Podcast Interviews

Axle Repair is a Big Opportunity for Fleets and Repair Shops

Learn about United Axle’s system they’ve created for axle repair, which saves fleets money and is a big opportunity for repair shops.

Episode 114: When an axle is damaged there are two options; replace the entire axle which is expensive and creates downtime for the vehicle or repair it. Repairing axles presents a big opportunity for fleets to save money and repair shops to offer a profitable service.

My guest today is Todd Carroll, the President at United Axle, and he has pioneered the spindle replacement system we are going to talk about in this episode. Todd is a returning guest; you can hear the origin story of United Axle by listening to episode 57.

Axle Repair by United Axle

To learn more, visit UnitedAxle.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 the heavy-duty parts you buy and sell and keep you informed about what’s happening in the industry

Jamie Irvine:

Lately it feels like everything about a commercial truck is all about the electrification of that truck and axles are included in the long list of things that we’re hearing constant news updates about how this truck manufacturer is adding this electric component, or this truck manufacturer is adding that.

And it just seems to me that although there is so much change, there are still aspects of the commercial truck that are going to be consistent moving forward. And when you think about axles and the electrification of axles, one question that comes to mind is what will happen when an axle is damaged? I know in the area that I worked in as a sales account manager, there were many, many people who had that question especially if they were going to take that truck off-road.

And so when you think about an electric axle and you think about the repair procedures, I wanted to bring back a guest to the show to talk about a specific aspect of the axle, and to talk about how we’re going to address that issue as this technology around axles continues to change.

So my guest today is a returning guest, Todd Carroll president at United Axle. Todd was on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report back in Episode 57. If you want to hear the origin story of United Axle and how they got the company going and what they’re all focused on that episode is a great overview of who United Axle is. So I’d like to bring Todd into the conversation today. Todd, welcome back to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So happy to have you back.

Todd Carroll:

Indeed. Thank you for having me.

Jamie Irvine:

So we’ve got a big subject to talk about today. You know the theme of today’s episode is threaded spindles now on new axles. In my intro, I talked about the electrification of axles. Things are changing since the last time I spoke to you. When it comes to this especially with axles and the electrification of axles, although that’s changing, what really hasn’t changed. Can you explain to that to us first?

Todd Carroll:

Well, first of all, for years the housing hasn’t changed for 40, 50 years. The spindle ends were the same, same bearings, wheel seals, that kind of thing. One of the nice things about what we’ve been doing for the past 50, 60 years, there’s a lot of parts floating around.

So if something was to break down, you can go find those parts and those dealers have some of those in stock as well. So we’re kind of coming into a new era to where it was electrification to where something was to go down not necessarily those parts are going to be out there. And of course that’s where we come in with a serviceable spindle.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s a good point though. Because of the consistency of so many decades, I hadn’t really thought about that. That with an axle, you didn’t always have to replace it new. You could find replacement parts, you could make it work. And now with this new technology that’s just not going to be the case going forward. So that actually is a pretty big change.

Todd Carroll:

It’s huge. I mean, even today we have brand new trucks that aren’t six months on the road running and you know, we’ve had them with spindles down and they’ve gone back to their dealer and they don’t even have a part number issued for the rear end housing. I mean, we were replacing the spindles on brand new trucks just because a wheel seal has gone down and sadly to say, maybe the technician didn’t check the oil or didn’t put a hubble in it as simple as it may sound, maybe a bearing failure. So it is quite vital to that truck line.

Jamie Irvine:

So for those who are learning about United Axle for the first time, maybe they haven’t had a chance yet to go back and listen to episode 57. Can you just explain when you talk about repairing a spindle, what’s the process that United Axle has developed for solving that problem when an axle has that damage?

Todd Carroll:

So what we’ve done, first of all, we own several patent rights. One of those patent rights with the OEM, it can be, the threads can be installed at the time of manufacturing. If we have to go back and put a spindle on an existing housing, then we’ll turn down a threaded piece and integrate those threads inside that axle tube that allows us to put a new spindle on straight, we can torque it down and then we can come back and we can weld that up.

