Carrying out repair and maintenance work in-house is a known way to keep costs down
Not only can effectively utilising your own workshop save money, it can be a profit rather than a cost centre if you open it up to take on extra third party jobs, providing you have the capacity to do so. With the closing of DVSA’s own sites, some operators are seizing the opportunity by installing ATF lanes, which can be used as another source of income. Chris Peat has looked into various companies providing the equipment needed to equip garages and workshops.
There is a lot to consider when putting together a workshop, so it can help to have someone else with experience do the design, preparation and installation work for you. Dura can offer this service.
The company provides everything from tool cabinets, workbenches, sinks, flooring and waste and fluid management systems to heavy duty vehicle lifts and other testing and maintenance devices. With all of its designers working from its Head Office in Brackley, Northamptonshire and with its manufacturing facilities in Plymouth, it has the ability to custom design a solution tailored to each customer’s needs. Each of its products can be offered in various colours to ensure company branding is followed through into the workshop and it can add decals or logos to any of its products. The aim is to provide a total workshop solution. Once the team has met with the client to understand their needs, it will create a 3D render so they can see exactly how the workshop will look before work starts.
VL Test Systems
VL Test Systems has a wide variety of garage equipment products available. This includes smoke testers, brake testers, play detectors, air pressure transducers and emission testers to name a few. Customers from across the country’s major operators and independents alike have fitted VL’s products. One of the most popular items it sells into the bus and coach sector are roller brake testers.
An area of speciality is fitting out entire ATF lanes with fully integrated test equipment. Despite many of these already being installed across the country already, demand for them does not appear to have slowed down, according to the company’s Simon Cull. He said that even though an operator may not necessarily invest in a full ATF lane, he has noticed they still might buy some of the relevant equipment none the less, ‘should they go down the ATF route at a later date’. He described it as a way of future proofing a workshop, saying, ‘You never know what’s going to happen.’
A key consideration when purchasing this equipment is ensuring it is good quality, according to Simon. Not only that, but an excellent back-up service is also important, he said. The aim is to ensure downtime is reduced as much as possible to save money, particularly with test lanes.
A company long known for ATF related equipment is Tecalemit. Its newest product suitable for the PCV sector is the Haweka Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) calibration system, which is available with Haweka’s wheel alignment products.
Commenting on how much effect the closures to VOSA test lanes and opening of independent ATFs have had on his business, Sales & Marketing Director at Tecalemit, Philip Cledwyn, said, ‘I’m not sure the recent changes in legislation have made that much difference, it was a big part of our business before that, because there were issues driving the sales even then. Some of the customers have changed, with new entrants to the market. We’ve responded by adapting our service offering, and making it even more flexible and comprehensive, so that it’s easier for those companies to buy the kit, get it installed and start making a profit from it. But the volumes were always strong and haven’t actually changed much.’
When asked which of Tecalemit’s equipment proves popular for bus and coach operators?, Philip said, ‘It’s difficult to answer. Yes, many are now installing their own ATF lanes but a huge proportion of our product range has always been dedicated to this market. The challenge a question like that, for us, is that we have one of the most comprehensive product ranges on the market for this sector, so it is difficult to single out individual products. Even high value products like specialist vehicle lifts sell very well, consistently.’
Vehicle lifting devices are a familiar sight in workshops. Totalkare is one of the providers of this equipment. The most popular of its ranges in the bus and coach market are its Cable Free Mobile Column Lifts. Rated at 7.5tonnes per column, in order to encourage good health and safety practice they have no interconnecting cables and are charged via a standard wall socket. They have been designed with the busy workshop in mind, helping provide flexibility in a workspace. Sales and Marketing Manager, Tristan Johnston, said smaller independents liked the fact three-phase power is not required to charge them, meaning this expensive power set up is not needed.
Its newest product is the Heavy Duty Fixed Post Lift for bus and coach operations, which is especially popular in a galvanised option that allows it to be used in wash bay applications. These are available in 16,000 to 33,000kg configurations and a variety of platform lengths. Compared to mobile column lifts, they provide a quicker set up time as you are able to drive straight onto the lift without the need for setting them up first.
