Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2013   by Noelle Stapinsky

Boosting Business

Lift technology, sleeker designs and smart accessories take service bay productivity to new levels

It’s the centerpiece of the service bay, which everything revolves around for technicians to quickly and effectively service vehicles. Whether it’s a two-post, four-post or in-ground lift, shops rely on this vital piece of equipment to keep the productivity flowing in and out of the bay doors.

As more and more service shops look for ways to improve efficiency and throughput, its essential that lifts can operate for long periods of time without a great deal of downtime – which can make or break a day’s profitability.

It’s no secret that there are more aging vehicles on the road today than ever before, driving more required services back into the repair channel. And while shops everywhere are constantly looking for ways to harness all of the underperformed preventative maintenance opportunities out there, such maintenance practices are also crucial to the longevity of their service equipment. This is why, Bruce Buckborough of Babco Equipment, Canada’s distributor of BendPak Lifts, stresses that one of the biggest things with lifts today is regular maintenance and servicing of hydraulic hoist equipment.

“If you want longevity in lifts and lift parts you need to service them,” says Buckborough. “You need to check the lifts at least once a month, check the welds, oil the cables and make sure they’re tight, and lubricate the system.”

Indeed, you wouldn’t want to be standing underneath something that’s not functioning properly. Plus, regular maintenance will reduce the chances of any unexpected downtime – something every shop understands all too well.

But when it comes to modern lifts on the market today – although the basic principals of hydraulics hasn’t changed that much over the years – advancements in the design and technology have delivered sleeker setups that decrease the equipment footprint and making service bays more customer friendly, grant more access to the undercar and improved cycle times. There are also far more innovative accessories or add-ons that improve efficiency and speed up productivity.

Fast Track

According to Buckborough, choosing the right lift is all about personal preference. “But most technicians go for a two-post asymmetrical or symmetrical clear floor lift,” he says. “Both have six inches of drive thru.”

Back in 2008, after the infamous economic crash, Buckborough says that many manufacturers cut back on some of the more costly materials used in fabricating lifts. BendPak did the opposite, making its lifts bigger. “They [BendPak lifts] have a five inch sheave roller, where others are three-inches,” he says. “The larger the sheave means a bigger bend, which is easier on the cable.”

BendPak’s newest line of XPR two-post lifts feature rapid lift speeds with direct drive lifting performance. And with fewer serviceable parts, necessary maintenance is reduced.

And when it comes to choosing a lift, speed and efficiency is top of mind for many technicians on the shop floor. “Everyone understands speed. Whether it’s about working or operating equipment faster, it means you run more projects through the bay,” says John Rylee, director of marketing for Rotary Lifts.

Rotary’s Shockwave, a two-post and in-ground lift line that was launched in 2011, is designed to cycle twice as fast as a standard lift. For this line, Rotary used DC power, a patent pending technology that uses two standard Group 24 batteries with a built in charger that runs off of 110V power, rather than 220V. “The reason we went with that type of battery is because if a replacement is needed – though they last a long time and it’s not really an issue – shops can get them out of their parts inventory or from any jobber.”

Another benefit to Rotary’s DC power technology is that the lift can still operate up to 14 cycles on the batteries alone. During severe weather or power failures this allows shops to get vehicles off the lift, a key element for customer satisfaction and retention. And service stations with back-up generators can carry on with business as usual.

The Shockwave technology is available for Rotary’s in-ground SmartLifts, and there are also retrofit kits for existing in-ground SmartLifts with eight-inch plungers. “It’s a relatively short replacement. It takes three to four hours, at most, to do the retrofit,” says Rylee.

To help technicians focus even more on the job and less on the prep, Rotary’s Spotline laser vehicle spotting guide – a system that mounts at the top of a two-post lift, for example – is included with the Shockwave line and available as an added accessory for standard lifts. “When you drive [in the bay] a beam comes across the hood and to the dashboard. It’s really as simple as aligning that beam with the right and left sides,” says Rylee. “It’s just another tool that gives more control of the placement of the vehicle, increasing the shop’s efficiency.”

Breaking New Ground

Hungry for new opportunities to improve the bottom line, the independent automotive service market has been evolving over the years and some are now venturing into repairing medium and heavy-duty vehicles, while others are looking for improved efficiencies in diagnostics.

Jens Urban, business development manager for MAHA Canada, says, “The biggest change about to hit the North American market is a lift integrated into a test lane that will allow techs to drive a vehicle into a garage and run tests before a visual inspection.”

MAHA, a U.S.-based manufacturer that specializes automotive lifts, heavy-duty lift systems, and integrated testing systems, offers an innovative track system that will test a vehicle’s tire rotation, tire tread, shock absorbers, brakes, etc., delivering results within minutes.

“Fifteen to 20 per cent of vehicles that come into the shop have another issue than what they came in for,” says Urban. Instead of test-driving a vehicle to listen and feel for the signs and symptoms of issues, an integrated test can be conducted as the vehicle is driven onto the lift.

The testing system is installed into the shop floor and “can bring in an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a month,” says Urban. “And depending on the size of the shop, studies tell us the return on investment (ROI) would be within a year.”

Just as automotive technology rapidly advances, service shop equipment is also evolving. For shops that invest in the latest in lift technology, they’ll see a rather quick ROI (many estimate a month or two), while improving productivity, maximizing profitability, and be poised for future growth.

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