But the nice thing is years down the road, if that ever has a problem with that spindle, you can cut that weld and take that spindle right back off and put another one right back on. And therefore, you know, the downtime is so much, I mean, quite honestly, you’re only looking at that in an hours time, if it’s already been done once.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s amazing. And when we talked originally and the first time you were on the show, we kind of really focused on the repairing of an axle that needs that spindle repair for the first time. And I remember asking you and saying, why has this not been part of the OEM? And you kind of said, well we’re working on it. You’ve got some news about that because you just kind of alluded to it.

Todd Carroll:

Well, I mean, we have talked to some OEMs, we were kind of gearing up getting towards that direction. And sadly to say COVID just kind of snuck in there and kind of bit us, little bit slowed us down.

Those talks are coming back around and we are open for those conversations for other OEMs. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily in the semi line. It can be in some of the smaller axle lines, you know, you’re 16, 12, 10,000 pound axles and we’re already making those for those axles. So we’ve got quite a bit going on and just trying to find out what the market needs.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s fantastic. We’re just going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

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So before the break we were, we were talking about the progress that has been made with the spindle replacement technology that United Axle has been at the forefront of bringing to the trucking industry. We were talking about some of the new challenges that come with the electrification of axles, and yet that issue with the spindle remains the same.

Todd, you’ve got a great system for repairing axles, and we’ve talked about how the process already works, but what is the real cost benefit or economic impact that this repair has on someone who has had this issue with the spindle, where it is damaged, if you can’t fix a spindle, the whole axle has to be replaced. So can you just kind of talk through like how, what kind of an economic impact your service actually provide your customer?

Todd Carroll:

So as far as an economic impact, anywhere from we’ve had trucks broke down with seafood in them, or lettuce, cabbage, whatever that precious commodity is. And then it takes, if you have to order an axle in, first of all, you can’t get your hands on most of them right now for quite some time, some of the major manufacturers are quite behind.

So if you can get one change and up and going in the same day, if not next morning, that’s really where we shine. But as far as the cost, I mean, you’re looking at bills, mechanics, trying to figure out where all this stuff’s going to come from.

Even if you can get your hands on it. We know some trailers, some trucking companies where they just park a trailer, have another trailer come in, unload it, leave that trailer there and then come back and get it, you know, weeks later after it’s been repaired by some manufacturer. So, I mean, it is very costly.

Jamie Irvine:

So it’s not just the parts, like you said, it’s all of those additional costs, the shipping, the downtime. I mean, that’s where the, the number starts to become astronomical.

Todd Carroll:

Yes. And quite often when we do shows and we talked to so many people around the country, people don’t realize how many are breaking down, there’s over a trillion spindles on the road between tractor and trailer, just in the class seven and eight.

So you’re talking about a very large, a mountain. And then you drop down into the smaller trailers and even in the smaller trucks, you’re getting into an enormous number of spindles that are breaking down, leaving people. And the thing of it is a lot of these housings are getting bought up and people can’t find them. So that’s another big issue is what’s taken place.

Jamie Irvine:

So you not only have developed this system for yourself to take it to the market, but you also are developing this system in such a way that it can be taught to other people. Who is perfect to take what you do and add it on to what they’re already doing?

Todd Carroll:

Our perfect franchise or someone looking to get into this, shops, existing shops, trailer shops are great candidates for what we’re doing.

As far as individuals, as far as teaching the technicians, not only the technicians do really well, but you can pull from other markets and being that we have problems in the oil and natural gas area there’s a lot of fabrication guys out there that’s not used to making decent money and working in a clean environment.

So they’re really excited when you present this out there for them, you know, to possibly have a different career than where they’ve been. But we’ve been very excited, there’s been a lot of growth with United Axle. We’re up to 22 franchises in the past two and a half years. We’ve got some large companies talking to us right now. So we’re excited.

Jamie Irvine:

It makes a lot of sense to me. If you’re already in the repair business, this is just such a common sense add on. I mean, definitely if you’re in mobile repair and then for individuals, like you said, we have such a need in this industry to bring in good qualified people.

