Tag: Fleet Maintenance


How Utility Fleets Use Telematics for Preventive and Predictive Maintenance

When utility fleets use telematics as intended, the benefits of the technology can be wide-ranging. Each asset, each mile driven and each minute spent idling generate data and insight that tell a story about the fleet.

And telematics data can be analyzed to determine not only what is currently happening with fleet assets, but also what could happen in the future. That’s why some utility fleets have begun to use the data for both preventive and predictive maintenance. However, where predictive maintenance is concerned, there are some operational hurdles to overcome.

At Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., telematics was implemented in heavy-duty vehicles in 2011 and in all light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2014 when the utility was acquired by Exelon Corp. Now, telematics is available on 1,289 vehicles and about 40 other assets, according to America Lesh, manager of fleet at BG&E.

Every three hours, Verizon provides the mileage, engine hours and GPS coordinates of all enabled BG&E vehicles and equipment. That data is uploaded to BG&E’s fleet management system.

Currently, according to Lesh, BG&E’s “maintenance cycles are relative and based on usage. This means that vehicles with higher utilization are serviced more frequently. Telematics allows us to perform maintenance on a specific asset, as needed, based on the usage [mileage and hours] instead of relying on time alone.”

Having the actual usage data has allowed BG&E to extend preventive maintenance cycles and avoid “performing unnecessary maintenance on underutilized vehicles,” Lesh said.

An added bonus is that the GPS information provided helps prevent the need to look for “trucks that are not at their expected parking location,” Lesh said.

PECO Energy Co., headquartered in Philadelphia, is relatively new to using telematics data for fleet maintenance purposes, according to D. Cooper Colbert Jr., manager of fleet operations for the utility. The fleet has 1,537 total units, ranging from light-duty service trucks to tractor-trailers. PECO installed telematics on all of its 1,247 on-road units in 2013 but has taken a slower approach to using the data generated to identify maintenance issues.

“Fleet services identified the five most troublesome fault codes and is monitoring proactively for additional diagnostic opportunities,” Colbert said. PECO collects data on engine hours, idle time, location, active fault codes and miles driven. In the future, Colbert believes that “adjusting preventive maintenance for vehicles based on engine hours/miles driven as opposed to time-based intervals will greatly enhance the PM process.”

An Imperfect System
Although telematics systems already generate the data to help a utility fleet move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance, it is not necessarily a smooth transition.

In general, telematics has its own challenges, according to Lesh. Units that are unresponsive, due to issues such as telematics equipment that is offline or not connecting properly, require staff time in “identifying these units and troubleshooting the issue that causes them to become nonresponsive,” she said. That may include a cellphone dead spot, which causes the lost connection.

Another challenge is the cost of telematics, which is “an investment both financially and in personnel,” Lesh said. “The program requires resources to actively manage and set goals so that we can continue to see the value and benefit of telematics.”

Add in all the data generated in trying to anticipate an issue and, “with the amount of information available, sorting through the noise gets cumbersome and labor intensive,” Colbert said. “Understanding the commitment of resources to proactively contact a user, schedule the vehicle and fit the diagnostic appointment in with existing out-of-service repairs are all challenges that need to be overcome before an effective predictive maintenance program driven by telematics can be successful.”

Still, Colbert sees the potential, especially as telematics users more fully embrace preventive and predictive maintenance applications. “In a perfect world, [the ability to] proactively contact an operator that they will be having a diesel particulate filter or exhaust gas recirculation issue if they do not bring the vehicle in for service will minimize vehicle downtime and increase productivity,” he said.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


5G Networks and Telematics
Sometime in 2020, 5G mobile networks will be broadly implemented, bringing with them a potential revolution in just how much vehicles communicate with each other and with other devices.

If you’re not sure what the effect of moving from 4G to 5G will be, you’re not alone. Consider the dramatic impact brought about by the switch from 3G to 4G networks. On 3G, phones were used primarily for calls and text messages, while 4G brought greater internet connectivity, such as the ability to stream movies.

Most experts believe 5G will provide even more connectivity. According to chipmaker Intel, 5G networks will be working with some 200 billion devices, including smart city sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, as well as smartphones.

Aeris – an IoT solutions provider – predicts that telematics systems developers will take advantage of 5G to push forward more vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, making autonomous vehicles more likely. In the meantime, fleet tracking and other telematics solutions are expected to gain speed and reliability, plus they’ll provide more opportunities for insight.


Choosing the Right Vehicle Lift for the Job

Prior to purchasing a new vehicle lift, a fleet manager must understand exactly what is needed for their shop.

According to Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts (https://mohawklifts.com), fleet managers “need to do their homework in order to make an educated decision.”

So, what are some of the most important items to consider? UFP recently spoke to vehicle lift experts to find out.

Identify Your Needs
Maintenance is among the top factors fleet managers should think about before they buy, advised Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift (www.rotarylift.com).

“The best lifts will require minimal maintenance while offering years of safe, reliable service,” he said. “One of the first questions a fleet manager should ask themselves is, what vehicle maintenance am I going to perform, and will this lift help me do that faster, better and easier than I do it today?”

Contacting a vehicle lift distributor and local companies that perform similar maintenance services is a good starting point. Find out what those companies use to raise their vehicles, and don’t rely on a single style of lift for all of your maintenance work.

“Not all lifts have the same features and benefits. A mixed fleet – cars, trucks, work trucks, heavy-duty vehicles – needs lifts that offer different options and benefits,” Spiller said.

