Every year, I look forward to TMC SuperTech – the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council’s National Technician Skills Competition. It’s an exhausting trip due to the amount of time and intensity required, but as a field service guy myself, I really appreciate the chance to see these technicians at work. They’re the best of the best from across the country, and they’re at the top of their game.
It’s part of the Bendix team’s job to help keep these SuperTech participants “on their toes” by offering up real-life, difficult challenges that help drive new learning at the same time.
The Nuts and Bolts of SuperTech
Here’s how SuperTech works: Once the technicians have made it through the district and regional technician competitions, a whole new wave of competition begins at the national level. To kick things off, day one is a written test that narrows the field even further. The next day, the Techs rotate through one of three hands-on competitive tracks, depending on whether they’re competing in Light and Medium Vehicles, Trailers, or Heavy Duty. This year’s Heavy Duty track consisted of 16 skill stations, ranging from brakes to cybersecurity. At each skill station, the competitors get 23 minutes to solve a challenge, and then it’s on to the next one. It’s intense. When everyone’s through, their performances are scored to determine the winners.
Bendix had a presence at two of the stations in 2018: the in-cab vehicle control systems station, and the foundation brake station, which we develop annually jointly with service side colleagues from Meritor (we rally together when it comes to supporting the technicians).
Every year, we look at what we’ve done in the past, and aim to introduce something different to keep the competitors guessing. In 2018, because disc brakes are becoming more popular in the industry, we wanted to bring them to the forefront with a hands-on exercise. To our surprise, there were a few individuals who had not yet seen one up close – but if you’re at SuperTech, you can always expect the unexpected. Like any good tech, they stepped outside their comfort zone and dug in!
As the competitors stepped up to the foundation brake station, they were met with a beast of a challenge: We induced issues in the brake, so they had to do a wheel-off ADB inspection and troubleshoot the brake. They needed to pull the brake pads out, inspect the guide pin boots, the piston boots, loose parts, and other associated tasks. We also had a separate table that was just rotors, where they had five minutes to look at five rotors after which they were asked to identify the type, whether they were in or out of spec – and why.
Partners in Training
A safe truck doesn’t stay a safe truck without the right maintenance, so we work hard to make sure technicians have access to all the training they can get. We want them to know we’re there to work not just with them, but for them, so we aim to equip them with the knowledge they need to do their jobs at the most demanding levels.
When I was a new tech, I didn’t have these opportunities: I had to look in manuals or rely on someone else who may or may not have been doing things properly. Today, when I walk into a shop and talk to someone who says they’ve been watching online training videos and have some questions, it’s refreshing. And we listen to them, so when they tell us what they’re struggling with, or what could be explained better, or how we could showcase something better, we take that input and incorporate it into our information and training, whether it’s at brake-school.com, or our in-person Brake Training School, or on the Knowledge Dock or our YouTube channel.
And it never really stops: At Bendix we’ve got a passion for this event and we’re already pooling ideas for our 2019. We’ll assemble a team and a truck, and work through the challenge ourselves.
One of the best things after every year’s competition is when you’re walking around and one of the technicians comes up and says, “The brake station was hard – but I liked it because it showed me where I need to learn this new skill.”
We hear that almost every year, that people dread coming to the brake station, and to the Bendix team, that’s like a badge of honor.
So here’s a hearty thanks and sincere congratulations to all the 2018 SuperTech winners and competitors: You’re an irreplaceable bunch when it comes to keeping America moving safely, and Bendix will always have your back, even if that means making things tough on you once a year.
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