38 tonnes, computers, youth training and pr
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All in the mixed bag of topics at last month's IRTE conference. It is clear that the "new" weight limit is still a prominent issue. Tim Blakemore reports
THE THEME of this year's Institute of Road Transport Engi neers' conference was "endeavour". Thespeakers at the recent Solihull event were drawn from many sectors of the transport industry — Laurie Baker and Ron Cater from vehicle manufacturers, Keith Buckby from a trailer manufacturer and Terry Ball from a "trailer only" operator.
Own account operators were represented by Ian Ogley and Dick Ball, while from the hire and reward sector came David Rimmer.
Dennis Clarke from NBC gave a psv operator's view and a Paddington College trio of Alan Hutchinson, George Jones and Paul Bellamy addressed the important and topical subject of youth training.
Trade associations were certainly not neglected, indeed the Freight Transport Association's new director general, Garry Turvey, was given more time than any other speaker.
Link man for all the speakers was Eric Tobitt, a motoring writer and freelance broadcaster.
Lord Stokes, the IRTE president, described them as "excellent speakers with excellent papers" and, turning his attention to the conference theme, he said: "We must not only endeavour, we must succeed, and be a fighting institute." He paid tribute to the work done by John Dickson-Simpson, editor of the IRTE's monthly journal Transport Engineer, which he described as "an excellent magazine, which looks like breaking even this year".
One of the IRTE's great strengths, said Lord Stokes, was its "constant communication with the grass roots".
The first technical paper, on the subject of 38 tonnes (which seems to be an essential topic for every transport conference nowadays), clearly had plenty of grass roots appeal — it attracted many more delegates than any other.
Keith Buckby, York's group technical manager, outlined the 38 tonnes story so far and reminded the conference how the uncertainty which had "plagued the industry for so long" has continued beyond May 1, 1983, when in theory it should have ended. He had no quick answer for those many engineers who were still undecided as to which 38 tonne route to follow, but the thrust of his argument was that it is possible to build semitrailers that will give operators the flexibility required to make the most of the weight limit.
A table of load tolerances for the various 38 tonnes gross combination weight-axle configurations showed that the worst case was a two-axle tractive unit with a tri-axle semi-trailer which had a tolerance of only 1,500kg. At the other end of the table, a three-axle tractive unit with a triaxle trailer, both capable of taking 22.5 tonnes, gave as much tolerance as 7,000kg.
Mr Buckby mentioned some of the reasons why the 2+3 configuration had been most popular initially and how heavy tyre wear was one of its major disadvantages. "A self-steering rearmost axle is one way of reducing scrub," he said, and a lifting axle is another alternative." But
he warned that, "unless the lifting axle is part of a full air suspension system, I do not believe it is possible to fit anti-lock on such a bogie."
York's view is that it is feasible to specify a tandem axle semitrailer which can be operated at 32.5 or 38 tonnes. It needs a dual king pin position, at 0.75m and 1.5m and a bogie plated at 18.8 tonnes. With a widespread bogie plated at 20.34 tonnes, the king pin position should be 1.0m, making the trailer suitable for 6x4 and 6x2 units.
Keith Buckby referred to the 3 + 3 configuration as the "crystal ball combination". Like a growing number of engineers, he obviously thinks it has a future. He suggested that 1.1m axle centres could be specified for the tri-axle bogie to help reduce tyre scrub, but warned that 1.35m spacing was needed legally to achieve 38 tonnes with a 2+3. The close-coupled bogie gives a maximum gross combination weight of only 37.7 tonnes, or perhaps less, depending on the tractive unti plate.
David Rimmer is fleet engi neer of Pandora, the P and 0 subsidiary, and is responsible for the specification and maintenance of nearly 3,000 tractive units and semi-trailers. If he made a mistake in specifying 38 tonnes, the chances are it would be a very expensive one. He had the full attention of the packed conference centre for his paper on 38 tonnes, The costs so far.
He reminded the operating engineers of some costs associated with the Construction and Use Amendment which they may have overlooked — sideguards at between £110 and £2 0 0 per trailer, and the transhipment and load redistrubution costs which result from a 4.2m height limit.
