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Learn about the trends we are seeing when it comes to fuel injection.

Episode 157: We are at HDAW, and there is a lot of discussion at the show about the future of the trucking industry. In this episode, we talk about the trends we are seeing when it comes to fuel injection, and how AMBAC International is responding to these trends.

Our guest today is Robert Isherwood, the CEO at AMBAC International. 

Robert is a returning guest; you can learn more about Robert and AMBAC in episode 46

Guest Website: AmbacInternational.com/aftermarket

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Disclaimer: This content and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy-Duty Parts Report may receive a small commission.

Sponsors of this Episode:

  1. Having issues with your commercial equipment? You need ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC). Check out TMC at tmc.trucking.org  
  2. Want to look up parts but don’t have a part number or the VIN? Download Diesel Parts for free on Desktop or on your Apple or Android device.
  3. Looking for high-quality fuel injection for heavy-duty applications? Visit AMBACInternational.com/Aftermarket

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You are 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.

Tyler Robertson:

We are at Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week here in Grapevine, Texas at the GayLord Texan Hotel and Resort, just a mammoth facility. We’re on the floor. Literally, I’m staring out a window right now and people are staring back at us wondering who are these guys talking and why are they here? But I am your host Tyler Robertson. Jamie Irvine, unfortunately is unable to attend the show. He is up in Canada, COVID restrictions, all the weirdness that goes on. But ironically, he booked a meeting for me to do this guest host with someone who lives in the same city as me back in South Carolina. So with that, Robert Isherwood, the CEO at Ambac International, and you may have recognized, Robert you’ve been on my podcast and you’ve been also on Episode 46 with Jamie as well. So, hey, welcome. Welcome back to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report and welcome to Grapevine, Texas.

Robert Isherwood:

Thank you very much. This is cool.

Tyler Robertson:

So how have you guys done the in-person events? Is this the first one or what?

Robert Isherwood:

This is the first time we’ve had the full crew here in the booth and everything else. And so far it’s been great. You know, I like the virtual events like that we do with you guys and others, but there’s something about being here, you know.

Tyler Robertson:

I like them and I think it’ll be a thing going forward too, where it’s we do a little virtual, little in person and we mix it up. And personally, I am just like done with Zoom at this point, and it’s great to see people face to face, so pleasure and thankful that you’re here and everything. So let’s just start with this, we’re here at HDAW Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week. There’s a lot of kind of co-events going on. And there’s a lot of discussions about the future of the trucking industry. We got electrification. I’m Diesel Laptops. You guys make diesel injectors. Yeah. We got robots driving trucks, some point in the future. Technology’s changing in a lot of ways. What kind of trends are you guys seeing from your side of the equation?

Robert Isherwood:

Oh, a lot, actually, you know, you can’t really even watch the news or read the paper without seeing supply chain issues. And those are a lot of times they’re talking about trucking when they’re talking about supply chain and the ports and all that kind of stuff. And then COVID-related issues and people-related issues. So those are the two big macro trends that we see a lot. And it’s really impacting us in fuel injection in particular. There’s another trend going on and that is, it’s getting more and more complex to understand what used to be a relatively simple part. You know, it goes bad. You put a new one in the engine. Now, it’s not like that at all. There’s a lot more kind of technical development happening.

Tyler Robertson:

And I’ve had the pleasure of getting a tour of your place. I’ve seen you guys literally on one end of the factory, take a block of aluminum and on the other end comes out a fuel pump, right? It’s really quite amazing, you know, what’s going on there. And as I’ve been talking to other people and obviously supply chain keeps coming up with everyone too and I was joking, I’m like, you know the guy nobody knew about was the guy that was the procurement and purchasing department. Like nobody cared about that guy or gal. No one knew what they really did. Things just showed up. I gotta imagine. Now it’s a pretty popular person inside a manufacturing company.

