Small Steps = BIG Results

John Batten gets philosophical talking systems, processes and the potential of ‘desk diagnostics’ to change a businesses for the better

By John Batten | Published:  01 December, 2017

There’s no doubt about it-  the technical challenges that face an independent workshop grow daily and this has the ability to not only affect the commercial performance of the business but also the morale of those at the sharp end.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a technician and business owner than watching the minutes, turn into hours and possibly hours turn to days  as a resolution to technical repairs sometimes remain elusive… It almost makes you ask the question “Why do we do take on this kind of work?”

Do we need in-house therapists? Is it all doom and gloom? Far from it! In fact with the right attitude and the tools to assist, reducing everyone’s stress levels and improving the situation for all involved is incredibly straightforward. There’s even a challenging argument for making this type of work an integral part of your business and with practice turning this into your unique selling point (USP). Once you have the reputation for being the business that fixes all those ‘difficult’ cars you’ll be amazed how that can positively affect, with a little marketing savvy what you’re able to charge for all your repairs. How can I be so certain? We did this within our own business and we’ve been helping others do the same for many years.

System addict
So what’s the secret? Systems; nothing more than the robustness and repeatability of your fault finding system. Great businesses are just combinations of great systems. Systems to find new customers, systems to convert them, systems to complete the repairs to the same high standard day after day. I guarantee that you already apply systems to all sorts of repair work in the day to day running of your business. Take a service for example. How successful would a service be if every time that work was carried out each individual element was processed in a random order? Sometimes the oil drained first, sometimes the brakes inspected first or just for the hell of it why not change the cabin filter first. It stands to reason that items would be missed and the time to complete a service would undoubtedly take longer. Now I know you’ll be using a system for servicing, so the BIG question is do you have a robust system that you or your technicians apply to each fault finding mission? If you nail those jobs day after day and the answer to that question was a resounding “yes” then you can stop reading now. If not then stay with me and I’ll give you some tips you can use immediately.

Philosophy for technicians
Confucius I’m not, but he did have a point when he said; “Life is really simple, we insist on making it complicated”. This is a statement that resonates with me. As a younger technician I often made the path to a solution more complex than it needed have been. Now I’m no philosopher, but with increased experience, mostly gained from every job that fought back, I have reconsidered the techniques I applied for diagnosis. My Eureka moment was when I swapped frustration for pragmatism. Rather than kick myself in the derriere when I perceived a job had taken too long I’d take a step back and consider what I’d do differently next time. The decision to consistently and honestly evaluate my system of diagnosis was a game changer with an return on investment (ROI) way higher than any tool I’d ever bought. You just can’t beat those hard won lessons you teach yourself.

I recalibrated my thought process, pushed frustration to one side and embraced those jobs that challenged my current diagnostic system, safe in the knowledge that I’d always fix it and the time I invested now would pay dividends time and time again as I improved my system for the long term. After all this is a marathon, we’re part of not a sprint. The best lesson I learned also happened to be the hardest one to implement as it involves reading. Now if you’re like me you’d rather be doing than reading. I hate to break this too you but if you want an easier life then you’ll have to make ‘desk diagnostics’ part of your system, sooner rather than later. I could give endless examples of how this has paid dividends over the years for myself and those that I have trained but a vehicle that presented itself this week typifies ‘desk diagnostics’ quite nicely.

That elusive quick fix
I stumbled across this repair by accident. I’d left our training centre and was walking through the workshop next door. The lads had finished their tea break and I was on the hunt for biscuits. Between me and the tea room though was a Seat Leon that just happened to have my friend and all round ‘super tech’ James sat in the driver seat with ODIS (the VAG diagnostic system) on his lap. This was a situation that proved more enticing than the tea room; the biscuits would have to wait.