So if you’re in another industry like a cousin industry, like you said, oil, natural gas or automotive, it could be a wonderful opportunity to find something that you know is niche enough that there must be so much demand that once you get set up and you get trained, it must be very easy to have a truck booked out very quickly.

Todd Carroll:

We do have some of our franchises since I’ve started, they’ve put on extra trucks, they’ve sent other technicians. Just know we have a training facility, we train here. And another thing to add to the spindle, we do break spiders. So, I mean, that’s another key component to that wheel end assembly. It’s a real good marketable item because you can’t get those on the market.

Jamie Irvine:

Seems to me that it’s just getting the word out. If you went into an area where there wasn’t someone offering this service and you got the word out, the work’s going to come.

Todd Carroll:

And here’s another thing about that. Like to kind of elaborate. There’s a couple of small individual shops out there that are cutting the spindles off in the middle, between the bearing journals and stub and then back on and welding them together.

That’s a no-no, it should not happen. It’s dangerous. You’re going to get somebody hurt. I’m all for doing the spindle repair, but it needs to be done correctly and safely with the right materials properly done. And that’s one of the things that we train and tried to focus on is our safety side of things.

Jamie Irvine:

And you’ve taken so many years to develop the system to do this the right way. Like you say, the right materials, the right techniques do it so that it is as good or better than when it was OE and brand new and people’s lives are at risk. So that is absolutely essential.

Todd Carroll:

Yes it is. And then, you know, to add to that, all of our spindles are we have serial numbers on them, so therefore we can track them. We know what a franchise we’re selling them to. We know what trailer they’re running on around the country.

And if there’s ever a problem, we know where to go back to. It’s not, you know, wondering, you know, where that might’ve taken place or if there’s a problem with it, we can identify. So we like to know our business.

Jamie Irvine:

Well that is good. So if we’ve peaked someone’s interest, who’s listening right now and says, you know, maybe this is for me, walk us through what the process would be to contact you all the way through to becoming a franchisee.

Todd Carroll:

If it’s something you would like to do, you’re welcome to give us a call. We will sit down, we will talk about the location or area, make sure it’s available.

And there’s a lot of good locations out there right now and then we can go through that process. And as far as cost, it will determine on how big of an area and what you’re trying to get set up. It’s not as expensive as one thinks.

So it has a lot to do what market you’re in around the country. So it’s just the first thing is to get a hold of us and start those conversations. But we do like to partner up with businesses that are already up and moving and have that clientele and service trucks.

The biggest majority of the franchises, we have already have the majority of the tools. So it’s not as expensive to get into as one might think.

Jamie Irvine:

Right, if it’s an add on service, then you’ve already got that base. Otherwise, if you’re starting from scratch and you’ve got all of the equipment costs. So we’ll make sure there’s links in the show notes so people can get to your website and can contact you directly on that.

So once you’ve made a deal, the person has paid their franchise fee. They now have their territory. What’s the training process, like walk me through what happens next and how that works so that people get a real understanding of what they’re in for.

Todd Carroll:

So what we’ve done from the timeframe, from the time that you want to buy a franchise to when you’re going to actually become a franchisee, we have a two week waiting period.

Once we get past that waiting period, we can schedule a class immediately. Class is three full days, eight to five. And it’s just a matter of getting in here. We have classroom where we sit down in front of the chalkboard and the videos and go over our process in which it’s done. And then we spend the rest of the time in the actual shop, hands-on doing it.

Jamie Irvine:

So they have to travel to your location. And where is that?

Todd Carroll:

We’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re just going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were talking to Todd all about their system, about becoming a franchisee who it’s a great opportunity for what the steps are to become one.

And there’s still many, many great opportunities for someone who is interested. So by all means, if you are, we’ll include links in the show notes and you can reach out to them. After listening to the show, Todd, you’re not going to just stop innovating with the spindles and the replacements and all of that work. You also have some other R and D projects in the works. Can you tell us about any of the things you’ve got going on?

