A pilot fitting regime may see turntables leading the way to reform and could become the basis for a new national modifications scheme. Modification code of practice Vehicle Standards Bulletin 6, or VSB6, has been undergoing a comprehensive review to bring it in line with current methodology and technology.
VSB6 is prescribed by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) as the primary standard used by Approved Vehicle Examiners (AVEs) to approve modifications to heavy vehicles. This takes precedence unless the vehicle manufacturer provides adequate instructions, in which case the manufacturer’s instructions are paramount.
Since January 2016, VSB6 has been undergoing a comprehensive review to bring it in line with current methodology and technology, one of many projects the NHVR has been asked to undertake in the last few years. From the NHVR’s point of view, two documents are at the core of ensuring vehicles on the road are fit for purpose. The first is the National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual (NHVIM), which came out last year, and the second is an amended VSB6.
In 2014, when the new National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL) kicked in, the NHVR took over responsibility for regulating heavy-vehicle modifications. The three-tier system encompasses minor modifications, like the fitting of accessories to the truck or trailer, which do not require certification.
The second group, ‘Section 86’ modifications, covers standardised modifications which can be approved by the AVE network, this means the mod must be described in a code of practice like VSB6 and simply has to passed by the AVE. ‘Section 87’ is the system which picks up the rest of the many types of mods done in the industry, anything outside either of the other two classifications.
When it comes down to the specification area, covering the fitting of a turntable or any kind of coupling to a truck or trailer, there are, in fact, not many changes in VSB6. A few items have been clarified and explanations simplified but, in terms of the fitting process, very little has changed. The NHVR has used feedback from some of the turntable manufacturers to amend some procedures to reflect current practice.
At the same time, a pilot program being run by VicRoads in Victoria, specifically concerned with the certification of the fitting turntables, is likely to have an profound influence on the way all modifications are checked and certified in a future national scheme.
Victorian Pilot Scheme
In Victoria, the demand for AVEs able to sign off on the fitting of a turntable was seen to be an issue. To get a turntable certified, it has to be in a dealership and the AVE signatory needs to attend. This worked okay in metro areas, but there were major issues outside of big cities. These limitations led to unnecessary periods of vehicle downtime.
The authority deemed the details of the method of fifth-wheel fitting made it quite amenable to a new process, one similar to many other modifications. There are a high number of very standardised fitments. Fitting a fifth wheel from a manufacturer will be almost the same, no matter what vehicle it is fitted to and no matter who does the job, there are only seven fifth-wheel original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) operating on a national scale.
“These turntable OEMs are large organisations with safety structures, which allows us to treat the organisation as the individual signatory,” explains Drew Stevenson, VicRoads Senior Technical Adviser, who is overseeing the project. “What that means is we can depend on the organisation, to have a proper trainee management plan, to ensure their fitters are signing off on their element of the work, to ensure they are compliant with fitment guidelines and they have taken all of the data from the final vehicle inspection and it has been reviewed by the organisation before it is committed to paper.
“We have the ability to depend on the quality system and their access to data. We can make sure the fitment is robust and safe, data has been passed on to the fitter and that the fitter has confirmed that the fitting has been done in accordance with that plan. We can also ensure their internal auditing will be visiting that on a regular basis.
“With existing signatories, we depend on their competence and knowledge and their ability to ensure the fitting complies with our requirements and to keep all of that data in a formalised way. With an organisation it is very much the same thing. The necessary skills can be trained in by the organisation. Application engineers typically have access to more data and are dealing with a routine type of task, where they are dealing with very similar vehicles on a routine basis.”
These larger organisations are also deemed to be big enough to have personnel who are not engaged in the fitments, but who can carry out an auditing function within the organisation. What VicRoads is looking for is to be able to audit these signatories on a more regular basis. Currently they are audited on a three-month basis. VicRoads is going into the organisation and validating their internal audit, ensuring they are taking place. It is also going through the individual records for each of these tasks on a sample basis, ensuring they have been applying the appropriate rules.