The customer had outlined that the vehicle had a warning message displayed on the media display. It said “Fault: Vehicle lighting.” A visual inspection of the vehicle bore no fruit as all lighting systems were found to be operating correctly and no fault codes were present in any vehicle system. So the car thinks it has a fault but we can’t find one! Should we perhaps starting changing the bulbs hoping that matching ones will fix the issue? Or is it time for ‘desk diagnostics’?

Silver Bullet City
I’m not a fan of silver bullets. Looking for that ‘quick fix’ can be detrimental to a technician's long term development. That being said there is always a middle ground and knowing when to look for one is half of the skill required. So where do we go for our silver bullet to fix the Leon? Do we post a question on a forum? Call a technical helpline? Phone a friend? You could but there is a much more robust and methodical route. This is where ‘desk diagnostics’ meets Silver Bullet City. It stands to reason that the manufacturer knows more about the vehicle they produce and service daily than anyone else. They just happen to incorporate all their silver bullets in one place and call them ‘Technical Product Information’ or TPIs for short. How did we get our hands on this diagnostic gold dust? Nothing more than a couple of clicks within ODIS. A little reading revealed that this was a known issue and the fix required was a software flash. The current software on the Leon was checked to see if it had been carried out already. It hadn’t. The update was applied, the relevant post-fix processes carried out. The message was no longer displayed and the vehicle returned to the client. In this example a little reading bore fruit. Not only that, but it happened in a timely manner, without frustration for the business owner, technician or customer. A winning situation all round.

An honest appraisal
Here’s the thing; It wasn’t always this easy. It takes a little pain before you realise that change is required. We need a reason to change. It took a change in perspective and a pragmatic approach for me to change the system I used for diagnosis, as well as a commitment to constant re-evaluation. Once that’s in place everything else is pretty straightforward it’s just a case of taking small steps each day.

The steps that you need to take will be individual to you and your business. Take a pragmatic look at those ‘problem’ jobs and add a little more ‘desk diagnostics’ to the mix, you may unearth your own answers on what to do differently next time. What’s the worst that can happen?

Want to know more?
If you’re not sure that you have the foundation to self assess, or you’d like to benefit from the system for diagnosis that we’ve developed then call John on 01604 328 500. Alternatively if you’d like to see how using ODIS can give your business the advantage it needs then take a look at this video link: www.autoiq.co.uk/odis1

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  • part TWO: Succeeding with succession 

    Businesses change hands for all manner of reasons, but crucially for family businesses, change has the potential to damage family harmony as well as destroy the future wealth of all concerned. But what happens should no family members want to take on the business and the business has to be sold?
        
    In this instance David Emanuel, Partner at law firm VWV and head of its Family Business team, says the family should take advice on the options. He advises seeking recommendations and says to “think hard about engaging people who work principally on a success fee percentage commission-only basis – the overall cost may be higher, although you may be insulating yourself from costs if a deal doesn’t go ahead – but there can be a conflict of interest for people remunerated only if a deal goes ahead.”
        
    One step that will ease the process is to undertake some financial and legal due diligence as if the seller were a buyer, to identify any gaps or issues that may affect price or saleability.

    Seeking a valuation
    Businesses will generally be valued on one of three bases – the value of net assets plus a valuation of goodwill; a multiple of earnings; or discounted future cash flow.
        
    Nick Smith, a family business consultant with the Family Business Consultancy, sees some families seeking the next generation pay the full market value for their interest, and other situations where shares are just handed over.
        
    “In between the extremes,” says Nick, “there are a raft of approaches and solutions including discounted prices and stage payments. There are also more complicated solutions such as freezer share mechanisms, where no sale takes place but the senior generation lock in the current value of their shares to be left to the wider family and the next generation family members actually working in the business receive the benefit of any growth in value during their time in charge.”
        
