MOT Workshop 50 – MOT Technology

With modern technology moving ahead faster than you can blink, even the very latest British MOT equipment is now ‘behind the times’. Here we put ‘MOT technology’ under the spotlight. But even with the most ‘up-to-date’ equipment, there’s a snag; the detailed ways the DVSA (previously VOSA) insist that those MOT Testing Lanes are placed and spaced – millimetric clearances, precise measurements and restrictive regulations – can seriously inhibit slick, efficient and productive MOT Testing. First though, let’s hear Garage Equipment Association Chief Dave Garratt’s vision for future MOT Testing Lanes.

Fully integrated ATLs – a vision of the future…

modern test laneIn Italy the equipment is fully modernised and computerised, and links in directly to the Government’s MOT computer – yet isn’t yet even planned for in Britain.

Garratt has been talking to both DVSA (ex-VOSA) and members of the MOT Trade Forum about current and future trends in developing fully computer-linked ‘smart’ MOT Testing lanes. He now shares his vision with our readers…

Here’s a question: “What could the Test Lane of the future look like?” Well maybe the first question should be: “what’s wrong with the test lanes we use today and do they need updating?” Well, yes, they do their job but… The equipment is outdated and comes from the PC age of the 1980s, and is unable to take full advantage of today’s technologies.

The 1980s… PC linked and ‘menu’ driven

Let me explain – any complex equipment requiring a step-by-step procedure to operate, was ‘automated’ back in the nineteen eighties. This was because personal computers had became affordable and if you were in the garage equipment industry and wanted to develop an automatic brake tester, or a gas analyser that guided the operator, the PC offered the perfect solution with its ‘procedural’ menu. So today most UK Automated Test Lanes (ATLs) incorporate the following two, if not three types of PC based equipment:

An exhaust gas analyser (EGA) – using a PC display, to guide the operator through the Test and to house a database containing the recommended pass/fail limits provided by the vehicle manufacturers.
A diesel smoke meter (DSM) – also with a PC display and user interface to guide the operator through the Test. These days, however it might be a combination unit, which uses one PC for both the EGA and DSM.
An automated brake tester, incorporating a PC display which guides the operator, also with a database of vehicles tested, and the Test results.
Another type of processor based equipment which could have been on this list is the electronic headlamp aligner. In the UK however, the headlamp check has never been automated and electronic assessment of the beam pattern is not permitted by VOSA. In fact the next update of equipment should, most likely, permit electronic assessment of headlamps.

Internet linked equipment

But equipment technology is changing; and the big ‘thing’ behind that change is arguably, the biggest driver of change on the planet – the internet.

For MOT Test lanes, using individual stand-alone PCs is fast becoming a road-block to improved productivity. Problematically, ‘stand alone’ kit needs its software updated every time a ‘test-limit’, or ‘procedure’ is changed by the DVSA or the EU, these days, however, we expect our gadgets to update automatically via the internet, storing data in the ‘Cloud’. So why couldn’t MOT Test equipment do the same? – The answer’s simple. It could, and it should!

The problem is that each individual piece of equipment would need an IP address together with a Wi-Fi or a 3G account. But low volume sales of test lanes sold makes it uneconomic for most stand-alone equipment.

But with a complete test lane, it starts to make perfect sense. For example, if a test lane had just the one PC with an internet connection, then all other equipment in the lane could communicate via that PC, and the internet directly, sending data to the Testing authority’s (that’s DVSA’s) cloud based server. So the equipment wouldn’t need a database or have to store test results; these could all be retained by DVSA, and any changes to test limits could be set by them directly. This immediately removes the need to update thousands of gas analysers or roller brake testing machines every time tests limits or procedures changed. That would be very cost effective to Testing Stations.

Falling behind…

peoples 0208
Unless whoever is the Minister responsible for MOT Testing after the election, and Alastair Peoples (pictured) Chief Executive of the DVSA re-structure the fee to either prevent or inhibit discounting so that Testing Stations can make a reasonable profitable return on capital employed to fund new equipment, then MOT modernisation as described here just won’t happen.

