Author: Jim Galligan


Winterizing the Shop

Winters in the northern latitudes can be brutal. A utility fleet’s winter preparedness plan for the maintenance shop can improve safety for its technicians and helps to ensure that fleet equipment is ready to go when needed.

UFP spoke with Les Faul, operations manager with Commonwealth Edison Co., to find out how the Chicago-based utility has kept its 22 maintenance shops operating during winter. This was the second of two recent UFP interviews with Faul about utility operations. Visit for a discussion of biofuels.

UFP: What does winterizing a maintenance facility entail?

Les Faul: There are a few things that we do. Beginning in October, we have a winter preparedness plan that assigns certain corrective actions to different organizations. In the shop, we increase our stock of high consumables, such as snow brushes, scrapers, wiper blades, filters – those winter items.

All of our trucks have block heaters, of course. We store the power cords inside during the summer, and part of our winter preparedness plan is getting those cords back out on the stanchions, usually around the November time frame. We let our line organization know that the cords have been placed out there, and we start reminding them to start plugging in their block heaters at the end of the shift. A vehicle that’s been plugged in overnight with the block heater and has warm oil and fluids starts a whole lot easier. [That way] we’re not impacting the shop with a lot of jump-starts and [that] allows [mechanics] to get to the repairs that are a lot more critical.

The safety of our mechanics is of utmost importance. We work with [the facilities department] to ensure that salt bins are placed in all doors so that we can address any icing issues immediately instead of waiting for a salt crew to come out. We also make sure that we have rugs and/or mats to be able to scrape off snow so that you’re not walking into a shop with snow on your shoes and stepping onto a slick surface. Facilities also will come through and check our heaters to make sure that’s all working.

It’s really important that we take care of the resources that are taking care of the vehicles and line crews. So, we want to make sure the mechanics have access to all the winter gear that they need. We’ll go through our winter preparedness [plan] and ask the mechanics if there is any winter gear that they’re missing so we can order it before winter hits.

Do you make any changes to PMs or staffing?

We don’t change assignments in the bays and where the work gets done. Our shop crews are staffed primarily [so] that our day-shift focus is there to support getting the vehicles out, taking care of emergent repairs as well as other maintenance. But the bulk of our resources, our mechanic resources, are on the afternoon and evening shifts. Some of our shops and locations are relatively small. If there is any change, it is that, depending on the weather, [if] extreme lows are forecasted – anything under 10 degrees – we may adjust our shift to bring on two of the night guys on the days to ensure we have enough resources to get out and take care of any starting issues that may present themselves.

We don’t do anything special as far as [preventive maintenance] schedules. We just make sure the workload is balanced throughout the year.

How do you handle lubes and fuels, such as diesel exhaust fluid, during winter? DEF begins crystallizing at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lubes are pretty standard. We don’t have any issues there. We are running synthetic oils in all of our equipment based on the duty cycles. It helps in the cold for starting purposes. But for us, it’s more being able to have our duty cycles where we wanted them, to put our PMs where we needed them.

We’ve got six sites with bulk DEF. Those are self-contained units on the fuel islands. They’re insulated for heat and for sunlight, and they are heated in the wintertime. For the bulk totes and consumable jugs of DEF, we store those indoors year-round.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


Winter Reminders for DEF
Diesel exhaust fluid, required in all diesel engines that utilize selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, requires some attention during winter.

DEF will begin to crystallize and freeze at 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 degrees Celsius). If you’re going to store DEF outside during winter, store it in a heated unit and out of sunlight since sunlight can degrade the product.

In the truck, SCR systems are designed to provide heating for the DEF tank and supply lines. If DEF freezes when the vehicle is shut down, start-up and normal operation of the vehicle will not be inhibited, according to Cummins ( The SCR heating system is designed to quickly return the DEF to liquid form.

Anti-gelling and freeze-point improvers are not approved for use in DEF. Commercial DEF’s solution of 32.5% urea and 67.5% deionized water is the most effective ratio for reducing oxides of nitrogen emissions while also providing the lowest freeze point, according to Cummins. Any blending or adjusting of the mixture will impede the ability of the SCR to perform correctly and may cause damage to its components.

DEF expands by approximately 7% when frozen, but commercial DEF packaging and tanks are designed to allow for expansion.


Watch Your Overhang: Spec’ing Utility Pole Trailers for Maximum Safety

“Mind your lengths and weights” could be the mantra for any utility spec’ing a new utility pole trailer. Pole lengths and weights, as well as the operating terrain and tie-down options, are some of the safety-related factors to consider when ordering a new trailer, industry experts said.

At the top of the safety spec’ing list is determining the length of the longest pole that will be transported and how much overhang is considered safe, said Mark Rapp, utility/telecom product manager with Felling Trailers ( The legal standards for overhang vary by state, and it’s up to the utility to know and abide by the regulations.

Additionally, fleets need to think about how mixing different pole lengths and classes on a trailer will affect performance and safety.

“A Class 1 pole is more rigid than a Class 5 pole and therefore can tolerate more overhang,” Rapp said. “[It’s] up to the end user or the pole supplier to determine how much overhang they can tolerate.”

Included in those length considerations is the necessity to spec enough space between the poles and the towing truck that the truck can make tight turns without contacting the poles at the front of the trailer, said Joe Siefkas, inside sales specialist with Brooks Brothers Trailers (

“Not taking these factors into account when choosing and specifying [utility pole trailers] forces crews to unsafely load trailers with poles that are too long,” Siefkas said.

Spec the Axle Location
The maximum payload is going to help set the axle configuration and frame design, Siefkas noted. The gross vehicle weight rating is the combined axle weight rating plus about 15% load transfer to the hitch. Subtracting the curb weight of the empty trailer provides the payload capacity.

