Thinking Outside the Toolbox

What tools do well-equipped, well-trained techs need?


Due to strict specifications, a problem could be incorrectly diagnosed if equipment is not calibrated correctly, Kabel adds.
"You have to be a lot more precise with your measurements to make sure all your equipment is in top order," he says.

Another challenge for Kabel is getting current information. Technology has helped to improve how information is updated in recent years.

"When I first started, you'd have repair manuals, the same ones, around in your shop for years. Now, it's pretty much all online."

Even though information is easily accessible on the Web, Kabel says that problems could happen before repair information is available online, or before a technician even knows a component exists. Both issues could potentially delay the diagnosis of a specific problem.

Despite the importance of technological equipment, technicians need to rely on logic to help diagnose problems, Kabel says. Recently, he had an issue with excessive smoke coming out of a truck engine that he was working on. The barometric pressure sensor had a high reading, telling the engine that the air was denser than it actually was. As a result, fuel was added for conditions with more dense air, which the engine couldn't burn. Kabel discovered this as the source of the smoke.

"As far as the computer was concerned, everything was fine because it was given the right amount of fuel for the amount of air it thought was in there. You could read the sensor values with the laptop and all of the components," he says. "But you had to have the logic to figure out that the reading was impossible."

In another situation, Kabel had to troubleshoot a wiring problem in an add-on part under the dash of a truck. Something was amiss, but he couldn't see exactly what it was without completely disassembling the dashboard. Because the fuse and wiring in question were not included on diagrams, Kabel and his team had to physically trace the wire back to the fuse of the failing part in question.

STAYING INFORMED

Sharing information among peers helps Schneider National technicians work faster and smarter. The Green Bay, WI-based company publishes ‘Tech Digest', an internal weekly information bulletin including changes or updates.

Schneider National uses the American Trucking Association (ATA) number system on their Intranet to categorize information published in past issues of ‘Tech Digest'. For example, if Kabel searched under number category 045, he would find all the information he needed pertaining to an engine problem; number category 015 would list information published about problems with power steering pumps.

"That's how we keep each other informed," Kabel says. "We share information with each other, so that when one person goes through the turmoil of finding the solution to a problem, everyone else doesn't have to repeat the same process."

Larry Hibler, manager of information systems and vehicle diagnostic services at Ryder, believes technologically advanced tools make a better-prepared truck technician.

"The tools that really make a person well-equipped are the electronic tools, the diagnostic tools," Hibler says.

Hibler has witnessed many changes with nearly thirty years' experience. He's noticed a big difference in the last ten years, when tools were not technologically advanced. In fact, diagnostic scanners or laptop-based diagnostic PCs didn't exist a decade ago.

"There really was no such a thing as a laptop-based diagnostic PC. You would have had some old, small handheld electronic device that could ‘talk to the truck', but barely," he explains. "They were rather primitive compared to today."

It used to be that mechanical aptitude was the single most important quality for a technician to have, according to Hibler. But now, he believes the best heavy-duty technicians need a combination of knowledge and training in addition to being mechanically inclined to ensure career success.

When it comes to training, well-prepared techs make a difference between those who are interested in a career and who simply want a job, according to Hibler. Training skills and testing are very important for technicians to prove they can do their work, he says.

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