    What of an arm's length sale? Here David says: “The family will ideally want to be paid in cash, in full, at completion, rather than risk the possibility of deferred consideration not getting paid because the business gets into difficulties under its new owners, or a dispute arises over what should be paid.” However, he says that may not be possible, and there may be many good reasons why the retiring shareholders keep an equity stake or agree to be paid over time or agree that some of what they get paid is subject to future performance. Even so, he suggests starting with the idea of the ‘clean break’ and working back from there if you have to.
        
    It’s important to remember that in a succession situation, where one generation is passing the business to the next, and the retirees are expecting a payment of value to cover their retirement ambitions, deferred payment risks may be looked at differently depending on the circumstances – families will be more trusting.
     
    Tax planning and family succession
    As might be expected, tax planning is important and should always form part of the decision-making process but it should never be the main driver. That said, no-one wants to hand over, by way of inheritance tax, 40% of the value of what they have worked for.
        
    Both Nick and David consider tax planning key. Says Smith, “the most important point is what is right for the family members and the business itself.” He believes the UK offers a fairly benign tax-planning environment for family business succession so that most family businesses can be passed on free of inheritance and capital gains tax to other family members. However, the risk of paying a bit of tax pales into insignificance if passing on the family business to the next generation means passing on a working lifetime of misery and a failing business. David points out that if Entrepreneur’s Relief is available, the effective rate of Capital Gains Tax is just 10%.

    In summary
    Family businesses are peculiar entities, caught by both the need to compete in the marketplace and the need to keep familial factions onside. Whatever course is taken to secure the future of the business, one thing is certain – everyone needs to keep the lines of communication open.


  • Good vibrations  

    In a previous topic I expanded on the availability of focused test tools for independents. It’s not often that we see a technical breakthrough which has real application potential, but there was a breakthrough recently when Pico introduced a new NVH kit. It has come just in time, as noise, vibration and harshness is a challenge that’s not getting any easier, so what is it?

    You must first start by accepting that the motor vehicle is a series of mechanical systems in permanent conflict. There are components travelling in different directions, subject to acceleration, deceleration, changing direction, and of considerable mass differential.

    What I have just described there is the internal combustion engine. adding chassis and body systems to the mix. I think you will agree the problem we have is in identifying noise and vibration.

     The difference between noise and vibration is based on frequency and amplitude. Noise is a single event with a diminishing synodal pattern. It looks like a trumpet. Vibration however has a repetitive frequency and amplitude. Both of which will change with speed and a whole host of influences, resonance, beating, and mass differential are just some.  

    So why has it become more difficult for us techs to bend our ear and diagnose an issue with confidence? The answer is due to the technical innovations of today’s vehicles. These include the dual mass flywheel, active engine mounts, cylinder cancellation, Audi anc system, infinite computer control of chassis dynamics, and the most obvious of all-  lack of accessibility.

    Let’s begin with the basics. As we have seen, Vibration is classified by frequency and amplitude. A large mass will by nature have a lower frequency and a greater mass, while  a small mass will present the exact opposite. Two or more mass that converge with the same frequency combine their mass value increasing the amplitude. This is called resonance. Mass that have a similar but close frequency differential, within say 10hz, cause beating; “wo, wo, wo, wo.” An example of this would be a worn wheel bearing.
    Vibration has three elements: Cause, transfer path, and respondent. In almost all cases we experience the respondent. Let’s think about the vibrating ash tray, wedged with paper to stop the noise! Vibration also falls into three other simple categories, vibration we feel, vibration we see, and vibration we hear. We humans can only hear noise between 25hz/22,000hz.

    The next consideration is how many events per rotation frequency is experienced these are called, first, second, third, orders etc.
    Now let’s do some simple maths. It’s getting interesting now isn’t it? We must convert everything into frequency, the unit is hertz, or cycles per second. For simplicity, a four-cylinder engine revolving at 3000rpm, in top gear 1:1, differential ratio 4:1.
    3000/60=50hz divided by final drive ratio 4:1=12.5hz.