“Not creating detailed requirements can lead to trailers being overloaded or unable to handle the rough duty expected of utility construction trailers,” Siefkas said.

Axles must be located at the rear of the trailer to balance the load between the axles and the hitch. As a general rule, the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers recommends placing approximately 60% of the load forward of the axle and 40% behind the axle to achieve proper tongue weight.

Not spec’ing the axle location can lead to an overloaded tongue and hitch, Siefkas said. Without proper axle location, an upward cantilever force will be transferred to the tongue and hitch. Improper tongue and hitch loading can cause the trailer to whip back and forth at moderate speeds.

Factor in Trailer Connections
Trailer tongues extend and retract, so it is important to factor in trailer connections and wiring systems when spec’ing, Rapp said. Plugs are the most common linkage – common enough that crews shouldn’t make mistakes, but stuff happens. The biggest safety concern is if the field crew forgets to make the connection or forgets to pull the plug when extending the tongue, Rapp explained.

“What may be worse is forgetting to plug the connection back in,” he said. “Then you’re running with no lights or brakes. If the trailer breaks away, the safety system won’t function.”

Felling’s pole trailers don’t require crew intervention when extending or retracting.

Finally, a trailer should be spec’d with pole stubs and winch binders that will tighten and secure the poles to the trailer. A pole stub and winch binder should be placed at an intermediate location between the hitch and axles, Siefkas said. Brooks Brothers offers trailers with four or more tie-down locations, with an optional removable tongue-mounted winch binder.

“Not specifying the necessary pole stub and binders leads to having a less secured load, and it can lead to excessive tongue deflection and damage,” Siefkas said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


Spec’ing for Diverse Utility Poles
Wood poles are the most common type of utility poles, but there are some additional spec’ing precautions fleets should keep in mind if they are going to be hauling mixed or other types of poles, such as wood laminate, fiberglass or concrete.

For starters, padded and/or additional bolsters and tie-downs may be required, and the rear overhang may need to be reduced as well.

Unlike a wood pole that is tapered, a lot of these poles have a center of gravity either in the center or near to it.

Finally, Mark Rapp, utility/telecom product manager with Felling Trailers, recommended against using a pole trailer to haul pipe lengths unless the material being hauled will hang off the back, similar to a utility pole. If the material being hauled is required to be supported along its entire length, a utility pole trailer model is not recommended.

Source: “Utility Pole Trailers 101,” Felling Trailers


Avoiding Costly Mistakes with ATUVs

Prices can range upward of $300,000 for a ready-to-work all-terrain utility vehicle (ATUV), so fleet managers can ill afford missteps in spec’ing, maintenance or planning – mistakes that may end up costing unnecessary dollars or lost days on a remote site while waiting for repairs.

Fortunately, mistakes can be avoided with smart spec’ing and common-sense practices, according to ATUV chassis manufacturers.

Right-size spec’ing is the most important thing fleets can do, said Matt Slater, vice president of sales and marketing with Terramac (

“[Make] sure you are sourcing the right size unit for your application,” he said. “Problems [can] arise when you source too large an attachment to go on a unit or try to use a smaller unit to make it easier to transport. The inability to move [equipment] on a specific trailer or to get permits for it is something we see all the time.”

Ignoring maintenance practices and/or recommended procedures also can cost fleets big dollars, especially if those processes end up voiding the warranty. Overloading a unit beyond the rated carrying capacity and failing to perform recommended service are two examples of warranty-voiding actions, Slater said. Another is adding unapproved attachments, such as a lift that is too high for the carrier’s footprint.

“This is why we work closely with customers to ensure the carrier and attachment are a proper fit for each other,” Slater said.

The good news, ATUV manufacturers said, is that mis-spec’ing new equipment is becoming more difficult because they work hand-in-glove with equipment suppliers to make sure the units are matched correctly to the customer’s order.

Issues are more likely to occur with a fleet mounting older equipment onto a new chassis, said Alain Chabot, product manager with PRINOTH Tracked Vehicles ( “Through our knowledge of technology and together with our engineering team, we can support our customers to fully integrate the implement onto the crawler carrier. We can’t expect every customer to be a specialist on our product, and that’s why we offer this kind of additional support and collaborate to mount the equipment the same way they would on a truck,” he said.

“When we redesigned our PANTHER chassis, including the T16 chassis, we wanted to facilitate implement installation for customers, which we achieved with a standard C-channel truck-style chassis,” Chabot added. The outcome is that installing a crane on PRINOTH’s crawler carrier doesn’t take much more time than on a regular truck. “This is a huge benefit for equipment suppliers and helps reduce potential mistakes,” he said.

Because ATUVs are so specialized, and because they can cost so much, most buyers are experienced with the unit’s capabilities, tend to know what they need and, as a result, don’t make many mistakes, said Curt Unger, sales manager with Morooka USA (

“It’s really hard to wear these little machines out, and it’s true, they can generally hold more than they’re rated for,” Unger said, referencing Morooka’s line of compact carriers. “But a sure way to shorten the useful life of their components, especially their undercarriages, is to repeatedly overload them.”

That can be especially costly for rental customers, he added. “Damage of any kind to the unit, including damage to the undercarriage, can add extra charges to [a fleet’s] rental bill,” Unger said.

Beyond that is the issue of what overloading does to operating performance. “To wear something out, you might have to repeatedly overload it,” Unger said. “But it only takes one incident to have a mishap. Each time you load your machine beyond its rated capacity, what have you done to its center of gravity? How have you compromised its safety on a slope?”

