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Podcast Interviews

3 Reasons Parts Companies Need to Use VMRS

Learn how VMRS Codes help parts companies serve fleets.

Episode 127: Over the years, technology has continued to evolve. One of these advancements that have drastically helped the trucking industry is the implementation of VMRS codes. What is a VMRS code though, and how can parts companies use VMRS codes to better serve fleets? 

I invited Jack Poster, VMRS Services Manager at the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations to join us today. Jack has been in that position since 2007 and has 40+ years of experience in the transportation industry.  

TMC logo. In this episode, we learn how VMRS Codes help parts companies serve fleets.

To learn more, go to Trucking.org

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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per-mile. Did you know that every Friday we go live at 10:00 AM, Mountain, 12PM Eastern? You can follow us on YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn to watch our live broadcasts, but you can also head over to heavydutypartsreport.com to check out the replays of our live presentations. Today on the podcast I’d like to share with you one of the live interviews that we’ve done recently, because I thought that it was something that would be of interest to you. I hope you enjoy this replay of a live interview we did not that long ago.

So what are we going to talk about today? Well, we’re going to talk about VMRS codes. What are they, how can parts companies use them to better serve fleets? And in order for us to get a full understanding of VMRS codes, I invited Jack Poster, VMRS Service Manager at the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association. Most people who follow The Heavy-Duty Parts Report have heard about TMC because we talk about it so much. Jack’s been in that position since 2007. So he has extensive experience, but that also comes behind 40 plus years in the transportation industry. Jack, I’m so happy to have you here, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report.

Jack Poster:

Thanks so much. I appreciate anytime I can speak about VMRS and I appreciate the invite.

Jamie Irvine:

So let’s get into it. What is VMRS codes for those who don’t know? How long have they been in use? Just give us a quick overview of what is this?

Jack Poster:

I’ll give you a quick history lesson. First. I want to tell you what the alphabet soup means. We’re right outside of Washington, DC, and we love the alphabet soup of all this stuff. So VMRS, vehicle maintenance, notice what I say, reporting standards. VMRS is a coding structure. Think of zip codes. Think of area codes. I’m old enough to remember when there weren’t zip codes or area codes, and that made things simpler for the post office and the phone company to move their data. VMRS is a methodology of communication for fleets and parts users. It’s a coding convention. It’s not computer software. It’s coding convention. Let me give you a quick history. We’ll go back to 1969. I’ll give you a few facts. Richard Nixon’s president, Woodstock music festival, Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, I graduated high school and ATA developed VMRS.

Jamie Irvine:

Don’t forget some of the best muscle cars ever made were manufactured then.

Jack Poster:

Right, 1969 was a great time to be a senior in high school let me tell you. So at that point, the fleet managers got together and said, we need one unified method of communication because as you know, most fleets have multiple locations. So how do we keep everybody on the same page, speaking the same language? Well, they all got together a group of professionals and they thought about this process and they came up with this coding structure of using the same terminology to describe a given part, a labor function, an asset, a reason for repair, why did a part fail.

So I always use the analogy, hope you can see behind me, I have some guitars, it’s the musical notes of maintenance. You can bring in half a dozen musicians, put them in a room, nobody speaks the same language and put a music of Bach, Beatles, whatever, they’ll play the notes. Why? Musical notes cuts across that language. So that’s what we like to think of VMRS. VMRS was used pretty much pen and paper up until the mid to late nineties, when, what hits? Fleet maintenance software. And that’s when VMRS took off because the fleet maintenance software firms embedded it into their software. And that’s when fleets started using it and started to see how it worked and how it helped.

Jamie Irvine:

Let’s enter 1998, a young Jamie Irvine, fresh out of school gets into the trucking industry. And from 1998 to 2016, I sold parts most of that time with the exception of the few years that I was running my other business. And I never once heard the fleets or anybody I was selling to talk about VMRS codes. And yet in the last couple of years, it seems to be that I hear it over and over and over again. So in that time period from the nineties, when the software came in until a few, a couple of years ago, why was VMRS not in the vernacular of most aftermarket parts companies?

