25 Feb 2024

Blood, sweat, but no tears

Manufacturing parts is one thing, but managing to make sure they work in the real-world conditions of a garage, when technicians need to deal with the vagaries of how the VMs actually put their cars together with little thought of them being taken apart for repairs years later? That’s something else.
With this in mind, Schaeffler routinely looks to work with garages, in order to get its kit into the hands of techs, and give them the chance to fit their parts onto cars in the real world, to see how easy it is, or otherwise. Aftermarket teamed up with Schaeffler’s FAG product specialists recently on just such an exercise. The venue was Oldfields Garage Services in Leominster, a business led by Tim Benson. The family business has been serving the area for the last three decades, and on its current site since 2010. According to Tim, they work closely with Schaeffler: “We’re only about 15 miles away from them. We probably see somebody from Schaeffler on the technical side every couple of months. We keep in regular contact to see if there’s anything that we’re doing in the workshop that can help them with the process. It’s a mutually beneficial way of doing things, as we can give them a ‘first-hand at-the-coalface’ experience and knowledge from our point of view. Conversely, we get to learn about new technologies and best practice in the way of doing things.”

Schaeffler’s FAG brand, known for its OE wheel bearing range, entered the steering and suspension market around 18 months ago, and the company is keen for garages to see its kit up close, and to find out how they work with it. Along with the necessary parts for the cars chosen for the day, a 2013 Volkswagen Polo and a 2014 Citroen Berlingo van, FAG Product Manager Mike Tomkins was on hand, along with other team members.
Two techs from Oldfields, Sam and Chris were to perform the business end of the fittings, with the former handling the Polo and the latter taking on the van. When it came to the VW, this was going to be the first time the control arm had been replaced, so it took some effort, some elbow grease, and a heat inductor to begin to remove the parts. It was during this time that Sam encountered a small hinderance.
Mike Tomkins commented: “We’re a little way into the job now and suddenly we find this problem here. On the offside of the front suspension arm, when you go to remove the bolt, the bolt falls on the vehicle sump on the nearside. You can’t just pull the bolt, undo thebolt and pull it straight out. We tried to slacken off the subframe to see if the bolt will pass, and unfortunately it won’t. So, we’re now having to unbolt and release the engine mounting and then jack the engine up a little bit further so the sump will not foul the bolt. When you come to replace the offside arm, you need to be aware that you have to take these extra steps.”
The only way you’re going to find this out is if you go into a workshop and try and take one off and put the new one on. “Exactly,” replied Mike, “that’s one of the reasons I’m here today. I can sit at my desk and think I know all the pitfalls, but coming out to a proper working garage and seeing the parts being fitted and the problems that can occur is a great help to me. We learn from them as much as they learn from us. I’m always willing to come out to garages and see the steps the mechanics are taking to be able to replace these parts safely and professionally.”
Ultimately, the Polo ended up on the ramp as far up as it will go, with Sam having to go right into the depths of his box of tricks to get the part loose. “I bet you didn’t think I had a ladder in my toolbox did you?” he laughed. The realisation of the impediment led to Chris coming away from his mainly straightforward Citroën job to help Sam get the job back on track, where he ended up with a big scratch on his nose. “Thanks for that” he said with good humour, after he had helped Sam get the subframe loose. Once that particular hurdle was overcome, Sam was able to continue with the job and fit the new part with relatively little fuss. One area where Sam was particularly pleased with the FAG offering was the fact that all the necessary fittings come with the part.
When the parts arrive, they come in a box, with a scannable QR code on the side which identifies the part, provides fitting instructions, including torque settings where necessary. Crucially, they also come with all the necessary components including any replacement bolts required. Mike observed: “It’s very important, because if the vehicle is stuck on the ramp, waiting for parts affects workshop efficiency, as the technician cannot carry on with the job. If you have all the parts you need, you also have the confidence to know that, for example if a bolt is seized or damaged, you can cut it off.  It gives the technician and the garage peace of mind.”
As our readers will know, finding those bolts, if they don’t come with the part, can be complicated. “It certainly can be,” replied Mike, “and it wastes time. The vehicle is stuck on that ramp and efficiency goes down. It is absolutely key to have all the right parts. If your labour rate is £50 an hour and you have vehicles stuck on the ramp for an hour every day because of missing parts, then that’s £250 a week. It’s just not worth it for the sake of a few bolts.” As we mentioned, Schaeffler’s FAG steering and suspension offering is a recent addition. We wondered how it was going down with garages and technicians. Mike observed:  
“Our product here at Schaeffler is absolutely top notch and a very high standard. That sets us apart. Within the last twelve months we’ve really started to get more interest from garages around the steering and suspension range. They’ve all liked the extra components that we put in the box.”

Meanwhile, across with the Berlingo, Chris was having a relatively simpler time, although another bolt in an awkward location during the removal of the old control arm did cause a small delay. Ultimately, this was a straightforward job however.
Summing up, Tim observed: “When we’re looking for suppliers, we’re always looking for high quality products. One of the nice things with these suspension components, is that they come with everything in the box, which makes it a lot easier from a technician’s point of view. No more worrying about whether the nut comes off or the bolt shears or whatever. Having those bits readily in the box is a big bonus.”
With Tim and the team clearly impressed by the FAG steering and suspension range, Schaeffler is keen to get the kit into “as many garages as possible.” Mike Hansford, Territory Manager at Schaeffler commented: “All of the feedback we’ve had from garages is very positive. They like the product and they want to use the product.”
Tim agreed: “We need it more readily available to get access to it. We’re lucky, obviously, because we’re very close to FAG here, but even so, it’s getting that when it’s on the ramp. We don’t want any downtime. The finishing and the attention to detail is one of the things that sets FAG apart from some of the other suppliers. The types of boots that are used, the way that things are all put together, it all makes it easier. Obviously, price point is a factor, but our customers are more interested in what we believe is the correct part for the job.”