'Shop of Tomorrow' aims to upgrade independent garages, improve efficiency

  • 02-Dec-2009 03:09 EST

The Shop of Tomorrow project uses open standards so electronic equipment for each phase of service operations will work with others. The data-acquisition module and Internet-based service information system can use SAE J2534 to communicate with the vehicle.

Independent garages perform most of the auto repairs in the U.S., but they must upgrade to remain competitive. "Shop of Tomorrow," a demonstration project being shown by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), could be the aftermarket's answer, using open standards from AAIA and SAE International.

Shop of Tomorrow aims to improve productivity and quality, using available tools, equipment, and software; only a service/diagnosis information system still is in Beta.

Designed to provide function equal to computer-controlled systems and connectivity in large dealerships today, Shop of Tomorrow also provides a buying choice at every stage. Its integrated AAIA standards, called i-Shop, permit the independent garage to select electronic components, software, and service equipment, knowing which will be compatible.

Shop of Tomorrow eliminates paperwork, except for the customer bill, in favor of: 

• The shop management system, which stores customer, vehicle, and repair information; parts installed and labor times; and prints the bill. It eliminates repeating data entry at each step in the service process, reducing error.

• An aftermarket service/diagnosis information provider.

• An online parts catalog/ordering/delivery service.

• A data-acquisition module that meets SAE J2534, the standard for a handheld pass-through device the shop uses to acquire information from the car's OBD II connector and transmit it via Internet to the service/diagnosis information provider for guidance. SAE J2534 was developed originally to allow generic devices and PCs with specific software to reprogram all powertrain and some other computers, a capability previously limited to OEM-specific devices.

• Shop service equipment that communicates with the others.

Garage Operator Version 3 (GO-3) is Shop of Tomorrow's demonstration shop management system, using standardized methods of describing the vehicle (drop-down lists for make, engine, etc.) and precisely defining each repair part.

GO-3 also communicates with parts of the i-Shop network, primarily the service information provider, telling it what vehicle is to be serviced; stores all diagnosis and service operations, including, for example, work done with alignment equipment; tracks parts ordered and installed and captures the data on the repair order; and saves diagnosis and service operations for billing and future reference and then prints the bill.

Drew Technologies' CarDAQ2534 is the demonstration data-acquisition module—a vehicle communications interface (VCI) used wirelessly or by wired connections to the vehicle OBD II connector and shop computer. It has been employed for pass-through reprogramming by the aftermarket and, for this purpose, has OE approvals from virtually all manufacturers selling in the U.S.

In Shop of Tomorrow, the Drew module also picks up vehicle diagnostic trouble codes and data items (sensor readings, etc.) and transmits them—wirelessly, if desired—via Internet to the service/diagnostic information provider. Once there is a diagnosis, if necessary a request can go to an Internet parts ordering system.

Drew's module will have competition from Bosch: an SAE J2534-compliant wireless VCI, which with available software and PC also can serve as a premium OBD II scan tool.

AllData has been showing the Beta version of a compatible service/diagnostic information system, to be Internet-accessed from its mainframe in Elk Grove, CA. Typically, much diagnostic information is held by a scan tool, a website, perhaps DVDs, even print manuals. Much of the updating takes a technician time and often is performed late. With Shop of Tomorrow, the mainframe database is updated daily by AllData, and the technician always gets the latest service information the provider has. AllData's new system also provides diagnosis and is able to communicate with the vehicle via SAE J2534.

Ordering parts still is a telephone operation in many shops, but with Shop of Tomorrow, an Internet ordering system finds and orders the parts locally, if possible, but from wherever they can be delivered to the garage. An example is Nexpart by WHI Solutions, an online cataloging system that checks the garage's primary vendors and then, if out of stock, warehouse distributors and possibly even a manufacturer's warehouse. It is a "whatever it takes, within reason" approach to delivering the order.

In a test example, the Drew module took a PO107 code from a 2002 Chevrolet Camaro. AllData said the code was for low-voltage output from the manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor, and that odds (73%) favored a defective sensor. The diagnostic/service procedure was included, so a technician could check his or her results against the diagnostic oddsmaker. If the sensor had failed, Shop of Tomorrow would take it from there, ordering through Nexpart. So the next time the technician went to the car, it would be with the replacement part in hand.

Other aftermarket participants in i-Shop include SPX/OTC, Delphi, Snap-on, Mitchell 1, and R.O. Writer.

Shop of Tomorrow is not an end game. A major challenge is to bring the motorist to the independent garage in the first place vs. the dealer who can tap into OnStar, Ford Sync, and other OE onboard systems that deliver vehicle health reports and instant diagnosis. AAIA sees special cell phone applications as a possible alternative for the independent shop, but the world of wireless is changing and other choices likely will emerge.

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