Commenting on what to look out for when buying lifts, Tristan said, ‘We would recommend a product that is tested to a recognised European standard, i.e. CE marked, as a first port of call, but it doesn’t stop there. We would also recommend using a company that can offer the technical support and back up that is required for such an essential piece of workshop equipment. You need to be able to rely on the product and if you cannot get assistance to repair the lifts if they break down, parts, training and servicing, etc, from the company you brought them from, the lifts could end up being left redundant in the corner of your workshop. This happens more than you would think!’
‘There is also a debate whether to buy hydraulic or electromechanical mobile vehicle lifts within the industry, obviously with our competitors pushing hydraulic and us pushing electromechanical. But realistically there is not much difference between them in both cost and running, it is simply down to the operator as to a preference or what they are used to. Electromechanical lifts use a screw shaft and nut as a lifting mechanism which can be subject to wear (ours are re-circulating ball screws with ball bearings so have less wear than older models of mobile column lifts), whereas the hydraulic lifts have a hydraulic ram but as with all hydraulics, they are subject to deterioration over time if not maintained.’
If trade shows are anything to go by, wireless column lifts seem to be a big deal in the garage equipment market. Stertil Koni recently supplied a set of electro-hydraulic wireless mobile column lifts to Worksop based Johnson Brothers. The company first loaned the operator a set of wireless mobile column lifts to enable it to undertake PDI inspection work on Nottingham City Council’s electric vehicle fleet. Following this loan, Johnson decided to purchase a set of four ST1075FWF lifts to support its third purpose built workshop.
The ST1075FWF uniquely incorporates a wireless control system designed to provide maximum access to the underside of a raised vehicle. Each of the mobile columns is equipped with two long-life deep cycle batteries which, when fully charged, will power the lifts for at least a week on average, before re-charging is necessary. The batteries can then be charged overnight via a 230v single phase supply. They can be used in any configuration around a vehicle. The lift’s synchronisation system ensures a smooth lifting and lowering cycle, even in the event of extremely uneven load distribution.
Each column features Stertil Koni’s eBright full colour touch screen control panel and they can be operated from any column. The ST1075FWF provides a lifting capacity of 7.5tonnes, which means that a set of four lifts ensures smooth lifting of vehicles weighing up to 30tonnes. If a greater lifting capacity is required, this can be achieved by adding more columns. The ST1075FWF ensures safe lifting up to a height of 1.85m, which the company says can be reached in 70 seconds. Incorporating Stertil’s maintenance-free, self-lubricating, synthetic runner wheel system, the lifts are covered by a lifetime guarantee.
Sefac’s latest mobile column lift is the SW2 Wireless. Designed to be intuitive and user friendly, the columns have a multi-function LCD screen, initiated by swiping a user card over it to activate each lift. The display gives real time indication of the lifting height and load, reminders of any future technical inspections required and a battery level indicator. To keep maintenance low, the lifts use a re-circulating ball nut and screw, which should only require greasing every five years.
UK Sales Manager, Jon Ryan, said most of the company’s products have received a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ updates, rather than any kind of re-branding. Responding to a question on whether cable-free lifts are the way forward, John said, ‘A lot of the time, people see wireless lifts and get excited. But it’s important to ask why they want them. Yes, they have greater mobility and they are good when there is limited space, but do you actually want to be paying the premium price for wireless? Our job is to explain what operators actually need and we see there is still a need for cables in some situations.’
Maxima is another supplier of vehicle lifts, in particular providing heavy duty column lifts. The products are wireless and have adjustable wheel support to accommodate various wheels. An LCD screen shows the exact lifting height and they come with two years’ unlimited warranty. The hydraulically powered lift has a lifting capacity of 12,000lbd per column. For safety, they have an automatic stop function when the highest point is reached. As options, a drive on ramp system and a range of axle stands are available.
