Tag: Management


Will Solar Drive the Future of Electrified Trucks?

Several years ago, when gas prices were higher and an industry need arose to reduce costs and seek alternative solutions, conversations about harnessing the sun intensified. Combined with advances in electric vehicle technology, the possibilities of what manufacturers and fleets could do in this realm began to grow.

Solar power began to be used to extend the range of some electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. And a full-size electric pickup truck using solar to extend its range was introduced at the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

Given the evolution of solar power use in vehicles over the years, where are we today?

As it turns out, on a slightly different course than one may have assumed. Rather than focus on the use of solar to add range to electric vehicles, utility fleets are, for example, adding panels as components of larger energy management systems. Solar power may be used to recharge vehicle starting and auxiliary batteries. It also can supplement battery charging while a vehicle is being driven or while it’s stopped – a valuable feature where legislation may prohibit idling. Additionally, solar power paired with an inverter system converts DC battery power to AC household power to charge cordless tools, laptops, test equipment and other work truck loads that require AC power without draining the battery.

“It’s a very clean and silent way to create AC power without using a generator,” said Sean O’Connor, sales channel manager of Go Power! (www.gpelectric.com). His company, based in Victoria, British Columbia, has been in the industry since 2000, originally starting with solar and inverter systems for RVs. Go Power! introduced its panels and power inverters to the work truck market five years ago when the company recognized a need to greatly reduce battery replacement within fleets. Minimizing the frequent battery replacements typical among fleets can bring a fast return on investment.

Even on cloudy days, a solar panel still can generate power. Panels range from about 30 watts to 100-plus watts; regardless of the power produced, a solar power system can use a solar controller, which acts like a fuel shutoff valve, to protect the battery from overcharging and prolong battery life.

Mike Stephens, Go Power! division manager, said every fleet has a slightly different niche and need. The right combination might include an inverter only, or a solar panel for trickle charging, or solar panels and an inverter. Systems can be uniquely designed to meet a fleet’s requirements.

Harnessing Practicality
With regard to using solar power, there are some things that still aren’t completely practical – yet. But Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., has seen solar’s practical applications. His fleet employs an electric power takeoff (ePTO) system that uses a series of batteries to power onboard equipment at job sites, and truck-mounted solar panels have been used to charge those ePTO batteries.

Altogether, the system has helped increase productivity by extending the number of hours employees can work in noise-restricted areas because power no longer has to be supplied by a noisy generator. There also have been increases in safety because workers can now communicate by talking rather than having to use hand signals over the sound of that generator, and bucket truck operators – who traditionally sit in the back near the exhaust – have greatly benefited from reduced emissions on the ground. Meisel partnered with Altec (www.altec.com) to electrify PG&E’s worksites through the company’s Jobsite Energy Management System (JEMS), “and solar has been a part of that,” said Meisel, whose California-based fleet of roughly 15,000 assets has one of cleanest power generation mixes in the nation. “Electrifying the worksite has been a huge win for us.”

The way Meisel sees it, the biggest thing to remember about electrification is that the technology is still in its infancy. Its potential – and the full potential of solar power – remains to be seen.

“I don’t know that we’ve fully understood, at this stage of the game, how much this type of technology could benefit our industry,” he said. Meisel has one vehicle in his fleet, for example, that can act as a standalone generator with exportable power. “That technology is spreading relatively quickly. I’m sure there are some smart people out there who will move it further than we have. But we’re excited about potential. We’re excited about the opportunities that it presents,” he said.

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.


Warming up to the idea of solar? Here are a few things to consider:
• Recognize that the benefits of using solar power may be difficult to quantify, said Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Dave Meisel. As part of a larger energy management system, there have been some obvious wins. But it’s important to look at the picture more broadly; gains don’t just stop “at the door of the garage,” Meisel said, and may expand to other departments and areas.
• If you’re considering a particular system, make sure it’s within the proper parameters of any anti-idling legislation in the state or states in which your fleet operates, and appropriate for individual requirements. In addition, understand that anti-idling legislation likely will keep expanding.
• Keep an eye on solar developments. There is much interest, for example, in the commercial trucking space. Through companies such as Go Power!, eNow (www.enowenergy.com) and Green Solar Transportation (www.greensolartransport.com), solar and electric vehicle technology continue to develop.


