Atomic clock makes vehicle maintenance compliance easy 05 January 2010

Sometimes, simple thinking provides the best engineering solutions. That's certainly the case at Arla Foods, which, with European Transport Solutions (ETS) in Blackpool, led development of an automatic week numbering system to improve workshop compliance. Other users now include Diary Crest, Sainsbury's and Biffa, and the result is foolproof management of vehicle maintenance and inspection.

Sean Smith, national fleet manager at Dairy Crest, explains that all his 127 depots now have a large electronic display that's driven automatically by the atomic clock and shows the current week number. "All our 4,000 vehicles – electric milk floats, Transits, Astra vans and HGVs – have a yellow sticker, 100mm square, showing the week number when they next need servicing or inspection," he says.

"On the electrics and Transits, it's on the back of the body on the rear offside pillar, and on trucks it's on the B pillar beside the driver's door. So everybody knows where to look – not just the engineers and drivers, but anyone in the yard."

Not only can they all easily see when anything is next due in, but drivers know that, if they see a sticker past today's week number on their daily walk around check, that vehicle doesn't leave the yard.

And it's not just the vehicles: for Smith, all MOTs, oil changes, tail lift inspections etc also come under this simple week numbering system. It's even on every one of Dairy Crest's FTA road transport inspection reports.

"That enables me and the depot fleet managers to make judgements on whether defects found are acceptable or not. Maybe it was a tyre notification [down to 3mm], but if it was only serviced that week then we're failing. We also suffer with kingpin problems because of sleeping policemen, so if the report shows a worn kingpin but it's due to be serviced next week, that's about right.

"The point is, it means we can easily go back to our fitters or the contactor, without having to trawl through all the service sheets. And that has helped us manage contractors, such as SEV [smith Electric Vehicles], much better in terms of KPIs around downtime targets."

Smith reckons that if you've only got one depot, and regular fitters and fleet management staff, then you probably won't benefit from week numbering. But, even then, if the fleet involves a mix of vehicles with varying service and inspection intervals, he suggests it could pay quickly for itself.

Incidentally, Hanson Cement, formerly Castle Cement, uses a similar system to manage pressure testing intervals of its discharge hoses. Again, there's the tamper-proof atomic clock but, in this case, that drives a colour display at its weighbridges. If the colour corresponds with the truck's hoses, which are colour coded, the driver knows they need to be removed and checked.

Brian Tinham

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