As the name suggests, Liftmaster specialises in vehicle lifts. It has a range of solutions applicable to the bus and coach market, including four post commercial lifts and scissor variants. Jacking beams and various other workshop equipment is also available, including tyre changing devices and wheel balancers.
Weber provides ancillary equipment too, such as pit jacks, axle stands and bottle jacks. When it comes to buying lifts, John Tokely from Weber said, to ensure you get one that lifts to the right height, take measurements of the workshop’s ceiling. Such mistakes do happen!
He said, ‘To be honest, rather than looking for what is cheapest, look at something that lasts you. Also, good after sales service, look out for that too. We have repair agents across the country and repair and service facilities here at our UK headquarters. We aim to sort customers’ problems out quickly.’
John said to focus on the quality of product too, saying Weber aims to deliver high quality, having attained ISO9001-2008 quality accreditation.
Lifting a vehicle up is one way to gain better access to it when maintaining it, but another method is to use a pit. Premier Pits manufactures and can install stainless steel inspection pits. They can be modified in a number of ways, including fitting brake testers into them and pit jacks, as well as safety coverings amongst a range of other extras.
There is an ongoing debate over whether these are better than lifts. Although they require greater installation time, they have the advantage of not requiring as much maintenance as lifts. They also have an advantage when workshop ceiling height is limited. However, the company itself says there are advantages to using both.
Fitting pits is not all it does, as it provides full ATF lane buildings complete with all the relevant equipment. This is all part of its Premier Pits Centre, which can provide the entire package, from concept, design, manufacture, delivery and installation. Modifications and refurbishment can also be carried out on existing pits.
Majorlift Hydraulic Equipment
Providing equipment compatible with pits and lifts is Majorlift Hydraulic Equipment. The company manufactures a wide variety of lifting jacks and supports suitable for buses and coaches. With the rise of the independent ATF lane, it has experienced a dramatic increase in sales of its products. The ‘initial splurge’ for these has now died down, but it has established a steady stream of sales into that area.
One of the company’s most popular products into the PCV sector is its pit jack, which is available as either a 12tonne or a 20tonne variant. The manufacturer has found there is a lot of demand for vehicle lifts too, supplying its special range of jacking beams for this application.
The emphasis with Majorlift is on quality, as well as safety, providing a five year warranty. To emphasise this, all its jacking beams go through a special process to help eliminate rust and a number of added safety features have been incorporated. The privately owned business is 100% British owned and 95% of its products are made in-house, giving it good control over quality. Manufacturing in the UK has the added advantage that spare parts are immediately available.
ATF lanes are something Maha can design, supply and install, as well as service. Its workshop equipment spans lifts, testers, diagnostics equipment and dynamometers. ATFs are proving popular, with sales still high despite a ‘substantial amount’ of them having already been provided.
When buying this sort of equipment, claims Nick Austin, Maha UK Sales Manager, it is important not to focus on the initial purchase cost. ‘You have to look at the strength of the company you are buying from, because you’re buying into a partnership. We don’t subcontract any work out, it is all done properly by our own Maha staff, with Maha uniforms and the proper training. You have to look at the support and service you get with it. If the kit breaks down, then it’s how quickly they respond. It costs £800 a day to run a test lane, which you pay for in advance, so we will move heaven and earth to ensure they don’t loose that day.’
Nick said Maha has supplied more ATF lanes in the UK than anyone else. This, he claimed, has meant it has had a steep learning curve, saying, ‘We understand what DVSA and the customer want.’
Another of the company’s strengths is manufacturing its own products at its German factory. Nick said, ‘This means we will not change our mind about what we are providing and that we will have long term availability of products.’
ATF lanes are a speciality of Gemco too, supplying and fitting all the relevant equipment. This includes the initial site survey, design, delivery, installation, civil works and after sales. Gemco also provides a range of vehicle lifts, supplying the Stenhoj, OMER and Bradbury brands. If you would prefer a pit, it can arrange for that too. To scratch the surface of its products, Gemco provides dispensers, drainers, tools, jacks, roller brake testers, analysis equipment (air conditioning and emissions), wheel equipment and workshop furniture. It also has a spares shop, claiming to be the UK’s largest garage equipment workshop service and spares provider.
