimate or provide a lesser level of care to your wheels. Sure, you keep a close eye on the state of your tires and the performance of your engine and other under-the-hood parts, but the wheels provide the basis for everything else upon the truck runs.

Ensure your fleet technicians are properly evaluating, replacing, and repairing wheels on your vital assets and they will last that much longer out there on the open road.