5 tips for designing a truck maintenance facility
Photo provided by Cambridge Companies Inc.

5 tips for designing a truck maintenance facility

Factors such as layout, sizing, equipment and amenities can make significant impacts on a facility’s operational efficiency.

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May 4, 2021

There are many decisions that go into designing a truck maintenance facility, but some key points can most impact the overall design and programming of the space. These factors include the layout, sizing, equipment and amenities of the facility, and do not pertain as much to the aesthetics and other criteria. This is because it is important to make sure the facility is designed to get trucks in and out of the facility in a safe, efficient manner. Operationally efficient facilities make your whole company run smoother.

Point 1: Types of trucks

The starting point of designing a truck maintenance facility is to identify the types of trucks you are working on.

The type of truck matters because you need to completely understand what type of maintenance you will be doing in the facility. Identifying the types of trucks will determine the length of the bays needed, as well as the clear width between walls and other obstructions like storage racks, and supplemental equipment like truck lifts, large tools or toolboxes.

Typically, a maintenance facility will encounter several different types of trucks, including rear loaders, front loaders, side loaders, automated trucks, roll-off trucks, semi-tractors or transfer trailers. All of these have different maintenance requirements, different clearances and different equipment needed based on what you will do in the shop.

Taking the time to identify the quantity and type of trucks that will enter a facility can ensure the design team fully understands the use of the shop. This can help avoid issues like mechanics not having enough clearance around or above the truck to perform necessary maintenance.

Once the vehicle types being serviced by the facility have been determined, operators should consider whether the shop is going to incorporate a wash bay or work areas for container repair. These aspects can necessitate a whole separate list of questions that would need to be discussed in more detail.

Point 2: Types of maintenance and repair

Next, you will want to identify the type of maintenance the facility will be performing, such as preventive maintenance (PM), body work, heavy engine repairs or swap outs, cab replacements, etc.

Different levels of maintenance will mean the quantity of bays will change, the types of bays will change, and the types and amounts of equipment required to do the work will be drastically different. A typical PM bay will require an area for fluids changing, tires, brakes and other minor work that keeps the truck safely operating daily. This work would require the standard tools, fluids distribution throughout the shop, truck lifts or a PM pit that has dedicated bays, and other PM-related items.

If you start to get into heavy body work, complete engine repair or replacement, this will likely lead to much heavier equipment being needed, such as an overhead crane, welder plugs spread throughout the shop, different lighting requirements and additional bay space for “project trucks” to be kept inside for extended periods of time.

Many times, these trucks are parked inside the shop for days or a few weeks as mechanics work on them between their standard daily duties, so these bays would be dedicated for trucks like this. In addition, you will need to dedicate space for the sheet metal and fabrication equipment needed for the heavy repair work.

Point 3: Quantities of trucks and operating hours

The third point to consider would be how many trucks you will be working on each day, as well as the hours the facility will operate.

There is a basic rule of thumb in the industry that says that you can require one maintenance bay for every 10 to 15 trucks you will be working on in the facility. While that is a good baseline, the factors mentioned previously will also affect how many bays you need. When collaborating with your design firm, you can work together to determine what makes sense for your operation to accommodate growth.

Other factors that can affect the bay counts are the age of your fleet, the type of fuel they use and the hours of operation. Since trucks are typically on the road from roughly 3 a.m. to 4 p.m., most shop mechanics work afternoons and evenings to perform truck maintenance. Your truck counts and your service schedule requirements will help drive how many bays you need.

This can be a complicated calculation, but hiring an experienced design team that understands these facilities can help you work through these facts and determine what works best for your fleet and operations.

Point 4: What fuel do they utilize

The fourth factor is the fueling of the vehicles. While this may not be a common question when dealing with a shop design, it can have big implications, especially given the growing emphasis on vehicle electrification in the industry.

Diesel fleets, while still the most common, have zero effect on the building design itself. The fact that you are using diesel may mean you have an older average fleet age than someone using primarily compressed natural gas (CNG). So, the fleet age could be a factor in determining how much maintenance you have to do on your vehicles. There is usually a direct correlation between older fleets and increased maintenance, which would likely increase the number of bays you need. Diesel fleets also need slightly different fluids than CNG fleets and may require an exhaust extraction system or other air exchange requirements, depending on the work being done.

CNG has much bigger impacts on the design of the facility because there are several mechanical system requirements that need to be factored in. Some examples of these are gas detection systems, electrical piping required to be two feet below roof line and above the floor, and limits on the use of systems creating flames, such as natural gas fired heaters, overhead door actuating devices, welders and more.

CNG has been a popular option in the last two decades, but it appears that electrification will become the immediate future. The complete impacts of the addition of all-electric trucks is still developing, but as we start to see more fleets introducing these vehicles we will likely see less PM and required maintenance work because of the vastly different motors.

With more electric vehicles on the road, maintenance facilities should be prepared to need more powerful electrical service because of the draw to charge the batteries of these trucks. Some facilities are already experimenting with various small scale, temporary solutions for fleets that are only adding a couple of electric trucks in the near term. This will help avoid a large infrastructure investment and will also allow for continuous improvements and changes to the systems as operators of these facilities learn more about the plugs, power draws, programming and software that will be required for the charging systems.

Point 5: Employee amenities and offices

And last—but not least—are the employee amenity requirements. It’s nice to have a great space to work on the trucks but if you don’t have the right people, then nothing can get done right. Providing areas for the mechanics to change their clothes, get cleaned up, eat their lunch and do their required paperwork is important.

The design team will need to understand the dynamics of the different shifts, who needs offices, who just has a laptop and temporary work area, and locker room or restroom requirements. Other spaces that come into play here are typically the parts and tool storage rooms and the lube storage room that employee’s access daily.

Depending on the location of your facility, controlling the temperature will be important. Up north, good heating systems are a must while down south, cooling systems are more important. There certainly is no “one size fits all” solution for these systems.

It is also common for drivers and other office staff to be housed outside of the maintenance facility, so it is important to provide separate spaces located on the site to accommodate the entire team.

When designing a truck maintenance facility, these five points are just the tip of the iceberg. While the many factors that go into planning a facility can be daunting, choosing a design and construction team you trust can have a huge impact on the site’s layout and how efficient it operates in the short and long term.

Jeff Eriks is president at Cambridge Companies (Griffith, Indiana and Scottsdale, Arizona), a design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 25 years. Cambridge carries licenses in over 30 states and in its history has completed more than 165 solid waste design-build projects including new build, repairs, upgrades and/or modifications at transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, maintenance facilities, landfill entrances and shops, office buildings and more. Cambridge continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes or improvements that will benefit its clients and improve its design-build solutions. Eriks can be reached at (480) 845-0090, via e-mail at jeff@cambridgecoinc.com, or visit www.cambridgecoinc.com.