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Todd Carlson, principal manager for fleet asset management at Southern California Edison (www.sce.com), one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving nearly 15 million customers in Central, Coastal and Southern California, with about 6,100 assets, including trailers, in its fleet.

#1. Learn from other utility fleet professionals.
“Leverage your peers in the industry to benchmark how they configure and utilize their utility trucks. And study their best practices and alternative work methods for crews. This way, you can shorten your own learning curve and put your fleet in the best position to succeed.”

#2. Avoid excessive customization.
“While most utility trucks are custom-configured for the buyer and their work methods, new fleet managers should be aware of all the costs of excessive or unique customizations not typically offered by OEMs. These costs can include longer lead times, engineering issues, trade-offs and unintended outcomes.”

#3. Track fleet performance so you can make smart business decisions.
“A good telematics solution can help you capture performance data – such as days utilized, idle time, boom utilization and driver performance – to equip you with the insight you need to make informed business decisions about your fleet.”


3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

1. Liftgates with ergonomic features.
It’s no secret to utility fleet workers that getting in and out of a vehicle can cause injuries. Maybe a worker steps off incorrectly and twists something, or constant repetitive motion results in long-term injuries. Add in heavy equipment that must be wrestled out of the back of the vehicle, and the odds of back injuries increase.

But there are solutions available. “We’ve seen ease of use and dependability increase greatly with ramps and liftgates,” said Spero Skarlatos, manager of truck excellence for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

He noted that some liftgates now have a cantilever design that allows a platform as wide as the van itself. Some of those are hinged to the vehicle’s rear doors so they easily swing out. “Liftgates and ramps relieve the driver of having to physically lift a box so they can use a cart instead,” Skarlatos said.

Maxon Lift (www.maxonlift.com) makes nothing but liftgates and is constantly innovating to meet customer needs. An interlocking handrail on the liftgate is one recent enhancement. That was developed in conjunction with Smithfield, a large meat packer.

“While it’s not a utility fleet, the concerns are the same,” said Anton Griessner, Maxon’s vice president of marketing and business development. “It’s about the safe handling of loads and avoiding having the operator lifting heavy things.”

Of course, the liftgate itself can bring its own challenges, with the worker trying to maneuver the heavy gate into position, often from the ground. Maxon’s latest solution allows the worker to raise the lift about halfway up so that it can then be folded in.

“When you manipulate the liftgate, you can do it at an angle, which is as efficient and ergonomic as possible and at the level that offers the best leverage,” Griessner said.

2. Shelving that puts needed materials in reach.
Skarlatos said that vans and pickup trucks now include a cabinet with multiple shelves that are accessible from the ground level outside the vehicle. It’s akin to a catering operation; vehicles used for that purpose typically contain multiple racks that slide in and out. In the utility fleet environment, the shelves can store tools and products that the driver uses regularly. “Instead of accessing the back of the van, the trays keep the driver outside the vehicle, standing on both feet,” Skarlatos said.

3. New vehicle styles.
While it’s not an upfit per se, one of the biggest current industry trends is changes in vehicles themselves, according to Skarlatos. Euro-design vans are a game changer because they offer easier access and prevent drivers from crouching while in the back of a van. “You can stand up from the driver’s seat, walk into the back of the van and then step out the rear doors by using the step bumpers,” Skarlatos said. “This has been an evolution of the vans to help with ergonomics.”

And when the shelves that put needed materials in reach are included, this eliminates the need for the driver to get back inside the vehicle. “Anytime you limit the times that you’re stepping in or stepping down, reaching and pulling, we’re increasing the driver’s quality of life at work,” Skarlatos said.

Of course, no two fleet needs are the same, even within the utility industry. That’s why working with suppliers is critical. “You have to really explain what you do and how you do it,” Griessner said. “And there still can be a big difference between what the fleet and safety managers try to achieve and what the operators do. Out of this trust in a vendor can come a very good end product.”

