Author: Wade Vonasek

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Helping Fleets Shine

Managing a fleet can be a challenging task. In addition to the day-to-day procedures and duties, it is essential to think long term as well. Whether a seasoned professional or a new arrival to fleet management, it is necessary to utilize new strategies and technologies to find efficiencies, cut costs and lower the total cost of ownership (TCO). How this is achieved can be a different strategy for each fleet.

ARI is a privately held vehicle fleet management services company with a workforce of more than 2,500 in offices throughout North America, Europe, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Founded in 1948 by parent company Holman Automotive Group, ARI manages more than 1 million vehicles in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Europe.

According to Rob Hoysgaard, director of sales support at ARI, “Having a strategic partner with the knowledge, experience and flexibility to help run an efficient fleet and manage the data the fleet returns is critical to ensuring the fleet is achieving maximum cost savings and the lowest TCO possible. We work with customers to solve complex problems with fleet vehicles and equipment, combining business insight and optimal life-cycle analysis, best-in-class services, and high-powered technology to push up vehicle fleet efficiency and cut costs.” ARI helps the fleets it works with to achieve this through controlled management of vendor-out maintenance and repair, in-house garage maintenance, fuel management and more.

SEMCO Energy
One of ARI’s partnerships is with Port Huron, Mich.-based SEMCO Energy, a regulated public utility that delivers natural gas to approximately 290,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, as well as in the central, eastern and western parts of the state’s Upper Peninsula.

According to Hoysgaard, SEMCO understood that its core competency is delivering natural gas to its customers, and therefore it made sense to partner with a company like ARI to assist in managing its fleet. SEMCO’s Fleet Analyst Chris Kowalski said that ARI’s expertise and focus on the utility market made them a logical partner for his company. SEMCO chose ARI after an exhaustive request for proposal with several other vendors, including face-to-face meetings with finalists. The company was very satisfied with the seamless transition from a previous vendor to ARI.

“Our processes seem to be streamlined in terms of ordering and preventative maintenance repair,” Kowalski said. “ARI received high marks in our internal survey of fleet users on ease of maintenance, in essence, how improved the process for getting a vehicle in and out of a shop for preventative maintenance was as compared to the previous vendor.”

One strategy SEMCO uses to lower its TCO is the use of GPS technology, which Kowalski said has been a large driver in controlling fuel costs and work management.

“In retiring vehicles, ARI has allowed us easier access to our cost per mile and has completed studies for us that let us pinpoint the vehicles we should retire, not just the ones we think should be retired,” Kowalski said. “We have been able to input our internal repair orders at our one maintenance facility, which greatly enhances our preventative maintenance exception accuracy and assists in capturing our internal costs – both of which were missing previously.

“For SEMCO’s fleet, fuel cost is a challenge,” Kowalski continued. “Leasing costs are down due to interest rates being nil and maintenance is a cost of doing business, as trucks will break when used. However, fuel is something we have no control over the price of. We have control over the size of engines, size of our vehicles, idle time and weight that we carry. How to balance operations’ wants and needs while optimizing our fuel costs will always be a challenge. As a fleet manager, I cannot help but feel that ARI representatives truly care about my business, no matter what their role.”

Piedmont Natural Gas
Piedmont Natural Gas provides natural gas to more than 1 million residential and business customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. According to Hoysgaard, Piedmont was seeking a partner to offer guidance and insight on running a more efficient fleet – not just a leasing partner.

“Piedmont decided to partner with a fleet management company to eliminate both on-site vehicle and equipment maintenance and all of the company’s garages,” said Keith Gindoff, Piedmont’s manager – fleet and inventory control, finance, who noted that while the company still operates two garages, its three mechanics primarily assist with vehicle management. “In addition, it allowed Piedmont to gain an expertise in vehicle purchasing, maintenance, licensing and more that we didn’t have at the time. Our partnership also allows us to free up some resources to perform other value-added activities.”

According to Gindoff, ARI assists Piedmont with the specification and procurement of company vehicles. ARI also manages the maintenance issues, as well as the title and licensing programs, for all of Piedmont’s vehicles and heavy equipment. Gindoff added that Piedmont is very happy having ARI as its business partner.

“We are happy for many reasons,” Gindoff said. “The biggest reason is the day-to-day expertise of the ARI employees. They have experts in procuring the vehicles, licensing and registration, maintenance, report generation and more that we can utilize without having to hire specific individuals for those positions.

“ARI has the ability to group many companies together throughout the country to assist us with pricing that we normally wouldn’t be able to receive by ourselves,” Gindoff continued. “They also have other utility companies like ours as clients, which help to facilitate industry best practices through an annual utility fleet forum where other fleet managers from utility companies across the country get together to discuss important topics affecting our industry. That, coupled with real-time technological platforms for communications with peers, definitely increases everyone’s awareness and knowledge about new ideas and more efficient ways to operate.”

