Event Review: REPXPERT Academy LIVE

A key to success is putting ego to one side and grasping worthwhile opportunities that top-up your knowledge, regardless of experience. Rob Marshall did just that and valued the experience immensely

Despite the efforts of COVID, it is reassuring that many businesses are keen to re-establish face-to-face events. Unsurprisingly, when Schaeffler announced its first Repxpert Academy Live event of the decade, it created huge interest and resulted in, approximately, 100 technicians giving up one of their Saturdays late last month and flocking to South Wales.

Early starts in an unfamiliar location can be a pain, especially if you are not staying overnight. Being a stone’s throw from the M4 motorway, and offering plenty of free parking and even EV charging points, Bridgend College’s £37m flagship STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Academy was an ideal host. The cost-free IMI approved Repxpert Academy Live started with an excellent breakfast selection at 9.00 am, followed by a brief introduction that split delegates into four groups, which rotated around the quartet of modules.

Timing is everything
Our day started with Tim Adam’s Timing Belt Drive System class. While focussing on best practice, he also updated us on subtle physical updates, including why oval crankshaft sprockets (which are not as crazy as they might appear) are appearing on newer engines. Mr Adams also highlighted the natural tendency to interpret instructions incorrectly and how timing belt tensioning procedures differ subtly between replacement kits from different manufacturers for the same engine. As around 85% of INA’s warranty claims relate to incorrect tightening torques, basic bolt-tightening theory was discussed (amazingly, only 10% of the effort applied to the fixing applies the clamping force), concluding with each delegate being gifted a Schaeffler stud replacement tool for the 1.9 and 2.0-litre Volkswagen Group TDI engines.

Tim Adam’s Timing Belt Drive System class. focussed on best practice, but he also updated us on subtle physical updates, including why oval crankshaft sprockets are appearing on newer engines

Going Electric
While Schaeffler Automotive Aftermarket has a vested interest to sell products from its FAG, INA and LuK brands, neither was there a hard sell, nor any hint of slandering competitors’ products. Interestingly, half of the classes were hosted by non-Schaeffler staff. If you have never attended a Hayley Pells session, you are missing out. With her considerable credentials within the aftermarket, she is unafraid of voicing the truth from her perspective, with zero arrogance and a healthy dollop of South Walian frankness and wit.
She presented an amusing but informative overview of EV history and highlighted that their premise is nothing new. She elucidated her workshop experience with EVs and underscored that they are more dependent on maintenance than ICEs, especially regarding suspension alignment and air conditioning requirements. While acknowledging that recommended safety tools and training are important, she revealed that Aviva Autos has not needed to tackle a high-voltage fault, yet, but she is ready. Nonetheless, from her experience of working on EVs, Mrs Pells highlighted the value of being an ‘EV angel’ in the eye of the customer. For instance, as most drivers are obsessed with the indicated range figure, balancing the battery cells gives a noticeable range increase that they will notice quickly, if not immediately. She also warns against garages voiding the manufacturer battery warranty unintentionally, by not providing a high-voltage battery health report with the servicing invoice.

Hayley Pells elucidated her workshop experience with EVs and underscored that they are more dependent on maintenance than ICEs

Thinking differently
While Tim Benson is also a garage owner, he cannot repair motor vehicles. Set in the rural town of Leominster, Herefordshire, Oldfields Garage was started by his parents and his now-retired father was a technician. While Mr Benson admits to not being able to jump in and assist practically in the workshop, maybe this is why he has taken a more holistic view of his business. His resultant decisions have seen the once-struggling business, with a bank balance too close to overdraft for comfort, transform into a profitable, thriving and professional-looking enterprise. During his talk, garage owners were encouraged also to be more circumspect and less obsessed with day-to-day issues, including not losing sight that the very purpose is to generate income.

Selecting and targeting the right customers especially struck a chord. Yet, prioritising consumer types is also important, with Mr Benson highlighting that his recent investment in an impressive customer waiting area gives the immediate impression that the garage is not chasing the lowest price point. Labour rates were also discussed and, while overcharging is clearly undesirable, the importance of not just reviewing hourly rates periodically but also having the confidence to increase them were also underscored.
The topic of his garage preferring to incur higher costs for greater convenience attracted mixed responses. Loan cars, for instance, might be costly but they take pressure off the workshop. Efficient management and information systems are also seen as essential tools not just for efficiency but also to maximise workshop capacity during slower periods, such as post-pandemic MOT Test lull months. Oldfields Garage also found that closing 30 minutes early on a Friday brought relatively inexpensive staff motivational benefits. Yet, while our group concurred that fitting the lowest-priced parts was not a wise move, Oldfield’s philosophy of paying extra to factors that involve it with the least hassle (in terms of availability and delivery especially) attracted debate among several garage owners.