Todd Carroll:

One of the items is called what we call The Grunt. It is an item that we’re revealing here at the next show down in Nashville, the first, second and third. So what that is, it’s called the grunt. The Grunt is a trailer lift system. It’ll pick 60,000 pounds up in a minute and eight seconds.

So it’s just a matter of pushing the button to make it go up or down. And we’ve had a lot of interest in it, just from people seeing it and just kind of knowing what we have, but we have not showed it on the market. So we’re really excited about that. And it’s going to be a big hit. It’s a small item. It installs very quickly and we’re just excited to be able to come up with it.

Jamie Irvine:

Sounds pretty good. Now you said the first, second, third. So is that September first, second, third? And which show are you debuting it at?

Todd Carroll:

North American Trailer Dealers Association.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. And that’s in Nashville, Tennessee you said. Fantastic. Well, that’s going to be exciting to debut. Do you have a whole demonstration that you’re going to do and do a big launch?

Todd Carroll:

We do have it set up on a set of Dolly jacks to where you can actually see at work as if it was on the trailer itself. So once again, we’re just excited. We’ll also be at the TMC show up in Ohio.

So we’re really looking forward to getting in front of the public and the, the other commercial industry out there. We’ve had the same problem as most everybody else. COVID has shut down a lot of the shows, we’re excited to be able to get up there and demonstrate.

Jamie Irvine:

Last week we had Robert Braswell from TMC on and he was talking all about the fall meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, September 12th through 16th, I think it is. So I’m really hoping that I can be there as well.

I’m waiting for the announcement from the U S government to open the border. Hopefully that will happen on August 21st. And I’ll be able to book by flight and come down. I’ve got my hotel booked, I’ve got my registration paid for. I’ve just waiting for COVID to stop causing us so much trouble.

Walk me through with The Grunt System. What is it going to help people who are doing repairs avoid? Like what problem were you really trying to solve?

Todd Carroll:

The biggest problem we’re having, seeing what’s going on, there’s been several reports with OSHA, you know, people having shoulder injury, lower back. And if you’re up north working in the icy snowy conditions, slip and falls, it’s like 26% is related to actually operating the jack on the trailer.

So we’re trying to make that little easier on the companies themselves. I mean, the risk hazard working the jack is this much higher than what one would think. And I think we have a solution to that.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s exciting. So where does all of the inspiration come from for coming up with these solutions? I mean, you seem to be an inventor. You’re trying to solve problems. Where does this all come from?

Todd Carroll:

I don’t do good being bored. You give me a shop with a bunch of tools and it just kind of starts from there. You never know where an idea goes. So, I mean, that’s, you know, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of engineering in my family, so I’m very fortunate and blessed to have that background. So it just, we’ve been very fortunate.

Jamie Irvine:

You seem to be focused on solving real problems and there are so many problems in the industry. So my hat’s off to you, I think you’ve done such a fantastic job.

Todd Carroll:

We have not realized how bad this industry was as far as on the wheel end, there’s not a lot of certification going on. There’s not a lot of, and I’m not big on regulation, but we’re playing with wheel ends and we’re talking about stuff that can come apart, hurt people, tear up property.

And it goes on more than what you hear on the news. Because when a tire comes off on a semi and hurt somebody, they say it’s a rare occurrence. And I severely disagree because I see this many times a day throughout all of our franchises.

It’s not a rare occurrence. And if anybody can out there hear me, they need to make it known and let people know when they’re doing wheel ends, you know, it’s a little bit more serious than putting a hub on and tightening a nut.

So many people don’t know how to preload a bearing properly. And I’m all for the smaller guys, the industry, you know everybody’s got to feed their families and, you know, they’re willing to work for their money, but let’s be safe and do it to a certain standard.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And we’ve been speaking with Todd Carroll, president at United Axle. To learn more, especially if you want to become a franchisee, go to Unitedaxle.com, links are in the show notes. Todd, thanks for coming back on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. It was so nice to see you again.

Todd Carroll:

Indeed. Thank you for having us.

Jamie Irvine:

Thank you so much for tuning into this week’s episode of the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And I just like to remind everyone to focus on cost per mile and let’s keep those trucks and trailers rolling.

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