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Podcast Interviews

3 Ways to Improve Your Trucks Performance

Learn how changing one product can lower your total cost of operation and increase your trucks performance.

Episode 124: How can you keep your trucks running smoother, with less vibration throughout the chassis and trailer, and provide a more comfortable ride for your drivers?  

In this episode, we are going to show you, plus we are going to provide you with information on how changing one product will lower your total cost of operation.  

My guest today is Skip Steffen, former VP of Aftermarket Sales and now a Sales Advisor at ATRO Engineered Systems. 

ATRO Logo, and their focus on improving fleets performance.

To learn more about ATRO visit ATROBushing.com

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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.

How can you keep trucks running smoother with less vibration throughout the chassis and trailer and provide a more comfortable ride for your drivers? In this episode, we’re going to show you, plus, we’re going to provide you with some information on how changing one product can lower your total cost of operation.

My guest today is Skip Steffen former VP of aftermarket sales, and now a sales advisor at ATRO Engineered Systems. Skip has 48 years of experience in heavy-duty sales and management. He’s worked for manufacturers and distributors. So he’s the man to help us talk about this important subject today. Skip welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Skip Steffen:

Thank you, Jamie. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.

Jamie Irvine:

So, Skip, let me ask you something, what’s one product that can provide fleets with that smoother operating truck, less vibration and more comfort for the driver? It’s hard to believe one product could achieve all of that, but there is a product and what is it?

Skip Steffen:

Well, that’s a great question. Actually, we have multiple products, but it all leads back to ATRO being a polyurethane manufacturer. We have some polyurethane things that are transfer energy and some that absorb energy. So our energy absorbing materials, which are commonly used in suspension load cushions and pads could be used in an engine mount, could be used in a carrier bearing something of that nature, absorbed energy and results in a longer-lasting part. And in the case of a suspension, that results in a smoother riding truck, which is very beneficial to the driver. And we all know that driver retention how important that is today.

Jamie Irvine:

Absolutely. So when we’re talking about this difference between using like a rubber bushing or this polyurethane technology, why is the type of bushing a fleet chooses so important? Let’s go into some depth about that.

Skip Steffen:

A really good question. The suspension, and we’re talking about suspension bushings as the same. So the suspension does a lot of things that it performs a lot of functions. For example, it not only sets the vehicle alignment, but it also controls the alignment. It controls forces like axle rotation. When you accelerate and brake, your axle wants to move forward and backward. And that has to be controlled because if it isn’t controlled, it can affect components outside of the suspension, for example, drive line angle and your joints, etc.

So the quality of the bushing is very, very important because the bushing has to operate within that suspension and allow it to operate properly and control all of those forces. They just talked about a low quality bushing can fail very quickly and quickly have the suspension out of alignment, which can lead to accelerated tire wear, which can lead to accelerated fuel consumption. And we all know how expensive that is today to the fleet.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, getting more expensive by the minute. It seems when we’re talking about this polyurethane technology, what about it makes it lasts so much longer and have all of these performance characteristics that enhance the truck and trailer and lower the total cost of operation for the fleet?

Skip Steffen:

Polyurethane – there’s a couple of things. One polyurethane is inherently stronger. It’s a stronger material than rubber, not necessarily harder, which is a common misconception, but stronger. Secondly, polyurethane is resistant to chemical attack. For example, oil and grease, when it attacks rubber will make it soft and spongy diesel fuel or cleaning solvers or road salt will attack rubber and make it hard and brittle, it doesn’t affect polyurethane. So just by the nature of the material, we have a longer-lasting part, which lowers costs.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s interesting that depending on what chemical is interacting with the rubber, it could either become softer or harder. And in both cases, that’s going to change the wear characteristics of that product.

Skip Steffen:

That’s right.

Jamie Irvine:

And in both cases, I guess it would accelerate wear.

Skip Steffen:

Yes, it could absolutely. A chemical attack could cause the product of fail quickly. Think about an engine mount that’s sitting in oil and absorbing oil. It’s not going to last as long when it’s exposed those chemicals. Definitely.