Jack Poster:

Good question. The biggest change that occurred, traditionally a fleet or end-user would buy a part from the parts store distributor, the OE, direct, however they were purchasing their parts. When the parts arrived at the fleet or the end user, they would enter in the VMRS code. They would be the ones that would take, and I’ll get a little more into what the VMRS code actually is, but they would take the part, assign the VMRS code into their system. That was it. Several years ago, some of the larger fleets and even some of the smaller and mid-sized fleets, have gone to the parts manufacturers, the sellers, the distributors and said, we like you to offer those to us when you give us our invoice or however, they’re getting their information flat files however, they’re getting that information. So that’s when my phone started ringing, I would get a call from the president of XYZ and he would go, what’s this VXY? What is this?

Jamie Irvine:

ABC, 1, 2, 3, what are they talking about?

Jack Poster:

Alphabet soup. So admittedly, VMRS was first developed for fleet use. That’s the main gist of where VMRS it was developed for, but it’s morphed over the years where the manufacturers now see that their customers are asking for it. So when you’re a parts house or distributor and a very large fleet with a couple thousand units comes in and says, are you the manager? Yes. Can you offer us the VMRS codes? It pays to either know about the VMRS codes or find out quickly how you can get ahold of me so I can educate you. The parts manufacturers are even finding it helps in their own system also.

Jamie Irvine:

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Jack Poster:

Let me give a quick overview of it. VMRS is made up of 65 code keys, which is an old seventies computer term. It’s really code sets. Think of VMRS in these terms, there are codes to define assets. So if you’re a fleet and you’re putting together a vehicle birth certificate on a certain piece of equipment, there are codes to do that. There are codes to define what’s under the hood. Is it a sleeper? Is it a cab over, to find the cab itself, the length of the trailer, the width of the trailer, how many axles? So there are codes for that. There are also codes to define the part. And that’s what we’re going to mainly talk about. The 9 digit component code, which is called code key 33, that code augments an OE part number. It doesn’t replace it, but that is what most people, when they think of VMRS, they think of that nine digit component code, but also within VMRS, there are codes to define the labor, what the technician did, and also the failure codes, multiple codes like that.

So you, you brought up the VIN number. You can use VMRS. I came up with a MIN number, a maintenance identification number. The end user can build out their own MIN number by stringing along the certain VMRS code keys or code sets. And here’s what’s unique about VMRS and what makes it interesting. Every user’s different. You know, this you’ve been in the business for many years. Our users know every fleet is different, every fleet. So you can tailor VMRS to your own business, needs your own model. You can pick and choose what VMRS code keys fit into your business model and use those to keep track of your equipment. So that’s pretty much VMRS. In a nutshell, it’s a string of 65 different code keys with multiple codes within there. Now let’s go back to that component code database. There are over 34,000 component codes listed in VMRS as of today. There’s codes from work shoes to brake drums, to slack adjusters to you name it, they’re codes.

Jamie Irvine:

Right, so let me ask you about that. So slack adjusters, it has this nine digit code, is that code going to be the same for like an AS1140 Gunite slack and an AS1132. They’re both automatic slacks. They’re both in the same category. So they’re going to have the same VMRs code or is the code different by part number?

Jack Poster:

No, it’s description to description. The VMRS code is equipment neutral. So it doesn’t matter if, like let’s use a brake drum because that fits multiple. It doesn’t matter if that’s the F-150 you drove the work or the Toyota Prius you might have at home, or the Freightliner Cascadia you have sit in it or you’re working on. So it cuts across equipment. The VMRS code is the code. It does not change per manufacturer. Now within VMRS, there’s a manufacturer, supplier and brand code file around 11,000 different manufacturers. Each manufacturer has their own five letter alpha character unique to them. So you can string that along in your MIN, make identification number. You can put the VMRS code in and then put next to it in that string where you purchased it.