Robert Isherwood:

Oh yeah. And it’s a really, it’s a strategic resource, I think, but for us, you know, we’re a U.S. manufacturer. So like, and you’ve been to the plant. So steel comes in on one end and fuel injectors go out the other end. So a lot of the global supply chain issues that we’ve been seeing, industrywide, haven’t really impacted us as much, which is really pretty cool.

Tyler Robertson:

So you are very fortunate. I mean, I know my company, right. And we import product from three countries and they were the first three hardest hit by COVID. Yeah. It was China, Italy and Spain. Like it was like, boom, boom, boom. And we’re like, man, I really wish we made stuff here. And some of what we make is like cables and we wanted to make ’em here. We couldn’t find anybody. Well, we get the components from China. Like well what are we fixing here then? Right.

Robert Isherwood:

We’re dead in the water.

Tyler Robertson:

It’s really great to hear that. I another trend is electrification. I get asked this all the time on Diesel Laptops. You sell diesel…

Robert Isherwood:

Diesel fuel injectors.

Tyler Robertson:

Right. So does that start coming into your company’s thought process at all of, man electrification? How are we going to deal with this?

Robert Isherwood:

Oh yeah, sure. And my company’s been around for over 110 years. We currently manufacture a lot of diesel fuel injection systems. We manufacture other things as well, but we started in heavy-duty engine components with magnitos and other products. And that’s the key thing for us. We love fuel injection, but we are heavy-duty people. I was a truck driver once. So we know that there is no future where there will not be farmers that need to bring in crops. There will not be farmers that need to distribute their crops to the, to the end user consumer. So that’s our market. If it’s fuel, great. If it’s hydraulics, great. If it’s electric, even better. And I think electrification brings a huge advantage to our industry because it’s a different powers train that applies very, very well to a different problem. Yeah. So it’s good for everybody.

Tyler Robertson:

You know, we keep saying the same thing too. Because people are like, man, aren’t you worried? I’m like, Hey, here’s the thing. I was late to the diesel diagnostic game. Like people literally had a decade, two decade head start on me. Sure. Yeah. And I think I cut in pretty quick. And guess what? We all got equalized. That’s right. We’re all at day one. So now it’s game, right? Like it’s a new playing field. The board got reset. Now we get to see what happens here. And I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of companies are looking at like, man, there’s opportunity here. There’s change, but there’s also opportunity. So, you know, there’s a lot of manufacturers here.

 A lot of people here selling parts and I said this on other podcast, I’ve been shocked how many times as we’re trying to set up our e-commerce and things we’re doing, and we talk to people and we’re like, Hey, show us your line card and they’re like, here it is. And we’re like, where’s your engine parts. Yeah. They’re like, well, we don’t do those. Don’t do that? Wait, how are you aftermarket? And you want to compete against the dealers, but you don’t do engine parts? So explain to me how you’re gonna do that. Like, you know, so you know, why right now, is it a good time if someone’s listened to this, that’s not into our industry and selling fuel injection components. Why would they get into it?

Robert Isherwood:

Why would you start selling fuel injection components? Because when you have a customer walk in the door to a parts counter or something like that, they have a problem, you need to have an answer or they’re going to someplace else. And so part of that portfolio of answers that you need to have is fuel injection. So it’s really about protecting your customer relationship and doing the best thing for your customer. Now it’s hard to get into fuel injection. And that’s what a lot of people look at, but they say, you know, heck, there’s so many things I gotta know a lot about all lot of stuff in order to do that. And there’s hundreds of SKUs I gotta figure out how to stock and all that kind of stuff. So it’s not easy, but we’re seeing, you know, for one of our major customers, they had a lift of about $10,000 off fuel injection sales on their parts counters, per counter. Yeah. Not a bad deal.

Tyler Robertson:

It’s not a bad deal. So your particular products, like how wide of a catalog or how deep is it? Do you guys have, I mean, no one’s ever got a hundred percent coverage on everything. But where maybe you guys do, I don’t know. I’m curious to know like how much coverage can you give people if they work with Ambac?