While the manufacturers contend they have essentially reduced the chance for mistakes by better engineering, stuff happens. Spec’ing smartly and operating within the ATUV’s rated parameters sounds like the best advice to avoid costly mistakes.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


From Wheels to Tracks: Three Tips for Smart Spec’ing
All-terrain utility vehicle manufacturers contend that the close relationships they have with equipment suppliers have gone a long way in helping fleets avoid costly spec’ing mistakes with their ATUVs.

One exception may be with customers who aren’t familiar with the differences in wheeled versus tracked equipment as they change from the former to the latter, said Curt Unger, sales manager for Morooka USA.

In those situations, Unger recommended that fleets consider three factors: speed, size requirements and operator training.

The first mistake a fleet might make is underestimating the need to transport material quickly, Unger said. Put simply, wheeled vehicles are faster than tracked units. “If your tracked vehicle’s top speed is 8 mph, and it’s a 4-mile drive one way to the site, you’re going to lose an hour for every roundtrip you make,” Unger noted. “Wheeled vehicles have the advantage of speed on ground conditions that permit their use.”

Next is properly sizing the equipment, not just for capacity but also for its weight and dimensions. Tracked vehicles can weigh more than a wheeled counterpart, and fleets need to take that into consideration, Unger said. The Morooka MST600, for example, weighs almost 10,000 pounds empty. “You will no longer be able to carry this and your mini-excavator to a job site behind your pickup on a 12,000-pound trailer,” he said.

Finally, don’t underestimate training requirements. Some ATUVs have a steeper learning curve, as does the transition from wheeled utility vehicles to tracked machines. “A tracked machine will feel as though it will climb up a vertical wall, but there’s a limit to how much slope you’ll be comfortable traveling on horizontally,” Unger said. “Operators need training about the limitations of the rig and traveling different kinds of surfaces.”


ADAS May Be a Mixed Bag in Your Shop

More vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are showing up in utility fleet maintenance shops as vehicle manufacturers accelerate the introduction of these safety technologies into new models.

While there is little doubt that ADAS features – such as adaptive cruise control, radar-based collision avoidance systems and other technologies – can lower fleet costs by improving safety and reducing collisions, the issue for fleets is what effect these components will have on maintenance. Will these technologies increase maintenance costs by requiring more training or new equipment?

The early answer from fleet and industry consultants is that it is too soon to know definitively. Much depends on which components and features the fleet adds. In some cases, the technologies build on well-known foundation systems, so the need for training or additional equipment may be minimal, one supplier said. Some technologies, like radar, self adjust.

“Right now, it’s truly unknown what the expectations are,” said Darry Stuart, principal with DWS Fleet Management (, a maintenance consulting firm. “It’s going to be challenging in the early days until it’s figured out.”

San Diego Gas & Electric added 10 small SUVs with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and emergency (crash avoidance) braking systems in early 2018. It’s still early, but so far results in the shop have been good, said Clint Marsh, fleet asset manager. “Maintenance for the radar-based systems is minimal and has not affected maintenance/parts costs for vehicles with this technology.”

Another factor that may moderate changes is that technicians should see many similarities with well-known systems and processes, said Mark Melletat, executive director of fleet sales and service with component supplier WABCO ( Brake-related technologies, such as stability control, build on the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system, so maintenance should be no different from the standard ABS maintenance, he said.

“All safety systems are based on foundation systems,” Melletat said. “We added electronics on brakes and developed ABS. ABS evolved to stability control, which uses the brake to automatically stabilize the driver’s input. Maintenance is no different than maintaining ABS; every time you turn the key on, the electronic system goes through tests.”

In the shop, technicians will plug into the J1939 connector and diagnose systems, similar to today, Melletat said.

Also, radar-based ADAS technologies are self-testing, Melletat noted. “[Radar] is always looking at the landscape, conducting self-tests. It will notify the driver of any potential issue. In general, you don’t have to do anything proactively. If the radar is blocked with debris, it will tell you.”

Each model year, more manufacturers are offering ADAS features on more models, some standard, some optional. Forward collision and lane departure features, for example, are standard on all 2019 Toyota vehicles, including the Tacoma full-size pickup, and optional on some Ford and Chevrolet models, including the F-150 and Silverado pickups, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( Medium-duty units, such as International’s WorkStar, have long had advanced braking systems, but whether they add additional ADAS technologies remains to be seen.

“Every year, customers are becoming more interested in advanced driver systems and are looking to implement them in their vehicles,” said Chad Semler, director of medium-duty product marketing for International Trucks ( “Navistar has been able to support our customers’ increased interest in these systems and are well-positioned to handle future advancements.”

Ultimately, technicians may need different training and skills than what the traditional diesel techs are used to, said Stuart of DWS Fleet Management. “We’re coming into a new electronic age and, ironically, understanding the iron part of a diesel engine may not be as important as it was. That used to be what we considered complicated. Now, the diesel engine is almost the easiest thing on a truck.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


Will Calibrations be a Bugaboo?
One area where advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) components may affect maintenance is in the need for calibrations, suggested Ben Johnson, director of product management with Mitchell1 (, a maintenance software supplier.

Many vehicles now require recalibration of the outside-view cameras after a four-wheel thrust angle alignment, according to Mitchell1 documents. Calibration is important because the systems trigger safety actions based on input data. If the input data is incorrect, such as a camera registering an obstacle a few feet away from where it actually is, then the safety factor has been compromised to some level, Johnson said.

In another example, forward-looking radar – needed for adaptive cruise control – is just a black box typically mounted behind the grille on or near the radiator. If the radiator needs replacing, just the action of reattaching the radar may move it a few degrees off dead center, Johnson said.

