Hands-on heroes

There are still mechanics who do more than change oil or parts.It's my studied opinion that all mechanics are technicians, but not all technicians are mechanics.The thing is, despite all the technology being ladled onto all kinds of vehicles, when you get right down to it, any piece of rolling equipment is still mechanical by nature.In other words, I'd rather call a technician when the computer locks

There are still mechanics who do more than change oil or parts.

It's my studied opinion that all mechanics are technicians, but not all technicians are mechanics.

The thing is, despite all the technology being ladled onto all kinds of vehicles, when you get right down to it, any piece of rolling equipment is still mechanical by nature.

In other words, I'd rather call a technician when the computer locks up and a mechanic when the car breaks down.

That a mechanic by any other name is still a mechanic -- and should be rightly proud of it -- is certainly the impression left by the accomplishments of the persons most recently named "Technicians of the Year" by the Equipment Maintenance Council (EMC).

The good folks at EMC started this awards program a few years back to help raise consciousness about the important role mechanics (there I go again!) play in fleet operations.

It's not very common in vocational circles to trade equipment out long before it needs much more than an oil change. And despite how truckers complain about life on the road, many construction, mining, and other vocational fleet operators wouldn't know a good road if they could see it through all the dust and what-not floating around their job sites.

And it's just about a natural law that mechanical stuff breaks down more often and in a more dastardly fashion the closer it is to the middle of nowhere.

Given all those factors, perhaps it should be little wonder that a technician serving a vocational fleet can still pass for a mechanic.

Just consider the pertinent details released last month by EMC on its top pick for Technician of the Year. The honoree is Billy Miles, who launched his own business, Fleet Service & Repair, in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1986.

Since '95, Miles has been working directly with the City of Jacksonville to repair and maintain its fire trucks and rescue units.

According to the nomination submitted by fleet division chief Charles Miller, Miles has reduced downtime on fire and rescue vehicles not only by diagnosing and completing repairs, but by working directly with parts and equipment manufacturers alongside the city's fleet department "to eliminate recurring problems caused by poor engineering."

In particular, the chief cited Miles' contribution to improving brake systems -- a pretty important component, especially on hell-for-leather fire trucks. "Billy has doubled the service life of brakes on emergency vehicles," Miller noted, "and reduced the downtime dramatically on brake repairs."

In presenting its award, EMC also pointed out that Miles has "established his commitment to his profession" by attaining all the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications available to him except the two newest. In addition, in 1994 he reached the national finals in the NAPA-ASE "TECHnician" award program.

First runner-up for the EMC honor was Bill Bock of C.J. Langenfelder & Son. For starters, it was noted that Bock performs his job with "zero rework." What's more, he's been credited with creating or modifying several tools that help the Langenfelder maintenance crew "work better and faster."

Bock's innovations include equipment fabricated for testing the operation and leakage of Caterpillar hydraulic-brake systems. He also developed an adapter for differential-pinion preload settings, and reengineered the fleet's service trucks to improve PM efficiency.

And second runner-up Steve Ricke of Hubbard Construction is not far behind in his accomplishments. He has made tools to help Hubbard shop personnel work more safely and productively, including a wheel-lifting device and a catwalk to access chains and paddles on scraper elevators.

Recognizing that several mechanics were not proficient in welding techniques, Ricke also built two welding booths and began an after-hours training program.

No matter what title you pin on your maintenance personnel, remember to also slap some recognition on them for the valuable contributions they make to your business and the evolving demands of their trade.

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