As economic slowdowns begin to bite on suppliers to Australia's major industries, safety can often be the first casualty of cutbacks to operating costs.
In very price-sensitive industries, such as transport and logistics, cutbacks can lead to contractors turning to non-OEM parts for systems vital to road safety and on-time performance of vehicles.
But the apparent savings on offer from non-genuine parts are often illusory for operators involved in safety-aware industries, such as mining and energy, quarrying, oil and gas, manufacturing, food and agriculture production and processing, construction and infrastructure engineering. Look-alike parts produce only minor and temporary gains in the short term but introduce major and ongoing risk of breakdown, accident and downtime, say major suppliers to the light, medium and heavy vehicle industry.
"Typically as prices go down with non-OEM parts, the margin for safety and reliability sinks with them. These products are not generally as good as the originals they imitate quality doesn't come free – and typically they struggle to offer the lifespan and safety margin of genuine parts, '' says Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd, which is Australian distributor of the world's top selling air springs for heavy truck suspensions, Firestone.
Of all the trucks on the road today with air suspensions, more than half are equipped with Firestone Airide air springs. Airide air springs are sold directly to original equipment truck, trailer, and suspension manufacturers such as PACCAR (Peterbilt/Kenworth), Holland USA, Hendrickson International, Freightliner, Scania, Volvo, Mercedes Benz, and ArvinMeritor.
"Operators buying look-alike products are seldom making any saving at all really - they are just selling their risk management cheaply. Any small savings on products that don't offer the same quality, performance and reliability as the genuine original can be wiped out in an instant by a single accident of downtime incident that puts a million-dollar truck off the road," says Air Springs Supply Sales Manager Russell Chown.
Similar views are voiced by one of Australia's most experienced specialist heavy brake companies, Australian Brake Controls (ABC) which produces transport, off-highway and industrial machinery braking systems engineered for optimum reliability and safety. ABC is also known for engineering systems for hydraulically braking of light and medium trucks so they can tow air-braked trailers.
"We know it is tough out there for transport and off-highway equipment operators and we are sharing the pain with them. But cutting corners with lower-quality parts is no way to extend the value and life of vehicles and machinery costing hundreds and thousands and sometimes millions of dollars," says ABC Engineer, Gerry Lewis.
Towing a heavy trailer around worksites can be a potentially hazardous, high maintenance undertaking – especially where vehicles have to cope with the slopes, loads, roads and surfaces encountered around mines, quarries, infrastructure and landscaping sites as well as farms.
Trucks, tractors and specialized machinery can be subjected to loads that will place unusual stresses on standard components, including high demands on suspensions and braking systems in situations where operators need to selectively and powerfully apply stopping and holding power.
"Such demanding situations are no place for compromised performance," says Lewis.
"If you are going to do it at all, you have got to do it properly. Too much is riding on a vehicle's suspension and brakes to cut corners."
Suspension and braking risks also exist for lighter vehicles, says All Air Suspension, which specializes in air helper suspensions for vehicles such as 4WD, utes, vans, and other machinery used for on and off-highway jobs and for towing.
Vehicles without the right suspension components and setups for varying loads (such as a tank being progressively emptied in spraying operations), unevenly distributed loads or for towing can immediately experience a host of problems that compromise safety immediately and can ultimately wreck the vehicle involved.
"Not only can steering and braking be immediately compromised by poor load distribution, but also the chassis and tyres are placed under immense pressure by loading distortions," says All Air Suspension Sales Manager James Maslin.
"Unevenly loaded vehicles can be subject to increased sway because of lateral forces, while trailer-imposed ball weight will cause headlights to shine up into the trees or blind other drivers. A perfectly good familiar vehicle can become a safety nightmare if its suspension is not properly set up to tow or cope with varying loads."
Operating in conjunction with national air suspension specialist Airbag Man, All Air addresses these challenges with Ride-Rite, Coil-Rite and full air conversion kits manufactured in Australia incorporating high quality Firestone airbags identical in construction to the tough Firestone airbags used in the suspensions of trucks and semi-trailers. Thousands of the suspensions have been installed on scores of vehicle types over more than a decade.
"A key to the integrity of these kits is the use of quality engineering and quality airbags, which are vital to safety and reliability where vehicles are subject to widely varying conditions," says Maslin.
All Air Suspension and ABC source their air springs from Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd, which has more than 30 years experience as Australia's leading supplier of Firestone air springs and associated pneumatic technology for the transport sector, including heavy duty Firestone Airride rolling sleeve and convoluted airbags.
"Substitute airbags can be closely modeled on the appearance of Firestone original, but many have problems associated with poorer quality design, engineering and construction," says Chown.
"This can adversely affect reliability, serviceability and risk management, which are crucial to transport operators."
Benefits of Firestone air springs
Telltale defects of look-alike springs of which transport operators should be aware include:
The Firestone Air spring, left, with trivalent chromium coating, has been subjected to 200-hour salt spray testing, more than twice the normal 96 hours. The rusty airbag, right, failed after the standard 96 hour test.
The stud braze technique used on Firestone Air Springs provides a continuous seal (pictures one and two, left) while non-genuine parts may show irregular welds and potential leak points (pictures three and four, right). The brazed fitting create a more reliable seal, while the welded fittings shown create a weak spots which can affect the integrity of the seal around the fitting joint, causing leaks.
Firestone's highly engineered rib design (left) provides a robust piston while an inferior piston design (right) may lead to premature failure. Firestone performs extensive load testing to ensure piston durability before its products are fitted to trucks.
Piston Stud Strength
Firestone air spring piston stud, left, is designed for strong axial support, with a solid one-piece design giving optimal axial and lateral strength. A lower quality design (right) gives less support and presents a greater possibility of bending. The two-piece welded design has less axial rigidity and could break off after extended use.
Superior rubber and cord
Firestone's distinctive fabric cord is not something the naked eye can readily detect, but does make a difference in air springs performance. Graphic below shows the strongly engineered inner layer, first ply, second ply and outer cover. Firestone's proprietary rubber compound utilizes the highest grade materials and the best compounding technology in the industry, says Chown.
"Firestone air springs meet and exceed the world's most rigorous testing standards. They don't leave the factory without first passing 190psi (13 bar) proof testing,"' says Chown.
When it comes down to it, trucks are a major livelihood for many and vital to a huge range of businesses, so keeping your truck running and on the road is crucial. Truck manufacturers know and trust Airride as OEM and Firestone is constantly working to set the quality bar higher, said Mr Chown, adding that Firestone is the only air spring manufacturer in the world with manufacturing facilities in the US.
Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd, recently enhanced its commitment to national and global standards of quality assurance by gaining ISO 9001: 2008 Quality Management Systems – Requirements certification. The company places a high priority on continuously reinforcing its customers' confidence in doing business with an organisation that can consistently meet or exceed their needs on time