Codi International supplies brake testers, vehicle lifts, wheel aligners and a wide range of other CV workshop equipment as well as being the main UK importer for German lift manufacturers Consul and Fuchs Hydraulik. Additionally, it supplies a range of complimentary equipment. After sales service is important for Codi, which offers contract maintenance, calibration, equipment installation and repair.
One of Texa’s major product lines is diagnostic tools, with its Axone 4 vehicle interface being one of the most suited in its range for PCV applications.
Sales Manager at Texa, Dave Gordon, said that when investing in diagnostic equipment, it is worth keeping in mind what you run. He notes that many coach and bus fleets can include various makes and models, so diagnostic equipment needs to be compatible on a wide range of vehicle types. This is especially the case when buying new vehicles, as you need to ensure it covers the entire fleet now and in the future.
Training in this sort of equipment is something else operators need to look for when purchasing it, said Dave. ‘A lot of workshops have guys who are used to hammers and screwdrivers, then suddenly they are in a whole new technological world with this sort of equipment. So training is a big, big thing to consider.’
As such, Texa offers training in its diagnostics products. It even works with other manufacturers, such as ZF, to accommodate people on their courses who are using Texa equipment to maintain transmissions.
Outside of diagnostics, Texa also provides air conditioning maintenance units. With PCV air conditioning systems larger than their truck equivalents, specialist equipment is needed to service them. The company’s service station has larger hoses and a bigger capacity tank. Dave suggests winter is a good time of year to use this equipment, rather than waiting till summer and realising the air conditioning system does not work due to not being sufficiently maintained.
Another supplier of diagnostics equipment is Knorr Bremse, which has its NEO System Diagnosis system. This is a modular, scalable diagnosis platform comprising software and hardware for selected systems in commercial vehicle applications. The platform offers various solutions, starting with reading the fault recorder through to completely automatic fault analysis. The software can be used as a PC based application or connected with a special workshop compatible laptop.
A useful item to have in the workshop or garage is a battery jump starter, particularly at this time of year. Powervamp have a number of battery jump starters suitable for the bus and coach sector, including the TB1224HDD. The 12/24v jump starter is designed for the frequent starting of a fleet. Another unit is the Powerpack, which has the same capabilities as the previous model, but has been designed for use in breakdown and maintenance vans. For larger vehicles, it has the Nato unit.
Quality of battery jump starters is all down to the battery used in the unit. Ed Roller from Powervamp said, ‘You can get products that are much cheaper on the market, but in emergency situations, you run the risk of it not starting the battery. You can buy cheap, but it won’t have the grunt that ours does. Also, each of our packs have voltage surge protection, which protects it from voltage spikes that can damage the vehicle’s ECU.’
Ed went on to explain that the company has 23 years of experience in battery start equipment.
You might know Rotronics by its old name, Rozone. However, the battery maintenance and service solutions company has now rebranded as Rotronics, taking on its new moniker at Coach and Bus Live. It is the UK partner for Midtronics battery management technology.
MD at Rotronics, Ken Clark, said, ‘Rotronics is at the forefront of battery management innovation and a key issue that we are working on currently is Battery Balancing: an alternator cannot determine which battery needs to be balanced and therefore one battery will be over-charged and the other will be under-charged. Unfortunately, this often leads to both batteries being incorrectly replaced. We have the technology to overcome this issue and ensure that batteries are more efficient for longer periods of time, the alternator performs more efficiently and we can prove cost savings to our customers.’
JHM Butt of Bawtry, near Doncaster, provides a battery starter, with its SOS Booster pack. It has a range of them available, covering various vehicle applications, including its SOS Booster Pack 12/24v 2400/1200CA suitable for buses and coaches. They feature a single piece body for extra strength, with a lightweight yet robust shell case design to withstand harsh workshop environments.