Many of the testing authorities around the world already do this, the most recent being Italy, which has just introduced the automatic test lane known as ‘MCTC net 2’, an evolution of their existing MCTC net 1, installed in 2002 in all Italian ‘MOT’ Test centres. In comparison Britain is well behind the running.

Italy’s system provides the following advantages:
• All major test equipment is connected to one central PC in the test centre.
• It improves data exchange by generating an electronic test record for every vehicle, which is sent to the government for analysis, monitoring and supervision.
• It includes a camera to photograph the vehicle under Test, providing automatic recognition.
• The single PC automatically collects all Test results, vehicle data and pictures to generate a file that is exchanged with the MOT central computer.

So, in answer to the question I started with, test lanes of the future will have all the equipment networked together, sending data directly to the DVSA via the internet. There need only be one PC or Tablet, and a video camera providing number plate recognition so vehicle data is automatically captured as the vehicle is driven onto the test-lane. The cost of the lane would be similar to today’s cost, but with only one PC, which of course, would replace the current VTS device.

Recently the DVSA set up a meeting with members of the MOT Trade drawn from a wide spectrum of interests to ‘float’ their latest ideas for a ‘modernised’ MOT Scheme. Their vision is firmly based on an internet solution for future MOT Testing – so, there’s no reason why British MOT Test lanes can’t move ahead with the times as well.

 MOT Computerisation 2015

We like Dave Garratt’s vision for the future of MOT Test Lanes, but there’s a problem – the DVSA! For Garratt’s ‘vision’ to happen, they must adopt appropriate systems and protocols for the new internet-based MOT Computer in 2015 to communicate directly with the Test equipment via the Test Station’s single computer, be it a PC, laptop or tablet – or at the very least to ‘future-proof’ the system so that it can be done in due course.

Unfortunately, however, the DVSA and the MOT Trade do not have the same priorities. The primary 2015 ‘objective’ for the DVSA is to set up an internet-based consistently reliable MOT computer system, in the most economic way. That the protocols and procedures will allow Testing Stations’ equipment to operate more efficiently and effectively with respect to equipment interfacing with the MOT computer is not the highest priority. And, from what we have heard at MOT Testing, whilst the DVSA will attempt to develop a suitably adaptable computer system, it might not happen. So possibly, the biggest ‘road-block’ to British Testing Stations using the most up-to-date equipment, with the best technology as envisioned by Dave Garratt, may be the Government itself!

Enabling Testing Stations to improve efficiency and productivity, the Government might argue, is entirely for Testing Stations to set up and fund for themselves. But that is a ‘cop-out’; as soon as the MOT becomes internet based, MOT equipment and the MOT computer should all become components in a seamless integrated system – which should not be ‘road-blocked’ by the Government’s inadequate ‘IT’ side of the equation! The guys at the DVSA are keen, as are Senior Officials at the DfT – sadly though, politicians may not share that view.

Minimal operational flexibility

Anybody new to MOT Testing is always surprised, often shocked, at the extent of detailed and numerous rules and regulations laid down by Government for the MOT Scheme. It is a jungle of largely unnecessary red-tape, and arguably at its worst when setting up an MOT Testing lane. There must be minimum clearances between pieces of equipment, and between equipment and walls and so on. Yes, there are so called ‘grandfather rights’ for pre-existing Test Stations who cannot comply without building work, but in fact they could be unilaterally withdrawn at any time – potentially resulting in the closure of thousands of smaller businesses with restricted premises.

Yet why should the Government be directly involved at all? I bet Pharmaceutical companies making drugs for the NHS don’t have Government ‘on their backs’ telling them how to lay-out their factory’s production lines! These silly rules could all be swept away. Just two simple questions need to be asked, and have a “yes!” answer:

In engineering terms does the MOT Test Lane enable the conduct of a satisfactory MOT inspection for a given class of vehicle?

Is the MOT Test Lane safe to use for the MOT inspections being conducted?

Why not just make sure that equipment suppliers are qualified to answer these questions when installing MOT equipment? They are the experts after all; and if DVSA want assurance they are ‘up-to-scratch’, then just insist those suppliers’ employees are properly qualified, and have professional indemnity insurance so they’re covered if they get it wrong – and are also members of the Garage Equipment Association who could arrange the insurance for members as part of their membership fees – easy… and at a recent joint meeting with the Trade, DVSA staff suggested that this is how they see the longer term future too.