While ADAS radar systems are self-correcting, according to Mark Melletat, executive director of fleet sales and service with ADAS component supplier WABCO, the issue of advanced calibrations – how to do them, who does them – may be something fleet maintenance shops will have to keep in mind down the road.


Tips for Spec’ing Impact Attenuators

Highway construction and maintenance worker fatalities have been on a steady decline for decades thanks to improved safety measures in and around worksites, including the use of following vehicles – also known as shadow vehicles – with truck- or trailer-mounted impact attenuators.

These highly visible vehicle buffers add another layer of protection for road and highway work crews by absorbing the impact of a crash from an errant vehicle. However, the industry has recognized that the current safety guidelines for these truck-mounted attenuators (TMA) and truck-trailer-mounted attenuators (TTMA) are outdated for today’s heavier vehicles and faster highway speeds, and new crash rating guidelines are due in 2020 (See “New TMA Guidelines Effective January 2020” sidebar). But in the meantime, industry executives offered several guidelines to consider when spec’ing a TMA or TTMA for today’s conditions.

The effectiveness of a TMA truck – its stopping power – depends on three core elements: the attenuator itself, the braking force of the TMA truck and the ballast used to increase the truck’s weight if necessary, said Samantha Schwartz-Lenhart, marketing and business development manager with TMA supplier Royal Truck & Equipment (

Attenuators – the actual buffers – are measured by their test level (TL) ratings. A TL-2 attenuator, for example, is qualified and tested to stop an impacting vehicle of a certain weight at a speed of 70 kmh (approximately 45 mph). A TL-3 attenuator is rated for 100 kmh (62 mph). “TL-3 is the maximum test level rating currently available on the market, and is the top tier for what is required when operating on highways where the average speed of traffic often exceeds those speed ratings,” Schwartz-Lenhart said.

It makes a difference whether the following vehicle will be used as a rolling or stationary buffer because that will dictate which impact and crash metrics it should meet, said Rick Mauer, marketing manager for TTMA manufacturer Gregory Industries Inc. ( Briefly, TMAs and TTMAs are rated based on matrices of various vehicle weights and speeds to determine the size of the following vehicle and the minimum distance it should travel when impacted. Fleet buyers then use sets of roll-ahead charts to spec the correct vehicle and attenuator.

“It is critical that the users understand the importance the roll-ahead charts play in the selection of a TMA/TTMA and how to properly use them,” Mauer said. “They need to know the mass of the vehicle they intend to mount the unit to and the roadway speed. They will also need to estimate the weight of the anticipated impacting vehicle.”

Whether the attenuator is permanently mounted on a truck or used as a trailer, today’s charts all max out with an assumed 24,000-pound impacting vehicle. However, given that highways are full of vehicles that exceed this mass, the charts represent minimum distances the TMA or TTMA vehicle can roll, Mauer noted.

Both TMAs and TTMAs are tested to the same crash test criteria and have similar performance between manufacturers’ units, Mauer said.

The truck carrying the attenuator should use air brakes, not hydraulics, for safety, Schwartz-Lenhart recommended. “When a [hydraulically braked] truck is hit by a semi, that [TMA’s] parking brake explodes on impact, so the truck has no brakes. When we do get a [truck] with hydraulics, we install the [MICO hydraulic] backup brake system.”

The TMA truck also may need to be ballasted to bring it up to acceptable weight standards. Each state has minimum weight standards for TMA trucks. They vary, but typically the standard is a minimum of 20,000 pounds.

“Ballasting a TMA can be problematic, as not all ballast is acceptable,” Mauer said. “Water and sand can’t be used. The ballast is best if it can be bolted to the frame members in such a way it will not come loose during impacts.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


New TMA Guidelines Effective January 2020
Beginning January 2020, a new set of crash test guidelines for truck-mounted attenuators (TMA) and truck-trailer-mounted attenuators (TTMA) – the high-profile crash buffers protecting highway construction and maintenance workers – will take effect. At that time, utilities and contractors will have to ensure attenuators meet the new guidelines or they won’t be usable on some highway projects.

In use since the 1980s, TMAs and TTMAs following behind work crews have helped contribute to a steady decline in the number of highway construction and maintenance worker deaths. From 2008-2014, an average of 591 people died nationwide as a result of crashes in those work zones, a 21 percent drop from the 750 average annual fatalities recorded dating back to 1982, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Nevertheless, the current attenuator crash test standards, known as NCHRP 350, are considered outdated. The new crash test guidelines, listed in the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH) developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), were designed to better reflect the dangers highway workers face with today’s larger vehicles and faster highway speeds. One example of the upgrades under MASH is standards for off-center impacts as well as direct hits.

Beginning in 2020, any TMA or TTMA utilized in a project that uses federal dollars for work on the national highway system must be certified by the FHWA as meeting MASH guidelines, according to AASHTO.

Although the deadline to receive certification for an attenuator that meets MASH standards is a year away, as of now only two – the Scorpion from TrafFix Devices ( and the Blade from Verdegro Group ( – meet the new guidelines, said Samantha Schwartz-Lenhart, marketing and business development manager for TMA supplier Royal Truck & Equipment.


Compact Cargo Vans Find a Home in Cities

Since their introduction to the U.S. market, the small size and maneuverability of compact cargo vans (CCV) have made them appealing options for utility and telecom fleets serving customers in congested city environments.

CCVs were popular options in European and Asian cities before rolling into the United States in 2010, when Ford introduced the Transit Connect. Nissan followed with the 2013 model year NV200, and Ram introduced the ProMaster City in the 2015 model year.

