A US team has emerged victorious – beating off more than 2,400 contestants – to be crowned champion in Volvo’s global Masters final.
The Volvo Masters 2011 final was the culmination of a two-year odyssey to find most skilled technicians in Volvo’s global network, the best of those vital men and women who ensure Volvo Construction Equipment machines spend minimal downtime and whose vast expertise is an essential part of the company.
This year’s final, held as ever in Eskilstuna, Volvo Construction Equipment’s spiritual Swedish home town, featured six teams in close competition: Israel, Oman and Australia from the International region, Thailand representing Asia, a British team flying the flag for Europe and the USA on behalf of North America. Each had already proven themselves to be worthy champions, having won through a series of local, national, sub-regional and regional finals, which pared the competition down from more than 2,400 Volvo dealer employee entrants to an elite of 24.
After a sightseeing trip to Stockholm the finalists – each team consisting of two service technicians, a parts technician and a team leader – moved to Eskilstuna for two grueling days of competition.
There were seven different tasks to tackle, each one at a different station, representing machines across the Volvo Construction Equipment range: wheel loaders, motor graders, articulated haulers, excavators, backhoe loaders, compactors, and a station that tested the teams’ electrical and hydraulic know-how.
At each station the team was given a work order and 15 minutes preparation time to discuss how they might approach the problem. On the excavator station, for example, the contestants were told the customer had been complaining about the slow boom-up speed. That was the only information they were given. The rest was down to them.
While the service technicians pored over mechanical problems, their parts colleagues were given between 10 and 15 questions to answer, testing not only their knowledge but also their ability to successfully use the information available.
In some tasks, one of the two supervisors who were judging and monitoring the competitors, posed as an operator and could be questioned about the nature of the problem, just as they would on site. In other tasks, supervisors remained silent and the teams had to solve the problem using the tools and materials at hand, as well as online tools like Prosis and operating manuals.
The motor grader station posed a challenging problem. The failure description read: ‘The machine is used in a medium duty road construction application. The machine will not shut-off using the key. An engine drive belt was changed during the evening shift. The foreman of the site is not happy because the job completion is coming fast.’ From then on, the teams were on their own.
The two technicians were given 90 minutes to complete each task. One of the organizers, Jukka Aarnio, explained what the judges were looking for in that time. “The time taken to work out and fix the problem was less important than the approach and strategy they adopted,” he said. “After all, it is possible to get lucky and discover the fault almost by accident and complete the task in a few minutes. In a way it doesn’t matter which machine they are working on. It is the process they use we are looking at, the strategy, and how that sits with our core values. For example, do the teams consider safety and environmental values when they are working on the task?’
Some of the teams were not familiar with all the machines they were working with – the British team, for example, explained they knew little about compactors – but again, the way they tackled the task was as important as whether they were successful. If a team made a mistake, or had a bad station, it wasn’t disastrous for their chances of winning: the lowest ranking a team achieved was subtracted from their final score.
As the competition progressed, the pressure built, the baking midsummer Swedish weather matching the white heat of competition within. Sweat beading on their brows, the contestants peered under engine covers, gazed quizzically at laptop screens, worked with electrics, discussed strategy, while the cunningly set tasks tested all their knowledge and expertise.
Then it was over, a chance to debrief, to swap tales, ahead of the awards ceremony that evening. The tension built until the results were finally announced: the Israeli team had finished third, Australia – winners in 2007 – second, while the title was taken by the US team, Billy Byers, Scotty Cox, and James Dorton.
Outside, flushed with victory, but also the camaraderie they had experienced, the three men, who all work for the ASC dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina, gazed with amazement at the trophy and tried to find the words to sum up how they felt.
“Awesome,” Scotty said eventually. “Just awesome. It was a real tough competition. Those guys we were up against were good. To win this and beat some of the best mechanics in the world is a real privilege.”
Text: Charlie Ebers
Picture 1: The winning team from the USA with (from left) the administrators Annica Peterson, Pål Torgersen, Bo Lennervad, Jukka Aarnio, head of service Gustav Edholm and USA team Leader Roberto Bogdanoff.
Picture 2: Israel's Valery Mosolov checks some connections during the hydraulics and electrics test.
Picture 3: From left: The Omanis - Wisam and Mahmoud start their diagnosis at the excavator station.