FleetWatch urges the trucking industry to strive to make 2015 the year of Best Practice and to do this, closer attention needs to be paid not only to the bigger issues like driver training but also to the smaller details – specifically in the maintenance arena.
On this point, we kick off the year with a warning from Fred Evans, suspension expert and managing director of Polyflex Seals, arguably the country’s foremost manufacturer of polyurethane suspension parts, who urges truck operators to carefully select suspension components from reputable suppliers only in order to prevent premature failure of critical parts which can cause trailer axles to become misaligned and possibly stranded along a journey.
His warning follows a spate of failures the company has come across caused by inferior quality bushings that have made their way into the market and are being sold as “high quality” polyurethane replacement parts. This is of particular concern for the industry as polyurethane bushings are used in heavy duty applications to protect the suspension and give truck operators the benefit of reduced service intervals and better wear life.
According to Evans, truck owners usually switch to polyurethane bushing and components exactly to avoid damaging trailers and becoming stranded. But, in the instance of buying inferior quality alternatives, they may actually get decreased life compared with even the original rubber parts.
“The only way transport managers and fleet owners can tell if they are buying quality components is to find out whether the polyurethane parts are made from thermosetting (cast) plastics which provide far stronger bonds than the more easily manufactured and weaker thermoplastic (injection moulded) equivalents. Another way is to look for clear polyurethane parts which can be easily examined for faults and bubbles,” says Evans.
To make identification easier, in the case of Polyflex, all the components are now manufactured without colouring pigments which gives them a clear, honey colour. And there is a good reason for this.
“Our parts were previously coloured yellow and in the 4X4, trucking and motoring industry were known for their trademark yellow colouring. However, we realized that unscrupulous suppliers were using colouring pigments and translucent polymers to hide serious faults and we thus took the decision to make ours clear so that buyers can see what they are buying.”
According to Evans, the use of polyurethane bushings and components across the trucking industry are estimated to save transport companies millions of Rands in tyre wear as a result of increased service life of suspensions.
He adds that a number of the major trailer manufacturers now also specify Polyflex suspension components on trailers destined for heavy duty applications – where heavy loads are to be carried, roads are bad or where destinations require some dirt road travel (such as bakery and milk delivery trucks) and especially cross-border operators.
According to Evans, this is so because the molecular structure of cast thermosetting polyurethane is more stable and durable and can exceed the lifespan of injection moulded products by up to double the lifespan.
“Considering that, in most cases, the cost saving of thermoset products versus injection moulded alternatives is usually a mere ten-percent, the risk of failure could cause the loss of a load or destroy a truck’s tyres in a single trip for the sake of saving a few Rand.
To some, it’s a small component and therefore one that can easily be ignored. However, in line with Best Practice, one must look at the overall impact of the smallest component on a rig for the role it plays in maximizing transport efficiency. In this light, the lowly bushing becomes a vital quality component.