Tools & Equipment of Full Service Shop
By Marek Krasuski
Equipping service shops involves a diverse range of tools and infrastructure, requiring everything from diagnostics, tools (manual & hydraulic), hoists, test meters, electronics, welding & cutting tools, vehicles and accessories. Even software comes into the mix with some providers promising greater returns. Fullbay Heavy Duty Shop Software is a case in point, claiming that some service centres that use their cloud based program see a 30 percent increase per tech. The company says efficiencies are enhanced by expediting parts and authorization is faster. Recruitment of technicians is made more attractive thanks to a faster repair process, and better margins are realized with quick markup calculations and profit monitoring in real time.
Good technicians are the linchpin to an effective operation, so the provision of excellent equipment is crucial given the challenging tasks they perform. They often work in awkward positions and are required to crouch, stoop, climb and kneel. They handle heavy parts and tools that render them vulnerable to back and other injuries, not to mention arthritis and other ailments as they age. With more complex engines housing electronic systems, technicians must be proficient with software and electronics. This, in addition to a familiarity with diesel emissions controls which demand an understanding of alternative fuel powered engines such as LNG, CNG, and electric drive systems.
Recruiting qualified technicians is no easy feat. The demographic trend parallels that of the trucker – technicians are aging out and there’s a shortage of new recruits, so much so that some service centres will target reputable technicians with an offer that they name their own price.Shop technicians, of course, can’t do their jobs without good tools, and there’s no shortage of leading manufacturers to source. Ingersoll Rand offers a wide range of power tools. Wrenches, drills, hammers and cutting tools are standard products. Their air motors are efficient alternatives to electrically powered tools and come with variable speeds and torques for many applications and range from .10 to 30 horsepower. They are noted for being impervious to overheating and burnout.
Dewalt can be a one stop place to outfit a shop, offering everything from hand tools, power tools and accessories such as saw blades, chargers and drill bits. Dewalt’s air tools include drills, wrenches, grinders, sanders, spray guns, and grinders. Among its newest power tools is the DCH293X2 Rotary Hammer Kit. The hammer is powered by Dewalt’s brushless motor. A balanced design and vibration control technology make it well suited for continuous use, even in hard concrete.
Welding and cutting equipment are product staples with Lincoln Electric Welders. Stick welders, TIG welders, MIG welders, multi-process welders, advanced process welders, multi-operator welders, engine drives, submerged arc equipment, and wire feeders for arc welding are their stock in trade. Cutting equipment includes Tomahawk plasma cutters, Spirit plasma cutting systems from Burny, motion and shape cutting controllers. The company claims handheld and mechanized air plasma cutters are portable for fast and precise cutting of mild steel, stainless, brass, copper, and aluminum on the jobsite. Guns and torches are available for any application. They include MIG guns, semiautomatic guns, aluminum push pull, fume extraction, spool guns, robotic guns, innershield flux-cored self-shielded guns, and welding guns for submerged arc applications. Torches include air-cooled and water-cooled models available in several amperage ratings. A wide selection of accessories and add-ons are available.
Robinair is a leading supplier of HVAC and air conditioning tools and equipment for repair shops and other industrial sectors. In addition leak detection, manifolds/gauges/hoses, vacuum pumps and transmission products are provided. Collectively their products serve the heating/ventilating/air conditioning/refrigeration (HVAC-R) and mobile markets, which include the automotive aftermarket.
A wide product offering is available from Goodall Manufacturing which features battery chargers, compressors, cables, components, pressure washers and generators. Their engine starting equipment includes 12/24 volt jump starting units. Voltage Control provides regulated voltage that is safer for vehicles and on-board electronics and Reverse Current Shutdown Protection protects against expensive repairs in the event the unit runs out of gas.
Full service shops wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of parts and purchasing decisions, particularly over preference between domestic and off shore products. With a significant jump in the cost of financing new trucks fleets are retaining existing inventories with older models that require more replacement parts. Advanced truck designs, too, lead to demand for more expensive replacements parts.
Parts manufacturers all face competition, not only from each other but from offshore suppliers who have edged out many North American competitors on the supply chain. Many gain competitive advantage through access to cheap labour and other advantages that arise from being second line aftermarket producers. Original Equipment manufacturers reinforce product quality with warranties and invest heavily in research and development. Offshore companies meanwhile have the advantage of copying innovations developed by industry forerunners who shoulder the additional burden of higher production costs.
This is not to say that all offshore products are of inferior quality to their North American counterparts. Noted one industry expert, “You can take a brand new product offshore and put it beside a North American one and you wouldn’t tell the difference.” Product quality, therefore, is ultimately demonstrated by performance, not appearance, and offshore parts can be as good as, or better, than domestic components, though there are no guarantees. Since the parts industry is price-driven, quality products generally come with a higher price tag.
Nonetheless, differing views on the impact of imported parts continues. Domestic products must conform to DIN standards, industry norms that guarantee they meet a certain level of quality. But many imports circumvent these regulations and provide the Canadian marketplace with substandard components, some of which can cause serious damage if used as a critical link in an engine or braking system. Imports may lack safety standards such as warning labels, the absence of which render their contents unknown and potentially dangerous. In a price driven industry many users will opt for low cost and potentially risky imports despite inferior quality. Customer decisions are driven primarily by cost. They will buy a bolt that costs 10 cents over the one that costs 25, even though the latter is a better product that meets quality control standards. And on small items particularly, customers won’t bother with comparisons.
There are a multitude of quality tool and equipment suppliers to choose from, but the real challenge for setting up a full service shop may be in the recruitment of quality technicians and in the purchase of the right parts – balancing the need for industry-standard quality parts with customer preference for cost effective alternatives. Parts may look the same, but there’s no guarantee they are the same.☚