    Therefore crankshaft vibration will be @50hz and tyres, rim, brake disc, and drive shafts will be at 12.5hz. So, you will now appreciate is a simple matter of separating the various operating frequencies.

    Well not quite, but by now I’m hoping you view vibration in a more clinical way and not just based on experience or opinion. Vibration can have different direction or vectors, something tyre fitters more often or not get wrong.

    Bring on the technology. The kit which can have an infinite flexibility of accessory options, uses a three-dimensional accelerometer, for vector differential, measuring mass, and a microphone recording sound, together with 1+3 channel interfaces, and bnc connection leads. The engine speed data is collected via the serial port with a drew tech mongoose serial interface. This can also be achieved optically if preferred. The accelerometer has a magnetic base and is directional sensitive, fore/aft, vertical, and lateral. Its initial position should be on the driver’s seat frame. After all that’s where the complaints start! The microphone could be positioned close to a known noise source or in the cabin.

    Navigating through the software wizard is straightforward, you will need to select number of cylinders and configuration, in line, opposed, v config, and direction of mounting. You will then need to establish the various gear and final drive ratios, with tyre size data.

    The software will then gather data over an infinite timeframe and scaling which is of course adjustable. The most challenging aspect in my opinion is control of the style of driving technique, speed, gearing, direction, braking and the influence of the road surface. The vehicle may have selectable drivetrain and suspension options, which will affect the potential effects of noise and vibration.

    Did you remember not to omit the obvious or obscure effects? Has the vehicle been modified in any way whatsoever? Wheel size, spring rates, power output, etc, etc. Record your driving technique and environmental influences into the microphone. After all it is recording sound, all sound!

    There are several options in the display menu, from bar chart, frequency, and 3D. you will quickly establish exactly which one of three vehicle systems the problem originates based on visual evidence. Engine, transmission or tyres.
    You can then reposition the sensors to further locate the position of the source. Vibration will increase in amplitude, as will noise the closer you are to the source. This is due to the reduction in the length of the transfer path, and any devices that may absorb it.  
    I can confidently monitor discrete combustion anomalies based on the transfer of mass energy from the pistons to crankshaft orders, simplifying connectivity issues with coil on plug multi-cylinder engines. I could show you images from a test I conducted recently, but a simple static image does not fully demonstrate the effects of vibration.



  • Cut to the chase 

    Many modern systems, such as common rail diesel injection, can appear to be so complex that they seem to operate by magic. Over time, such systems are only going to become more and more complex, so understanding them means you can gain a head start on their repair.
        
    You can be presented with a seemingly endless amount of data relating to fuel pressure feedback, fuel pressure control, cam/crank synchronisation, measured mass airflow, injector flow correction feedback, and many other areas.
        
    However, if you prepare yourself with a fundamental understanding of the system and all data available pertaining to the fault, a systematic approach to the fault-finding procedure can be carried out.  
    Data overload

    Figure 1 shows  the live data returned from a common rail diesel injection vehicle with an EDC16 engine management system.
        
    There is an enormous amount of data available from these data parameters, which can allow you to ascertain the nature of the fault. The actual operation of the fuel system can be compared to the desired system operation and using the data, a decision can be made on the condition of the system and where a fault (if any) may be.
        
    An oscilloscope is another important tool when investigating a fault with such a complex system. Figure 2 shows an oscilloscope waveform from an Audi with the 2.0L common rail engine. The yellow trace is the fuel rail pressure sensor voltage (feedback) and the green trace is the current flow through the inlet metering valve (command). The waveform was captured during a wide open throttle (WOT) condition.
        
    This image alone tells us that the fuel inlet metering valve is a normally open valve. The engine control module (ECM) decreases the duty cycle when the required fuel pressure is increased. This allows less current to flow through the solenoid and the valve is allowed to open, which increases the fuel pressure measured at the fuel rail.