Seek Certified Quality
The only lifts fleet managers should consider purchasing are those that have been third-party tested and Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) certified to meet the current edition of ANSI/ALI ALCTV, which is the industry safety standard, advised Bob O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (www.autolift.org).  

“When you choose a certified lift, you can rest easy knowing that it has been tested to meet the industry safety and performance standards,” he said. “Plus, the International Building Code, which is the building code in use or adopted by all 50 states, requires that only certified lifts be installed.”

Beyond testing and certification, accessories such as lockable disconnect switches can contribute to added safety. An accessory must be certified for the lift on which it is being used, Spiller noted.

In addition, shops should seek lifts that offer the lowest total cost of ownership, not just a low purchase price.

“The costs of repairs and downtime from a cheap lift can more than outweigh any upfront price savings,” Spiller said.

Local and long-term service is something that is missed in many procurements.

“Purchasing a vehicle lift is a long-term investment, so choosing the right partner is important,” Spiller added. “Perhaps a manufacturer or brand offers an extended warranty or has more certified accessories.”

Watch Vehicle Weight
A lift is not going to be useful if it can’t properly raise the vehicles that need to be serviced. So, fleet managers should be sure to consider vehicle weight, weight distribution and where the manufacturer’s recommended lifting points are located.

“If a lift does not have the rated capacity to raise a particular vehicle or cannot reach the manufacturer’s recommended lifting points on that vehicle, it should not be used to service that vehicle,” Spiller said.

One of the most common mistakes Perlstein said he sees is overloading the four swing arms on a two-post lift, citing the Ford F-450 – one of the most popular trucks among utility fleets – as an example.

Regardless of which organization is operating it, it’s the same basic truck just about everywhere.

“It’s got the same toolbox full of thousands of pounds of tools. It often has a one-man bucket. That adds a lot of weight. People need to consider that because the same truck off the dealers only weighs about 9,000 pounds. By the time utility fleets are done equipping the truck, it likely weighs 12,000 to 16,000 pounds,” Perlstein said.

He explained that a two-post lift – the most common lift type – has four swing arms that are rated one-fourth of the total capacity of the lift. Using the previous example of a loaded Ford F-450 utility truck, say the truck only weighs 13,500 pounds. However, what should be considered is that the heavy rear axle weighs 9,500 pounds, while the lighter front axle weighs 4,000 pounds. Dividing the rear axle weight by the two rear swing arms means each arm should be rated at 4,750 pounds per arm. At 4,750 pounds per arm, the full rated capacity of the lift should be 19,000 pounds. Per all lift manufacturers and the Automotive Lift Institute, swing arms should never be overloaded.

Lastly, Perlstein noted, “One of the things we always suggest is finding out what the heavy end of the vehicle weighs.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Boosting Shop Productivity
The increase in technician productivity and efficiency is a significant benefit of installing and using vehicle lifts. The amount that productivity increases depends on the lift or lifts that are selected for the shop as well as the technicians’ ability to effectively use them.

“The type of lift shops choose should be conducive to the tasks it will be used for, and the particular brand and model of lift should be evaluated for user-friendliness, speed and useful features,” said Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift.

Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts, provided an example of using a lift with the company’s SpeedLane adapters.

A technician usually takes about five to 10 minutes to position each of the arms underneath the four corners of the vehicle. Instead, Perlstein described the benefit of using SpeedLane, a drive-on ramp for two-post lifts that doesn’t require positioning of the swing arms yet leaves the vehicle’s tires hanging free.  

“If you eliminate the five minutes of positioning the vehicle on the lift, getting the arms underneath, and I’m going to service four vehicles a day, that’s about 20 minutes a day … 100 minutes a week,” he said. “Now my shop just got much more productive.”


Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing Maintenance

Outsourcing preventive maintenance and unscheduled repairs on light-duty units can help utility fleets minimize downtime and focus on the more complex mission-critical and specialized equipment in their operations.

It’s easy to rent a car or pickup truck if a light-duty asset is in the shop or down for a long period of time, explained Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E Fleet Services in Oklahoma. “Bucket trucks, trenchers [and] line trucks are a little more difficult to rent. We have tools and materials on pieces of equipment like that, so we can do maintenance in-house and control the timeline of the work,” he said.  

Keeping services in-house rather than outsourcing them also can help to ensure that safety remains a top priority when working on these assets.

“The utility industry as a whole requires a very high level of safety training, and this education extends to the in-house technicians,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

But if fleets determine they need to outsource some of their work, how do they make the most of it? UFP recently spoke with several industry experts who shared their tips, including mistakes to avoid.

Think Strategically
Organizations that explore outsourcing often are focused on near-term cost containment and cost reduction opportunities, according to Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates (www.mercury-assoc.com), a fleet management consulting firm.

However, he pointed out, fleets also should be thinking strategically about outsourcing – for example, about the best mix of in-sourced and outsourced fleet maintenance repairs and activities to meet fleet users’ needs – and about the relationship between outsourcing and other fleet management activities.

“If a company’s primary objective in exploring outsourcing is to ascertain if they can save money, then it’s very important that the utility be able to quantify the avoidable cost of continuing to perform fleet management functions in-house with the same level of quality,” Lauria said. “Will outsourcing enable you to maintain your fleet for more or less than this amount, and how will it affect the operating units that rely on the fleet to fulfill their missions?”

Equally importantly, will outsourcing maintenance and repair work save money or improve vehicle reliability if the company has, say, a poor fleet replacement program?