Jamie Irvine:

Would that apply only to like truck OE and trailer OE? Or is that also parts manufacturer? So what I’m getting at is could we have a five digit code for Gunite followed by the VMRS code nine digit code for slack adjuster?

Jack Poster:

It could be a local parts house in your, in your city, your town. Here’s the other thing to remember your listeners about the VMRS. We’re always adding new codes as needed. I deal with the company that we were just talking about in Alberta. It’s a worldwide fracking company. They have locations worldwide, and they use, they rely on, that manufacturers number because they’re buying parts all over the world and they have multiple locations. They wanted one way of describing where did we buy that part. And we live in a point and click world. So VMRS, and this is another thing that fascinates me back in the late sixties, early seventies, that the people that filed it that put this together were thinking that it would morph right into the computer world. So it’s a point and click world. You click if you bought that from company X, here’s the code, you’re done, you don’t have to misspell. You don’t have to stand and labor over typing in the part, the manufacturer it’s right there in your dropdown.

Jamie Irvine:

And I see why that’s so important because if I’m a fleet and I’m a national carrier, and normally I’m purchasing through a national program, but then my truck is in Boise, Idaho and broken down on the side of the road and a mobile mechanic comes out and replaces a part that maybe came from a different supplier. Everybody is putting descriptions and part number prefixes and suffixes a little different. And so maybe it’s got the same route number that goes back to the OE manufacturers part number for that component. But like I said, there could be a different prefix, a different suffix, a different description. You have a VMRS code and it just eliminates the concern over that different description, let’s say, on the invoice, because the code matches. And so then internally for the fleet, it just makes the whole process a lot simpler.

Jack Poster:

Yeah. And there’s a logic behind the VMRS code, the component code, as much as I liked the OEs and the parts manufacturers, is there really a logic behind, their engineering staff might know when you look at that part number on a box, you know, you can’t decipher it by looking at it. And like you said, if you miss a hyphen in a part number, or is it caps or lowercase, it can skew all your reporting. So when you’re looking at a nine digit VMRS code, it stays the same.

Jamie Irvine:

Manufacturers and parts distribution companies often work in silos. So you may have three procurement managers at a parts distribution company, each responsible for several categories of parts. And all of a sudden you can have a situation where one silo is putting the dash here and the other silo in a different category, but similar parts is not. And the description one is capitalized and one isn’t and one is complete. And it’s so easy for that to happen over time. And really the tools haven’t been all that good up until recently for companies to manage that. So the code itself is that universal language.

Jack Poster:

Yes. And let me just, I’ll pick a couple of minutes here and explain the logic and how the VMRS, the component code is built. What happened years ago is we took a piece of equipment and split it into 10 systems. Okay. Zero through nine. So I’m going to talk, let’s talk about brakes. That’s the easiest one. And like I told you earlier, I don’t know these by heart. I never learned these. I was 34,000 code. So people ask me all the time….

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve only got 32,000 memorized, right?

Jack Poster:

Yes, exactly. And I’ll look at them. I go, you gotta be kidding. I don’t know any of these. I know one or two. So in VMRS, 0 13 always defines the brake system. Always. It does. Once again, it doesn’t matter what type of piece of piece of equipment. It could be a forklift. It could be a converter dolly. It could be anything. O 13. That’s the high, that’s the top level. Then we divided it up a little bit closer. Next level, the assembly. O13001. Common sense. Front brakes. So all front brake parts are housed in 0 13001. Doesn’t matter. Let me go to the next level, 013002. Common sense, rear brakes and so forth. So we went through the pieces of equipment and divided them up and I’ll just run through them real quick. If it’s a Z and it’s always X1 X, anything that has a one in the middle of the first three digits is chassis related.