These smaller versions of the manufacturers’ full-size vans give fleet operators a low-cost entry vehicle option in select, well-defined applications, such as for technicians and service personnel and light cargo.

Charter Communications, the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., has about 22,000 vans in its fleet, 1,000 of which are CCVs. The company uses them in cities – 600 in New York City alone – for their size and maneuverability, said Michael Cullen, Charter’s director of fleet management.

CCV use is limited because most cable and telecom operations still need the capacity of full-size vans to handle today’s equipment, but that may change as the market shifts away from set-top boxes to smaller technologies, Cullen noted. That would dramatically change how much space cable companies need in their vans and may drive a shift to compact vans.

“I suspect, over the long haul, you may see cable companies move to that vehicle, but we’re probably a few years from that,” Cullen said.

A Downsizing Trend
Nationwide, there does appear to be a downsizing trend by full-size van users as urban environments become denser and fleets find more specific applications for the vans, said David Sowers, head of Ram Commercial Trucks.

“I don’t see large fleets switching over [to CCVs] 100 percent. But what we do see is a growing mixed-fleet environment. [Fleets] are adding smaller Class 1 vans on a mission-specific or geographic-specific basis,” Sowers said. In these cases, fleets may use the compact vans for service and/or maintenance in light residential applications while keeping the full-size vans for larger, industrial applications.

“We are seeing guys moving out of Class 2 into Class 1 primarily in urban environments. That’s where they’ll get most of the benefits out of these vans – in cities,” he said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric counts 14 Transit Connect vans among the 208 vans in its fleet, said America Lesh, fleet manager at the utility. Those 14 are split between BGE’s Leak Survey and Corrosion and Meter Services groups.

“These vans are used to drive and work in Baltimore city, where the departments like using them due to tight spaces and alleys,” Lesh said.

“The Transit [Connect] compact vans in general have seen increased interest from fleets that are working in increasingly congested cities/urban environments,” said Dawn McKenzie, product communications manager with Ford. Customers also have expressed interest in plug-in, battery and hybrid electric CCV models, she said.

Another benefit to CCV use in cities is that their size and maneuverability make them easier to drive and that, in turn, may lead to lower repair and maintenance costs due to fewer bumps, dings and dents. “It helps when you have a vehicle that’s easily maneuverable,” Sowers said.

While CCVs appear to have a limited role in utility and telecom operations today, they do fulfill a niche, and fleets are exploring ways to take advantage of their city-friendly qualities.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has extensive experience covering the commercial truck transportation and utility fleet sectors.


For Small Vans, Pick Your Options
The compact cargo van segment has found its most popular uses in urban settings where the vans’ size and ease of use can provide distinct advantages over their larger, full-size siblings when maneuvering around congested, narrow streets.

As with any other purchase, finding a vehicle that fits the fleet’s needs requires trade-offs. Are you looking for cargo capacity, fuel economy, maneuverability or something else? The Ford Transit Connect (TC), Nissan NV200 (NV) and Ram ProMaster City (PMC) can claim best in class in one spec or another. Here are some basic numbers to get you started1.

Price: The manufactured suggested retail prices for base models are $21,900 for the NV, $23,215 for the TC and $23,995 for the PMC.

Models: All manufacturers offer multiple trim levels, but Ford is the only one that offers two wheelbase lengths with the XL (104.8 inches) and XLT (120.6 inches).

Capacities: The NV can claim best overall fuel economy with a 25-mpg combined city/highway rating compared with 24 mpg for the PMC and 23 mpg for the TC. The NV also claims the best warranty coverage with five years/100,000 miles for both basic and powertrain. The TC and PMC offer three years/36,000 miles basic and five years/60,000 miles powertrain warranties.

For standard cargo capacity and payload, the PMC tops the class with 131.7 cubic feet of space and 1,886 pounds of payload. The NV offers 122 cubic feet/1,480 pounds, and the TC offers 103.9 cubic feet/1,490 pounds (short wheelbase) and 128.6 cubic feet/1,610 pounds (long wheelbase).

If maneuverability is paramount, the short-wheelbase TC has a curb-to-curb turning radius of 36.1 feet compared with 36.7 feet for the NV and 42 feet for the PMC.

1. Base model configurations.


Spec’ing the Right Cable Reel Trailer

Capacity, safety and flexibility top the list of features that manufacturers say should be on a utility’s spec sheet for any new cable reel trailer. But a good spec doesn’t end there. How many reels will be hauled or needed each time? Where will the trailer be used? Will loading be manual or automated? What type of operation is being performed? Is it an underground conductor? Overhead? The list of spec’ing considerations can be a yard long.

“[Spec’ing] reel trailers is one of the hardest things to do just because there are so many variables,” said Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products with Felling Trailers Inc. ( “Reel trailers are very customizable.”

But if there is one piece of advice manufacturers said they give utilities, it is to spec for capacity.

“By far the biggest mistake when specifying a trailer is [under-spec’ing] reel weight,” Rapp said. A reel-carrying assembly rated to haul a 60-inch-wide reel that weighs 6,000 pounds may not be rated to haul a 48-inch-wide reel that weighs the same because the narrower reel puts more weight on the center of the reel bar whereas the wider reel’s weight is closer to the carrier.

“So, it’s important to know the range of reels sizes that are going to be hauled,” Rapp said.

Safety is always an important consideration when spec’ing cable reel trailers, said Glen Schulz, sales manager for American Eagle Accessories Group ( “Whether the end user is a utility company or a utility construction contractor, [crews] are out in the field potentially using these trailers every day, so the trailers need to be safe and built to withstand the rigors of the daily grind.”