Jamie Irvine:

Right. And with a softer rubber, after that chemical attack, then it’s more likely to become compressed. And then it won’t have the same characteristics. I’ve also seen rubber mounts where they’ve been almost broken, like a corner has been broken off. So that’s because it’s become brittle.

Skip Steffen:

Correct.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back. When repairing a diesel engine, it is essential to only use high quality engine parts. AFA industries manufacturers OEM quality complete in-frame kits, replacement engine parts and seals and gaskets for diesel engines at great aftermarket prices. To learn more, go to AFAindustries.com where you can request them to direct you to a local distributor. Check out AFAindustries.com today.

Before the break we were talking about how important it is for fleets to choose the right kinds of bushings for their suspension. We talked a little bit about polyurethane. Skip, we know that polyurethane bushings cost more to purchase than let’s say a black rubber bushing. Why is that?

Skip Steffen:

There’s several factors at play there. Number one, there’s the raw material is generally a little more expensive. The raw material, the polyurethane and the curatives that are used. But more importantly, I think is the design and engineering that goes into polyurethane. So polyurethane can be manipulated to do a lot of things. For example, we can manipulate the tensile strength, which is affects the load carrying capacity. We can manipulate the hardness. For example, we have engine mounts that you can squeeze with your fingers. And then we have load cushions that are hard as rocks depending on the application.

But we also design and improvements, whenever we can, into a bushing. For example, we have rotating inner pins and inner sleeves, which is impossible to do with a rubber bushing because the rubber is automatically when it’s compressed between the outer sleeve and the inner sleeve or pin, it becomes mechanically bonded.

With polyurethane, we can have a rotating pin which relieves stress and the bushes you have commonly what’s called bushing windup. When the bushings put under load and this rotating printer sleeve reduces that windup results in longer life. So the design improvements, as well as the raw materials, do end up costing a little more. At least I’m going to say the price is a little higher.

Jamie Irvine:

When it comes to the technology and the way that polyurethane is made. So you talked about the raw materials, the engineering, all of that. It reminds me of one manufacturer’s rep that worked for Firestone that I used to sell their products when I was a sales account manager and he always said, ‘you rarely get more than you pay for’.

So to get these enhanced performance characteristics, there’s just a cost associated with that, that’s above and beyond a standard rubber bushing. Let’s talk now about the true cost because the purchase price upfront is rarely the whole story. So tell us the whole story of what it actually costs to buy the cheaper bushing versus a polyurethane bushing.

Skip Steffen:

Well, you just said it. I mean, price is not cost. Price is what you pay for the product upfront, you don’t know your costs until you remove it from the truck. So typically polyurethane, it depends on the suspension and the application, but typically you’re going to last two to three times longer than the average rubber product.

So, you know, we actually on our website have a chart that you can determine your cost savings by plugging in the number of trucks in your fleet and your current replacement rate. And then you can plug in the two or three times longer life and come up with a number that will tell you what your expected cost savings are. But it’s significant when you start talking two or three times the life.

Jamie Irvine:

Right, so when I hear two to three times longer life, immediately what I think about is labor costs of replacing that rubber bushing two or three times. At minimum, we’re looking at $100-$150 an hour to have that changed once, twice, three times, far more than the cost of the product. Now you mentioned that you have this tool on your site that allows fleets to calculate their return on investment.

Why is using that tool important? I’m thinking about variables, one fleet working in one vocation and other fleet working in another. There has to be a lot of variables there that come into play. And how does that calculate or help people to figure out what they’re going to save?

Skip Steffen:

Depending on the fleet and over the road fleet that hauls potato chips is not going to have the severe wear on their suspension and their other components on the truck that a vocational fleet like a concrete mixer fleet or a waste fleet will experience. So it’s all dependent on the fleet.