Ravaglioli lifts are supplied by JHM Butt, as well as a variety of other workshop equipment, including bodyshop items, play detectors, work benches and oil storage and containment units. Consumables are provided, from nuts, washes, cable ties and exhaust clamps to rivets and oils.
It is not just the big pieces of kit that are worth focusing on, smaller tools and devices are just as important. Sealey provides such items, from Turbo System Leakage Testers to a smoke diagnostic tool. Other useful equipment from the company includes a digital battery and alternator tester, oil filter pliers (95-178mm), an emergency heavy-duty power pack, a starter charger and intelligent speed charge battery charger. It also has an extensive range of lighting and heating equipment, which tend to be popular at this time of year.
Draper Tools is a family run business that has been providing a range of tools to the UK for almost 100 years. Whether you need torque wrenches, tyre specific tools, socket sets, spanners, diagnostic equipment or tools for lifting, Draper probably stock it. They are launching products aimed at small commercial vehicles in the next two to three months. The January-April 2016 edition of its Workshop Promotion Catalogue is now available online, where you can also find a collection of ‘how to’ videos.
Autocraft provides a good selection of different workshop items, having set out its store in preparation for the upcoming spring/summer time. In terms of diagnostics equipment, its devices from Texa have received updates. The company reminds its customers that Texa’s software now requires Windows7 to function correctly. Windows XP will not be supported, but Autocraft can supply an upgrade to Windows XP for £125 plus VAT, or a refurbished Dell E6410 laptop with Windows7 and your current software installed for £300 plus VAT. Alternatively, it can supply a Texa Axone4 tablet PC upgrade for £1,695 plus VAT.
Having become a Delphi distributor last year, Autocraft is now able to advise and supply diagnostic and injector test equipment from the manufacturer, as well as providing Delphi training courses. As the CANbus has more to deal with when using a diagnostic tool for either reading or recoding, a battery support unit can be used. This keeps voltage and current constant throughout the process.
Over the past year it has been supplying the new DuoCharger from Traction. This unit is 12v or 24v and is ideally suited to the coach and bus market. It can be connected to two 12v batteries to check the difference in voltage between them, balance, then de-sulphate and recharge them evenly.
Parma provides a wide range of consumables, workwear and tools for workshops. Its Norbar industrial heavy duty torque wrench has a large break angle intended to improve accuracy by reducing the possibility of over-torqueing. The cam control of the mechanism gives a controlled break, which is designed to not throw the operator off balance. It also provides Chicago Pneumatic air powered impact wrenches.
Parma’s workwear includes high visibility garments, boiler suits, gloves, boots and boxes of Blue Nitrile Disposable Gloves. Its range of consumables includes wheel chocks and holders, first aid kits, hand cleaner and disposable wipes.
What else to consider
Keeping workshops stocked with the correct replacement parts is to be kept in mind. Central Truck and Bus Parts can help with this, as can a number of other parts suppliers.
For maintaining tyres and wheels, The Tyre Equipment Company provides a range of items to make the job easier. These include wheel dollies and wheel lifters, as well as tyre valve connectors and various other accessories to assist in tyre maintenance.
Suitable workwear is another thing to be aware of. Debonair Corporate Clothing has a range of garments for workshop staff, including overalls and high vis jackets. It also has accessories, such as safety boots and knee pads. Direct Corporate Clothing is another garage workwear provider, designing, sourcing and manufacturing garments required.
Repairing and maintaining a fleet can be a dirty job, so hands are going to need to be cleaned. Swarfega from Deb Products has developed a three step skin safety system that is specifically designed for use in workshops. It includes a pre-work cream, hand cleaner and after-work cream and meets all health and safety requirements. Swarfega has a wide range of products, from hand cleaners to degreasing and maintenance products to vehicle cleaners. The hand cleaners are available in sizes from 275ml to 15litres and the chemicals available in IBCs of up to 1,000litres. 2017 will be Swarfega’s 70th year.