Beyond the basic specs for capacity and durability lies a wide range of options, depending on the need, Schulz said. Does the utility need a self-loading unit or drop-on unit that loads with a loader or forklift? Does it want manual or electric hydraulics for the reel lift? Does the trailer need a rewind capability? Will the rewind be powered by tow vehicle hydraulics or a self-contained unit powered by a gas engine?

“Whether a customer just needs a basic reel carrier or a trailer that is expected to do more, they just [have] to determine their need,” Schulz said.

According to Mike Turpin, product manager with Sherman + Reilly (, utilities should spec for the capacity and footprint that fit the conductor size, worksite conditions and spacing, such as transmission, distribution, substation or underground.

Additionally, utilities should consider features that enhance ease of use and reliability. These might include a rotating turret, hydraulic retrieval, sealed bearings and proper trailer jacks, among others, Turpin said.

“Ease of use and reliability are the basis for operator safety,” he noted. “Talk to your linemen to get good feedback on what features get the job done efficiently and keep them safe.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


What’s Your Budget?
Cable reel trailer costs will vary greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and options, said Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products with Felling Trailers Inc. A simple single-reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000. A three-reel trailer set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes can top $65,000.


Don’t Forget Puller and Tensioner Specs
Today’s pullers and tensioners offer more specs while being safer and smarter than the industry’s earlier generations, said Mike Turpin, product manager with Sherman + Reilly.

“When sourcing equipment for your stringing operations, it’s important to look beyond the general capacity specs,” Turpin said. “This is especially true when sourcing multi-use equipment like pullers and tensioners. Besides asking ‘Can it do the job?’ you should also ask, ‘Can it help make the job site safer and more efficient?’ ‘Is it built to last?’”

Additionally, technology such as real-time display readouts for line tension, line speed, payout distance and engine performance will take the guesswork out of operations by providing easy-to-read information and should be at the top of the list when comparing pullers and tensioners, Turpin said.

“When selecting pullers and tensioners, confirm that they are not only up to completing the job but also support a safe and efficient worksite for linemen,” he advised.


Going Where Wheeled Vehicles Can’t

Whether they’re used in hauling materials up steep hills, when accessing remote locations to perform inspections and construction, or for ferrying emergency crews and materials through marshes and over creeks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) play a small yet vital role in many utility fleets.

“As [distribution systems] continue to grow, it’s more important for utilities to be able to get into areas where wheeled vehicles can no longer access,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully ( “There is a greater need for a lot of ground pressure tracked vehicles to carry attachments into a remote place.”

In addition to PowerBully, several other ATV suppliers have recently introduced new products and product upgrades to the market. Keep reading for more details.

Hydratrek Redesigns D2488B 
Amphibious vehicles typically are used for inspections and supply service through wetlands, but they’ve also seen more recent use in flooded areas after natural disasters, according to Craig Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing with Hydratrek ( “They’re used for moving people and material up and down right-of-ways, and utilities tell us it’s the most versatile unit they have,” he said.

Hydratrek’s D2488B amphibious vehicle has been redesigned to include a more comfortable cab with bucket seats, larger pontoons for greater stability in water operations, lower decibel levels, improvements to maintenance and serviceability, and a complete operation and maintenance manual. New options include backup cameras, power inverters, auxiliary hydraulics and battery chargers.

The 24-inch rubber track system provides much lower ground pressure (psi) compared with nontracked vehicles, and utilities can haul a crew of two to eight people, supplies and tools. In the event of new-line construction, the D2488B can be used as a service vehicle for much larger pieces of equipment that cannot be brought in and out of the job site daily. Vegetation management also can be achieved with a 200-gallon spray system for herbicide applications. Two hydraulically driven propellers provide maneuverability while flowing in water. The unit features a diesel engine, hydrostatic drive and aluminum construction.

Morooka MST4500VDL Provides Long Reach
Morooka ( is marketing the MST4500VDL rubber track carrier, an ATV boasting a 350-horsepower diesel engine, 36-inch-wide tracks and a 23-ton maximum load capacity, enough power and platform to support a 125-foot reach.

The carrier is powered by a Cummins C9.3 Tier 4-compliant engine and features a heated and air-conditioned ROPS-certified cabin, backup camera, video information display, remote mirror and easy-to-use joystick control.

The unit comes from the factory with a ready-to-mount one-piece frame, eliminating the need for an installer to fabricate rear or front extensions, according to the company. It carries a one-year/1,000-hour warranty.

Faster Upfits With PowerBully 15T 
The 15T track carrier from PowerBully (, a subsidiary of Kässbohrer All Terrain Vehicles Inc., features the QuikMount chassis, which was designed to enable faster upfitting of cranes, digger derricks and personnel aerial devices. The QuikMount is compatible with all major attachment suppliers.

The PowerBully 15T is powered by the Tier 4-compliant Cummins QSB6.7-liter diesel engine. With its ratings of 275 horsepower and 730 pound-feet of torque, the QSB provides the power for both the track drive and work tools.

Constructed of high-strength steel with a 35,000-pound payload, the 15T is equipped with a custom-developed, ergonomically designed cabin; ease-of-use controls; high visibility; and improved sense of space. It also has multiple track options, including steel D-dent crosslinks for use in rocky terrain, steel flat bar for use in mixed dirt and rock, or polypads for use when minimal surface disturbance is required.

Track, Box Options Added to Prinoth Panther T16 
Prinoth ( has added new track options to its popular Panther T16 track vehicle. Customers can choose between metal embedded solid rubber tracks or the traditional D-dent track system. The rubber track option allows more versatility when crossing or traveling on roads.

