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Removing Murphy’s Law from the Upfit Process

May 31, 2016, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

The multitude of upfitting options and potential configurations makes it easy to fulfill Murphy’s Law, which states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Unfortunately, in many cases, who triggers Murphy’s Law is the fleet manager who does not carefully review the upfit specs, or has not consulted thoroughly with the actual users of the equipment, or attempts to over-engineer the upfit. These are all avoidable mistakes.

It is crucial to carefully review specification quotes. We are all swamped with work, but giving a quick, casual approval of quote specifications for either the chassis or upfit is a recipe to tempt Murphy’s Law. Do not rush through the quote approval process assuming it is completely accurate. It is important to take the time to thoroughly (and in detail) review the quote specification to avoid modifications after the upfit process has started. OEMs and upfit vendors provide detailed quotes with very specific information on the chassis and body/equipment to be installed. Invariably, once these quotes are approved by the fleet manager, the upfit progresses directly to manufacturing.

It is important to remember that what is on the quote is what gets built. Conversely, if a specification is not on the quote, it won’t be on the actual vehicle. If the spec is crucial, it will require manufacturing changes, which, needless to say, will be costly in dollars and negatively impact lead time. When approving upfit specifications, follow this three-step rule – review, review, and review again. For instance, on medium-duty trucks to be upfitted with a service body or a body with boxes hanging down the side of the frame rails, pay particular attention to packaging in relation to the exhaust system, fuel tank, DEF tank, and the battery.

Write the Spec to Match the Application

The first step to successfully spec’ing upfits is to fully understand the application. This involves consulting with the end-users who will be operating the equipment. To ensure you are writing the right specs, it is crucial to completely understand the intended fleet application. The more information you can collect, the greater the likelihood the vehicle will be properly engineered to successfully perform the intended operation.

While it may sound obvious to spec the upfit to match the fleet application, it’s often more complicated than it appears. For instance, when upfitting a truck, sometimes key information is not included in the specs, such as dock height or turning radius requirements. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the location where a truck will be used prior to writing the specs.

The best place to avoid spec’ing mistakes is with the original specifications you develop. It is important to be specific when writing specifications to eliminate guesswork on the part of the vendor. For example, asking for a standard racks/bins package leaves too many unanswered questions for a vendor. Provide an exact description of what is required to eliminate guesswork.

Make sure the completed upfit specs have been reviewed and approved prior to order placement. It is critical to have a documented sign-off between all parties to avoid after-the-fact upfitting modifications.

Avoid the temptation to build a “mobile Swiss army knife” by over-engineering or over-upfitting a chassis and auxiliary equipment. Invariably, over-engineering will result in premature wear-and-tear of a vehicle’s transmission, suspension, and tires, because you are overworking the vehicle.

A good rule of thumb is to find a balance that will keep the upfit process as simple as possible, while spec’ing the capability to fulfill the intended fleet application. Also, if possible, avoid negotiating with multiple component suppliers and installation vendors. For example, some companies will order racks and bins from one vendor, ladder racks from another, and decals from a third. While this sourcing strategy may initially save money, it increases overall lead-time, which ultimately increases costs. If possible, identify a vendor from whom you can procure up front all of the needed equipment.  

In the final analysis, the best way to banish “Murphy” from the upfit process is to use this four-step process – develop upfit specs in consultation with the end-users, review the specifications in advance with vendors, resist the temptation to over-engineer an upfit, and thoroughly review the specification quote before the start of manufacturing.

Let me know what you think.

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Mike Antich

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Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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