But you know, when you start talking about product failure on suspensions, in particular, there’s other things to consider, for example, about 70% of steer axle tire wear, according to the experts, start with misalignment in the rear suspension, which affects the front steer axle wear so drive line, as I mentioned earlier, it can be affected by the suspension, which can cause accelerated wear on your joints and your other drive line components.

 So all of that has to be factored in, for example, if your front axle is out of alignment or your rear axles are out of alignment, for every 125,000 miles, according to Hunter engineering, your experience about a hundred miles of what they call tire scrub. In other words, you’re dragging the tire sideways down the highway, a hundred miles for every 125,000 miles you drive.

So that’s going to cause a lot of wear. And what guess what else, how do you overcome that tire scrub by acceleration right? So you’re going to increase your fuel consumption. So all of those things add in to result in quite a bit of costs and possible cost savings by using good quality components.

Jamie Irvine:

I think that’s fascinating how the front end wear, the steering wear, is caused by the rear axles. It makes me think of just how important it is to diagnose the entire problem, right? We just don’t want to throw parts at the symptom, we want to solve the root cause of the problem.

Skip Steffen:

Correct. Think about on your average tandem axle truck, you’ve got two tandem axles pushing that truck, and you’ve got one steer axle on the front. So if you’re going to have a war, if the alignment’s out of place, who’s going to win? It’s going to be the rear tandems that’s going to overshadow the front and cause accelerated wear in the front steer axle.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re talking about different vocations. Is there going to be an application where a rubber bushing would actually be better? Or is it a case where some vocations are going to get quite a bit of better performance and other vocations are going to get a lot more performance because of how hard they are on the suspension. I just kind of trying to get my head around that. Is there ever a time where that rubber bushing is the right thing for the application?

Skip Steffen:

Well let me say this, a good quality rubber bushings as the OEs provide, generally it’s a good product and will last through the warranty period for the truck, whether it be a vocational truck or an over the road truck. And certainly, as I said a little earlier, vocational trucks, so think of a dump truck or a concrete mixer or a waste truck, those types of applications are going to where their components are quicker and will experience a larger potential savings that are quicker savings by using a polyurethane product versus rubber.

For example, torque rods, if you average out a torque rod failure life, if you take all the trucks in the U.S. and all the torque rods replaced and do the math, there’s one torque rod replaced every 2.3 years per class 8 truck, but yet, if I’ve got a waste truck, you might be replacing one or two torque rods a year. So that’s going to show up quicker to that industry, that effect, but even the over the road guy, replacing the torque rod every 2.3 years can expect the savings because he could probably jump out the three or four years.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. And you know, when you’re the vehicle owner, once that vehicle is outside of the warranty period, you know, manufacturers care about that warranty period. They want things to last right up to the warranty period, not a minute longer. Once you own that vehicle, you want it to last as long as possible so polyurethane’s going to be the way to go every time.

Skip Steffen:

Yeah, people will ask why aren’t the OE on most trucks and the answer is the rubber products make it through the warranty period, as you said, and that’s the goal. The OEs don’t want to pay an extra dime or an extra 50 cents for a product that gets beyond the warranty period.

Jamie Irvine:

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We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were really getting into the details about why polyurethane is such a better-performing product. I’d like to learn a little bit more Skip about the company that you’ve been working for. So how long has ATRO been manufacturing suspension parts and really what makes the company different?

Skip Steffen:

Well ATRO started in 1989 and George Sturmon, who was an engineer by trade was looking to design a better bushing and he picked polyurethane as a better material, but more importantly, he looked at the design of bushings.

I talked earlier about how rubber bushings, the inner pin, and the inner sleeve are bound to the rubber. So when you put a load on that bushing, that rubber material then, between the pin and the outer sleeve winds up, and George looked at that and said, you know, if I could eliminate that stress, I can make a longer-lasting bushing.

So he designed the first rotating inner pin or inner sleeve, which is possible when you use polyurethane as the polymer material, because we don’t have to compress the polyurethane to add strength, therefore we can put a release agent on the pin or the inner sleeve, pour the polyurethane in, and we have a rotating pin.

