Chain of Thought

Need to Fool-Proof Idiot Lights

“Fool-proofing” is a term that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. It's that concept of making something so easy that even a fool couldn't screw it up. The technological extension of this concept is “idiot lights.” Those are the indicators on your car's dashboard that light up when something's starting to go wrong. Now, when it comes to fixing things mechanical and electronic, I AM an idiot. Those lights were made for guys like me. The only time the hood of my car gets popped it's by a mechanic who knows the next step to take once the hood is open. At least I'm smart enough to schedule my car for maintenance so those idiot lights never have to tell me how dumb I am about what gets me from point A to point B.

Here's a problem, though. How do you know when idiot lights need maintenance? I was driving back from a business trip last week and my peripheral vision sensed a red glow from the dashboard. Sure enough, the battery light came on. At least I think it was the battery. How could that be?? I just had my car serviced! The only thing I could figure is that maybe there's short in my car's electronic system. That may sound like an educated guess, but as I said, I have no talent when it comes to fixing things on wheels. Only writing about them (but that's for you to judge).

But I'll bet there are plenty of fleet managers out there who are equally clueless about some aspects of the inner workings of their lift trucks. Like cars, lift trucks are computers on wheels. And as I'm talking to maintenance professionals for an upcoming article on this topic, it became clear that the more industry tries to foolproof lift trucks, the more maintenance challenges it can create.

Bill Rowan, president of Sunbelt Industrial Trucks, Komatsu dealers covering Texas, gave me an example of the challenges faced by even the most experienced lift truck maintenance professionals.

“The federally mandated operator presence system which is intended to restrict travel and hydraulics when the operator leaves the seat involves numerous relays, wires, controllers, fuses. solenoids, etc.,” he told me. “A fault in any component of this system can shut down the forklift. This creates a service call and downtime....loss of productivity.”

Bill's response flashed in my head as I looked at the bright red battery symbol on my car's dashboard. Guess I'll be taking my car in again. After all, as Bill said, “The cumulative effect of not doing some repairs is often a lot more costly than the small savings enjoyed.” Wonder what an idiot light costs.

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