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August 15, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Opinion: First TMC Meeting Proved Unforgettable

This Opinion piece appears in the August 15 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Barry Pottle

Vice Chairman

American Trucking Associations

As officers of American Trucking Associations, we are tasked with guiding the professional management of ATA and representing ATA at our federation partners’ meetings and industry events. In recent years, we also have assigned an officer as steward of ATA’s most prominent and important programs. For example, First Vice Chairman Kevin Burch has overseen our industry image movement, Trucking Moves America Forward, while Second Vice Chairman Dave Manning is our officer contact for LEAD ATA, our emerging leaders program. As part of this effort, I have the honor to be the officer serving as liaison to the ATA Technology & Maintenance Council, or TMC.

Barry Pottle

Here is where I make a confession: Until the ATA Executive Committee met in conjunction with the TMC Annual Meeting two years ago, I had never attended a TMC function.

What I saw was simply unbelievable to this trucker — 350,000 square feet of exhibit hall, with 400 exhibitors covering every OEM, trailer manufacturer, major component supplier and service provider, with displays from the bolts holding the front bumper to the lane departure warning system in the cab, to the reefer telematics in the trailer, to the wiring running the rear trailer lights, and every part, product and technology in between. When exhibit hours were done for the day, these exhibitors and the equipment experts from the fleets put aside their company labels, became TMC task forces and asked, “How can we make and maintain this equipment better?”

I had been an ATA member for 20 years. How did I miss this great opportunity? A TMC meeting is a lot more, and a lot more valuable, than just another truck show.

The TMC Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition, which I attended that spring, is ATA’s largest meeting. Each fall, TMC also runs the National Technician Skills Competition — aka “TMC SuperTech” — to highlight the professionalism of technicians and attract more skilled workers to our industry. Most important, though, are those TMC task forces — working together across fleets, OEMs, service providers, suppliers and more — to solve problems and produce Recommended Practices in vehicle maintenance and equipment design that are industry standards, thereby saving fleets countless dollars each year and keeping our vehicles safe, efficient and on the road.

Need examples? When anti-lock braking systems were mandated, TMC was instrumental in showing that a single connector could do the job, saving the industry millions compared with the two-connector solution being proposed. TMC helped develop the common database for reading vehicle condition and followed that with a standardized Windows interface so fleets would not need proprietary tools to read each brand of ECU. TMC recently released Recommended Practices for spec’ing and maintaining headlamps that will not fog. On tap for tomorrow: cybersecurity.

Hundreds of non-ATA member companies regularly send their maintenance and equipment professionals to TMC — so, why do just 14% of ATA member fleets participate? Confusion? That may be true. TMC is variously interpreted as “The Maintenance Council” or the “Truck Maintenance Council” by journals and companies that nonetheless recognize TMC as also being at the very heart of trucking technology.

I think there is a more insidious, dangerous and all too human reason: the temptation of getting “something for nothing.” Many times that temptation comes in the form of an all-expenses-paid solicitation to a transportation seminar, with a half-day of insight and a full day of sales pitches. Sometimes it is cloaked as a “best practices” consortium with widely publicized findings based on a mere handful of interviews. Or the lure could originate with an organizer of professional conferences, with no expert staff to call on and no proceeds reinvested in our industry.

As fleet owners, we recognize that real results require time, effort and money. However tempting, we truly do not get “something for nothing.” For 60 years, TMC has been the place the entire industry, fleets and suppliers alike, have gathered to improve our equipment and share the latest innovations and technologies. TMC’s work is unbiased and rigorous — the recognized source of what is best in equipment maintenance and design. In a world of “best practices” purveyors, there is only one TMC.

After my introduction to TMC, I joined and have sent my people ever since. I’m proud to be part of the 14% of ATA member fleets that do participate in TMC. Help me grow that number by enrolling your fleet maintenance professional in TMC today. As an industry leader, stand up for leadership in maintenance. Join TMC.

For more information about ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council, or to join, visit http://JoinTMC.trucking.org, or call (703) 838-8845 and ask for Caasi Brim.

Pottle is president and CEO of Bangor, Maine-based Pottle’s Transportation, which since its incorporation in 1972 has continued to expand, transforming into a major motor carrier operation in the Northeast.