So that’s how the company got started. Throughout our career we’ve always tried to look at the components that are on a particular truck and say, what is that component meant to do? Is it meant to operate under a heavy load environment? Is it meant to absorb road shock? Is the part going to operate in a high-temperature environment? And depending on that, we will pick from one of our 11 raw materials and use the right material for that job.

So by designing the part correctly, we think that separates us from our competitors who some of our polyurethane competitors use a one size fits all approach, or they don’t even design and manufacture their own polyurethane, they’re buying it on the open market and reselling it. So we really think that sets us apart.

Jamie Irvine:

It always is amazing how a company gets started. That kind of becomes part of the DNA of the company. And it sounds like that engineering perspective was from day one. And so of course, that’s going to infiltrate the way that you manufacture all your products. Speaking of different products, do you manufacture things other than just bushings?

Skip Steffen:

Yes, we have a full line of suspension components, which include load cushions, etc. and bushings and some hardware parts. We have a complete line of torque rods. We have a complete line of around the cab and under-hood parts. So think engine mounts, transmission mounts, radiator mounts, hood pins, hood rollers, hood latches, things of that nature.

We have trailer suspension parts, and also trailer dock bumpers on the back of the trailers. We make a dock bumper that we dominate the OE production today because we make a dock bumper that lasts three to four times longer than a rubber bumper. We also make steering kingpins, our steer king line.

Jamie Irvine:

Thank you for giving me that overview. When you said torque rods. I remember seeing on your website that you’ve got a tool available to help customers identify torque rods. How does that work?

Skip Steffen:

Yeah, really good question. There are hundreds of torque rods because torque rods, every 16th of an inch of length difference, you have a new torque rod part number. Again with a rubber torque rod, your pins are bonded.

So they may be the same torque rod, the same length, they just have different bonding, different positions. So that creates a new torque rod number. So we know that it’s difficult for fleets or the aftermarket distributors to identify those guys, especially without a VIN number.

So we created a tool called the ATRO torque rod finder. So on our website with a tape measure in two clicks of your computer mouse, you’re going to identify any torque rod out there without a VIN number, without any application information. So it’s a heck of a tool.

And by the way, the torque rod market, because of the lighter suspensions today, the torque rod market is growing according to the McKay folks about 4% a year. So it’s a larger market for distributors and it’s a larger pain for the fleets. So we want to make it as easy as possible to identify the right torque rod and get it on there quickly.

Jamie Irvine:

That ease of use is so important. And what I’m finding is when I was selling parts and also just in the time I’ve been running The Heavy-Duty Parts Report, we’ve seen more and more experienced people retiring and leaving the industry. And so there’s this gap of knowledge, and there’s also people that are really overworked now because they’re trying to pick up the slack for some really knowledgeable people who perhaps have retired.

So there’s not a lot of time. And so what I’ve found is a lot of repair shops and fleets who do their own repairs, they’re trying to identify parts themselves to just try to speed up the parts acquisition process. So having a tool like that, it’s not just for the parts person it’s also for the technician.

Skip Steffen:

Right. Absolutely. And with the situation on truck procurement today, there’s more and more fleets with mixed fleets, buying used vehicles, et cetera. So it becomes more critical.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, if you’d like to leave our audience with just one thing, what’s that one thing you want people to remember?

Skip Steffen:

I’d like to say that at ATRO, we are truck people. So we’re heavy-duty truck people, and that’s all we do. We live and breathe truck parts. And our ultimate goal every day, every week, is to create parts that lasts longer because in the end of the day, the whole entire industry is focused on one thing, making that fleet’s truck go down the road at the lowest possible cost. If we can make a part that lasts longer, it reduces costs for the fleet and we all win.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. My name is Jamie Irvine, and we’ve been speaking with Skip Steffen, former VP of aftermarket sales, and now a sales advisor at ATRO Engineered Systems. To learn more about ATRO, visit atrobushing.com, links are in the show notes. Skip, thank you so much for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I really appreciate it.

Skip Steffen:

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to talk. I appreciate it.

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