Jack Poster:

If it’s a zero it’s cab climate control and it’s instrumentation. So for example, all AC parts, 0010 designates cab, climate control instrumentation. Drivetrain two. So X2X 023, for example, is clutch parts, 3X3X electrical group. O31 charging. And I mean, I can go through it, but that’s how it’s broken down. So the last three digits, let’s go back to the brake drum, O13001024. I know this one by heart. That’s a front brake drum. So there’s a logic there. Brakes, oh we know it’s a 013 001 front, the last four, last three digits are a numeric order. There’s no logic there, but that’s how the VMRs code comes about. And that’s the, that’s the logic behind it.

Jamie Irvine:

That gives you that nine digit code that then can be provided from the parts company to the fleet. So the fleet knows what they’re getting regardless of part number description.

Jack Poster:

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It could have apostrophes. It could have numerous different punctuation. That code sets. Now here’s the other interesting part. Some fleets don’t want to get as granular to go to the component. So on their reporting, they will say, well, let’s just go to 013001.

Jamie Irvine:

Just the six digit part of that nine digit code.

Jack Poster:

Gives them enough information that they can run a daily report. They could run a weekly, monthly, yearly. They can go by and you always defer back to the equipment number. People ask me that why? Well, the equipment number comes first. You’ve got to base everything off of that. Okay. But you can pull up that piece of equipment and look, you know, wow, we spent $6,000 last quarter on brakes on this vehicle. Now it might not tell you the exact components that you looked at, but if you’re using the six digits and you’re spending a lot of money, you might want to go to your people and say, okay, starting next week, we’re going to the component level because we need to figure out what’s eating our lunch here. What are we spending all this money on? And you can tie that into the piece of equipment, the make, the model what’s going on. So it lets you see trends really quickly because what does the computer understand? Numbers makes it easy. So, and you can do that throughout the whole gamut of the proponents. You can use nine digits, you can use six digits.

Jamie Irvine:

It would also help the heavy-duty parts company, because then they could look at categories. That was what always a challenge that I had. I would say to the company I was selling for. I want to know like how much market share do I have in my area? How much am I selling in brakes? And they would say, well, we can tell you by the category, but that’s going to give you a lot of data because we’re going to have to tell you, you know, what breaks shoes and the three different manufacturers that we sell, the six different manufacturers of drums. We have different manufacturers for the repair kits. And it just, it just like all of a sudden it was too much data to be useful. So at least with the codes, you’d be able to bring that down to those six digit codes and just say, give me like, how are we doing in each major category and go from there.

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Are you tired of overpaying to accept credit cards for your business? National Credit Card Processing Group is the premier payment processor for the heavy-duty truck parts and repair industry. They will lower your fees in two steps. First, they’re going to review your statement. Second, they’re going to show you how to drop your fees. It’s that easy. Find out exactly how much you can save head to NCCPgroup.com today. Now I was going to ask you about where a person could find some of these codes. So I know that a sponsor of our podcast is Diesel Parts. They’ve added the VMRS codes up to the six digit on most of the part numbers in their database. That’s one resource, but where’s a good resource to get access to the VMRS codes?

Jack Poster:

A lot of people are using VMRS in the fleet world and don’t even realize it. They don’t know because like that old spaghetti sauce commercial, we’re in there. There was another commercial BASF. I don’t know if people remember that, they said we don’t make the product, we make it better. Well, that’s what I like to think of VMRS. If you’re using pretty much any major fleet maintenance software you’re using VMRS.VMRS is licensed through the American Trucking Association, but I can help, I encourage people to get in touch with me because even if you don’t license it, your customers might be using it and at least you want to have some knowledge about it, but there is a good resources. We do offer a implementation handbook, but that is available for purchase. That gives you all the information on the VRMS. That’s the main source resource where it’s available. Although people can contact me if they’re interested in licensing.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, we’ll put a link at the end of our episode. I got one more question for you. Where is VMRS going in the future? How is it going to change?

