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ELVIS Has Entered the Building

Service trucks have been a major factor in the rental industry for years. Few companies serving the contractor market can effectively function without having their mechanics stock trucks with tools of the trade to do on-jobsite repairs and light servicing.

However, Riverside, Calif.-based SMA Equipment has developed a new service truck. In a design partnership with Irvine, Calif.-based Caylin Environmental, SMA has taken the concept to a considerably higher, faster and more efficient level.

Most service trucks are small vehicles that, sometimes, include a few tanks of fluids and are generally equipped with a range of tools and hoses enabling mechanics to change oil and do simple repairs on the jobsite. Service personnel fit in as many tools as they can in the allotted space.

The SMA and Caylin Environmental design teams took a more scientific approach. "We identified all the work processes and work flows a service person would need, and then we built a vehicle around [those needs] rather than the other way around," says SMA vice president Bud Sims.

SMA's newly developed motor service vehicles, or MSVs as its staff calls them, can drain and re-fill every fluid on any piece of equipment in an environmentally controlled manner. With all fluids measured by a computerized system - nicknamed ELVIS for Eco Lube Vac Injection System - that records the amounts of fluid used on each piece of equipment, the service person isn't required to keep any written record because ELVIS records it all.

Environmental safety is the key to the vehicle. Its system is a closed loop so that no oil is exposed to the atmosphere, ground, surrounding work area or the technician performing the service. The unit's large capacity enables it to load and unload large quantities, holding up to 350 gallons in its fresh oil tanks and up to 375 gallons in its waste tanks.

Powered by a self-contained genset, the operator doesn't need to run the engine while the vehicle works. The operator arrives on the jobsite, turns on the unit's 12-volt spotter lights and turns on the control panel. He then selects the type of machine to be serviced and enters a password. The unit has level-sensing gauges in the tanks that can automatically determine the amount of fluid needed. The computer is programmed to know what type of oil - or, for that matter, any other type of fluid or solvent - that particular piece of machinery uses and exactly how much. The computer knows what type of filter is required and will notify the technician on a LCD display. ELVIS programs the vehicle to change the filter automatically.

"In essence, what we've done here is free the operator from having to get under the truck or excavator, take the pan plug out and get it all over himself," says Sims. "The first service involves installing the correct disconnect. Once that's done, the service operator will never get his hands dirty. The unit connects on to the required fluid container, extracts and re-fills. If it requires top-off, ELVIS will say it needs an extra quart, put it in and then disconnect. The filter has a place to properly drain; environmentally, we're draining the filters correctly, storing them in tanks and taking them back to crush later at our facility. And while all this is done, nothing spills, everything is contained."

The unit, approved by California's Department of Transportation, has a triple-wall containment system in the middle of the vehicle, designed by an offroad vehicle body manufacturer. "This system gets you out of the problem of carrying around a lot of tanks that can burst," says Sims. "Even if these trucks were to roll over, the tanks would not be damaged. Nitrogen cylinders keep the tanks pressurized. The center part of the truck, the containment area,is completely sealed."

If a tank were to leak, a monitor would pick it up immediately, Sims says. "Most service trucks have tanks hanging around the outside of a vehicle, or even stuck in the back of a van. But this is true containment."

Quickness is one of the vehicle's major attributes. An 11-gallon oil system can be changed in less than 10 minutes. On smaller machines, regular service, including changing of all fluids and filters, is designed to be performed in an hour; on larger pieces of equipment, such as excavators or crawler dozers, it might take two hours. "If we do a 2,000-hour service that requires a lot of adjustments, it would take a bit longer," says Sims. "But purely in-and-out fuel changing, oil and filter changing, we can do very fast. Our hope is to get [complete] service on a full-size excavator down to an hour or an hour-and-a-half rather than four or five hours like it takes now [with the old methods]. And that's one man safely doing it without spilling anything."

ELVIS also provides fleet management personnel with information, recording and downloading vehicle operating and diagnostic codes for future repairs.

The ability to work quietly is another advantage of the units, Sims says. With no pumps in the system, there's little noise. With jobsites often in proximity to housing developments, Environmental Protection Agency regulations dictate noise levels of 64 decibels or less at night, which, Sims says, the vehicle does not exceed, even with the ongoing running of the genset.

The vehicle is still a work in progress. Its designers are adding a pressurized grease system using bulk cylinders. The system will be able to apply the grease and pressurize it with nitrogen when finished. "There are no waste bags, no excess grease, no plates, no contamination," says Sims. "You never see the grease."

Other features include a 100-foot grease hose and 75-foot air hose, 50-foot top-off hoses for coolants and gear oils with digital meter guns, a vehicle drain plug adapter, an on-board industrial two-stage air compressor and a diesel fuel tap for priming of filters. The unit is entirely contained within aluminum roll-up shutter doors.

The SMA staff believes the mobile service vehicles are a natural for the rental industry where service needs to be performed quickly on jobsites to avoid interrupting job operation. The SMA staff plans to initially use the units on its own fleet including equipment it re-rents to other companies. But as more units are manufactured - SMA has two in operation now and another six will be available this quarter - SMA expects to develop service and maintenance agreements with other companies, including rental firms, to perform service on other fleets. SMA just entered into a major deal to service equipment for 3-M Corp. and is holding ongoing discussions with a number of corporate clients, including American Airlines.

"Originally we perceived these trucks as for our internal use and for sister companies that are, like us, owned by American Equipment Co.," says Sims. "But there is a lot of interest from other companies."

In addition to the main 33,000-pound vehicles, Caylin is manufacturing two smaller versions - one that can fit into the back of a 1-ton pickup truck and another mid-size vehicle, weighing about 26,000 pounds.

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