FITCHBURG, Wis.—Consistency, interactivity and immersion.
These were the core goals set forth by advanced vehicle technology firm Automotive Research & Design (AR&D) in the development of its new dedicated aftermarket hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) training center, which the company said is the first brick-and-mortar facility of its kind.
Located in Fitchburg, the 6,500-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art center officially opened for business May 15 with an exclusive one-day training event and reception. In a press release, Mark Quarto, chief technical officer of AR&D, said the new facility is a means of closing the gap between OEMs and the aftermarket.
“This training center environment will be the first of its kind in the automotive aftermarket, to educate and train students by bridging the complex OEM hybrid and electric systems technology with innovative aftermarket diagnostic and service engineering solutions that are powered by AR&D,” he said.
Jeff Minter, executive director of technical training for AR&D, told Tire Business that the training industry has often promoted the misconception that information equals knowledge. This training center, he added, is designed to equip students with the latter.
“The reality is that simply providing people with lots of information does not automatically mean they have gained more knowledge,” he said. “Our focus at the training center is to ensure that participants in our classes will actually gain knowledge, not just be supplied with information. That requires the learner to be actively involved in their learning process, both in the classroom and in the hands-on shop activities.
“Having a fixed-location training center incorporating various interactive technologies in the classroom allows us to really ensure that we can offer that to those attending training here,” he added.
Up to this point, the center has been used primarily to provide exclusive setup training to current and prospective members of The Hybrid Shop (THS), an international network of dealers specializing in the maintenance and repair of hybrid vehicles. Mr. Quarto is a co-owner of THS, and AR&D provides the franchise business with HEV battery reconditioning equipment as well as technical support.
AR&D's dedicated training facility addresses some of the shortcomings of on-site training, which has been the industry norm, according to Mr. Minter.
“To this point there has not been anything with a brick-and-mortar (building),” Mr. Minter said. “Most of the advanced technology stuff in general has been people doing what we were doing in the past—going into schools, using their facilities or, you know, the groups that typically rent a room in a hotel and do a lecture-style mini-class. There hasn't been anything in the industry in the aftermarket strictly dedicated to doing the advanced technology vehicles.”
One of the primary advantages of a brick-and-mortar location is that it allows for an interactive classroom setup, Mr. Minter said. The classroom in the company's new facility is equipped to support 24 participants and was designed to provide a fully interactive environment, complete with interactive projection screen and tablet PCs at each participant's training station.
Training center students have the ability to share files between computers, submit questions to the instructor and take quizzes in real time, Mr. Minter said.
An adjacent 4,000-sq.-ft. shop area was built to support up to six vehicles for hands-on training purposes. It features an array of equipment, such as OEM and aftermarket scan tools, thermal imaging cameras and AR&D's own HEV battery and electric transmission diagnostic and repair equipment kits.
According to Mr. Minter, the small classroom size is meant to help foster interactivity.
“If it was all lecture-based, obviously we could kind of expand (the size) out indefinitely, but to maintain a good quality hands-on environment, the smaller groups are better,” he said. “So our plan to serve needs as they become larger and larger will be to run classes more frequently rather than expanding the size of the classes."
A dedicated training center also offers a level of consistency not typically seen in on-site training, which can be impacted by the types of available equipment and vehicles, along with the environment itself.
Lastly, Mr. Minter said one of the biggest advantages of a dedicated training center is immersion in the material, something that's difficult to achieve at a real automotive service business, where day-to-day activities can often create interference.
“One of the things we're really trying to do with this is immerse the guys in the technology,” he said. “So we want the techs to come in here and not be distracted by what else is going on in their shop.... We're trying to get it where they really come in and can be focused on the technology for the entire class.”
Mr. Minter added that having a dedicated HEV training facility has allowed AR&D to focus on reviewing its existing curriculum and “make modifications to take advantage of classroom technology in on-site training classes.”
“While this technology may at first glance seem to be a novelty, it's going to be used to employ new techniques to improve retention of the highly technical content,” he said. “We are beginning to incorporate the principles of accelerated learning into all of our training.”
Mr. Minter said the center will run its first non-THS course on July 8. The training schedule at the facility features a variety of course offerings, including the SAE International Advanced HEV Diagnostics Certificate of Competency—the first and only recognized industry HEV credential requiring four days of hands-on training with both practical and written proctored final exams on day five, according to AR&D. A full schedule of courses offered, description of courses and registration information can be found on AR&D's website at www.go2hev.com.
Beginning in 2015, the company plans to expand its course offerings further with an instructor workshop.
“This will focus on providing instructors with a more in-depth look at various hybrid-electric vehicle systems and components, along with providing them information on how to construct training aids they can use at their schools,” Mr. Minter said.
Also beginning next year, AR&D intends to hold mini-conferences—each open to about 50 attendees—at its facility twice a year to focus on other advanced vehicle technologies, like compressed natural gas and fuel cell energy, he said.
“What we want to do is kind of expand out our area, not so much our owner area of expertise, but to use the training facility as a way to help expose the service industry to those other advanced technologies and leverage people that are the experts in those areas,” Mr. Minter said.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6148.