IRTE conference delivers food for thought to road transport industry18 September 2012

Transport engineers and fleet managers are reporting a day packed with industry insights and advice from last week's [13 September 2012] IRTE conference on cost effective fleet management and operations.

The conference, the first of its kind for the IRTE (Institute of Road Transport Engineers), saw the industry converge on the Heritage Motor Centre, in Gaydon, to hear a top-class speaker line-up that included senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell and VOSA's chief executive Alastair Peoples.

The high levels of interest shown in the conference proved well founded as speakers addressed the main issues facing most in the road transport industry, and dispensed advice on everything from driver management and OCRS to multi-fuel engines and tyre management.

Unsurprisingly, Euro 6 emissions regulations, and the technologies being selected by engine makers and the OEMs, were among the lead subjects. Speakers and delegates agreed that, while the engineering can deliver sustainable and demonstrable emissions improvements, they come at the price of a capital cost increase. The also confirmed that focusing next on CO2 emissions, and thus further fuel reduction, must be the next step.

Meanwhile, David Cebon, professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge University and research director at the Cambridge Vehicle Dynamics Consortium, gave a well-received presentation on the latest developments with electronic and mechanical suspension, steering and stability systems for the DfT's longer semi-trailer trials.

Also, a speaker session on aerodynamics focused on separating fact from fiction, helping to destroy some of the more persistent myths in this field – and making the case for light-weighting, and the importance of the detailed application.

Beverley Bell used her keynote address to call for operators and fleet managers alike to raise their standards. "Make sure your drivers are up-to-date on their Driver CPC training," she urged. "It is a really important aspect of the maintenance system, so embrace it."

Similarly, she also emphasised the importance of maintenance and the workshop. "At the moment, anyone can set up their own maintenance operation, and this, as an industry, is not what we want," she said, indicating the importance of accreditation and standards.

Referring to IRTE's new Workshop Accreditation scheme, she said: "The government doesn't want to introduce new regulations, but if that is what is needed, it has to be done with a light touch. The IRTE has been very vocal in this area, and we need a 'one size fits all' accreditation."

Bell called for a joint effort going forward: "Certainly the IRTE should be involved, but there are other groups that can help. SMMT has confirmed it will do all it can to move this forward, and the RHA, FTA and many others have a role to play. I challenge you to get together with other organisations to find an industry standard. Let's find one that everyone accepts and set the standard high."

Alastair Peoples opened his post-lunch keynote address with shocking footage of a multi-vehicle accident, in which seven people died, to highlight the importance of compliance, first-time MOT pass rates and quality inspection procedures in the commercial vehicle sector.

"We have seen a decrease in failure rates of 8% from 2008 to 2011, thanks to a number of factors, including the introduction of OCRS [Operator Compliance Risk Score] and simplification of the rules on headlamp aim," he stated. He called for HGV fleets to remain compliant and safe throughout the year – not just at the time when they are tested.

Peoples also mentioned uptake of IRTE's technician accreditation scheme, irtec, as a good indication of an operator's commitment to compliance.

"VOSA supports the irtec policy, because people who invest in good staff demonstrate that they want to be compliant. We are also willing to cooperate with industry in a bid to further improve compliance."

Nick Jones, chief executive of Society of Operations Engineers (SOE), the umbrella organisation of IRTE, was impressed. "IRTE was proud to be behind such a lively and inspiring conference, and I think everyone present came away with a fresh perspective on current fleet and operations issues, myself included," he stated.

Ian Chisholm, head of operations and communications at SOE was equally pleased. "I believe this was one of the most successful events IRTE has staged. It has resulted in a considerable amount of very positive feedback and, I hope, enhanced the relationship between industry stakeholders, the Traffic Commissioners, VOSA and IRTE."

Brian Tinham

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