The T16 also is now available with a dump box. The box will handle up to 11.5 cubic yards and carry up to 33,500 pounds of bulk material payload with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 75,000 pounds.

The undercarriage of the T16 was redesigned for the rubber track option to provide a sturdy undercarriage composed of five large wheels with both a tandem and a tridem suspension. The undercarriage features an automatic, hydraulically controlled track tensioning system.

An elevated engine position provides an optimal fording depth of up to 1,300 millimeters, enabling operators to travel through swamps, mud and any other type of difficult terrain.

Terramac Adds Support Equipment Option 
Terramac ( has expanded the capability of the new, compact RT6 track carrier. The unit can now accommodate a variety of support equipment, including digger derricks, bark blowers, cranes, vacuum excavators, generators and tanks. Standard units are available with a flat bed, dump bed or rock dump bed.

The new RT6 features a compact footprint of 16 feet 2 inches by 8 feet 2 inches. It has a 12,000-pound carrying capacity and travel speeds up to 6.5 mph.

The unit is powered by the Tier 4-compliant, 130-horsepower QSB4.5 Cummins diesel engine.

The RT6’s fully loaded ground pressure is a minimal 5.4 psi, adaptable for loose and wet ground conditions where heavy, wheeled machines are likely to get stuck, according to Terramac. The flotation from the rubber tracks of the RT6 not only allows the machine to work in adverse ground and weather conditions, but it also allows for faster climbing on mountainous and hilly terrains with reduced slippage.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


The State of Lightweight Materials for Utility Fleet Vehicles

High fuel prices 10 years ago were a big reason for the surge in sales of lightweight materials and components for utility vehicles. Although fuel prices have dropped significantly since then, lightweight alternatives to steel are still popular and have found a solid niche within the market.

“While lightweight components are often associated with fuel reductions and are a significant contributor to advances in reducing fuel burned, they have other equally important uses,” said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry ( “They can be used to increase discretionary payload on an existing chassis, help keep a truck under bridge law restrictions, extend effective body life and help keep medium-duty trucks under the federal excise tax (FET) weight ranges.”

For decades, aluminum has been the popular, albeit more expensive, lightweight option to steel, both inside and outside vehicles. Its weight advantage can total up to 50 percent savings compared with steel, according to F3 MFG Inc. (, a Waterville, Maine-based upfitter specializing in aluminum bodies.

Aluminum bodies stand up well in certain applications, and aluminum’s corrosion-resistance property can make it a viable, maintenance-free replacement for steel.

“As lightweight body components are typically made from composites – like fiberglass and carbon fiber – or with aluminum materials, they offer an additional advantage to weight reduction by extending the useful life of the truck over traditional steel,” Survant said. “Corrosion in these components becomes a significantly reduced problem.” Nevertheless, Survant noted, it’s important to remember that the vehicle specification when using aluminum needs to address the issues arising from the mating of dissimilar materials.

Rick Mendez, fleet manager with Magic Valley Electric Cooperative in Mercedes, Texas, said the electric utility began spec’ing aluminum for shelving and bulkheads in its vans, not for its weight-saving properties but for its corrosion-resistant properties.

“We live next to the coast, and instead of galvanized steel we’re [using] aluminum,” Mendez explained. “That’s more for the atmosphere. We don’t want it to corrode or rust out, and aluminum holds up very well down here in the valley.”

Making Inroads
While aluminum is perhaps the most popular lightweight alternative to steel, other materials are making inroads in new areas.

In 2014, Indianapolis Power & Light Co. (IPL) began shifting to fiberglass from traditional steel beds on their larger trucks, including line trucks, digger derricks and even the smaller Class 5 Ford F-550s, said Brian Osborn, manager of fleet and facilities. “Primarily, the No. 1 reason was [to reduce] rust and decay. The vehicles are not housed in garages, they’re 100 percent in the weather all the time, and the fiberglass significantly cuts down on the degradation of the vehicles.”

By switching to fiberglass, IPL also was able to significantly increase vehicle payloads, which translated into increased efficiencies at job sites since crews are able to carry more parts, the company said.

The switch to fiberglass and the accompanying weight savings also mean less wear and tear on the axles, said Kim Garner, IPL fleet administrator.

“It was a big step to go with fiberglass. Our trucks have been rusting for many years here in Indiana. For the company to go with fiberglass is a huge accomplishment,” Garner said.

According to Survant, “Utility buyers are often building trucks right at the weight levels where FET comes into effect. The ability to add discretionary payload to a vehicle while staying under the FET minimum limits can save significant dollars in purchasing a truck.”

Recent advances in materials and production methods have helped other materials, such as ABS composites, establish their place as steel alternatives, especially in shelving, racks and partitions. Their light weight, durability, and corrosion-resistant and sound-deadening properties give fleets additional materials options.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Aluminum’s Use in Vehicles Continues to Grow
Alternative materials to steel have been making inroads into the commercial vehicle market for years, and recent studies point toward continued growth in the automotive and light-truck sectors. While it’s difficult to drill down through broad industry-wide data to find the specific details within the commercial truck sector for cargo management products, the aluminum industry and aluminum component suppliers are bullish about its role as the primary alternative to steel in future vehicles and components.

By 2020, the average aluminum content in vehicles will range from 262 pounds in passenger cars to more than 550 pounds in the average pickup truck, according to a July 2017 study for The Aluminum Association ( conducted by Ducker Worldwide.

It still costs less to build a steel body, but aluminum proponents list a number of advantages aluminum has over steel, with weight savings and durability topping the list. The July 2017 Aluminum Association/Ducker Worldwide report noted that by 2025, the average vehicle would be 7 percent lighter than it was in 2015 due to the switch to more aluminum components and parts.


