Each year there are new challenges, though, like tangling with the imposing Detroit Diesel "DD15" engine.
"The newer software that goes with that engine, we were not that familiar with, (so that) made it an interesting challenge--when you raise the hood, you think you're down at NASA looking at some spaceship," Lewis chuckled. "But that's new technology and you welcome change, and you say, 'OK, it's new, but I can do this.' Stick to the basics, use all your material there and talk to your judge."
Ryder Systems, Inc. technician Michael Bogard of Neenah, WI, knows how slim the margin is between winning and coming up just short. He earned the top score on the written test for the past three years, but this year ended up tied and lost out on a tie-breaker. He also finished a mere 12 points behind Lewis, good enough for third place overall--another piece of his growing TMCSuperTech legacy.
The key to doing so well in both phases of the competition? Bogard says his best advice is to study hard, understand how the various systems work and stick to standard procedures.
"Read the troubleshooting steps and understand how the different components operate--if you know how they're supposed to function, when they give you different scenarios of something wrong, you can pinpoint what part of that system could be the problem," he says. "If you don't understand how it's supposed to work, when you see all these different answers saying, 'Is it this part or that part,' you have no idea. If you start guessing, you might get it right once in a while, but you'll waste a lot of time backtracking, and (it's) very costly when you start troubleshooting by replacing parts."
Bogard says it is important to do as much studying as possible on anything that is unfamiliar.
"A lot of the stuff, we don't have that component or that brand of engine, or I don't work on that, so I like to brush-up and just read about those stations, so you're not going in blind," he says. "They are covering the entire industry, and it's real-world situations they have--stuff you're going to encounter every day."
Bogard says coming so close to the overall title this year has made him more determined to not leave any stone unturned in his preparation for next year. Still, he says he takes nothing for granted.
"You start thinking back--little things that you missed that would have made the difference," he says. "When you have 14 stations, it doesn't take many. It's very hard to trying to remain focused with a long, grueling day like that. It starts to wear on you. It helps having gone through it, but by having gone through it before, it seems like you put more pressure on yourself, and other people look at it, 'You've been there before and been close, so you can do it now.' Sometimes by putting that extra pressure on yourself, it messes with your mind, and it's hard to keep it clear and focused."
While many technicians who compete at TMCSupertech have prior experience in the event, several first-time entrants did very well, including Swift Transportation technician Phillip Mellor, of Albuquerque, NM, who won the engine competition after not knowing quite what to expect.
"We all worked really close with the training department, which as luck would have it, pointed us in the right direction," he says. "The most nervous parts were waiting for the results to come in for the hands-on, especially with the company VP at the table. Also, going on stage to pick up the prize was very intimidating."
Not one to rest on his laurels, Mellor says the experience gained from this year's competition is only going to help him to better prepare for 2009. A key mentor for Mellor has been his supervisor, Swift Transportation corporate maintenance training manager Jeff Harris, who says what sets Mellor apart is his determination to learn about every major system of tractors used in the industry. Harris says Mellor's competitive drive and positive attitude sets him apart.
"He has really put in the study time--most of which was on his own time, so I was not surprised to see him do well, I just didn't know what would be his strongest station," he says. "You really must be strong to win a station."
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