“If a utility company has developed a big backlog of replacement needs, shifting responsibility for maintenance and repairs to a third party is not going to eliminate that backlog,” Lauria said. “What it may do, however, is force that company to face the fact that underspending on fleet replacement increases repair costs. Having a third party in the mix definitely makes it harder to sweep poor fleet management practices under the rug.”

Outsource on Your Terms
Another pitfall to avoid is blindly accepting a recommended contract and pricing structure from a vendor; these structures likely will be more beneficial to the supplier than the fleet.

Fleets must educate themselves on how to properly structure a contract for maintenance services, which will then influence the structure of the solicitation for proposals to provide those services.

“We’re strong proponents of performance-based contracts that have financial incentives built into the agreement to incentivize the service provider to meet or exceed certain performance standards and that penalize those providers if they fall short,” Lauria said.

OG&E’s Jefferson advised negotiating terms, such as door rates and labor rates, before sending any work to an outside vendor.

Communicate Expectations
Keeping the lines of communication open and staying informed are critical to maintaining a successful partnership with an outsourced vendor.

“Don’t let things get too bad before you communicate to the vendor that you have a problem,” Jefferson said. “We try to communicate our expectations upfront.”

According to Guthro, one of the most common mistakes fleets make is losing visibility of the cost and quality of outsourced maintenance work.

“Utility fleets should ensure they have the right level of data to effectively manage the quality and costs of external service providers,” he said. “Some fleets struggle to maintain oversight of vendors when repairs are outsourced frequently, taking for granted that the work is being properly completed and for a fair value. They need to define the data metrics that will help them oversee costs and identify potential repeat repairs from the same vendors.”

OG&E receives daily vendor updates in a spreadsheet format, which Jefferson said cuts down on phone calls and makes communication easier for everyone involved. The company also holds quarterly or annual meetings with vendors where the vendors are rated on sales, service, support, pricing and more.

“We can see from year to year from our point of view. Then, at the end of the meeting, we ask for their feedback,” Jefferson added.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Do What Works for Your Fleet
Any organization that is considering outsourcing must first identify and understand their objectives. Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates, suggested asking these questions during the process:

  • Is outsourcing being considered in order to save money?
  • Will outsourcing improve performance of the operating units?
  • Will outsourcing create greater accountability?
  • Is outsourcing intended to more quickly and cost-effectively modernize fleet management practices by buying state-of-the-art capabilities, information systems and so forth versus trying to build those things in-house?

For most utility fleets, it is beneficial to maintain a balanced model of service delivery, but remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

“As a fleet manager, you need to evaluate the unique characteristics of your fleet – including the geographic region in which you conduct business – to develop a tailored solution that puts you in the best position to operate a safe, cost-effective and reliable fleet,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for ARI.


Strategies for Addressing the Looming Technician Shortage

With more baby boomers heading into retirement, industries that have benefited from these individuals’ decades of experience and expertise — including the utility fleet sector — are now left to hire and retain new talent.

That won’t be easy, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation (www.techforcefoundation.org), whose mission is to champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians. “There has been a critical shortage of qualified technicians for at least 20 years, so as the rest of the baby boomers retire within the next 10 years, things can only worsen. A report that we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry – auto, diesel and collision – needs more than 137,000 new-entrant technicians.”

But it’s not just the retirements that will make matters worse, Maher said. “There simply are not enough young people seeking a technician career by any means – formal or informal education and training – to fill the void. Our school systems in this country have either reduced or eliminated vocational training in favor of a four-year degree. In effect, they have abandoned working with your hands as a viable career path, which is absurd not only because of the tech shortage, but also because a tech career offers a solid, middle-class lifestyle.”

So, what can utility fleets do to address this problem – and what should they opt not to do?

“The worst thing utility fleet managers can do is take a wait-and-see attitude. When you don’t have enough qualified techs to service the fleet, no matter which one, there is going to be a loss in productivity and efficiency,” Maher said. “The entire industry – associations, manufacturers, service facilities, et cetera – has to come together to solve the problem. For the sake of the industry, even competitors will have to check their self-interests at the door.”

A Tough Task
It’s no surprise that fleets seek to hire experienced candidates to replace those employees who have retired or left the company for other reasons. But some losses make more of an impact than others, and replacing those workers typically isn’t easy. 

For example, John Adkisson, transportation manager for PPL Electric Utilities, said that it’s a major loss when employees who can work on hydraulic aerial devices or specialized equipment – and who can train others to do the same – leave the company. “We usually make sure techs come from technical schools or have a body of knowledge from prior job experience, but the hydraulic training is coming from in-house,” he said.

To address this issue, PPL hired a former hydraulic mechanic in October 2017 to serve as an in-house instructor and share his knowledge with others. “Eighty percent of his time is spent training; the rest is on actual maintenance. When there is an opportunity for the specialized hydraulic work, the less-seasoned techs use that time for on-the-job training,” Adkisson said.

Proactive Approach
Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has taken a proactive approach to attracting prospective employees by working with several area technical colleges over the past four years to increase the pool of qualified candidates for its fleet. Initially, however, there wasn’t much interest from the students.

“A lot of these students going into vocational tech schools already have a preconceived notion of what they want to do when they leave,” explained Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for NPPD. “They go into it to work at Caterpillar or end up at Deere. When you hear ‘utility,’ it’s easy to automatically jump to the conclusion of line-type work rather than the fleet service.”

To spark greater interest, NPPD decided to bring fleet equipment into the schools and hold utility demonstration events. During these events, staff from the utility go into classrooms and provide 10- to 15-minute presentations about how the equipment operates, what they work on and some of the challenges they face.