Mr Rimmer had some interesting comments to make on the subject of axle configuration. He suggested that the initial flurry of tandem to tri-axle semi-trailer conversions had resulted in many vehicles competing in the 38 tonnes market at 32.5 tonnes rates. Some of the technical problems he mentioned were: suspension geometry incorrectly set up and hence axle overloads; vehicle instability under heavy braking; and trailer king pins and rubbing plates in poor condition.
"The cost of running these trailers is increased by at least 50 per cent of previous costs," he asserted, and went on to speak of certain short wheelbase 2+3 combinations which had worn out tyres in 8 to 10,000 miles. He conceded, though, that others had given a tyre life of 36-40,000 miles.
He had no favourable comment to make about wide single tyres "One large operator of single wheel tri-axle trailers said that there are no punctures to repair. The tyre had disintegrated before the driver stops the vehicle".
Like the speaker before him, David Rimmer was not prepared to support one particular configuration for 38 tonnes, "there are pros and cons for each type", he said, and cited some of the factors which have to be taken into account.
Taking a 4x2 tractive unit as a 100 per cent baseline purchase price, for example, the cost of a 6x2 is 110 per cent and a 6x4 120 per cent. David Rimmer said he had seen a manufacturer's computer prediction for on road fuel consumption which showed that 280hp should be more fuel efficient than 330hp at 38 tonnes — 6.2mpg against 6.0mpg.
In his conclusion, Pandoro's fleet engineer said that the cost of running at 38 tonnes had been estimated at around 11 per cent more than at 32.5 tonnes, and this did not take into account such impending legislation as spray suppression, front underrun bars and noise reduction.
This was almost certainly the last British conference at which Laurie Baker will speak as assistant managing director of Foden. As reported in CM, May 19, she is returning to Paccar in the USA. But as one would expect, she is certainly not making any U-turns on the subject of which axle configuration is best for British operators at 38 tonnes.
At Solihull she again spoke Convincingly in favour of 6x4 tractive units, this time adroitly using the introduction of the 6 x 4 Seddon Atkinson in the exhibition outside as further evidence of the suitability of this axle configuration. And Mrs Baker cleverly turned the argument of some environmentalists on its head by saying that the best answer to the question: "Why convert at all to 38 tonnes?" is "Environmental responsibility".
"Certainly the eventual reduction in vehicles required to move a given quantity of freight is of no benefit to equipment manufacturers," she said. Judging by the registration figures it could be argued, therefore, that the environmentalists are winning: "Of new tractive unit registrations, 70 per cent are now at 38 tonnes," said Mrs Baker.
Foden has found that concern about axle overloading is the most frequently given reason for operators choosing three axle tractive units for 38 tonnes — another environmentally responsible decision, it was argued. While the number of three-axle tractive units on Britain's roads continues to grow, still the majority are twin-steer models. "This is because some people allege that two steering axles are required to negotiate round abouts and to achieve required turning circles. Well, of the 30 plus per cent of three-axle tractors that have only one steering axle, all are successfully negotiating roundabouts," the IRTE members were told.
Laurie Baker referred to press road tests to show that a 6x 4's turning circle is often less than that of a 6x2 and to an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper to show that yaw stability in a tractive unit is best achieved by using additional tyres on non-steered axles at the rear of vehicle.
As a parting shot the American lady who has impressed transport engineers throughout Britain in her brief stay here with her clear thinking and straight talking, advised delegates to look to the future and the now likely EEC harmonised increase to 40 tonnes (CM, May 19): "Those with a 6x2 may be short on traction and 6x2 rear steers short on axle capacity as well".
As company transport engineering manager of Norfolk Line, based in Holland, Terry Bail has an unusual responsibility — 1,300 semi-trailers (and 250 more on order), but not a single tractive unit. In a lively and entertaining paper, he described the Norfolk Line approach to specifying and maintaining semi-trailers operated at 38 tonnes gcw. If that approach could be summed up in one phrase it is "attention to detail". Some examples: Norfolk Line has its own design of landing wheels and roof grids for its tilt trailers — to solve the problem of roof planks continuously disappearing. "Every chicken house in Europe was built from our planks", he said.
The transition to 38 tonnes at Norfolk Line was relatively painless it seems. "Our air-sus pended tandem-axle trailers were really tri-axle tractors running on two", he revealed, admitting that he was relieved to be correct with his guesstimate of what the construction and use axle spacing would be.
