Competition improves the breed

All truck makers strive for reduced workshop downtime and Scania’s Top Team contest is a novel way of improving the company’s levels of diagnosis and repair efficiency. ALLAN WHITING talks to last year’s global winners.

There’s an agonising scene in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 where the hero bandages the wounded leg of a waist gunner aboard a Mitchell B-25 bomber during WW II. Sadly, he’s missed a much more devastating gut wound that’s only revealed when the hero unzips the victim’s flak jacket. He’s bandaged the wrong wound.

Delayed or incorrect diagnosis of truck malfunctions has resulted in many cases of ‘bandaging the wrong wound’ and that’s one reason why Scania has placed such emphasis on workshop technicians’ skills. A key factor in this process is the Top Team program it implemented back in 1989.

Originally reserved for Scandinavian markets, the Top Team contest pits service teams from Scania workshops in an intensive theory and practice contest. In 2003, the Top Team program expanded into some export markets, and the 2013 event saw no fewer than 63 countries’ teams competing for the honour – and €50,000 ($88,000) in prize money – of being Scania’s best.

Australian teams have competed very successfully in the last four events, with technicians from Prestons (Western Sydney) winning not only the Australian nationals and South East Asian regional titles, but going on to two seconds and, finally, two firsts, in 2011 and 2013, in the Top Team world finals.

DIESEL caught up with Scania’s state manager, Michael Weber, and Top Team member, now Prestons’ workshop manager, Graham Andrews, to find out how the global competition works from management and workshop-floor points of view.

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“The more skilled our technicians are, the better service we can give to Scania customers to reduce their downtime,” says Michael Weber. “We open the doors at 7am and shut around midnight, and for those in a hurry we offer a guaranteed two-hour, drive-in-drive-out lube service; if we blow the time, the service is free.

“We’ve found that Top Team competition also teaches our workshop people to analyse carefully what customers tell them.”

A favourite example of the need to listen carefully is Michael Weber’s classic ‘truck has no power’ complaint that service people hear more than most other issues. A typical response would be a breakdown-van serviceman or workshop technician geared up for a fuel system problem.

“Some more questioning by the person receiving the phone call might reveal that the ‘no power’ complaint refers to the fact that the engine wouldn’t even crank, because it had ‘no electrical power’,” says Weber.

Another ‘no power’ situation Michael Weber recalls was when a driver complained about a lack of downhill power, because the truck wouldn’t accept accelerator input to over-speed on downgrades.

“An additional program we’ve implemented is built around the perceived life-education needs of many of our apprentices,” says Weber. “Many young people don’t have the experience in setting financial budgets, looking after their health issues and even driving safely, so we put in place an education process, employing visits by experts in these fields.

“We’ve also explained to them the ‘chain effect’ that their work can have on the truck driver, the fleet operator and the customer.”

We met up with winning Top Team member, Graham Andrews, and couldn’t help noticing a slight Kiwi accent. He confessed to his origins and I asked if that made the world final competition in late 2013, when Australia defeated New Zealand, a bit more special:

“It did,” he says. “I knew some of those guys from the early days.”

So, what was the Top Team experience like?

“Teamwork was the key to Prestons’ success,” says Graham. “We were already good mates on the floor and outside work, but the co-operation needed to outperform other teams raised that mateship level.

“Our team incorporated a broad range of skills and that proved crucial in the final against New Zealand, when the ‘playoff’ task was to fit a Euro-style, four‑driving-light bar to a Scania bumper.

“Initially, we were a little put off by this task, because this option isn’t popular in Australia, where the ‘roos would wreck it in no time, but the Kiwis use it and, fortunately, one of our team was also quite familiar with fitting this type of light bar.”

In a lead-up Top Team skills test the Prestons boys had to manage a wheel alignment task, using old-school string lines and no lasers. The breadth of the team skill levels overcame an obstacle which slowed many other competitors.

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The sharing of skills necessary to win Top Team is reflected in the day-to-day operation of the workshop, Graham says, because everyone in the workshop is involved in a team and because only two from a winning team can stay with that combination for the next competition. This results in a spread of skills throughout the teams and wider bonding.