Twin clutch repair solutions introduction
Our training experience ended as it started, with a technical class led by Schaeffler staff. In many ways, Simon Cooper had the hardest task of all, because he had to explain the evolution of twin-clutch automated manual transmissions, the different types (DSG, DCT, et al) and demonstrate a dry clutch change on a Volkswagen Group DSG 7. To do all of this within the allotted 45 minutes, the presentation had to be very fast-paced, although Repxpert is hosting a two days long training session on the topic on the 12/13th of July, at the STEAM Academy, costing £250 per person, in which it can elaborate.
With demand for twin-clutch services increasing by 20% annually and the aftermarket having unimpeded access to quality replacement parts and comprehensive technical advice, there are fewer reasons to turn the work down. Not only is the task profitable but garages can win new business and save customers a considerable sum, because dealership workshops may prefer the replacement gearbox option, rather than a clutch repair.

Reassuringly, Schaeffler has realised that the prices of its prior tool kit recommendations were unrealistic for certain garages and it has established a relationship with Laser Tools, which has engineered alternatives. For the Volkswagen Group DSG application, this association has reduced tooling costs from ~£1,400 to ~£550. Schaeffler has also partnered with ACtronics to offer high-quality remanufactured mechatronic units, which are half the cost of new alternatives.

The event emphasised the importance of advancing your knowledge continually and provided useful tasters of more involved IMI-approved training packages. Everyone, with whom we spoke, found it beneficial, although several technicians were disappointed that younger members of our workforce were not present. One garage owner told AT that many more youthful techs think that formal college education provides all of the training they need. Perhaps this is an area that Schaeffler may wish to tackle, when promoting future Repxpert Academy Live events.


Tailpipe – In conjunction with Hayley Pells

Tales from the workshop floor – In conjunction with Hayley Pells of Aviations Autos, from Bridgend South Wales, Iain Robertson gains an understanding of a ‘lift as you climb’ philosophy that she practices with as much vigour as developing an effective future for the family firm.

With racing in the blood and race preparation central to Avia’s existence (Hayley’s engineer father, Andy Murdoch, having set- up the original business, fresh out of the Army, in the 1970s), being a specialist that has expanded into garage services and MOTs has been an organic experience. Ironically, Hayley left the RAF as a cartographer (mapmaker) some years prior to the notional end of her service contract. Yet, she can reflect on a systematic education that lent her myriad talents ideally to the family business.

It is moderately rare to encounter a woman in the male- dominated garage business but Hayley is one of the nation’s leading MOT Testers, who does more than dabble in journalism, which is an intriguing side-line that provides a vehicle beyond the more current social media mindset. “We are a forward-looking small business in a traditional environment,” she outlines. “Our motorists are a cradle-to-grave responsibility. Meeting their demands and satisfying their needs is only possible by retaining high transparency and relying on reputational word-of-mouth to maintain our buoyancy.”

Well, it is a buoyancy that is supported by success and recognition, Avia Autos having been declared UK AutoMechanika Garage of the Year 2019, a fitting tribute for a business that cares intensely. Without seeking awards, both Hayley and her business have received several, both poignant and warranted, from educational establishments (Gower College) and industry (IMI) alike. Yet, every aspect comes back to her customers, her motorists, and, while the pandemic led to her father being ‘shielded’ for various reasons, not even its impact has diminished a concerted pursuit of excellence for the second generation.

“I am not alone in our industry in comprehending the value of ongoing training,” Hayley explains, “as I would not be in my current role without undertaking loads of it! Even my father, as part of his ‘reintroduction’ to the post-lockdown business, has been required to undertake training and I dedicate at least two hours weekly to satisfy his needs.”She does take this very seriously, but she also makes time for her husband, also an engineer/metallurgist, and their young family. However, formal education is supported by intuitive self-improvement that Hayley absorbs from constant communication, building her network of knowledgeable contacts and collaboration around the industry.

It is this latter aspect that is singularly fascinating, as Hayley believes staunchly in the future development potential of the UK’s small firms but not unless they are also prepared to go the extra mile. “While providing regular insights to our industry through website, social media activities and writing for several highly regarded publishers has become intrinsic to my profiling of our business,” she highlights, “acting as a voice for certain elements of our industry has been crucial and critically well- received.” Hayley believes that groups of specialists working in collaboration, liaising, resolving issues, all while avoiding conflict is where the future lies.

As stated earlier, Hayley is an intriguing individual and she recognises the enhancements that she can add to diversity, not as a ‘political cause’ but as a raison d’etre for the entire industry. After all, she is a first-hand practitioner: “Our industry can benefit hugely through avoiding sexism, ageism and both colour and creed negative issues. When my father went back to college to learn about hybrid/electrified vehicle maintenance and repairs in his late-60s, the sometime age barrier had been removed, fortunately. He was capable and is now skilled and that’s the way it should be.”

Yet, if there is one spinal aspect to Avia Autos, it lies in communicating with its motorists. “Treating but not demanding that our motorists are our finest advocates,” Hayley states categorically, “is what our business is all about. In some cases, this may involve mutual backscratching. Yet, in the main, it is honesty and a sense of purpose that allows such heady aims to be achieved.” I get the impression that Mrs Hayley Pells MSc CAE FIMI knows her onions, probably better than many purported rivals do!