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TMC Celebrates a Milestone

By on March 1, 2016
Mechanic in garage with semi-truck

Once upon a time, truck builders and truck operators didn’t play well together. The builders built what they wanted to, knowing full well that operators would buy whatever was offered. When the builders added components and accessories, they put them where they’d cause the least disruption to manufacturing, with little or no thought to maintenance. Once upon a time, it took eight hours to remove and replace a $20 windshield wiper motor every few years. Engineers designed for manufacturing. Maintenance was left to the voiceless customers.

Once upon a time, trucks got two to three mpg. If an operator was lucky, he ran 250,000 miles before the engine required an overhaul. Terms like “in-frame” and “major” were parts of a trucker’s vocabulary.

Once upon a time, if operators had problems with their trucks, they were told, “You’re the only person who’s had that problem…” even if every dealer received that same complaint a dozen times each week. If you were a large customer, you may or may not have had warranty coverage.

Thank Your Grandfathers

About 60 years ago, some maintenance managers decided to share information only about maintenance issues. In 1956, they created The Maintenance Committee of the Regular Common Carriers Conference, part of ATA. Manufacturers and suppliers were not allowed at the meetings, but since it was about information sharing, members of the trucking industry press attended.

TMCLOGOWord got around about how much easier it was to deal with suppliers if you were informed. Soon the committee started accepting members from other types of trucking. The committee realized that standardization would make maintenance easier, in the interchange of parts, the uniformity of procedures and the exchange of information. The need for standardized Recommended Practices (RPs) highlighted the need for supplier input, so they were offered associate, non-voting membership. The first RPs were issued in the mid 1970s. They had to be generic and could not favor any specific product or brand. Approval was reserved for full members only, but suppliers were involved in development and discussions.

By 1979 the Committee became a full council, The Maintenance Council (TMC) of ATA.

As TMC entered the ‘80s, its officers, elected by and from membership, decided the time had come to tell the manufacturers what they’d like to see in their trucks of the future. Each TMC Study Group prepared a paper addressing its functional needs. For example, the Engine Group wanted better fuel economy, the Electrical Group wanted increased lighting life, and the Cab and Controls Group wanted more durable paint and easier, less time-consuming maintenance, and so on down the line. In 1985, TMC leadership was ready to present their requests at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ annual Truck and Bus meeting.

There was a great deal of trepidation among the TMC presenters. Almost all had blue-collar backgrounds, rising from the ranks of wrench-turners. How would these college-educated engineers receive them? It turned out the fears were groundless. The engineers hung on their customers’ every word. Within a few years, the first aerodynamic hood appeared. In less than a decade, the first trucks for the 21st century were on the market meeting users’ needs. More importantly, it marked the start of a close relationship between the groups. As SAE is the technical society of the engineers, now TMC is the technical society for truck operators.

Looking to TMC’s Future

TMC is not just for big fleets. A one-truck owner-operator has been a Study Group chair, and the maintenance manager of a fleet smaller than five was TMC General Chairman.

As we entered the 21st century, TMC added technology to its function and expanded its horizons to include light and medium trucks, vocational vehicles, educators and service providers. From a print-only organization, TMC also expanded its use of video, electronic and social media and satellite radio. “Tech Talk with TMC” is featured every Tuesday morning on the Dave Nemo Show, SiriusXM 146 from 7-11 am ET.

Each General Chairman is responsible for setting an agenda for TMC’s future. Outgoing Chairman Kevin Tomlinson, South Shore Transportation, has been working to increase awareness of opportunities for truck technicians. “One doesn’t need a costly college education or graduate with piles of debt to have a successful career,” he said, “A trucking merit badge exists in the Boy Scouts. We are working with them to create one for maintenance.” For current technicians, TMC’s annual SuperTech competition recognizes the nation’s best with thousands of dollars in prizes.

“Just as there is a shortage of truck drivers, there’s a shortage in truck maintenance,” said Doug White, Dunbar Armored, the incoming General Chairman. “Without enough technicians, we can’t keep trucks running. It’s just not trucking. There are missed opportunities in all vocations, but school guidance counselors rarely mention these opportunities. Maintainers are never invited to career nights, and in tough economic times, maintenance is one of the first things to be cut. One of my goals for the Technology & Maintenance Council is to educate the public about the need for maintenance.”

As TMC ventures beyond its first six decades, its original goal remains unchanged: keep America’s trucks operating comfortably, reliably, safely and efficiently.

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