TMC Recommended Practices Are the Foundation of Maintenance

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Everyone who plans, coaches or consults in the field of Total Quality Management (TQM) seeks to visualize the process of achieving excellence in terms of triangles and pyramids. At its essence, quality in any discipline is the melding of human assets, material assets and technical assets, depicted as the quality triangle, and TQM process is displayed as a pyramid, with foundational elements of knowledge, skill and experience supporting successively more complex levels of management structure and systems, eventually leading to the pinnacle of high performance.

The application of TQM theory in fleet maintenance practice is “simply” taking these elements and converting them into a process that will assure fleets are most effectively specified for their intended duty cycles within the companies’ operating model in order to achieve the most operationally and cost-effective, safest and environmentally protective delivery of goods and services for customers. Of course, at the same time producing profitability for the company’s capital ownership.

Simple enough.

Jack Legler


In the many years I spent at strategic management and planning in various parts of the industry, I always took the view that those foundations of management process that form the base of the TQM pyramid really supported by hundreds, or even thousands of small quality triangles — picture a sea of safety triangles from the truck supporting that great structure, fragile as individual pieces, but achieving great strength in numbers of high-performing small elements. Hence, the essence of achieving superior quality in a fleet maintenance operation is critically dependent, literally, upon the nuts and bolts that hold the truck together.

The theme of ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council’s 2022 Fall Meeting — held last month in Cleveland — was “Diagnostic Excellence for Today and Tomorrow.” It applies the council’s nearly 70-year history of defining voluntary standards in fleet maintenance through the synthesis of the knowledge and experience of the best and brightest in our industry. The educational sessions held, and the work of more than 100 industry task forces, seek to identify and address the maintenance needs of emerging and evolving technologies into an industry where high performance in maintenance means survival. These voluntary industry standards take the form of more than 500 TMC recommended practices (RPs).

In troubleshooting and correcting complaints in fleet assets, technicians and their supervisory management must trace symptoms using their own training and experience, digital and analog diagnostic tools, telematics data and available expert advice and consultation to determine what is broken, worn, misspecified or misapplied in the thousands of individual components that make up a complex modern combination medium- or heavy-duty commercial vehicle. A deficiency in a single component can manifest itself, sometimes instantaneously, but more often over time into a cascading effect leading to a maintenance failure. In an intensely competitive industry such as ours, the cumulative effect of unscheduled downtime can affect delivery of cargo, lead to loss of profitability and weigh down the business outcomes of the entire company.

To illustrate the point, TMC recently completed a survey of its fleet members and service providers to determine if leakages of engine and heavy-duty hydraulic oils were leading to an increase in failures in other components, most especially electric system cabling and connectors. Lubricants have evolved to increase engine efficiency as well as performance in auxiliary equipment in lift gates and vocational applications. Should these fluids contact and interact negatively with other components, maintenance personnel need to know as soon as possible.

The survey sought to identify if there was an increase in frequency and severity, and if so, TMC’s recommendations for wiring harness specification needed to be revisited or replaced. The findings of this survey did not indicate a widespread negative impact; however, any leakage of lubricating fluids can affect wiring harnesses, especially if the wiring is of a specification not recommended by TMC. When cabling is affected, it most likely leads to a loss of function in the components powered by or utilizing that cabling. Comments from most companies with these experiences usually involved in more severe-duty cycles, and indicate increased inspection of pumps and seals during scheduled preventive maintenance (PM) inspections can identify and correct leakages on units even less than one year in service, thereby reducing consequential damage to other components.

As an industry, understanding how evolving maintenance challenges can affect emerging technologies and systems is important. Combination vehicles of the not-too-distant future will incorporate high-voltage electrified motive power and electrically driven components such as alternators, steering and air pumps, power take off (PTO) pumps, as well as utilizing inverters and converters for 24- and even 48-volt systems. Critical command and control of the vehicle will be given over to increasingly sophisticated automated driving systems (ADS). Hence, inattention to a small thing — such as a pump seal — can have consequences of a very significant nature.

TMC’s recommended practices provide a wealth of information as to the “small stuff,” covering such things as the proper specifications for nuts and bolts, how those nuts and bolts should be torqued, how ride complaints can be translated back into those nuts and bolts and the components they attach to the vehicle, and so on. While technicians will need to be trained in diagnosing and maintaining the more technically sophisticated technologies entering the industry, one cannot forget that today’s combination commercial vehicle is an integrated system, where the basics must also be trained and reinforced by management systems and supervision.

A truck technician

A truck technician makes an adjustment. (Averitt Express)

TMC’s study groups recognize this, and several new task forces have met in Cleveland for the first time or will be conducting their second meetings to look at how traditional “nuts and bolts” maintenance routines and specifications may need to change to address new challenges. These include:

  • S.2 Tire & Wheel study group that is looking at the impacts of electrified vehicles and regenerative braking upon tire performance. The work of this task force may well lead to revisions in existing RPs related to tire serviceability testing and tire asset management systems.
  • S.3 Engine study group, whose scope is evolving to address all types of commercial vehicle motive power, has task forces addressing electrified vehicle (EV) lubricants, EV coolants and leak detection in EVs.
  • S.12 On-Board Electronics study group has a new task force to address CAN bus troubleshooting to be able track down errant electrons that can cause as many problems as loose lug nuts.
  • S.6 Chassis & Brake Systems study group has formed a new task force to address lubricant fundamentals as well as looking at recommendations regarding ­aftermarket braking systems — as the brake block performance forms the foundation of the overall effectiveness of the braking systems, no matter how sophisticated the electronic sensors and control systems may be.
  • S.11 Sustainability & Environmental Performance study group has a new task force looking at optimization of charge cycles and energy management battery-­powered EVs — where optimal range and operational effectiveness of the vehicle is a result.
  • S.14 Light- & Medium-Duty and Specialty Vehicles study group is pivoting its focus to examine how TMC RPs affect the large number of last-mile EVs that are already becoming a significant portion of new asset purchases.

TMC’s Technician & Educator Committee will develop recommendations to upgrade technical knowledge and skill sets needed to tackle EVs.

In short, TMC’s recommended practices have been one of the industry’s most important resources for maintaining critical components in commercial vehicles, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. They reflect the consensus of the leading expertise in the business to address the real-world needs of fleet maintenance departments and technicians. If they are not in your fleet library, the result can be a suspect technical quality base for a company’s maintenance quality pyramid.

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