Robert Isherwood:

To the best of my knowledge, we have the broadest coverage of anyone in the business. And that is really something that we’ve spent the past years developing. So we have a phenomenal catalog, a deep, deep amount of technical knowledge, ACEs and PIES information, which is something that I know that people who listen to your podcasts have been educated about. So that is really a lot of the magic of why you would talk to Ambac. It’s in a sense a one-stop shop. And so we can cover anything that moves down the road, basically. And most everything that moves over the ground.

Tyler Robertson:

I’m hearing you guys got wide coverage. Well, I’ve been to your place. I’ve physically seen them made at your location. I know the quality. And I know I’ve met so many people at your company on that tour and I got to hear them talk and do different things in the meetings. They are passionate people at your company about this. And again, American-made you don’t find a lot of that anymore. And that is a really big deal that people really need to look at because when things like this happen in the global supply chain. Really handy. When someone in your backyard can still manufacture and get your truck going.

Robert Isherwood:

We can actually make stuff and the team, you know, we’re in Maine, the USA, but we’re also employee owned. So, we’re employee -owned and open-book managed using a system called the great game of business. What that means is when you call up Heather, who’s in customer service, or you talk to Dee who’s in technical support, you’re talking to the guy who owns the company. Yeah. That’s an important difference because they will do what they have to do to make sure you get back on the road and that’s what they want.

Tyler Robertson:

Want. I’m gonna say this. This is for the audience. Listen, I literally did not know Rob. He’s like, Hey, come over to our place, come to this huddle meeting. I’m like, okay. And I show up and I walk in and they got a big board and it’s got, it looked to me on the board like an income statement. And literally it was, and employees were calling out sales numbers and cost numbers and all these things. I’m like, they just, literally, I don’t even know this guy or this company. And they just showed me what they made this week. Like I can do math here pretty quick. And it was a really cool thing. It’s a really cool process you have. But I think that goes right into your employees. They’re part of it. Like everyone says employees are part of our company and in your case you actually work for them.

Robert Isherwood:

I do. Yeah. So I’m the CEO, but I was elected, right.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah. So we’re gonna take a quick little commercial break here from one of our sponsors. So with that, we’ll be back in one second.

Jamie Irvine:

Having issues with your commercial equipment, you need ATAs Technology and Maintenance Council also known as TMC. TMC develops recommended practices, addressing the most pressing technology and maintenance issues affecting commercial vehicle fleets. You can join TMC for just pennies a day. And when you do, you’ll get access to thousands of pages of technical information and you can attend events like the upcoming 2022 Annual Meeting and Exhibition, March 7th through 10th in Orlando, Florida. For more information, check out TMC at TMCtrucking.org. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high-quality fuel injections for heavy-duty applications. Having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket.

Tyler Robertson:

So before the break, we were talking about trends, talking about your company, all these things going on. So here’s my next question for you. What are some of the main issues, parts we sellers face and how does that impact their ability to serve customers who own commercial trucks?

Robert Isherwood:

Oh yeah. That’s a huge one. And actually you’ve seen this and you know this better than I do finding the right part. Yeah. So something broke, throw a code. I can figure out what the code is now what? I gotta find that part. And I gotta find the right cross references. I gotta find it. You know, who’s got inventory and all that.

Tyler Robertson:

You gotta call who has it, when can I get it? What’s the price? Oh yeah. Like it’s a nightmare.

Robert Isherwood:

It’s unbelievable. And when you think about it, you know, a commercial truck sitting on the side of the road waiting for a part is costing, I’ll make up a number that’s reasonable, $2 a minute.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah.

Robert Isherwood:

And the parts guy’s making phone calls.

Tyler Robertson:

What year are we in?

Robert Isherwood:

Yeah.

