Cybersecurity, EVs Expand TMCSuperTech Challenges
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CLEVELAND — After his first day of written exams at the 2023 National Technician Skills Competition on Sept. 17, Bobby Key, a shop lead technician with Shamrock Environmental based in Browns Summit, N.C., summarized what he thought about his performance with just one word.
“Ehh,” he quipped after his long day of testing at the annual event, also known as TMCSuperTech. The two-day competition is part of the 2023 Fall Meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations, scheduled for Sept. 17-21 at the Huntington Convention Center.
Key was already set to advance to the second day of the competition, as he was among the 78 finalists in the Heavy-Duty track of the hands-on tech skills competition. And that probably worked in his favor, since Key gave himself only a 50-50 chance of qualifying to advance if he had to do so solely on his scores from the 13 written exam stations.
The first-day qualifiers included 14 state champions as well as 2019 Grand Champion Kelby Bentley from FedEx Freight. Bentley also grabbed the day-one top spot in the fasteners station. The carrier, whose parent FedEx Corp. ranks No. 2 in the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America, scored eight finalists including Wesley Salley, who won four stations on the first day: ASE written test, RP manual, trailer lighting and hydraulics & drivebelts. UPS, ranked No. 1 in the TT 100, had four finalists including state champions Jay Stahl from Ohio and Anthony Nunez from Arkansas. Nunez also grabbed top honors in the wiring diagrams and coolants and DEF stations.
Other first-day multistation winners include Ian Matje from Iron Buffalo Holdings/Jeco in one of the newer categories, cybersecurity, along with a debut entry this year, electric vehicle safety.
Competitors prepare for a day of competition. (Blake Franko/American Trucking Associations)
Those newer categories reflect the importance of keeping the maintenance industry ahead of the curve as service needs evolve, said TMCSuperTech Competition Chairman Randy Patterson.
“Everything on the tractor-trailer nowadays has a controller. With that controller comes the electronics and [engine control modules] to operate that controller,” he said, pointing specifically to the importance of cybersecurity. “We have to maintain good secure systems on the vehicles that are carrying the freight up and down the road.”
Patterson also noted that the EV safety category is meant to lay a foundation toward preparing maintenance shops for electrification.
“While there are some EVs out there, many different EV are maintained by the manufacturer. That doesn’t mean that will continue forever,” he said. “In our world of maintenance, one day we’re going to have to maintain those EVs. So, it’s better to start now and be familiar with [the] information we have to take care of them, rather than get blindsided down the road when we have a pile of them out there and not being able to do it.”
Patterson described the process as a learning experience for everyone involved, and Key agreed.
Committee members have a light moment. (Blake Franko/American Trucking Associations)
“Last year, cybersecurity kicked my butt,” he joked. Key is in his third year at TMCSuperTech. He began competing in his home state of North Carolina in 2015, and finished in second place the last two years. Although he has not yet had a lot of exposure to EV maintenance, Key appreciates that they’re poised to reshape the future of his profession. And he said competing at SuperTech gives him a leg up.
“The difference in the state and national level is huge,” he said. “There are subjects like cybersecurity and EVs to deal with. Once you learn about them and know how it works, it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be.”
Patterson said he has seen TMCSuperTech participants over the years gain knowledge about varied service issues, a proactive approach that he believes will lead to a better future for everyone in truck maintenance.
“As the chairman, I get to see this and I’m so proud to be part of helping the industry improve itself from the technician level up,” he said. “Because when you have technicians that are better, you have floor leaders that are better in the dealerships, and then you have to have better managers.”
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