    Full analysis
    When the fuel pressure demand decreases, the duty cycle control from the ECM increases. This allows more current to flow through the solenoid which results in a reduction of the fuel pressure. Duty cycle is often referred to as pulse width modulation (PWM) control.

    The duty cycle control on the ground side of the fuel inlet metering valve can be analysed using an oscilloscope, as seen in Figure 3. The waveform below displays the fuel rail pressure feedback voltage (yellow trace) and the fuel inlet metering valve duty cycle control from the ECM (green trace).
        
    The oscilloscope is connected to the control wire for the fuel inlet metering valve. The technician must be mindful that this is the ground control circuit. System voltage on this wire indicates open circuit voltage. The diagram in Figure 4 shows the best method of connecting this set-up.
        
    By careful analysis using serial (scan-tool) and parallel (oscilloscope) diagnostics you will now be in a position to identify the area of concern accurately and in a timely manner. Knowledge, together with the right equipment and experience therefore benefits technicians by leading to a reduced diagnostic time and an easier fault finding method, rendering these complex systems much less so.

  • 888... Lucky for some 

    With this month’s focus in Aftermarket on cooling, I thought a look at how technology has affected one of the oldest systems of the internal combustion engine. For illustration, I have chosen the Volkswagen Auto Group’s en888 engine, built in Mexico, Hungary and China hence the 888 insignia; It is their lucky number.

    Its one of Audi’s high-performance variants. Its fitted in my Seat Cupra 2ltr, producing 400bhp with stock mechanicals. So, what are the benefits of advanced cooling systems? Heat derived from combustion, transferred by conduction and convection into cooling and the environment is in effect wasted energy. Controlling and where necessary containing it improves efficiency, not forgetting reductions in emission pollution.

    Efforts
    They have made stringent efforts in the mechanical design of the 888 to achieve savings in efficiency. Reducing engine weight, minimising internal friction, increasing power and torque, current with fuel economy initiatives.

    The cylinder block wall is reduced from 3.5mm to 3.00mm. Internal friction is reduced with smaller main bearing journals, revised timing chain design, incorporating a dual pressure lubricating system. The balance shaft has roller bearings, piston cooling jets further improve thermal stability. The jets have PCM mapped control, while extra oil cooling is provided adjacent the filter housing, close to the activation solenoid and twin oil pressure sensors.

    The engine can theoretically reach Lambda 1 from cold within 20-30 seconds.

    Further technical innovations include reduced oil level, reduced tension force in the auxiliary chain mechanism, down shifting achieved with variable valve lift and twin scroll direct mount turbo design.

    Advances
    You will now appreciate that it is no longer possible to separate mechanical design, power delivery, emissions, and all-round efficiency, treating cooling as an afterthought.

    Take the cylinder block design, which possibly has the biggest advances reserved within the cylinder head and coolant control module (water pump). The exhaust manifold is housed completely within the cylinder head casting. This ensures very effective conductance of heat. The emphasis is now on increase, maintain, reduce, thanks to an advanced dual valve PCM controlled coolant control module. The module is mounted at the rear of the engine block, belt-driven with a cooling fan to keep the belt cool.
    By manipulating the two rotary valves, flow and temperature can be effectively controlled within very carefully controlled limits. The rotary valves are manipulated by a PWM 1000hz motor with SENT position feedback (single edge nibble transmission), a method used by the latest air mass meters.

    Heat transfer into and from the turbo is much more efficient due partly to the direct mount and integrated cooling galleries surrounding the exhaust tracts.

    The piston to wall clearance has been increased, with a special coating on the piston thrust side complimenting a direct gudgeon pin to rod contact, the DLC coating removes the need for a bearing bush.

    The cylinder head porting incorporates ignition sequence separation, thus ensuring preceding exhaust pulses do not impede the energy from the current. This in combination with advanced turbine design further improves torque range and downshifting. Cooling control priority is applied to the occupants, then the transmission, further reducing frictional losses.