Tyler Robertson:

I feel like we need like a telegram over there or something or the carrier pigeon, right? Like it’s absolutely insane that the amount of effort goes into a parts guy to go find one part. Here’s the cruddy thing that could be a $10 part. They’re gonna mark up and make three or five bucks. Sure. Or it could be a thousand dollars part that they’re gonna mark up. They lose money a lot of time just sourcing parts, trying to get ’em in there. And then if someone’s actually gotta deliver ’em there or go pick ’em up. Like it’s not a great process. And it’s amazing to me that that process has been really unaffected by the internet. Like it blows my mind when I can order anything. I can order food and have it show at my house in 30 minutes, I can click a button and have Amazon drop a package off in two hours. And we’re still using the phones or we’re having to drive somewhere and throw a part on the counter to figure it out.

Robert Isherwood:

Yeah. It drives me crazy when I hear people, like I got price and availability call. First of all, you should know the price. You should know the availability and you should know the inventory level before the part fails.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah. And I’ve said this too, I worked at an OEM dealer, we used one piece of software to diagnose the truck, another piece of software to repair it. Another piece of software to find out the part number and another piece of software to order it, like, what are we doing? Like why do we do it? And they’re all complaining about man, we got too much work in the shop. We can’t get it all through or we’re over. Like yeah. Because we made the most convoluted process possible to do this thing. It’s okay. There’s a lot of companies trying to fix it. And I know part of the equation is companies like you trying to get the data, right. So that it can go quick. It can get through that.

Robert Isherwood:

Yeah. And we spent, three, four years now working just on making sure the data is right, because that, it really becomes the backbone or the coin of the realm in this industry. Right. I think we’re in a software world at this point. We just need to realize that.

Tyler Robertson:

We’re all in the software technology business, whether we know it or not. And it’s definitely impacting all of our businesses and in a lot of cases, a negative way when the technology is not where it should be. And I can say that with a straight face in our industry of parts and procurement and looking at parts and already, it’s not where it should be. It is not. And it is literally hurting us hard and it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.

Robert Isherwood:

So we’re in a national crisis over supply chain issues. Well, what if we can make our supply chain 1% more efficient?

Tyler Robertson:

Yep. I talk about that all the time. Like we don’t need, we don’t need big changes. We need 1% changes. Yeah. And we’ll get there eventually. So another question for you here. So as I understand, what are the three pillars of aftermarket support you provide your distributors?

Robert Isherwood:

So we provide inventory support as we’ve talked about, you know, that supply chain is a big deal inventory. Who’s got the part. And so we have our very robust inventory and we’re very cautious and conscious, I should say about analyzing our inventory to make sure we have the right levels. So that’s a big deal and then training. So we provide training to our distributors and to our end use customer about the product, the product is complex and it’s becoming more complex. And so you really need a partner that can provide all of that background bench-step information. And then we have support programs. For example, we have a very, very simple core management program, you know, and remanufacturing core is the key.

Tyler Robertson:

You gotta have the core back.

Robert Isherwood:

Gotta have the core back. Yeah. But for the parts guys they don’t need another complicated core management program. They need something simple. And so we have a very, very simple process and other support kinds of processes is really what we’re trying to do is just get the part to the guy that’s got a broken truck as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah. So are you guys looking for more distribution and distributors at this point? Or are you guys okay with what you have or where are you guys on that front?

Robert Isherwood:

So the industry’s changing and once again, and so the distribution model, I think that is evolving very rapidly. And so we’re always interested in talking with the forward thinking distributors who are really, proactive and getting ahead of the industry changes. We’d love to have a conversation.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah, no, that’s great. So let me ask you another question here. What happens when you can’t find the right part for a vehicle owner or a fleet?

Robert Isherwood:

Yeah. Nothing good. And that’s really the crux of the matter you got a truck down, you know, the drivers and I’ve been there in a hotel for two or three weeks. Truck’s full of stuff, that’s gotta get somewhere. It’s not happening. I mean, it gets really, really bad, really fast, very expensive.

Tyler Robertson:

So say someone’s listening to this, like, man, you know what I would love to sell Ambac injectors and their componentry that they have. How big of a learning curve is it for them? If they know nothing about injectors? I mean I really know nothing about it. I worked at OEM dealer. I just knew to here’s the VIN and engine serial number. I could look it up. Oh, that’s my part. I know it’s different in the aftermarket world. How steep of a learning curve is this for these guys to take on a new product like you guys sell?

