Main themes: administration and workshop maintenance
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THE annual conference of the National Co-operative Traffic Managers Association at Blackpool (May 2-5) covered a broad spectrum of interest ranging from a lecture on administration by CM's John Darker, on Sunday, to Monday sessions dealing with workshop practice and repairs and maintenance. On Tuesday, Mr C. McKinnon, director of Horville-McKinnon Ltd, lectured on distribution and showed a film of his company's equipment.
John Darker's paper on administration was split into three sections, viz structure, costings and charges, and personnel. Discussing "structure", he said: "Some managers are good delegators, leaving intelligent, well-trained staff to get on with the job. Others, no matter how competent their staff, like to keep all the strings in their hands all the time. Such men are hard to work for and impossible to work with—and in transport they are an unmitigated disaster."
The speaker said that the structure of transport organizations needed to be flexible, and at the top some shrewd thinking was called for. Not nearly enough transport and distribution people were employed on research into• marketing strategies, leisure patterns, etc. In road transport for over 30 years the drivers' 11-hour day was, more or less, sacrosanct. He asked: "How many of you dare forecast the length of the drivers' or managers' working day in the year 2000?" Was it not doubtful if any employees would work anything like a 2000-hour year in even 20 years' time? "It may well be only half that, barring some major calamity, like a world war."
Though distribution management had gained improved stature in recent years, it was still very much a junior partner in relation to the key functions of sales and production. In the minority of large companies where distribution was taken seriously executives responsible for this function had to press their economic arguments very cautiously indeed. Practices which should end overnight, because of their wasteful nature, often continued for years.
Mr Darker urged that office routines should be reviewed at least every two years and if necessary scrapped. "There is always a better way and staff will never be kept on their toes if they are merely expected to run the office on old-fashioned tramlines. They must be encouraged to think out the reason why information flows into the office. Who uses the information? What is it used for? Is it vital? Could the same result be achieved in another way—more simply and cheaply?"
Discussing costing and charges the speaker said there was intense interest in the subject not so much because of its intrinsic importance but because falling return on capital, lower or indeed non-existing profits, indicated that positive action was called for.
"Even today there are all too many road hauliers who charge what the rival firm charges—or a bit less, with no regard to the economic cost of the operaton. It is exceptional for a haulier to investigate both pick-up and delivery points, before quoting for a job. Any other business that behaved with such careless abandon would be in trouble, and it would be surprising if road hauliers were not. For the majority of small hauliers it is a precarious occupation."
Mr Darker was critical of cost accountants who claimed that detailed vehicle costing could be done in one hour per vehicle each month. "Given an ideal flow of information, no delayed invoices. no toothache affecting the cost clerk, no telephone delays, no urgent interruptions of any kind, it may be conceivable that detailed cost records could be maintained in the time stated. But even if this is true the vast majority of transport offices do not employ dedicated cost clerks or cost analysts. They are rare birds commanding good sajaries elsewhere, and the work is of a humdrum nature with little to inspire the ambitious accounts clerk. . . Hence much road transport costing falls on the shoulders of individual proprietors of haulage concerns or depot managers like yourselves."
Discussing the use of cost information in decision-making, Mr Darker said routine budgetary control and conventional cost accounting could indicate necessary measures to improve profitability but they could not tell managers how to decide between two or more alternative courses of action. "This is because such decisions involve sonic future changes for which cost cannot be available from existing records.... How, for example, can you judge the future operating cost of rival makes of similarly priced vehicles on the basis of past performance for the two types? Reputation? It may not be a safe guide."
Some trenchant views were expressed by Mr Darker in his remarks on industrial relations. Wage patterns, he felt, would soon be greatly influenced if not entirely determined by factors outside the control of British transport managers. "In the docks bargaining postures on container handling in New York and London coincide in broad, detail. In the air, pilots' salaries in the US and elsewhere are compared by BOAC pilots who are loath to undertake training in Jumbo Jets until pay parity questions are resolved."
This international transport labour market in embryo would soon be a labour market in fact, the speaker suggested. Transport was indispensable; the position of the bargainers was strong and the whole community could in effect be held to ransom.
"Perhaps I am invoking unnecessary fears," said Mr Darker. "No transport manager will invite this sort of development, but no transport manager can shut his eyes to international developments.. . . The fact is, the whole labour market is a shambles with rewards bearing little or no relation to effort, qualifications, experience, or integrity."
Commending the fast-growing trend towards employee-participation Mr Darker said there was only room for one man or woman at the top of the pyramid but many other voices down below wanted, indeed, insisted, upon being heard. "I see no alternative to managers continuing to exercise their traditional powers in day-to-day matters, but participation will involve, if it develops as I expect, the retrospective questioning of management decisions by subordinate staff. There will be periodic confrontations, perhaps even mass meetings, between staff and managers, with no holds barred.
"This prospect will horrify some managers," concluded the speaker. "Others might see it as a challenge. I do not think many professional managers will have difficulty in justifying decisions made on the basis of the facts available at the time, though debating skill and perhaps the retention of factual evidence may be called for. . In this more democratic atmosphere the naturally rebellious critics at all levels will emerge. Some will make good managers and some will never be other than barrack room lawyers."