Integrys Energy Group
Electricity and natural gas provider Integrys Energy Group is headquartered in Chicago with approximately 3,500 vehicles in its fleet. According to Hoysgaard, Integrys has multiple operating units spread across several states, and ARI’s advanced technologies have helped the company to integrate its data and systems for easier access and understanding, making sure its fleet is running as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

“To sum it up, [using ARI as a strategic partner] provides better management tools and improves the bandwidth and knowledge base of our fleet department employees,” said Tim Harteau, customer strategy leader, Integrys Energy Group.

Harteau said choosing to work with ARI came down to understanding the current needs of Integrys’ different utilities and identifying a service provider that gave them a wide range of products to meet the varied requirements of those utilities going forward. The relationship with ARI started out with activities related to the implementation and support of a specific product, but now is a blend of support for the current programs and strategic planning to address challenges within Integrys.

One new strategy Integrys has implemented is third-party maintenance management of its vehicles for a small segment of its fleet, with an ongoing effort focused on vehicle acquisition and procurement activities.

“There have been some inroads to establish standard vehicle designs across multiple business units,” Harteau said. “As we speak, there is a pilot project to implement a new garage management system. Soon we will be looking at the title and licensing area that will free up internal resources to work on new fleet initiatives.”

According to Harteau, one of the best features of the partnership for Integrys is that it can select the product that meets the needs of a specific subsidiary. One subsidiary may have a need for a garage management system and licensing services while another subsidiary is looking for better fuel and maintenance management.

“From a corporate perspective, I now have all of the information consolidated to support compliance and performance reporting for the entire company,” Harteau said. “With this partnership, Integrys is now starting to capture consistent data from six different subsidiaries and present it in a consistent format to measure our performance. Ultimately, these measures will provide the support for the best possible decisions.”

About the Author: Wade Vonasek is a writer and editor. His work has appeared both in print and online for publications such as Mass Transit, Professional Tool & Equipment News, Fleet Maintenance and more. He resides in Bristol, Wis.


OPPD’s Continual Evolution

Founded in 1946, Omaha Public Power District is a publicly owned, business-managed electric utility governed by an elected board of directors and headquartered in Omaha, Neb. With a fleet operations staff of more than 50, OPPD services 5,000 square miles, covering 13 counties in southeastern Nebraska and serving 352,000 customers. In fact, OPPD is the 12th-largest public power utility in the United States in number of customers served. OPPD maintains multiple facilities, including three full-service garages in the metropolitan Omaha area, one full-service garage in south rural Omaha and a light-duty garage in downtown Omaha.

Working Smarter
Mike Donahue has spent the last three years as manager of transportation and construction equipment for OPPD, and has 18 years of industry experience working with fleets. Donahue said that a recent method OPPD has adopted to keep its fleet running smoothly and cost-effectively is the addition of Energy Xtreme mobile power units to two of its trucks. The system runs all electrical accessories – including emergency lights, tools, battery chargers, computers and cab heaters – but not the hydraulics. Though early in the process, Donahue said the old trucks were averaging 12.6 miles per engine hour, and the new trucks are averaging 16.9 miles per engine hour, an improvement of approximately 33 percent.

OPPD will also be adding two Altec JEMS units in the near future. These basket trucks are equipped with an electrical package that is comparable in concept to the Energy Xtreme units, except the electric power will run the hydraulics and boom as well, and also have an HVAC solution.

Other measures have been taken to reduce idling and fuel expense times as well. OPPD has employed a single fuel card for internal and external fuel transactions, with increased security on its internal fuel transactions with the implementation of the FuelFocus package through its fleet software provider, AssetWorks. An automated pool system, KeyValet from AssetWorks, has also been implemented at two of OPPD’s main sites to handle light-duty vehicle pools.

The utility has been locking in prices for bulk fuel on an annual basis, as well as regularly analyzing its fleet size, looking for units that are underutilized or that can be pooled, shared, traded, downsized, eliminated or repurposed. This effort has resulted in significant fleet reductions of nearly 40-50 units. Additional analysis of fleet replacement vehicles also is regularly performed.

“Vehicles are replaced based on lowest life-cycle cost calculations,” Donahue said. “Example replacement cycles are 10 years for large bucket trucks and 12 years for digger derricks. We have started to transfer small aerials and fiberglass bodies to new chassis at seven years.”