“The Top Team problem scenarios reinforce the importance of using the right process,” says Graham. “Starting with the basics is important, rather than jumping ahead, looking for a high-tech cause for something that may be quite simple.

“For example, a low-power complaint may be due to a partially-blocked filter, not a fuel system computer or turbo issue.

“Our guys are encouraged to use a system of early work definition, to get to the exact problem quickly and in many cases they can do it over the phone: by the time the truck rolls in or the service van arrives the technician is well prepared.”

Graham Andrews says the knowledge-sharing process builds confidence among less experienced technicians.

“There’s no experience substitute for being out on a service call, with the responsibility of finding the problem and getting the truck rolling again.”

I asked about the prize money:

“The Prestons team members received only 30 per cent of the winnings,” says Andrews. “We spent 70 per cent on workshop improvements that the guys wanted, including Bluetooth control of truck hoists, to eliminate control cables.”

Will Graham Andrews be back in harness next year? “Now that I’m workshop manager I’m not eligible anymore,” he says. “But I’m hoping for a position as a team mentor or coach.”

Scania’s Top Team program is on-going and teams from 1,600 workshops all around the world are already forming up to study for their national finals later this year and regional finals mid next year, before another global final in late 2015.

Can the Aussies make it three in a row?


UP FRONT ABOUT PRICING FOR BITS AND PIECES

Small fleets and owner drivers who aren’t conscious of their costs invariably go to the wall, and experienced ones know that costing goes much further than initial purchase price. A saving at the point of sale can evaporate quickly if running costs are higher than expected.

Back in the days when I worked for a major truck maker that was vertically integrated, like Scania is, the most common objection to buying such a truck brand was the lack of alternative sources for parts and service.

The fear was that once they’d bought the truck, buyers would be locked into expensive, one-make parts supply.

Buying a horizontally integrated truck, as all North American brands were back in the 1980s , meant that the owner could source many parts from the original supplier, from parts specialists or from other North American truck dealers.

Parts for North American power trains were widespread and, hence, competitively priced.

These days, global truck makers have become more vertically integrated and the big players are using more and more vertically-integrated componentry (the latest example is Kenworth’s fitment of the DAF-sourced MX13 engine).

Vertically-integrated Scania has taken this captive-parts objection seriously and has implemented a policy of keen pricing for commonly needed parts, particularly those with safety ramifications, such as brakes, lights and mirrors.

Service exchange items include air compressors, air con compressors, alternators, clutches, crankshafts, cylinder heads, complete engines, hydraulic pumps, injectors and injection pumps, oil pumps, axle gear sets, planetaries, retarders, starter motors, steering boxes, turbochargers and water pumps.

Service exchange items are rebuilt in Scania workshops to new-component specifications, using new or recycled parts and are sold with a 12-month warranty if fitted by a Scania authorised workshop. Some exchange units can be fitted at a fixed-cost price.

Scania has been a competitor in the Australian market for many years, achieving steady growth, without apparent market leadership aspirations. This measured approach seems to have been made with a high degree of customer focus and without major product drama, since glitches with the early V8s.

Scania’s concentration on sensible parts pricing is an example of this careful approach to truck marketing.

- Allan Whiting


 

WHAT IS TOP TEAM?

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More than 8,000 service technicians and parts experts took part in Scania’s Top Team in 2013. After several qualifying events, national finals and regional rounds, ten teams from across the world, making up a total of 50 participants, qualified for the world final. The finalists came from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Peru, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The ultimate goal is for Scania workshops worldwide to provide services that support customers’ businesses. This requires highly proficient service staff.

Scania Top Team is also an important way of promoting safety, health and environmental issues. Good working conditions result in a more motivated staff and less turnover, leading to a more professional and skilled workforce. Consequently, this workforce increases the quality of the work performed at workshops all over the world.

Scania Top Team is a competition and training event, aimed at developing best practices for working on Scania vehicles. The first competition was held in Sweden in 1989. Since then, Top Team has grown to involve participants from workshops from all over the world. The 2013 event was the ninth Top Team to be held.

The next event kicks off later this year with the world final to be held in Sweden in 2015.

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