What’s happened to the ‘Red-Tape Challenge’?

With all that’s happened since the Coalition Government came to power its easy to forget their much vaunted ‘Red Tape Challenge’ introduced shortly after they took Office – remember that? They were going to get rid of swathes of ‘red tape’. “one new regulation in, one must go out” was their mantra. Perhaps the DfT actually significantly reducing the current detailed nit picking requirements about MOT equipment would be a way of really rising to that Red Tape Challenge. With a new internet based computer system for 2015, wouldn’t that be a wonderful opportunity to really rise to that ‘Red Tape Challenge’? Hopefully, those responsible at the DVSA will scrutinise the myriad nit-picking regulations in the Manual and the Guide, and sweep away those that don’t contribute directly to either a better MOT Test or a way of better carrying out a Test to improve productivity. Less red-tape, valuable economies at the DVSA, improved productivity at Testing Stations, and a better product with a slicker service to motorists. Looks like a ‘no brainer’ to us!

Here’s how to fully realise Dave Garratt’s vision of adopting modern internet technology to significantly improve the MOT Testing Scheme to the benefit of all stakeholders – including the Government itself.

Then there’s the EU…

Yet we mustn’t forget that in Britain we’re not masters of our own destiny, the European Union casts its long shadow over everything we do – their MOT rules reign supreme. And in one important respect the EU is seriously hindering the development of a quality MOT Testing Scheme for the future.

The most startling difference between modern cars and those of just a couple of decades ago is the degree of computerisation – and especially regarding safety related systems. Adaptive cruise control, traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive electric power steering. All of these systems have a ‘safety related’ dimension, which should be MOT Tested. Currently, however, the EU trend is to rely on whether or not a warning light is ‘on’ or ‘off’ to decide ‘pass/fail’. Yet that light, is just as much part of the system which needs testing, as the computer controlled safety related system itself! The only ‘proper’ test is to use a scan tool.

Unfortunately though, EU legislators are strangely reluctant to insist on the use of scan tools to check such computerised systems – why is that? Well, we can only speculate, but persuading car manufacturers to part with their ‘secret’ protocols to develop a scan tool is probably the biggest obstacle. They have huge influence in the EU, and especially so in Germany, increasingly the political European epicentre.

It gets worse – there’s no ‘harmonisation’ between EU rules on vehicle design and construction, and those on MOT Testing. So new cars can, and are, designed and used on EU roads with electronically controlled safety systems which cannot be properly Tested during an MOT – I wonder if our Government is lobbying for that within the ‘corridors of power’ in Europe…

And finally… modernisation will cost VTSs money – and where’s that coming from? Until something’s done about the fee, and improving MOT Testing profitability, nothing will happen.
In part 2 of this ‘Spotlight on…’ series into MOT Technology, editor Jim Punter tells us about his experience of installing a new lift with ‘shaker plates’ to achieve a ‘One Person Test Lane’.

Note to this updated article:

These articles first appeared in the May 2014 edition of MOT Testing magazine and have been updated for this issue of MOT Workshop.

What was published on ‘modernisation’ last year in MOT Testing is quite feasible – except for the unexpected limitations of the DVSA online MOT Computer. The best way of describing how VOSA (during the first computer development up to 2005), and now the DVSA are ‘modernising’ is that it is, “backing into the future”.

Leading up to the original MOT computer, Testing Stations were promised a direct transfer of emission results onto the MOT computer. It never happened, and now, a decade later and emission results still can’t be sent from the equipment directly to the MOT computer.

Sadly, the new computer will have less functionality than the current one; which DVSA assure us will be addressed after August when everybody’s been ‘switched on’. But it’ll take time, and they’ve no idea how long, or if they have, they’re not sharing it with the MOT industry.

So, before Dave Garratt’s vision for the future can even be started, not only have the DVSA got to successfully install the online system, they’ll need to bring it up to the same functionality as the current Atos MOT computer – and we’ve no idea how long that will take, and I bet DVSA don’t know either. Yes, DVSA – “backing into the future”!

Jim Punter.

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