Donahue said the process is primarily for troubleshooter trucks, such as an Altec AT37G mounted on a Ford F-550 or Dodge 5500 chassis. “The trucks tend to get high miles, high engine hours, but not as much boom operation, so the booms and bodies tend to be in decent condition, whereas the engines and chassis equipment are being taxed heavily after that time frame,” he said. “We save more than 50 percent of replacement cost of the boom and body by transferring. We are also cycling out of the engines in those trucks, which will benefit us as well.”

A wide assortment of factors can come into play when researching and deciding to purchase new vehicles for the fleet. Donahue said that the economy over the past few years has really sent a jolt to the work that OPPD’s internal and external customers are doing.

“When the economy was hot, OPPD was installing new home services and neighborhood backbones just as fast as possible,” he said. “Now, that work has slowed down quite a bit and the focus has spread to more maintenance on the existing system. Those factors have really affected the need for trenchers, boring equipment, easement machines and mini-excavators. Storerooms, facilities and production facilities have seen increased production from telehandlers and self-propelled aerials, so they are requesting more of those types of units. Designers are requiring taller poles and placing them farther off the roads, which drives the need for taller aerials and bigger derricks.

“In a nutshell, we continually investigate what our customer needs are when determining the best vehicles for their applications,” Donahue noted. “We stay up to date on trends in the industry, available technology, what makes sense for OPPD, alternative fuels versus standard gas or diesel engines, idle reduction technology, maintenance experience and rental options. We do the best we can to encompass all those components when making purchasing decisions. It is a constant challenge.”

OPPD has seen positive results from many of the steps it’s taken. Improved fuel management and improved fuel economy have been achieved, and fleet reductions and the purchase of replacements with smaller, more fuel-efficient engines have helped with increased pool size and better fleet utilization. These efforts will continue, according to Donahue.

Happy with Hybrids
The utility has a growing fleet of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, mainly passenger cars and SUVs. Donahue said that all of OPPD’s hybrid vehicles have performed exceptionally well and improved the mileage in their vehicle classes.

“We have hybrid Toyota Priuses, Camrys and Highlanders, Honda Insights and Civics, a Chevrolet Malibu, a Ford Fusion and an International 4300M7 with the Eaton transmission,” he said. “We also have a Chevrolet Volt which has been averaging well over 100 mpg in our application. We look forward to receiving Ford C-MAX Energi and Fusion Energi plug-in extended-range hybrids in the very near future. We understand that application of these units has a significant impact on the successful implementation of these units so we consider that application when making the purchasing decision.”

In regard to hybrid vehicles, Donahue said that there are gains to be made on virtually all sides of the issue, including reduced fuel consumption, fewer emissions out of the tailpipe, less wear and tear on the engine, less maintenance and fewer repairs, an extended truck life and less engine noise.

“OPPD is evaluating the expansion of the plug-in fleet and proceeding where it is appropriate,” Donahue said. “Idle reduction is a significant opportunity. The operators are even feeding back that they enjoy less fumes and quieter work environments. I anticipate that it will ease expanded implementation on similar units in the future.”

Moving Forward
The current challenges to his fleet are not so different from when he first entered the industry 18 years ago, according to Donahue. Keeping the mechanics trained on the wide variety of vehicles and equipment they need to maintain and repair, keeping tools and diagnostic equipment up to date, finding long-term direction on fuels, and adjusting the workplace culture to improve engagement, safety and accountability all are issues he has encountered. Donahue belongs to NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Upper Midwest Utility Fleet Council, and attends fleet-related conferences like the Green Fleet Conference & Expo and ICUEE to help him pick up information to deal with fleet issues.

“Our mindset now needs to be one of continual improvement, employee development, staying on top of issues and technological developments, fuels, recognizing our customer needs and staying involved in fleet communities facing similar challenges,” Donahue said.

The future for OPPD and its fleet should see significant attention to alternative fuels and the things that come along with them. Donahue said OPPD is going through what one might call “a significant commitment point on alternative fuels.”

“With so much attention being paid to diesel and the associated emission equipment, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, natural gas, propane, other gaseous fuels, ethanol and biodiesel, it’s challenging,” Donahue said. “We look over the last 10 years and see all the emission changes that took place from 2003 to 2013, the fuel and technology development, and if we are anywhere close to that rate of change over the next 10 years, it’s hard to imagine where we will be. That’s the challenge we all should love, right? OPPD will continue to work on all these areas to manage doing the best we can for our customers, our customer owners and the environment. It should be a fun ride.”

About the Author: Wade Vonasek is a writer and editor. His work has appeared both in print and online for publications such as Mass Transit, Professional Tool & Equipment News, Fleet Maintenance and more. He resides in Bristol, Wis.