Robert Isherwood:

Not, it’s not as hard as it sounds. And you go to Ambacinternational.com/aftermarket, and you can see some of our initial training videos and stuff like that. So you can get some background information before you even call, get some kind of context and understanding and then give us a call and we’ll do a couple of trainings and we’ll talk through some things, talk about your customer needs and build a program around your solution. So you can get there actually very, very fast.

Tyler Robertson:

Well, like I said earlier, I’ve been to your place. I’ve met you plenty of times, met your employees, class operation that you have going on there. You guys really know what you’re doing and I know you’re like us, you just want to help people get their trucks back on the road quick as possible. Right. I mean, that’s where we’re all trying to do. Because you know what, I don’t wanna hear my wife complain how we can’t get certain groceries or certain things at the table. Right. And I’m sure you hear it too from people, you know.

Robert Isherwood:

All the time. And it just frustrates me and I have a lot of sympathy for the guy that’s sitting on the side of the road, because I’ve done that.

Tyler Robertson:

You know, it’s funny. So for people listening, you know, I didn’t know you were a truck driver before, so like that, that a thousand questions here, but that’s interesting. And we actually have the camera crew. That’s helping us here at HDAW yeah. Tex isn’t in here right now. I’ve had him on my podcast. He does the camera stuff and videos. But he was a truck driver as well. So it’s actually amazing how many people are in our industry, started somewhere in our industry, have kind of gone up through it. And I think that’s a real advantage though, because you know what they go through.

Robert Isherwood:

Exactly. Right. And your experience on the parts counter. So you know exactly the problem because you lived that problem.

Tyler Robertson:

I got paid for 10 years to learn all the problems in the industry.

Robert Isherwood:

Like, what an education.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah. That’s like a reverse education. I was actually talking to one of my executives today. I’m like, you know what we should do. We should go find some repair shops around town and every new employee, I don’t care if they’re an accounting, sales, customer service and just ask, can we just make them a service record for two weeks? Just so they can experience what is it that goes on here? Because it’s really hard to bring someone in, outside our industry and be like, this is the problem. You try to tell them like, this is the problem. Like surely that’s not a problem. Like, dude, it is a problem.

Robert Isherwood:

Because they’ll tell you it’s hey, it’s 2022. What do you mean? You have to call for a price and availability. Yeah, yeah.

Tyler Robertson:

Yeah. What do you mean? They don’t answer the phone right away. I got a voicemail. Like welcome to our world. We got a lot of problems, but with problems come opportunities. Like you’re doing that over at Ambac. Exactly.

Robert Isherwood:

Yep.

Tyler Robertson:

So let’s just say this. If you’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report here, I’m your host, Tyler Robertson again, Jamie, we miss you. Hopefully we’ll see you here at the next one. I know he is doing some more live events going on. Robert, are you guys gonna be doing some other events this year in 2022? Or is this kind of the only one that’s on the books right now?

Robert Isherwood:

So we’ll be with you guys and at the virtual conference. And we’ll be at AAPEX and then throughout the year we do training and actually we need to talk about a training program. So you’ll see us around and if you ever want to keep up with us, you know, subscribe to our blog and you’ll get all the updates.

Tyler Robertson:

Well, and thank you for mentioning the virtual expo. So this year we’re excited. We took our virtual expo, another company in the space was doing one. We said, Hey, let’s do ’em together and do one really, really big one. So it’s exciting times, I think for everybody, the evolution of everything, can’t be happy with what you currently doing and you gotta be a little bit better, that 1% better. We’re trying to do the exact same thing. So you’ve been listening here. I’ve had Robert Isherwood with me, the CEO of Ambac International. To learn more about Ambac and their fuel injection products, visit Ambacinternational.com/aftermarket. Again, Robert, thank you for being on The Heavy- Duty Parts Report.

Robert Isherwood:

Thank you very much.

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