Dream team 07 December 2011

With awards ceremonies bobbing up on TV every 10 minutes, you could be forgiven for getting just a little cynical. Ian Norwell reports from Scania's 'Top Team' finals in Stockholm, and finds more than a pub singer in a sparkly jacket

Scania's 'Top Team' global competition for vehicle technicians has just concluded in Sweden, and, doing a better job than their compatriots on the rugby field, the Australians carried off the €50,000 first prize. However, a five-strong team of technicians from Scania's independent UK dealer West Pennine Trucks, based in Manchester's Trafford Park, came a very creditable fourth.

Speaking from the award ceremony in Södertälje, Sweden, Scania's HQ, West Pennine's Dealer principal Andrew Ward said he was very pleased with the result: "This is the first time a UK team has made it to these world finals and I'm naturally proud to have accompanied my service technicians."

Whittled down from a global field of 6,000 technicians and 46 countries, 10 nations were at the world final. Challenges included five fault-finding scenarios that replicated real-life issues from Scania's service network – covering engines, transmissions and electrics, as well as trailer-related faults and even problems with an ethanol-powered bus.

Mark Oliver, Scania GB's technical services manager, commented: "The biggest benefit from this competition is the broadening of our technicians' knowledge base and the expansion of their problem-solving skills, so it's our customers who will be the ultimate winners."

Scania CEO Leif Östling presented the awards and, paying tribute to all the technicians in the room, posed an interesting proposition. "Maybe we should bring in the research and development people who create the product and let them compete with you," he suggested.

When you look at this challenge from the side, it soon becomes clear that it's a high quality training programme thinly disguised as a competition. With every new truck launch there comes a bewildering array of new technology, and the balance of power has well and truly shifted from the spanner to the computer. For technicians, the challenge of keeping up with it all shouldn't be underestimated.

As far as Euro 6 is concerned, 'market preparation' is well under way. For technicians, this next raft of emissions technology will require "a more systematic approach and a full understanding of the functionality," according to Oliver. However, the additional complexity of powertrain management system shouldn't present operators with any issues, if the experience of one very unusual operator in Scania's home town is anything to go by.

Scania's research and development team set up an independent haulage company to feed back data from a real trunking operation and, as a result, has more experience of running at Euro 6 than pretty much anybody else. Anders Gustavsson, who spent 25 years inside Scania's R&D before 'going native', explains that this operation puts future trucks and components to the sword, years before they get to customers. "This is a complement to our regular testing activities, and it is proving to be a valuable one," he states.

Running a fleet of 20 tractors and 90 trailers with 62 drivers, the operation triple-shifts between Södertälje near Stockholm, Scania's factory in Lolland, southern Sweden and its plant at Zwolle, in the Netherlands. With each truck covering more than 360,000km annually, filing independent accounts and making its own margins, its vehicles run the same routes as DHL and get paid the same commercial rate.

Quizzed on the relevance of information mined from triple-shifting, Gustavsson replies: "We call ourselves the customer from the future. This kind of intensive transport is where many hauliers will be in years to come."

This operation has given Scania nearly 400,000km of in-service data with R series 400bhp and 420bhp tractors, and, more significantly, eight Euro 6 units topping out at 480bhp. Measuring lifecycle costs and uptime is the core of Gustavsson's work and he's canny enough to have a few competitors chassis in the fleet as well.

Next to the 17 home-grown tractors, we walked past a Mercedes 1841 Euro 5 Actros, owned since new and with over half a million km under its belt, a Volvo FH-420 and a 410bhp MAN.

Back with the technicians, the men from Trafford Park had completed their final workshop challenges and could do no more. Sampling a range of trucks at the test track and reversing the 24 metre A-frame drawbar gave good entertainment.

Ian Norwell

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