“That builds excitement, and then we have the candidate pool,” Gilliland said.

NPPD employees also serve on the advisory boards of these colleges, which has allowed them to provide input on some of the curriculum and order of class schedules. That also presented the opportunity for an internship program. “Typically it starts with some shadowing, they get some familiarity,” Gilliland said. “We have the opportunity then to have a second person on board for jobs that require two people. Eventually, as they mature in the internship, they typically work on their own.”

NPPD offers one to two paid internships per year, ranging from 20 to 40 hours per week during its regular Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. Hours are flexible to accommodate students’ class schedules. Gilliland said the program has worked out well, with students moving on to take positions with other utilities as well as vendors that service utilities.

For other fleets interested in implementing a similar program, Gilliland suggested contacting local tech schools to find out about their current internship programs, how they work, and whether they’re done on a semester or quarterly basis.

“Then just have an open dialogue about what you and the company want to get from that internship and what the school can provide, then jointly create that opportunity,” Gilliland said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Starting at the Grassroots Level
Whether a fleet will be able to adequately fill the roles of seasoned employees when they leave the company will depend on several factors. It’s helpful to have a plan in place and take advantage of available resources.

“If we’re going to solve the qualified technician shortage problem, we need to work at the grassroots level, offering tangible and relevant experiences to adolescents as they start to think about their careers,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation.

Local community colleges and training schools are good places to begin recruiting candidates, in addition to hosting on-site job fairs where students and parents can gain a better understanding of what fleet businesses do and how they do it.

Maher also noted the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual National Technician Skills Competition – also known as TMCSuperTech – which attracts contestants from all segments of the industry, many of whom have won state, regional and corporate skills championships.

“If a fleet manager wants to hire the techs with the most potential, these competitions provide ready-made opportunities to start a conversation with them,” Maher said.

TechForce recently unveiled its revamped website (www.techforcefoundation.org), designed, built and managed by Autoshop Solutions. The new site includes the FutureTech Resource Hub, a one-stop-shop portal through which future technicians can find after-school programs, clubs, events, technical schools, scholarships and training that help develop their skills and pathway to the technician profession. Additionally, the site includes the new Industry Hub, through which industry recruiters, managers, working technicians and educators can find helpful resources to support and connect with future technicians.


Choosing a Lift with Safety in Mind

When selecting a new maintenance bay lift that’s safe for your fleet operation, there’s more to consider than the assets that will be lifted on it. It’s also essential to account for what will be under and above the lift – and how the weight will be distributed.

All too often, industry experts say, well-meaning fleet professionals and maintenance technicians choose a lift simply based on the weight of the largest vehicle or piece of equipment it will hold. But there’s more to the equation, and getting it wrong can have disastrous results.

First, noted George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com), it’s important to remember that the base weight of an asset is one thing, but the weight of that asset when it’s on the lift, fully loaded, is another.

Here are seven additional considerations from Survant and Steve Perlstein, president of auto lift supplier Mohawk Lifts (www.mohawklifts.com), on choosing a lift with safety in mind.

  1. In terms of safety certification, Perlstein said “one and only one” matters: certification from the Automotive Lift Institute (www.autolift.org). Take note: There is an ALI requirement that all options and accessories used on a lift must be certified; if they’re not, the lift’s certification is void. That can make some options worthless. “People really should be checking and verifying not only that options are available, but the options are adequately rated,” Perlstein said. 
  1. Proper sizing of a lift means knowing not just the overall weight of the largest vehicle it will hold, but also knowing the weight of that vehicle’s rear axle. “In the utility world, it’s only the back that matters,” Perlstein said.
  1. As trucks have gotten taller, Survant explained, “you need to make sure you have adequate headroom. If the lift could push the top of the truck through a low-hanging roof, and you have a new operator who is not familiar with that, they’ll give you a brand new skylight.”
  1. Ensure the lift is designed for the entire array of equipment it will hold, Survant said. Different assets may require different attachment points and configurations.
  1. If you’re thinking about potentially buying from a secondary market supplier, keep aftermarket support in mind. You don’t want to find yourself, years down the line, with a product you’ve bought from someone who is no longer in business – or one who has no relationship with the equipment manufacturer, Survant advised.
  1. Know the strength of the shop floor. Concrete can vary in thickness and strength, Survant said, “and that can be a problem if you put a new-generation lift in an older facility that perhaps wasn’t built for it.” Most new lifts have large feet to help distribute weight, “but it’s not impossible to find yourself in a set of circumstances the equipment wasn’t designed for,” he said.
  1. Training – both initial and ongoing – is critical. When was the last time your technicians were properly trained on safe use of a lift? Other types of training take place annually, Perlstein said, and it’s worth considering annual training for lifts, too. “God forbid something happen,” he said. “But if it does, at least you’ll have a paper trail to show that the technicians were trained. Our society has become so litigious, it’s what you now have to do.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


Safe Lift Operation Should Be ‘Intuitive’
What’s the main thing fleet professional George Survant would advise looking for in a lift?

Primarily, he said, that its proper use would be “intuitive.”

“What you find, in some of the older units, is that they have safeguards, tricks you need to know to make them safe,” he said. “But those tricks aren’t always obvious to technicians.”

He told the story of a mechanic who had a vehicle roll right off the back of a lift; certain supports were supposed to be upright as opposed to flat, Survant said, and the mechanic put up the supports in the front, but not the ones in the rear. “So as soon as he got it off the ground, it tilted backwards,” Survant said.