    Complexity
    Although not directly related to the cooling system, a dual injection system is fitted with its main function being emission reduction. Cold start is provided with three direct injection events, followed by port injection warm up. These systems do not run in tandem. Two thirds of the load range is controlled by port injection, with full load above 4,000 rpm delivered by induction stroke direct fuel delivery.

    From a practical point of view, previous low-tech tasks like replacing coolant components and bleeding now requires electronic support through the serial interface. Using the correct antifreeze is now essential if premature corrosion is to be avoided. As a warning, capillary coolant invasion within wiring looms is well known in some French and GM vehicles, as some of you will be aware.
    It is also worth mentioning that Volkswagen has modified the software controlling cooling in some of their diesel vehicles as part of the emission recall programme.

    Predictably due to their complexity, I can foresee cooling systems being neglected during routine servicing , so expect to see faults as these systems age in the pre-owned market.


  • part two: A FINE PENSION MESS and how to avoid it  

    Pensions auto-enrolment, the government’s drive to have everyone saving towards their retirement is just over five years old and recently, this last February, completed its rollout. However, while it might be the end of the rollout as far as the government is concerned, for businesses, the process is never-ending as the obligations continue… forever.
        
    Ignoring the rules and failing to meet the obligations can lead to very painful penalties being imposed by The Pensions Regulator.

    Don’t fall foul of any changes to the rules
    The government has done a pretty good job of improving the rules as they go along, even though they may seem rather onerous at first. Nathan Long, a Senior Pension analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, explains more about how firms can be caught out by the law.
        
    Nathan says that there “is a ruthless determination to ensure auto-enrolment remains successful and the government recently made recommendations as to future changes to the legislation.”
        
    The two key changes for employers are that staff will need to be automatically enrolled from age 18 as opposed to 22; and contributions will accrue from the first pound of earnings, whereas currently the first £5,876 can be excluded.
        
    Nathan says the changes are great for pension savers, but will impact on some sectors more heavily, especially those that employ large numbers of younger people: “These recommendations will not only mean people retiring with more income, it means they will have greater control over leaving work. In fact, someone with average earnings could increase their pension pot at retirement by over £60,000.
        
    “Increasing the reach of auto-enrolment is great for the long-term retirement prospects of the nation but adds yet further costs for businesses. The government is clearly mindful of this alongside the ongoing Brexit uncertainty and so opted for a long implementation period, with the changes not due to be rolled out until the mid-2020s.
        
    “Even so,” reckons Nathan, “it is widely recognised that 8% contributions are not enough for a comfortable retirement, with a growing consensus that contributions of 12% are more appropriate – the government has also recommended reviewing the minimum contribution levels from April 2019. Small businesses in particular should be alive to the very real risk of increased costs coming down the tracks.”
        Empirical evidence is showing larger employers driving higher levels of understanding and engagement amongst their staff by embracing workplace financial education programmes. Nathan thinks that smaller businesses may struggle to offer these services: “A possible solution to improved engagement could lie in allowing staff to be able to select where their auto-enrolment pension contributions are paid if they already have their own pension plan.” There would still be a company appointed provider for anyone that doesn’t choose, however anyone who has truly got to grips with their pension planning could continue to contribute to their preferred plan. The responsibility would then be on pension providers to engage their customers in order to retain their business.

    Nathan thinks this solution need not add more administration for employers: “In the same way that you require an employee’s bank account details, so you can pay their salary, simple details of pension provider and policy number could allow correct payment of pension contributions. The technology to enable this already exists, it simply must be adopted for this revised purpose.”

    To finish
    The key message for employers of any size is that auto-enrolment is an on-going exercise and crucially requires on-going compliance with any rule changes. First up will be the contribution hikes in 2018 and 2019, but employers need to keep their wits about them. Whilst it may seem The Pension Regulator is out to get small businesses, actually the opposite is true and its website is a great source of information for businesses of all shapes and sizes: www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk


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