As for loose wheels — a massive potential problem for a trailer fleet of this size — Terry Ball insists that again the answer lies in attention to detail in the maintenance programme. "To all intents and purposes, loose wheels are a thing of the past for Norfolk Line. On the new 900 trailers we now have, we have never, repeat never, had an onroad problem."
The question session that followed the 38 tonnes papers was concerned with a wide range of associated subjects. Mike Street of the John Lewis Partnership and an IRTE Council member, wanted to know if anyone could quantify the difference in tyre wear he could expect between a fixed tri-axle bogie and one with a self-steered axle. A good question — nobody could answer it.
Walter Balstone, ex-NFC chief engineer and IRTE vice president questioned the king pin positions suggested by Keith Buckby. "Why not follow other European countries with 1.2m and 1.6m positions?" he asked. Keith Buckby stuck to his guns. The next session comprised three different views on the subject of computers. Dick Ball, chief mechanical transport officer of British Airports Authority, with responsibility for the vehicles and plant used at seven British airports from Aberdeen to Gatwick, posed the question: "Computers — useful or useless?", and then proceeded to answer it.
His aim was to make people think before adopting a computer system. One of the key questions which he suggested should be asked was: "How am I going to use the information this computer will give me?" For instance, no doubt it could easily tell you how many flat bed BL lorries you have in the fleet, but when the answer comes up as 56 — what are you going to do with it?
The number of depots, as well as the number of vehicles, is a critical factor to be taken into account when deciding whether to install a computer system, in Mr Ball's view. "If you have a single depot with 40 vehicles then a computer is not costeffective," he said. "I have seven depots and my system cost in the order of £150,000."
Dennis Clarke is head of engineering systems and planning at National Bus Company. His paper on making the most of management information dovetailed (or rather interfaced) nicely with Dick Ball's. In Mr Clarke's own words it "considers the value of management information in determining main
tenance performance and the life and cost of vehicles and their constituent units, and addresses the decisions to be made when buying and owning a vehicle to minimise the risk of being committed to a maintenance and, therefore, financial burden of unknown magnitude."
Delegates were left in no doubt that Dennis Clarke and NBC are keen advocates of computer systems. NBC has had its vehicle maintenance costing system in operation since 1976.
A passenger service vehicle nowadays can cost between £60,000 and £100,000 and its annual maintenance cost after the first few years will be in the order of £10,000-£12,000. Dennis Clarke used these figures to make it clear how important is accurate whole life cost information. But, like Dick Ball, he warned fleet engineers to beware of useless information: "Bland statistics such as cost per mile (embracing a mixed fleet in mixed operations), for a vehicle which will have many hundreds of component parts, does not allow the fleet engineer to manage or effectively improve his performance in managing the resources for which he is responsible."
Any delegate at Solihull who suspected that nationalised industries were always inefficient might well have modified his view after hearing the next paper. It was presented by Ian Ogley, transport manager of South Eastern Gas and David Keech, Segas's systems co-ordinator.
Ian Ogley described how seven years ago Segas decided to "go it alone" in setting up a transport management information system using the corporation's own mainframe computer and in-house analysts and programmers, One of the most interesting aspects of the MIST (Management Information Systems Transport) is its flexibility. Ian Ogley said that his specification which followed a "logical data analysis exercise" read: "Because I don't know what I want and, even if I did, I might change my mind later, give me everything in case I need it."
MIST is being implemented at Segas in phases — the advantages being spread of development costs; better use of costly programmer's time; and less sudden impact on departmental staff.
Phase one is the control and recording of all fleet data including stores stock control and ordering. Segas has introduced a novel system in this particular area. It is based on the bar codes which have been used in the grocery and pharmacy trade for some time.
David Keech explained how it worked. Unlike the grocery trade, Segas has not fixed bar codes to the parts itself — vehicle components do not lend themselves to this. Instead, Segas uses what David Keech summarised as the "Argos Stores" system.
The bar codes are kept in a catalogue and, when a request for a part is presented at the stores, a bar code reader is used to access a computer file. A picking document for the storeman is printed, the stock record is updated and accounting documents produced if required. The system has just completed a successful six months trial at Segas's Brighton workshop and is now being enhanced on an IBM personal computer for implementation in all other Segas workshops.