For those upfitting a garage with a new-generation lift, he explained, “one of the single most important characteristics is that the correct operation of the device is easy to identify. … It needs to be built in such a way that the lift won’t operate if the lift safety features aren’t engaged.”

Thankfully, Survant said, “the industry has taken a few giant steps forward” in lift design, especially when it comes to safety. “Back when I started, you had to fiddle with things all the time. You had to keep all your documentation in hand. And you had to worry about hydraulics. Units are nowhere near that complex today, and are so well-built and designed.”


What’s Your Fleet’s Plan to Prepare for Winter Weather?

In some parts of the country, the leaves are already changing color and there’s a nip in the air. Fall is here and winter is not far behind, which means time is slipping away for utility fleet managers to winterize their fleet assets before truly cold weather sets in.

Forgive Tom Jansen, superintendent of fleet maintenance for Minnesota Power, for being nonchalant about the impending weather. Despite the harsh winter conditions in Minnesota – home of four of the country’s 15 coldest cities, according to USA Today Jansen’s fleet is prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at it. Cold? Bring it. Ice? Ready. Winter Storm Colbert, which The Weather Channel announced would be the third named storm of the coming season? He laughs.

For Jansen’s 600-unit fleet – which includes Class 3-8, off-road and mobile assets – winterizing isn’t contained to a few months of the year. “While there are activities performed just prior to winter to help the fleet stay operating effectively, we’ve found success with focusing on a good year-round preventive maintenance program, purchasing practices and operator training,” he said.

That means using oils and lubricants that are effective throughout the year, installing solar battery chargers on all new trailers and off-road equipment, and ensuring that equipment purchased has block heaters and battery disconnects. The result: a reduced winter preparation workload.

This type of preventive maintenance is a good practice for any utility fleet. According to Don Scare, senior consultant, commercial truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), “Preventive maintenance covers a lot of the general checks that you do throughout the year, like batteries and belts.”

Meeting Seasonal Demands
Still, there are maintenance tasks that only make sense in the winter months. Scare and Jansen offer the following tips to help utilities ready their fleets to meet the demands of the season.

Diesel engines take more prep. All the diesel engines in Jansen’s fleet receive additives to help with winter weather, while some Minnesota Power service centers in the northernmost part of the state switch to a different type of diesel, a winter blend called #1 or 1-D. Scare said this also is a good time to “make sure that fuel tanks are clean of any condensation and water so that sumps in the bottom of the tanks are clean.” In addition, remind drivers to keep tanks full. “Condensation can build up with extreme up and down temperatures, and water freezes up,” Scare added.

Speaking of water, be sure to check equipment such as aerial devices and generators to ensure there is no water in the reservoir tanks or hydraulic oil tanks, Scare said. This also is an appropriate time to make sure that air tanks and air brakes are dry and serviced for the season.

Get back in good habits … During warmer weather, drivers and fleet maintenance staff get out of the habit of plugging in vehicles, Scare said. “Block heaters are very important, especially on diesel trucks,” he said. “Make it a habit to follow that process throughout the winter months, whether that is a mild or extreme winter.” Jansen said to make sure to test block heaters in advance to verify they’re working properly.

… And break a bad habit. Scare said fleets need to defeat the idea that the solution for diesel engines is to let them idle. “That’s a no-no with today’s technology,” he said. “The particulate filter starts to plug up when it idles for a long time, and it doesn’t have an opportunity to regenerate itself. That requires the vehicle to heat up and burn off that soot and ash.” For fleets that must leave a vehicle running to complete work, remind drivers to step up the RPMs.

Don’t forget the tires. Inspect tire chains before they are put on vehicles, Scare recommended. “Make sure all links are in place and ready for the vehicle, that they fit and drivers are instructed on proper usage.” And make sure drivers are reminded about proper tire inflation, which is particularly important as weather swings from warm to cold.

Develop and implement a year-round maintenance plan. That includes keeping in mind any summer-use-only vehicles that must be prepped for winter storage.

There is a lot to remember in order to properly prepare a utility fleet for the winter. Jansen suggested setting recurring PM schedules “to be based off the calendar. Oil changes are still performed as needed, but our system schedules the PM. While the workload is balanced throughout the year, equipment that is primarily stored outside or equipment that requires additional work to prep for winter is scheduled in the fall.”

Ultimately, he believes that winter preparation is something that occurs throughout the year with a goal of increasing equipment uptime and reducing reactive work in the winter.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Don’t Forget Another Important Part of Winterizing
Drivers have an important role to play when it comes to winterizing the fleet, but they shouldn’t neglect to prepare themselves for winter, too.

Don Scare, Element Fleet Management’s senior consultant, commercial truck solutions, suggested helping drivers prepare for conditions by making sure they have:

  • Personal wear to handle inclement weather.
  • Supplies, including water, in case they get stuck in the elements.
  • Fresh batteries in flashlights.
  • Tools that can help them get back on the road if they break down.

Getting the Most Out of Your Tires

As a utility fleet manager, you operate perhaps the most diversified vehicle fleet of any business, typically using all weight classes of trucks, from light- to heavy-duty, on the road and off, hauling aerial devices, digger derricks and a slew of other job-specific equipment on good pavement or through fields of debris.

Given these characteristics, getting the best value and performance from your tires may not be rocket science, but it does take planning, smart spec’ing and commitment to a maintenance program, according to tire manufacturers.