EUFMC 60th Anniversary

This year, the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference celebrates its 60th anniversary. Sixty years is bound to bring a significant amount of change to anything, and bucket trucks are no exception. Utility Fleet Professional talked with industry professionals for their thoughts on the evolution of aerial lift devices.

Bucket trucks 60 years ago were very useful for the times. “The first bucket trucks were tremendous improvements to work practices that eliminated climbing poles,” said Joe Caywood, director of marketing and strategic initiatives for Terex Utilities. Caywood said an innovative fiberglass boom also allowed lineworkers to work on and around live lines without being tied to the pole. “At the time, poles were shorter and chassis did not support large equipment, so the average distribution line truck was sized more like today’s trouble truck.”

In the last 60 years those first bucket trucks have seen transformation and progress in a variety of areas. “Equipment capabilities have leaped forward and the ability to improve work methods has provided a smarter, safer environment for the lineworker, with more productivity, less fatigue, and less long-term wear and tear on the worker,” said C. Michael Anderson, P.E., a North Carolina-based engineering consultant formerly with Altec Industries. “In the mid-1980s, the equipment changed significantly. Work methods allowed the lineman to take advantage of available advancements in hydraulics, composites, and vehicles such that ergonomics and safety are major features in addition to cost and productivity.”

“From a repair and maintenance standpoint, I think the engineering has come a long way [in the last 60 years],” said Judie Taylor, president of DUECO. “It’s not only about the engineering of the bucket trucks and the use of them, but also being able to maintain them better.”

Mechanical Advances
Progressive steps forward have been taken during the history of the bucket truck in regard to hydraulics, chassis and other important parts. “Power sources have historically relied on the chassis engine to provide power for the boom,” Caywood said. “Advancements with PTOs have significantly improved efficiency and reliability. Changes from carbureted gas engines to computer-controlled engines significantly improved engine control and reduced work site noise. Today advanced hybrid solutions provide a quiet alternative energy source supplied from onboard stored energy.”

“We are able to diagnose a lot more on the chassis side of things with troubleshooting and the computerization of that,” Taylor said. “On the tower side of it, the true bucket truck side of it, a lot of the hydraulics obviously have changed. Safety features have definitely been enhanced.”

Similar to chassis changes over the years, aerial devices have evolved significantly. “With pole heights increasing, the aerial devices increased in working height and platform capacity to match the requirements of the job. Over this time, features and options also continually advanced,” Caywood said. Some of these enhancements and developments include the single stick controller, material-handling jibs, hydraulically compensated (coordinated action) booms, telescopic booms, elevators, basket rotators and lifters, and advances with dielectric materials.

“Back when I started in 1994, I would say 48-foot units were significant and probably the most popular distribution units, whereas now 55-foot units are the most popular,” Taylor said. “There is an increase in the line heights, and pole heights have changed so utility trucks have had to change with that.”

Safety Regulations
Mechanics and power sources have gotten bigger and more complex, according to Darin Hinnergardt, Altec Sentry Safety Program manager, “which leads to increased training for a better educated, more informed workforce. As a result, there is a need for safer aerial devices and digger derricks,” he said.

Safety regulations have also helped the industry to progress, with the addition of OSHA’s 1926.1400 standard to address cranes and digger derricks in the field being the most recent. But Hinnergardt said that it wasn’t until 1971 that OSHA was established and brought guidance to the industry. “In the ’70s, the lower boom insert was introduced to help protect the ground worker,” he added.

Caywood said the biggest advantage has been the reduction of wear and tear on today’s lineworkers. “Linemen are working much longer, in better health, because of the reduction of stress on their body from not having to climb poles all day long. Features we take for granted such as boom interlocks and moving outrigger alarms aid the operator to perform their tasks safely.”

The Next 60
A look to the future will see continued focus on innovation, integration and weight management, according to Caywood. “Fuel savings will be realized by each pound that can be reduced from the aerial device through use of lighter-weight, higher-strength materials combined with efficient systems that integrate and control chassis, aerial and operator,” he said. “As with all improvements that have been yielded over the years, they start with the voice of the customer and recognizing their needs.”

Hybrid systems have been one of the biggest recent advancements, and Taylor expects that to continue in the future. “The introduction of hybrids certainly has, I think, helped the industry to be aware that there is definitely a need for alternative fuels,” Taylor said. “I do think hybrids are here to stay and we will see more evolution of that technology. I also think from a regulatory standpoint and a safety standpoint we will continue to see more stringent regulations on the industry with the operation of bucket trucks and digger derricks.”

About the Author: Wade Vonasek is a writer and editor. His work has appeared both in print and online for publications such as Mass Transit, Professional Tool & Equipment News, Fleet Maintenance and more. He resides in Bristol, Wis.

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