In Sennebogen’s three-tiered training bay, visiting technicians can get a hands-on introduction to all areas of the towering material handlers from every angle.
The group of students with many different company names on the shirts are all gathered close to the green machine where their instructor has opened a side hatch to demonstrate some key service points. The group talks casually with questions for the instructors, while they each share some of their personal experiences from the field.
In most ways, it's just another training session for heavy equipment technicians. But, on a second look, a few differences from the norm become apparent.
For one: the shop itself. It's a clinically pristine workspace three floors high, overlooked by a viewing gallery.
For another: the machine. Parked here in this bright, climate-controlled classroom is a 140,000 lb. (65,000 kg) Sennebogen 850 material handler that stands with its boom and stick folded down.
Then, there's the people. As the attendees talk, it emerges that only half of the class came here from Sennebogen's dealer staff. The others work for Sennebogen customers: recycling yards, sawmills, barge ports… all invited by their dealer to receive the same factory training as the technicians within the family of Sennebogen's service network. At no cost.
Customers are routinely surprised and delighted by the opportunity. As the president of one scrap facility said, "OEMs don't want to show anybody else how to service their machines. That's business for the dealer. But it's a big advantage for us to be able to work on our own machines."
A "Purpose-Built" Facility for Customer Support
Like the machines that Sennebogen sells, the facility housing the training school has been "purpose-built" to support dealers and customers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America.
Here in Stanley, N.C., the classrooms and instruction bays are part of the 100,000 sq. ft. headquarters opened by Sennebogen LLC in 2009, just outside the city of Charlotte. Shared with Sennebogen's massive parts warehouse along with sales, engineering and administrative offices, the training center is actually "firewalled" from the building's other operations, so attendees aren't distracted or interrupted by the outside. It provides classrooms fully equipped with the latest teaching and e-learning technology along with the three-tiered training bay with a pit big enough for the whole class to safely be under the machine, component room, models and breakout boards for hands-on instruction.
But Sennebogen's long-time Service Manager, Jim Westlake, believes that the most valuable feature of the training center is the distance it puts between trainees and their everyday workplace.
"It seems to change the expectations of the principals and the customers who send their people here," Westlake said. "They are being selective in who they send. We see more senior technicians now — the ones who are in the best position to pass along what they learn to others in the shop. Everyone sees a big difference. Since we started bringing technicians into our facility, the type of calls we get from their shops have changed — we don't get questions about issues that were already covered in class. It works for us, and it works for our customers."
It Takes a Mechanic to Teach a Mechanic
Roger Hardin, the chief trainer in the school, concurs with Westlake's appraisal.
"When technicians come here, they are not being pulled away from class to answer other questions and needs in the shop. This is no holiday camp, either. We always maintain a level of professionalism throughout the time they are with us."
Hardin said he enjoys the program because it gives him the chance to "give them the kind of training I wanted." He had 41 years of practical experience as a service mechanic before joining Sennebogen, including 15 years as a trainer.
Westlake and Hardin both place a high value on hands-on instruction, and so do the attendees.
"It takes a mechanic to teach a mechanic," Hardin said. "A student from one of our dealers spelled it out: sometimes you go to training where everything is on paper, and you can't relate it to the real product. Here, you see exactly where to find things on the machine so you're better prepared to troubleshoot it when you're in a hurry in the field."
Coast-to-Coast Knowledge Network
For dealers and customers alike, saving downtime for service and repairs is critical. Sennebogen customers are often located in the nation's most remote areas. John Anderson is director of maintenance of ABC Recycling in British Columbia and he knows first-hand how scarce qualified equipment mechanics can be.
"If we don't have the people we need on our own payroll, we can end up waiting a long time for machine service. Having our own team makes a huge difference."
Trevor Reid, responsible for C&C Resources sawmill located hundreds of miles from the nearest city in central Saskatchewan, also appreciates having knowledgeable staff on site.
"Our technician came back with rave reviews about the Sennebogen facility, and all it cost us was airfare and a hotel room."
Constantino Lannes, president of Sennebogen LLC, feels that his investment in training and support has been key to the company's continuing success.
"When the Sennebogen family decided to bring their material handlers to the Americas, they knew that support would be absolutely critical to customers here," he said. "This facility and the concept of transparency along with providing free training not only to our dealers but the end users, represents our commitment to the marketplace. The end result is that the dealers and their customers bond during their training programs and feel a new kinship with them. At the end of the day, it is a win-win-win situation for the three parties."
According to Lannes, the goal of the training center is to cultivate the nation's largest network of technicians with specialized factory training on material handling equipment. To date, the center has graduated more than 1,000 technicians through its five-day Service Level 1 program. After returning home to put their new knowledge to work, graduates are eligible for the advanced Service Level 2 course for five additional days of in-depth troubleshooting instruction.
Dealer and customer staff also can sign up for additional courses, offered at no cost including operator familiarization and parts training.
More Than the Sum of Their Parts
For technicians to do their job, of course, they need parts. And just "over the wall" from the Sennebogen Training Center is the largest and most complete inventory of material handler parts in North America. Lannes noted that this warehouse maintains stocks of every component that goes into every Sennebogen machine currently in service. Vast rooms here store rows of complete booms, hydraulic cylinders and cab assemblies, along with stocks of the smallest connectors and seals. The inventory even includes a wide range of ready-to-go diesel engines.
"We make sure we have the exact engines available to fit into our units in the field easily. That can offer a great time-saving for customers. In one case recently, one of our distributors was told he would have to wait up to eight weeks to get an engine from its manufacturer. But we had one in stock and shipped out to him the same day," Lannes said.
In another section of the facility, teams are busy assembling cable harnesses and fitting hoses to match original specs for specific machine models. Others are packaging custom sets of parts, materials and even special tools into "uptime kits" that consolidate everything a technician will need to complete a given maintenance task at the factory's prescribed service interval.
Maximizing Machine Uptime
Sennebogen's parts strategy parallels its approach to training: To ensure that customers have ready access to whatever they need to maximize machine uptime. The investment in parts in the warehouse is reflected in the local inventories maintained by Sennebogen distributors. Sennebogen works closely with its dealers to keep the commonly needed parts for their customers' machines nearby.
"In this industry, our parts inventories are a huge advantage for customers. They appreciate that, in the U.S., we can ship directly to them by truck or even overnight instead of waiting for a ship to cross the ocean."
For more information, visit www.sennebogen-na.com.
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