A fleet’s first step toward tire value is to determine its goals, said Bill Walmsley, product category manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires (www.michelintruck.com). What do you want in your tires? Durable, trouble-free service and long, even wear? Additional features? Regardless, selecting the best tire for the application is key. Walmsley suggested that fleets start by looking at the same tire size they currently have on their equipment by wheel position and then explore available options in that size to meet the specific conditions under which the equipment will operate. “This might entail specific load-carrying requirements, weather conditions or environmental issues, such as off-road products or tires which operate well in field or snow conditions,” he said.

Calibrating the balance between load and appropriate tire pressure is critical, but it also is easy since every tire manufacturer publishes load and inflation charts for their tires. The only way to make sure the calibrations are correct is to know the loads being carried and use the charts, Walmsley said.

“Tires are designed and optimized to carry a desired load at a specified pressure. Proper pressure for the maximum load being carried is very important. Underinflation and overinflation for the loads being carried will affect tire and casing life and performance,” Walmsley said.

Balance the Benefits
Utility fleets, like all fleets, ultimately are looking for tires that will help lower their operating costs, noted Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com). Regardless of application and wheel position, it is important to achieve the right balance of performance benefits.

“In the past, when one benefit such as low rolling resistance in a particular type of tire was optimized, the other benefits of the ‘performance triangle’ – miles to removal and tear resistance – were reduced,” Buckham said. “This dynamic is much less prevalent these days.”

Additionally, fuel economy for vocational tires used to be sacrificed in favor of tread compounds that emphasized miles to removal and tear resistance. The combination of fuel economy regulations and customer requirements has changed those performance priorities, Buckham noted. “With the continual evolution in technology and tire design, engineers have made significant strides in maintaining all three performance properties,” he said. “As fuel-efficiency regulations continue to tighten, the need for tires that help deliver reduced rolling resistance and enhanced fuel economy will only grow. The goal of Goodyear’s research is to develop tires that help fleets reduce their fuel consumption with little to no effect on miles to removal and tear resistance.”

Select a tire that is best for your application needs while also offering good performance and durability that may meet multiple life needs for retreading. That’s the best measure of the overall cost of ownership and return on your tire investment.

“Consider value, not just cost,” Michelin’s Walmsley said. “A replacement tire that offers the best value is not necessarily the one with the lowest price.”

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.


Tire Monitoring Programs Can Help Fleets
Commercial tire manufacturers have long offered services to help fleets monitor tire performance, but the addition of online programs appears to give fleet managers a faster, easier way to spot problems.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Tire Trac program, for example, monitors tire installations, the performance of tires in the field or on the road, the reasons why tires were removed from service, tire inflation history and other key metrics, said Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing for the tire manufacturer.

“Tire Trac also helps fleets identify tire maintenance opportunities, which can result in real savings,” he said.

Goodyear gathers the Tire Trac data through fleet surveys. Technicians perform on-site inspections to measure tire inflation levels, tread depths and other aspects of a tire’s condition, Buckham said. The captured information is used to create customized reports that show how a fleet’s tires are performing. The program lets utility and other fleets zero in on a specific tire or look at all of the tires across their operation. Fleets can compare cost per mile from location to location and identify systemic trends, Buckham added.


Put a Tire Maintenance Policy on Paper
A good, written policy specifying the maintenance practices a fleet wants followed is a must to get the maximum life out of their tires, said Bill Walmsley, product category manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

A tire maintenance policy should be specific to the fleet’s vehicles, equipment, geography, distance traveled, loads carried, time on the road and other pertinent factors, Walmsley said. It also should cover the specifics of new replacement tires.

Key to this policy is the use of retreading. While retreading may be a given for most fleets, it’s still worth noting that all steer casings can be used for drive and trailer retreads, noted Walmsley. “A casing is fully capable of moving to either position depending on the casing’s age and condition,” he said. “Individual fleets need to determine load composition, winter travel and other sensitivities when determining their retread policy.”

As a rule, the number of times that a tire can be retreaded depends on the application. A steer tire can be retreaded into a drive axle or trailer axle tire; a drive axle tire can be retreaded into either a drive axle tire or trailer axle tire; and a trailer axle tire can be retreaded into another trailer axle tire.

Finally, a fleet’s maintenance policy also should include scrap analysis, Walmsley said.


What CK-4 and FA-4 Engine Oils Mean for Your Fleet

Manufacturers have stepped up their technology efforts to meet rigorous fuel-efficiency and emissions standards. In doing so, many next-generation engines will need higher-performing diesel engine oils to protect them. This requires changes in engine oil composition to withstand more heat without sacrificing engine protection.

A new generation of diesel engine oils was rolled out in December 2016. One of those oils is CK-4, a high-temperature, high-shear (HTHS) oil that can be used in both new and existing engines. It is available in the same viscosity grades and oil types currently being used in fleet operations.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), CK-4 can be used in high-speed, four-stroke-cycle diesel engines designed to meet 2017 model-year on-highway and Tier 4 non-road exhaust emission standards, as well as previous model-year diesel engines.

As much as possible, minimize exposure between new and old engine oils to ensure the benefits of CK-4 as well as continued OEM warranty support, advised Mark Betner, heavy-duty product line manager for CITGO (www.citgo.com).

A second oil type that debuted in December – FA-4 – has limited backward compatibility and is better suited for 2017 model-year engines and beyond. This “low-HTHS” oil is offered in lower viscosity grades and is not recommended for use with fuels having greater than 15 parts per million sulfur, according to API (www.api.org).

What Are the Benefits?
Benefits of the new CK-4 and FA-4 oils include increased fuel economy and lower emissions.

