Successfully refurbishing 26 Oshkosh tractor units for the British Army left Commerical Contract Engineers in line for a well-deserved medal at the last Commerical Motor Awards.
It’s one thing having to repair small hatchbacks or vans, and quite another to be called upon to refurbish a fleet of military vehicles returning from action. But that's exactly what Commercial Contract Engineers (CCE) in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, was approached to do in 2011 by FTX Logistics, the UK branch of US engineering company KBR Group.
CCE’s usual fare includes maintaining light vehicles as well as HGV fleets for Yodel and Northern Foods. But even the conventional heavy MAN, DAF and Scania trucks it handles have little in common with the gargantuan 26 gargantuan Oshkosh M1070F HET 8x8 tractor units that were sent its way, part of the fleet FTX operates for the British Army. “These vehicles had come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody else in the country could repair them with the level of damage. So you can imagine the huge challenge that it posed for all parties involved,” comments Phil Ewbank, CCE chairman.
Refurbishing each one, Ewbank explains, could take up to 1,200 hours, meaning only three were completed a year, even working shifts that were sometimes as long as 10 hours.
The vehicles all had to be restored to peak peacetime condition, which proved a steep learning curve for the team. Sourcing parts from Oshkosh during the project, for example, was not easy, especially given the six-hour time difference between the UK and US.
“Most of the vehicles were manufactured 17 or 18 years ago. And then you find out that they don’t make some parts any more. So you’re having to resolve problems collectively” Ewbank comments.
“I don’t think the team would have been happy accepting the [CM] award in the first two to three years of the project,” he continues. “They were still addressing the challenge. But I think after that, we were ready.”
Walker says the timing of the Technician Team of the Year 2018 award was ideal as it coincided with the last of the 26 vehicles coming to the end of its refurbishment programme.
None of the team had ever encountered this type of vehicle, let alone carried out such major repairs and due to the complexities involved, every stage of the repair process was photographed for reference purposes.
Sorting a sandstorm
After lying dormant in the desert, a particular problem with the vehicles was that sand had got everywhere. Electrical components, engines and even the cabs themselves were covered in it, requiring a full stripdown with the cabs off, the interior pulled out, and engines, gearboxes and axles all being dismantled.
Stripping each one down would take up to a week, says Ewbank, after which further progress lay in the hands of the parts supply team in the US. Typically, replacement parts would take six to eight weeks to come through due to the complexity of the process, adds Walker.
Walker doesn't say exactly how many pages are in that parts catalogue, but does confirm it is much bigger than the ones in your local Argos store.
Working on three vehicles at a time meant the team could pre-order some parts for two chassis based on what was needed for the first. But the parts supply was somewhat patchy - in some cases, parts did not get sent out at all or the wrong parts were dispatched. Between four and five technicians at a time were working on the HETs while additional staff were recruited and trained up, according to Ewbank. “Michelle oversaw the scheduling of the programme, and our lead technician was Glenn Wood, who has been with us for about 26 years”, he says. The project was completed efficiently, thanks to the excellent dynamic and good teamwork between CCE, FTX and the British Army, he adds.
In September 2018, the last vehicle was handed back to FTX, marking a theoretical end to the contract. But, thanks to the high quality of work of carried out by the company, FTX decided to extend CCE's role in the refurbishment of such vehicles, and it continues to work on what has now become an open-ended mission, says Ewbank.
Designed to transport the 72-tonne Challenger II tank, the Oshkosh M1070F will haul anything anywhere, whatever the terrain. Coupled to its 26-tonne 7-axle Kings GTS trailer complete with tank, the total train weight comes to around 118 tonnes.
Power is generated by a Caterpillar engine; an 18.1-litre 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel lump producing 700hp and 2,576Nm of torque. The power is delivered via a seven-speed Allison automatic transmission. When fully laden, The M1070F travels at a dizzying 49mph. It has tubeless tyres that work with a central tyre inflation system, which is set to alter pressures according to environment via switches in the cab labelled ‘CC’ (cross-country), ‘HWY’ (highway) and ‘MSS’ (mud, snow and sand).
The Commercial Motor Awards return on Thursday 28 November 2019 at The Vox Centre, Birmingham, celebrating the best in new and used commercial vehicle sales and aftersales. The awards welcomes not only dealers, but also bodybuilders, finance, rental, leasing and contract hire providers. Enter now for free and have your excellence recognised by the industry.