Under the bonnet: ATL Brake Testers 01: Is docking ATL software to the emissions analyser really an advantage?

ATL brake testers have been used within MoT test stations for a number of years now but considering the approval of these products is very strict, it may be somewhat surprising to end users that there are actually a number of ways of achieving the both the control of the unit and also managing the downloading of the captured data (as is required by VOSA).

The actual operating approval criteria requires that every brake tester chassis will test to a set flowchart specification. This ensures that every brake tester in use within the MoT scheme will give the same result given that same set of vehicle conditions; so any argument that supplier A’s products is fundamentally better than supplier B’s product is probably misleading at best – we all test to the same specification.

Aside from this, in terms of the way that the brake tester actually operates (in terms of its control method) or how it downloads the data to meet the VOSA requirement for data maintenance, there can be significant differences since the specification requires that all ATL acquired data should be downloaded and maintained for a minimum period of 12 months. To achieve this, all manufacturers use a PC as part of the “approved system”. It wasn’t therefore a great leap forward for a majority of manufacturers to go down the route of using the PC on the emissions analyser to facilitate this download to reduce the overall cost of the brake tester. Some went still further and used the same PC (within the emissions analyser) to dock the software used to physically operate the unit.

On the face of it this is a brilliant solution offering a perceived advantage to the end user of a cost saving and less “parts” to go wrong once installed. It is path which GETECH themselves followed initially; however, experience has taught us to look for a different solution.

Consider the situation where a PC ‘goes down’. We’ve all experienced the nightmare this can cause in an office environment. For an MoT bay it is often a showstopper – certainly for PC driven units where the software might be docked on the emissions machine. In this instance no operating PC means no emissions analyser, no brake testing and hence no MoT’s – clearly a better solution needs to be found!

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The first GETECH ATL installation. 2 side by side ATL’s with a single download point.

We found the above problem fairly quickly with our first ATL bay which was installed at Express Motor Workshops near Amesbury. Initially, this installation was approved with 2 side by side bays (a class 4 ATL alongside a class 7 ATL) and, uniquely, a single download function not docked to the emissions analyser but on a standalone laptop. For months we had no issues reported at all until we got to late November / early December and the temperature dropped to near freezing point in the VTS office. With this reduction in ambient temperature (which was outside of the normal operating window of a PC) we had connection and download problems with the data coming from the brake testers.

With the issue identified as being temperature related we were able to ascertain that by relocating the download PC to the main reception office, where we were able to raise the ambient temperature to a more respectable double digit figure, solved the problem. Our conclusion: maintaining the download PC in the office environment allowed data to be transferred.

With this knowledge in hand, we then started to look at the other vulnerable items within a test bay – after all if the RBT goes down then there is of course the possibility to use a back-up decelerometer to allow MoT’s to continue to be conducted (unless your brake tester is PC driven of course!). The next obvious item is the emissions analyser which is usually PC driven and has no back up facility in times of crisis… An obvious conclusion was reached – move to a non-PC based unit for emissions testing as well.

So why haven’t other manufacturers changed their own systems in line with GETECH to eliminate this problem which they must be experiencing with this arrangement? Simply put cost. Add together the costs of the development and the subsequent re-approval costs to maintain the products on the VOSA list and you are looking at a fairly tidy sum so it clearly makes sense for these manufacturers to have a “make do and mend” philosophy and confuse the end user with such statements as “With only a single PC operating the entire bay we have less things to go wrong” tact. But in a situation where many thousands might have been invested, cheaper isn’t a target that has ever been on a GETECH specification – yes we must be mindful of costs but customer satisfaction must be key to our product development and so therefore as a company we MUST use our knowledge to offer better solutions.

Hence GETECH have arrived at, what we believe, is the ultimate solution. Slightly more expensive than some competitors but bullet-proof reliability (which of course offers its own long term savings). A brake tester which uses PCB technology to operate and so therefore is not affected by ambient temperature and an emissions analyser using similar technology to improve reliability – therefore with GETECH products in your MoT bay we can confidently state that our solution will have the best reliability possible over the products lifetime.

Overall Conclusions

  1. Any brake tester which uses a PC to control the brake tester, irrespective of if the software is docked or otherwise is prone to environmental conditions (temperature, dirt etc.)
  2. Docking software onto an emissions analyser does not offer a technical advantage merely a small cost saving whilst introducing operating issues.
  3. Non-PC based equipment is less prone to issues relating to ambient temperatures, the workshop environment (dirt) and other related OS system updates such as if your OS becomes unsupported (Windows XP scenario).

See the GETECH Roller Brake Tester range on its own dedicated webpage HERE, or call 0844 800 9785.

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