“Lower-viscosity engine oils will improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases over [previous] engine oils,” Betner said. “FA-4 engine oils in an FA-4-compliant engine will offer even greater fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases.”

In addition, “Today’s lighter weights can deliver the equivalent or even better wear protection than a CJ-4 15W-40 oil, along with significantly improved oil drain performance,” according to Len Badal, global Delo brand manager for Chevron Lubricants (www.chevronlubricants.com).

Betner agreed, noting the advanced technology of these two engine oils provides significant improvements in deposit control, shear stability and oil aeration control. “These engine oils will also have a 60 percent better oxidation resistance compared to API CJ-4, which aids in extended service intervals,” he explained.

Badal mentioned that off-road equipment would reap significant rewards from CK-4. “CK-4 oils deliver many benefits that directly address major issues with off-road equipment, including extended drain intervals, reduced engine wear and ability to extend rebuild intervals,” he said. “Off-highway equipment operators stand to gain a lot of benefits from the new API CK-4 oils, with a direct impact on reliability, productivity and profitability.”

Based on reduced fuel consumption, and extended oil drain and engine rebuild intervals, potential cost savings are expected.

Fleets surveyed by CITGO reported improved fuel efficiency after converting to its new API CK-4 oils, with improvement ranging from 1.6 to 3.2 percent after 50,000 miles.

What’s the Next Step?
Identify the units in your fleet that will be most impacted, and always check the owner’s manual for the proper lubricant recommendation.

One particular area of concern is for fleets comprised of various makes and models. Some automakers have indicated that neither one of the new engine oils should be used in certain vehicles at this time.

Nebraska Public Power District is one utility that has been proactively addressing that issue. Matt Gilliland, NPPD’s director of transportation and facilities, said he has been communicating with internal staff and servicing vendors to address the diversity of units in the organization’s fleet.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


OEM Specs for API CK-4 and FA-4 Oils
Major diesel engine and truck manufacturers recently provided their own OEM specifications that connect with the new API CK-4 and FA-4 categories for their new model GHG 2017 diesel engines, with several also citing backward compatibility as well as upgrades to support longer oil drain intervals. These initial specs are mainly focused on CK-4 but should include more FA-4 data in the future.

OEM Specs

Source: Len Badal/Chevron Lubricants


Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

A 70-inch snowfall in Buffalo, N.Y. A polar vortex. An ice storm in the South. The last few winters certainly have been memorable, and this coming season looks to be more of the same. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov) is forecasting below-normal temperatures for much of the U.S., with some locations experiencing more precipitation than average.

While this may be good news for skiers and those who like to build snowmen, it can wreak havoc for utility fleets – those pressed to keep services operating no matter the weather.

“When you’re in our business, the power has to be on 24/7,” said Michael Donahue, manager of transportation and construction equipment for Omaha Public Power District (www.oppd.com). “The crews and vehicles and equipment have to be ready to respond for normal maintenance and when there is an emergency.”

Given that the average high temperature in Omaha, Neb., hovers around the freezing mark during the winter months, winterizing the utility’s fleet is a given. Historically, the OPPD fleet maintained its 1,000 licensed vehicles and 300 pieces of construction equipment by issuing preventive maintenance orders each September 1. “But what that did was put 1,000 PMs due on our list,” Donahue explained. Now the fleet garage incorporates winterization into the normal maintenance schedule. “It eases up on the guys in the shop and the crews, too,” he said.

In Nova Scotia, another region that is typically frozen during the winter, preparation is key – and it starts at the most basic levels.

“As we approach the winter season, an email is sent out to the line supervisors to check and make sure all outlets are working where trucks are to have their block heaters plugged into,” said Allan Bates, fleet garage supervisor at Nova Scotia Power (www.nspower.ca). Supervisors also are reminded to ensure adequate supplies of fuel conditioner and winter washer fluid are available, he said.

Keeping the fleet ready for response means block heaters are installed on all trucks and winter tires are changed out before they are worn down to 5/32 of an inch, Bates said. Block heaters keep the engine warm and lubricants flowing, and they are especially important for diesel trucks. Research performed by the University of Tennessee found that diesel engines are five times harder to start in zero-degree weather than in 80-degree temperatures.

Here are some other winterization tips from Bates, Donahue and equipment supplier McCann Industries (www.mccannonline.com).

Watch out for water, which can freeze in any number of a vehicle’s systems. This means checking washer fluid to ensure it is winter-rated – likely with a higher concentration of alcohol to prevent freezing. It also means changing fuel filters. Bates said Nova Scotia Power schedules that maintenance to occur every two months. A clogged fuel filter can cause moisture buildup. Condensation also can build up inside nearly empty fuel tanks, creating difficulties in starting.

Add fuel conditioner and ensure that it is appropriate for the type of fuel used. This is especially important for ultralow sulfur diesel. Fuel additive manufacturer Enertech Labs (www.enertechlabs.com) reports that this type of fuel gels at higher temperatures than other types of diesel and is prone to icing.

Check coolant and antifreeze and adjust frequently. Additionally, switch out wiper blades in favor of those designed for winter conditions.

Check tire inflation often. Tire manufacturer Goodyear (www.goodyear.com) notes that tire pressure drops 1-2 pounds for every 10-degree decline in temperature. Properly inflated tires also can help with slippery conditions. It is interesting to note that at OPPD, crews no longer carry tire chains. “They didn’t use them very often and when they would take them out, they would be rusty,” Donahue said. Now, storage is built into the utility’s parking facilities and crews can grab chains if they know they will need them.