It was clear that several delegates at Solihull saw a lot of potential in this useful system. Brian Hancock of NBC was interested in its cost. David Keech said one of the advantages of the Segas technique was its price. "Similar systems of direct data recognition, for example optical character recognition and magnetic encoding, are relatively expensive. At Segas we have a device costing £400 attached to an IBM personal computer which provides data input to our Transport Stores Stock Control System.
The problem of production of bar codes has also been overcome by using the graphics capabilities of the printers attached to the microcomputers. These are usually standard equipment on a modern micro, but as an add-on cost only about £300."
Segas uses the IRTE's VMRS (Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards) component codas.
Ron Cater, sales development manager of Volvo GB, did not hide his disappointment at the relatively small number of engineers who attended his presentation. Indeed, he used the lack of interest "among the cream of this country's transport engineers" to bolster his main point which is that far too little attention is paid by transport managers and engineers to What makes a driver tick? — the title of his paper.
He called for more and better training of drivers in the particular requirements of different vehicles. He cited clutches and brakes as good examples of components which are becoming increasingly susceptible to costly driver abuse. This might not be entirely the driver's fault, as performance levels improve and driving becomes simpler.
"In a journey from Heathrow via the North Circular Road to Edmonton and back, for example, a clutch on a heavy vehicle will be disengaged about 2,400 times. About 10 per cent of those clutch movements will be for standing starts, giving the driver 240 chances to abuse the clutch severely.
"As for brakes, increases in performance place higher requirements on the friction surfaces and drums, and the problem is not so much in the high maximum speeds of the vehicle, but rather in the number of heavy applications necessary to combat higher acceleration rates that result from more powerful engines, well-matched gear ratios and synchromesh."
Brakes and clutches were, said Mr Cater, "just two areas where driver education is of enormous value in lowering costs."
Almost all of the questions and comments which followed Ron Cater's paper broadly supported his view, though Brian Hancock, in a veiled reference to the work done on computeraided gear shifting by other manufacturers, wanted to know what Volvo was doing to make clutches less easy to abuse.
However, with few delegates in the conference centre to hear such a stimulating paper, one wondered if any more than lip service is being paid to the modern driver by most operators.
The subject of training, specifically youth training, was explored in depth in a lively, often amusing, session by Alan Hutchinson, principal of Paddington College, Paul Bellamy, his head of automobile engineering, and George Jones, who used to hold that position.
Despite the dramatic reduction in the number of apprenticeships over the last 10 years — from 100,000 in the mid Seventies to an estimated 40,000 in 1983 and only 500 to 700 of these in the transport industry — the underlying message from the three educationalists was one of enthusiasm for new schemes that are being introduced.
"Further education is responding to the challenge of the Eighties," said Paul Bellamy. "Let us consolidate the liaison that has underpinned the relationship between colleges and industry."
Alan Hutchinson was even more direct, making a personal appeal to his audience of operating engineers to "find a way to co-operate with local schools and colleges — we must exchange our knowledge."
Though, as Eric Tobitt put it, there was a "definite end of term feeling" on the afternoon of the last day of the conference, Garry Turvey's polished delivery of a paper on Public Relations in the Road Transport industry was well received.
The FTA's director general expressed his particular concern about the recent changes in operator licensing. "If there was any need to change 0 licensing in the light of 15 years' experience it surely lay in the direction of tighter but responsible enforcement and harsher penalties for those who repeatedly transgress. In a little over a week's time, and again thanks to the pressures of perceived public opinion, we shall all be distracted down the road of subjective environmental assessment and argument," said Garry Turvey.
Later, in response to a question from Mike Street concerning the new CI licensing law, Mr Turvey accepted that a licensing authority could not revoke an existing licence without "some material change" taking place and that there should be "no frivolous representation" but, he said: "What is frivolous, and what is material?" An increase in fleet strength would surely be a material change.
However, the main message that Garry Turvey wanted to convey was that the responsibility for better public relations lies with everybody in the industry. He pooh-poohed the idea of an image publicity campaign to counter such bad publicity as the notorious Brass Tacks programme on the basis that its long-term costs would be prohibitive. "Nothing wrong with the principle," he said, "but the costs of a sustained campaign is literally measured in millions of pounds".