The Future of Drones in the Utility Market

Darting about inside one of Consolidated Edison’s 10-story steam boilers in Manhattan, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) looks like a hobbyist’s dream, a multirotor mini-helicopter outfitted with a megapixel camera mounted inside a gyroscopically balanced geodesic sphere. But don’t look for it at your local hobby store. It’s a custom-built UAV – also known as a drone – that ConEd’s engineers are testing as they explore the potential benefits of this new and growing technology.

To say that utility executives are excited about the possible uses of drones is a significant understatement. Most utilities are exploring the possibilities at one level or another, said Chris McMurtry, solutions architect with Sharper Shape (, a supplier of UAV services for utilities. “Of the major utilities, probably 80 percent have some sort of drone initiatives going right now, and almost all [utilities] have put in a lot of hours thinking about this,” he said.

The most common use to date has been to provide safer and more economical inspections of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

When inspecting a tower or other vertical infrastructure that’s within sight, “a drone will beat just about any other method you’ve got, whether it’s a bucket truck, binoculars, helicopter or climbing that asset,” said Dexter Lewis, senior research engineer with Southern Company Services. “It doesn’t matter how big the structure, that use case will probably return value.” Southern Co. is the parent of several utilities.

But the potential of UAVs goes well beyond that.

“We’re beginning to look at applications for storm recovery and damage assessment,” said Margarett Jolly, director of research and development at ConEd. “The aspect that is interesting is creating visualization technology that will make damage assessments more accurate. It will help make our recovery process quicker and more efficient.”

ConEd’s boiler drone has the potential to eliminate the need to build scaffolding for inspectors inside the tall structures, thus saving time and money, and reducing the possibility of accidents, said Jade Wong, project manager of research and development with ConEd.

“Gone are the days when we have to send someone into a manhole or climb a tower,” she said.

ConEd continues to test other applications, but they plan to implement the automatic inspection of transmission towers using the drone program in 2018, Jolly said.

While the potential uses of UAVs may carry a big wow factor, enthusiasm is currently held in check by regulations, as well as finding the applications that make the most business sense. (For more, see the “Regulations Create Obstacles to Wider UAV Use” sidebar below.)

Without waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial drones cannot be flown beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS), at night or over people, among other restrictions.

When inspecting towers without a BVLOS waiver, a utility has to look at which solution makes the most sense, Lewis said. The more towers or the greater the distance that has to be covered, the more the business case may shift to favor a more traditional option, or an outside service.

The Hidden-Cost Hurdle
Drones are plentiful and relatively cheap. A Phantom 4 Pro with a 20-megapixel camera from DJI (, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, has an online retail list price starting from $1,499. The real financial considerations come into play when utilities look at what data they want to collect and what to do with it, according to Michael Hartnack, an analyst with Navigant Research (

“It’s more than just buying a drone,” he said. “You need a system to aggregate the data and integrate them into the utility’s infrastructure. That can be very expensive.”

Right now, I don’t think many utilities want to take it all on themselves,” said Ed Hine, director of drone capability development for HAZON Solutions ( “They want a hybrid model. Down the road … I expect some companies will continue to contract it out, but I see other companies taking on their own capability as systems will get a lot more automated.”

Most utilities are still feeling their way along, McMurtry said. “As this shakes out and drone technologies and regulations become more simplified, a lot of work will be done in-house, particularly visual inspections. But when doing infrared or [radar], it’s a different level of difficulty and I think utilities will outsource most of those activities.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Regulations Create Obstacles to Wider UAV Use
Although the Federal Aviation Administration last August relaxed the regulations covering commercial UAVs, there still are regulatory hurdles utilities must clear to realize more of the potential benefits of drones.

The most significant, industry experts said, is the requirement that drones cannot fly beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS). That severely limits the value case for using drones where they could be most beneficial – when inspecting infrastructure in rural areas or over long distances. Among other restrictions, commercial drones currently cannot be operated at night or above people, both of which effectively prevent widespread use for assessing storm damage.

Businesses can apply for a waiver of these regulations, but so far only a few have been granted and none to utilities, according to Chris Hickling, director of government relations for Edison Electric Institute (

As of mid-July of this year, the FAA had received 5,037 waiver applications, approximately 70 percent of which were for nighttime flights and 18 percent that involved BVLOS flights, an agency spokesman said. The FAA does not break those numbers down into business sectors.

Notably, EEI has applied to the FAA for a blanket BVLOS waiver that would cover many utilities, but the association has not yet received approval.

“We’re in the middle ground; we haven’t gotten a yes or no,” Hickling said.

Matt Dunlevy, CEO of SkySkopes (, an inspection and data-collection services company, said the reason for the delays in granting waivers or opening up the skies to wider commercial use is essentially due to the absence of airworthiness standards for drones.

“There is no method of getting them certified as airworthy in mass quantities,” he said. Thus, waivers are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

The FAA currently is working on setting standards for operating over people in congested areas, Dunlevy said, and he expects that BVLOS standards will be next on the list.

EEI’s Hickling said he’s optimistic because Congress has taken an interest in commercial drones, which may pressure the FAA to speed things up.

“There is a push [on the FAA] to give critical industries, such as utilities, a focus on some of these elements,” he said.


A Growing Market
The commercial unmanned aerial vehicle market is taking off. Navigant Research has estimated that global revenue from UAVs and similar robotics technologies and their services will grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024.

Michael Hartnack, research analyst for Navigant, said the company would release an updated report later this year, but that he expected that their estimate of the total value by mid-decade likely would be higher.

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