Monday's proceedings were notable for a paper on "Workshop practice" given by Mr D. W. Hutton, general manager service planning, Rootes Motors Ltd, and a subsequent "dissection" of the paper by five specialist seminar groups. This was followed by shorter presentations on the repair and maintenance theme.
Mr F. Whalley, senior area mechanical engineer, North Western area, discussed the maintenance of petrol and diesel vehicles, Mr R. Barker, Northern area manager of Leyland-Crompton Electricars, lectured on electric vehicles. Mr D. A. Clayton, chief engineer Electric Power Storage Ltd, described methods for maximizing the life of traction batteries, and Mr D. J. Shaw, sales director, Pinchin-Johnson Ltd, gave an illustrated presentation of his company's collaboration in vehicle liveries with the Co-operative movement.
Mr Hutton stressed at the outset that most fleet operators had to make the best use of available premises. Transport managers were seldom presented with a new building of an ideal shape, on an adequate site, equipped with all modern service aids and supported by fully trained staff having access to an adequate supply of replacement parts.
Basically a good layout required a building of adequate size with sufficient outside parking space, preferably on a level site; it should be of regular shape without internal stanchions and with good access to vehicle working areas: headroom should be at least 611 in excess of the highest vehicle in the fleet; centralized offices for vehicle reception, control and dispatch were necessary and there should be an adequate parts store. Mr Hutton urged that the inspection area should be adjacent to the main vehicle entrance and careful attention should be given to the location of major service areas and their equipment.
All these desirable criteria would not be available unless a new site was being developed and even when this was possible local authorities had power to control the type of building and the utilization of open areas surrounding the workshop. He felt that single-storey buildings were to be preferred though office space could be upstairs if space was restricted.
As a rough guide, Mr Hutton suggested that two skilled men to every 15 vehicles were necessary. As fleet size increased there would be a breakdown of classification between skilled, semi-skilled and specialist mechanics, body repairers, painters, electricians, handymen, storemen. etc. In 1959 in the UK one mechanic was employed in garages for every 15 vehicles; this has now been increased to one in 20 and by 1980 it would probably be one in 27. The number of bodybuilding or repair craftsmen was diminishing; all this highlighted the need to provide adequate and well-maintained amenities for fleet garage staff.
Mr Hutton dealt with the problem of assessing the work load which would clearly vary in accordance with fleet size, type of operation, mileage and age of vehicles. The maintenance commitment called for vehicle inspection as required by the Transport Act; for the vehicles to be maintained to test standards; for periodic servicing; for body repairs; for repairs and replacements: and for work involved on staff cars, plant, etc.
As an alternative method to the setting of service intervals by period, mileage could be the determining factor. An operator of 15 vehicles with carrying capacities of 5 or 6 tons might have an average mileage of 30,000 in delivering to shops and stores. Such vehicles would do 600 miles or less each week on average, depending on the number of weeks worked in the year. An average productivity period was 44 to 48 weeks. Using 46 weeks would provide six weeks approximately on each vehicle in each year, bearing in mind that with 15 trucks the replacement rate would be three a year.
This meant that at any one time there would be three trucks with multiples of 30,000 miles recorded; hence, a fairly even flow of work. Six weeks' work on 15 trucks was equal to 90 weeks' work for one man on one truck per year—not quite enough work for two mechanics at, say, 49 weeks each. giving a total of 98 weeks. Therefore, for continuity, Mr Hutton suggested that two mechanics should complete as much work as possible and. of course, there would be staff cars to service, If there were too many cars it might pay to sub-contract some of the car servicing.
His lecture ranged widely and dealt with such things as space requirements, type and number of doors provided, floor sealing methods, internal draining of floors, pit design, location of electrical shops etc. On vehicle washing Mr Hutton thought the best solution was a wash bay fitted with some form of fixed ramp to raise the vehicle sufficiently for underside cleansing. Some operators, he noted, lowered the actual working ba.al by 2ft to keep the approach to the ramp at a reasonable height from road level. Drive-through wash bays could often be sited between the fuel supply point and the loading bay. While box-type vans could best be washed by automatic brushing machines, with suitable detergents or additives, tankers, flat-top trucks and other special bodies were best cleaned by washers with high pressure reciprocating jets.
On equipment, Mr Hutton deprecated the use of lathes in garages unless the machine could be used intensively. He commended the value of compressed air tools; their use was increasing at the expense of manual tools due to their greater efficiency and safety.
Modern designs of split-level workshops reduced the disadvantages of the pit and satisfied the requirements of factory inspector and petroleum officer, said Mr Hutton. Incorporated into a new workshop, a two-bay split level working area cost slightly less than two heavy commercial lifts, but to modify an existing workshop would tend to be expensive, not only in money but because the operating efficiency would be reduced during the building work.
Safety aspects were not always given sufficient attention, said the lecturer. Hydraulic lifts were sometimes starved of oil; employees should be discouraged from carrying loose items in pockets as this could cause hazards if trapped in moving components.