Plug in block heaters during periods of normal operating temperatures. Block heaters do not provide heating – they maintain temperature.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


3 Things You May Not Know About Winter Weather

1. While frostbite and hypothermia may be well-known wintertime threats, workers also can encounter other, less severe cold-weather injuries, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Chilblain occurs when skin is exposed to cold or wet conditions. It can be as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit and happen in an hour or so. Immersion or trench foot occurs when tissue – especially in the feet – is exposed to cold, wet temperatures for 12 hours or more. Inactivity, wet or damp socks, or tightly laced boots that impair circulation all can speed up onset and severity.

2. More Americans die of causes related to winter weather exposure than to summer heat. The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says about 2,000 Americans die of weather-related causes each year, and about two-thirds of those are due to exposure to cold. In Canada, about 108 people die annually from the cold, compared to 17 who succumb to heat-related ailments.

3. Canada ties Russia as the coldest nation on earth, with an average daily annual temperature of -5.6 degrees Celsius, according to “Canadian Geographic Biggest and Best of Canada: 1000 Facts & Figures.” That equates to about 22 degrees Fahrenheit.


Factors to Consider When Making Outsourcing Decisions

Deciding whether to outsource maintenance and repair work or perform it in-house can be a daunting task for fleet managers. To gain some industry insight, UFP recently spoke with Holly Giffrow-Bos, fleet supervisor for East Central Energy (ECE), and Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), about what’s worked for their operations and what to consider if you’re leaning toward outsourcing part or all of your maintenance and repair work.

According to Giffrow-Bos, about 15 to 20 percent of ECE’s fleet jobs are outsourced. These typically include body work, warranty work and any kind of heavy-duty engine or transmission replacement work. The electric distribution cooperative, headquartered in Braham, Minn., has a fleet of approximately 180 units.

Due to the level of training and the resources required to perform body work, Giffrow-Bos said ECE “never got into it because of the expense of having that specially trained person and equipment.” The fleet also doesn’t have a lot of jobs that require body work.

In general, ECE handles all diagnostics, repairs and preventive maintenance in-house. This work, too, comes at a significant expense; each of the cooperative’s in-house technicians must be trained on all vehicle makes and models used by the fleet, as well as a range of different tasks.

“They have to know hydraulics to mechanical to electronics, hydraulic over electrical,” Giffrow-Bos said.

AIC – a Collinsville, Ill.-based utility with a fleet of approximately 3,300 assets – outsources about one-third of its fleet maintenance and repair work, according to Remmert. This includes some warranty and glass repair jobs, as well as high-tech tasks if AIC’s mechanics haven’t undergone the training needed to do the work. Location also factors into AIC’s outsourcing decisions. If the utility only has 20 vehicles in a small city, Remmert said, “it doesn’t really make sense to have a mechanic there.”

Technician and Facilities Considerations
For a fleet to keep any of its work in-house, fleet managers need to ensure they have enough qualified technicians to handle the work.

“You’ve got to have a solid training program,” Remmert said, and that includes ongoing training.

One reason ECE tries to keep its fleet repair and maintenance work in-house is because the cooperative is located in a rural area. “I’ll do a lot more training with the four technicians I have because we just don’t have many options out there within a short distance to do sublet work,” Giffrow-Bos said.

Every fleet that employs technicians also has to have a place for them to work, so consideration must be given to facilities when deciding whether or not to outsource work.

“For example, for CNG, you actually have to make sure that the building can handle the fire marshal regulations around natural gas or you have to search out vendors that have those abilities,” Remmert explained.

And for fleets thinking about building a facility, “that’s a long-term planning commitment,” he continued. “You have to get the building plot, you have to get the approvals – there are a lot of factors.”

So, for those fleets that simply don’t have the appropriate workspace, it may seem easier to partner with an outside vendor to get the work done. But keep in mind that it’s not always a one-stop shop. As Remmert noted, many vendors are specialized. If a vehicle needs two or three different repairs, it may have to be sent to two to three different shops before it can be driven again, which can sorely affect the vehicle’s uptime.

Downtime can still be a challenge even if a job is only being outsourced to one vendor, Remmert said. “A lot of times my truck is sitting there at a vendor because I’m not their most important customer. They won’t get to that truck until two weeks from now. We find that especially with some high-technology stuff. They may only have one mechanic trained on that component and he’s backlogged and I’m waiting.”

With an in-house program, a technician typically can respond right away in the event of an emergency, and the quality of work may exceed that of an outside vendor’s work.

“[Vendors] don’t always treat your vehicles as if they were their own, so you don’t get the quality of workmanship that you might get from somebody you employ,” Remmert said.

Controlling Costs
Today’s fleet managers are always keeping their eyes on the operation’s finances. If a fleet chooses to outsource, Giffrow-Bos said, that reduces overhead costs because fewer employees and less inventory will be needed.

However, contracting with a vendor often means giving up control in certain ways.

“If a job goes out to a vendor and you really don’t know the condition of that vehicle, you start relying heavily on that vendor,” Remmert explained. “I think you have better control with an in-house model. Also, you can control the parts cost. If the job goes to a small vendor, a lot of times I’m paying retail price for that parts cost, where if I had an in-house model, I’m buying at very strategically low prices because of sourcing bids I have with my major parts vendors. I have versatility.”

To put it simply, deciding whether or not to outsource some or all of your maintenance and repair work is a complex task. For most fleets, it’s about analyzing all of the important factors – including cost, quality and turnaround time – to find the balance that works best for the organization.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

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