This article was originally published in the June 2018 edition of Vocational Truck & Trailer Magazine (page 10).

Anyone who has spent time handling or maintaining a fleet of trucks or equipment knows the challenges of keeping every one of those assets ready to work. While it’s nice to be able to rely on factory trained techs working in a spotless dealership-owned maintenance bay, the real world that many of us operate in means that maintenance and even repairs will fall on our own team. After all, as operating expenses and gross margins have gotten smaller and smaller in the last two decades and the price of trucks and heavy equipment has risen out of proportion to any other scale in our business, the role and the expectations of the fleet manager and the maintenance staff has changed.

With that change, the vehicles we see supporting fleet maintenance have changed dramatically, too. Where once, the “shop truck” was just something that ran well enough to get a mechanic and his tools to a broken-down truck in the fleet, today, that support vehicle is a highly customized truck or van that is purposefully designed to do a specific series of jobs wherever the need exists. It could have onboard air, an environmentally friendly lubrication exchange system, even welders – but it can also carry everything a tech needs to keep heavy equipment and OTR trucks on the job.

One of the companies that recognized this shift in needs for fleet managers and service teams was Expertec, started over a decade ago in Edmonton. Now featuring three locations – Edmonton, Calgary, and Abbotsford, Expertec is in the business of upfitting trucks and vans for fleet service and to handle “hots shots” out into the field to handle repair and maintenance.

Recently, VTT had the chance to speak with Kurt Laschuk, Marketing Manager at Expertec’s Edmonton location, and ask him about how economic demands have changed what companies look for in a service vehicle.

“For starters,” said Laschuk, “just a couple of decades ago, the expectations that consumers had for their vehicles weren’t as high. You bought a big truck or piece of equipment and put it to work. If something broke, chances were, you had maintenance on site or a relationship with a local repair facility and simply dealt with it. In a lot of industrial or commercial operations, it wasn’t unusual to build a facility on site to handle repairs and maintenance. Today, though, companies can’t – or won’t – spend that kind of money and fleets are built to run lean – fewer vehicles doing more work. Downtime is unacceptable. At the same time, other industries, logging, for example, are going into more rugged country they never have worked before. It’s not financially or environmentally viable to build there.”

The result has been the rise of the purpose-built maintenance vehicle. Expertec, and other companies like them, have created an industry that saves their customers money and puts fleet managers back in control of how and where service and repairs can be done. As Laschuk pointed out, “Many of the items we can build into a custom truck or van aren’t new ideas, but they’re reimagined and implemented in ways that keep the usefulness of the vehicle in mind. We’ve all seen welders, air compressors, and hydraulic systems put ‘on’ a truck, but we now have the ability to put them ‘in’ a truck, so the usefulness of that tool doesn’t take over the usefulness of that vehicle. When we install an air compressor system in a cargo van, it can be built into the vehicle in such a way that there is still plenty of payload for tools, repair parts, and even work space out of the weather. Now our clients have a vehicle that can run the biggest impact wrench in the tool box … just like they could in a shop. Why tow it back when you can repair it right there?”

At the same time, technology – both in vehicles and in software – means that support vehicles can be outfitted with exactly what they need for nearly any situation and those tools and replacement parts inventoried just like they were in a site-built shop.

What that means is that instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a repair and maintenance facility, companies are having upfitters like Expertec build custom support vehicles to handle many of those tasks where their fleet is – the logging yard, the remote pipeline, and even the side of the road. A key part of this decision is driven by the savings that companies can reinvest into their fleet – handling all the maintenance where the asset actually is via a purpose-built support vehicle means heavy trucks and equipment are on site or on the road longer with less down time, and anyone who has ever managed a fleet knows that if the wheels aren’t spinning, you’re losing money.

You can learn more about Expertec and their products and services at www.expertec.ca.

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