Philing’ the gaps

With online training webinars having become essential since COVID-19 materialised, over the last 18 months Phil Laughton, Technical Support Specialist at ZF WABCO Australia, has been kept busy teaching customers all over the country how to maintain and diagnose issues with their all-important Trailer Electronic Braking Systems.

It could be argued that operator and technician training to ensure the best possible outcomes from sophisticated Trailer Electronic Braking Systems (TEBS), such as those supplied by ZF WABCO, is every bit as important as the actual sale of the products.

Phil Laughton has been with ZF WABCO for a total of 23 years, the last eight of which have been in Australia. For 15 years prior he was employed at the company’s UK headquarters in Leeds.

Before this, starting fresh out of school, Phil spent just under eight years in the RAF (Royal Air Force) where he completed an apprenticeship in electrical and electronic engineering on aircraft.

Despite the shift from wings to wheels, Phil agrees that his apprenticeship and experience in the RAF stood him in good stead for his subsequent career with ZF WABCO.

“With TEBS we have CAN (Controller Area Network) bus and brake-by-wire technologies that are very similar to systems used in aircraft, so yes, there are a lot of synergies,” Phil says. “It’s been a very interesting ride.”

As for how he came to settle in the Land Downunder, Phil says he revelled in the opportunity to join WABCO Australia as it was a complete change of lifestyle for him, his wife and two sons.

“We’d not previously been to Australia, and we decided to just go for it and not look back; to be fair it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Phil says – adding that their two boys are now fully Aussie except for when the English football (soccer) is on.

Talking about his time with ZF WABCO, Phil explains that while product support has always been a strong focus, there has been a renewed emphasis in the last few years on taking things to the next level.

“These days we are looking at new ways of supporting our customers, particularly given the increasing prevalence of TEBS on trailers,” Phil says. “Now that TEBS is mandatory on all new trailers, people are getting used to the idea of it and many are willing to learn more about it and how to maintain it and get the best out of it.”

Phil elaborates that getting the information out to the masses is quite a challenge as there are only four people including himself working for ZF WABCO Australia in the product and technical support realm.

He emphasises that the recent evolution of the training because of Covid lockdowns had to be swift to support the market and started with the creation of step-by-step guides – that are sent to participants after the training webinar – on how to use the WABCO diagnostic software.

“We have also created videos on YouTube and are holding regular online webinars advising how to fit and maintain WABCO products,” Phil says, adding, “a lot of the emphasis today is on training people to diagnose faults in their equipment because we just don’t have the resources to do it all ourselves.”

It’s for this reason, Phil continues, that he endeavours to keep the training as straightforward and practical as possible so that it appeals to a wide range of participants.
“We’re big believers in not making things overly complicated for people considering EBS is still relatively new to some customers in the market,” he says.

“I’ve also built into my course potential issues that they may come across and ways they can maintain their equipment to avoid these issues. A lot of this advice comes from my own experience in dealing with issues over the years and I’m happy to pass this on to others so that they also will know what to do in certain situations.”

Phil says by far the largest amount of issues with EBS systems on trailers are due to damage to wiring and ABS/EBS wheel sensors caused by road debris.

“A lot of it comes down to good old-fashioned common sense,” he says. “For instance, if sensor wiring is routed and secured correctly to the axle when the trailer is built there is far less potential for issues in the long run.”

Phil says simple steps like running the wiring along the rear of the axle tubes rather than the front and ensuring the wiring is not tightly cable-tied to rubber brake hoses to allow room for flex when the brakes are applied are details he readily shares with customers.

“Minor details like that aren’t generally found in publications but can make all the difference to the longevity of TEBS systems,” Phil says.

He adds that big advances in software and hardware are also making the systems more durable and user-friendly – particularly when it comes to fault diagnosis – and also making the training more effective.

“The advancements we’ve made with diagnostic cables, software and even the repair solutions over the last few years are important changes that really have the potential to help people maintain their equipment correctly and keep it on the road,” he says.

In conclusion, Phil states that while the pandemic has thrown up various challenges with regard to training, it did help the ZF WABCO Australia team to reinvent their training offering to support customers during this time.

This ensured the company found an effective and efficient way to educate its growing customer base on how to fit and maintain the WABCO TEBS E system in order to maximise durability and performance.

Fast Fact
With EBS now mandatory on all new trailers, ZF WABCO’s Technical Support personnel are ramping up efforts to educate their customers in effective maintenance and problem-solving techniques that keep trailers on the road and earning money.