Jack Poster:

Well, as people could see, I didn’t think I’d get any more white hair, but the latest area, this is the most exciting for me and really been a, not a tough slog, but an interesting slog are the EV codes, electric vehicle codes. I’m lucky enough in my position, I’m lucky to work with the OEs and the manufacturers a year or two prior to the advent of the equivalent. So for example, early on, I was working on the SCR codes with the EDF codes, lane departure, hydrogen fuel cells, things like that. So I get a little jump on everything I get to see behind the door, see what’s going on.

Jamie Irvine:

See around the corner at what’s coming.

Jack Poster:

I can see it. EV is the latest area that’s really hitting us, taking everything by storm. It’s a whole new world. It’s interesting. What we’re doing is any new code that goes into VMRS that’s electric vehicle related has in the description electric vehicle. I encourage people that are using currently using the VMRS to really take a look at the description and make sure that you’re using the right the right description. But yeah, that’s the latest and a lot of the aid offs, you know, the driver assistance systems, those have already existed, but we’re adding on and supplementing, like I said, with VMRS, we’re always adding new codes.

I just tell you a quick anecdote. A couple of years ago, I got a call from a user and he said, you know, I like VMRS, but there’s no code for masking tape. And I said, there has to be. And he said, no, I’m telling you there’s no code. So I went and looked through and I can never say this, right? The constant acuity tape with every type of tape. We had scotch tape, darn it. We had no masking tape. So I came back on the phone. I said, I hate to tell you, you were right. So my job is then to enter in that new code. So, you know, 15, 20 minutes later, I got back to the fellow. I said, here’s the code for masking tape? So that becomes part of the, the database when I add new codes in.

Jamie Irvine:

So I can see how important VMRS codes will be moving forward for parts distribution companies, especially as they go more and more into a digital sales channel, you can use VMRS codes to better serve the fleets because you can have more accurate information and you can provide the information to the fleets in a system they’re already using. And so it’s just going to, any parts distribution company that uses VMRS codes to work with their fleets, they’re just going to be the preferred supplier because it’s going to be easier to do business with them because the codes are there and that’s going to make the life of the fleet easier. And it’s all about that customer buying experience. So if you can accomplish that, then it’s going to be good for your business. And it’s going to be good for the fleets.

Jack Poster:

When I started at TMC in 2007, a couple months in, I asked one of my boss and I said, look, I’d like to go to a fleet and see VMRS and action. Great. They sent me to what I call a power user. They’re great people. They’re in South Carolina, great barbecue, great visit. So I went there and I asked it at the time the manager of service, I said, so when the parts come in, would you like to see on an invoice of VMRS code? He said, I’d hug and kiss them if they could do that. So that ended and then for years, nothing occurred. And about five or six years ago, I started getting phone calls from parts manufacturers, presidents, CEOs of manufacturers, distributors go, what is this VSM? What is this thing? And admittedly, it was never part of the parts manufacturer distributors world. It was traditionally, the part would enter into the fleet. The fleet would enter the code. Well, some of the bigger fleets and even mid-sized fleets have said to the manufacturers, we want you to provide us the VMRS code.

So quite a few have taken the leap and have added it to their invoicing. And you’ll also see more and more are adding it to their online presence too. They want that in there because even if owner-operator with one or two vehicles, you want to know what you’re spending your money on. And if you’re doing your own books, VMRS sorta can help in that regard, by giving you one method of defining what you’re buying, but the parts stores, there was reluctance, but more and more are coming on board. Because like you said, if a fleet comes in, you want to at least have the knowledge or to say, you know, we’re not using it now, but I know how I can get ahold of the guy and we can start doing it for you. But you’re right. A lot of the fleets want the communication from the service provider or the parts store to them using the VMRS code, at least including it, it doesn’t take the place of the part number it augments it.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Jack Poster, VMRS Services Manager at the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association. To learn more about TMC, go to trucking.org, and you can learn all about that amazing organization too, that supports fleets and the trucking industry. Jack, thank you so much for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I really appreciate it.

Jack Poster:

I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

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