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


Ergonomics Issues Can Be Costly
OSHA issued ergonomics mandates in the early 2000s, which were subsequently voided by Congress. Nonetheless, there are common-sense reasons to pay attention to ergonomics in utility fleets. For instance, in 2011 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – workers’ compensation paid out $29.6 billion in medical bills and another $30.3 billion in lost wages, according to the Social Security Administration. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
• Musculoskeletal disorders – the broad term for sprains and strains from overexertion – accounted for three in 10 of the total work-related injuries in 2015.
• The average loss of work for a musculoskeletal disorder was 12 days in 2015. That compares with an average of eight days for all injuries that resulted in days off work.
• Falls, slips and trips were the second-largest category of work-related injuries, at 27 percent.
• Workers aged 45-54 had the highest number of missed days due to work-related injuries.


Determining the Optimal Vehicle Replacement Cycle

Developing an effective approach when it comes to a strategic replacement cycle is a challenge that every fleet manager faces, regardless of the kinds of vehicles or equipment they may manage. The ability to gather and analyze data about your fleet and understand exactly how your fleet is performing has made the run-a-vehicle-into-the-ground approach not only woefully out of date, but it also has revealed just how expensive it is when compared to a well-designed replacement cycle.

The goal for every fleet should be to replace a vehicle before maintenance costs and downtime begin to rise, and at a time in the vehicle’s life when resale values remain meaningful. Determining how to reach that goal can vary from fleet to fleet, but by implementing an optimal replacement cycle for each vehicle or segment of vehicles in a fleet, a fleet manager can realize tremendous benefits and advantages, ranging from minimizing downtime and lowering operating costs, to keeping up with the fast-changing safety and technology features in more recent models, ensuring the safety and comfort of the fleet’s drivers in the process.

So, what considerations and best practices should you adopt in order to get the most from your replacement cycle strategy and experience the benefits of lower operating costs and optimal total cost of ownership?

What Does Your Company Need?
Any good evaluation begins with knowing the needs of your business and assessing the fleet you have. Are there gaps that need to be filled? Alternatively, are there vehicles that are not being fully utilized or are sitting idle? Knowing the specific operational needs of each business unit and reviewing your existing specs to make sure the fleet aligns with the business requirements of the organization help to create a foundation from which to begin your analysis. If you have done an analysis in the past, but it has been a while since you have reviewed it, take the time to update it. Consider whether vehicles that are being underutilized need to be replaced at all. Take a hard look at your specs to see if they can be simplified or pared down. Knowing where you stand before you begin to develop or alter a plan will help to ensure the eventual result is sound and will have a positive impact.

Evaluate and Analyze the Data
Now more than ever, fleet managers have access to volumes of data as well as the tools to parse that data so it provides insight and understanding. Fleet managers can look at maintenance expenses, including both recent and year-over-year comparisons, evaluate fuel expenditures and assess downtime across different vehicle segments. The transparency provided by the ability to evaluate data in an increasingly granular yet valuable way empowers fleet managers to make better decisions. The red flags that appear as the result of a thorough evaluation of your fleet’s data should be folded into the larger effort of building a sound replacement strategy and guide you even as you take other factors into consideration.

Additional Factors to Bring Into the Mix
There are a variety of different approaches to replacement cycling; deciding which one to use is dependent on the kind of fleet (i.e., its use and application) and the vehicles in use. But there are some standard factors that should always be a part of the overall equation.

The Usual Suspects
Any good analysis will consider some basic factors, including model year, total miles, overall condition, cost per mile and repair costs over a fixed period of time. Considering any of these in isolation is not the best approach, and having a single, fixed trigger (e.g., replace all of a certain kind of vehicle when they exceed a certain mileage) is not always effective either. Consider this: You could have two vehicles, both the same model year, but one may need to run more often to power specific, specialized additional equipment that it carries. This would increase the wear and tear on all of its components, especially when compared to the non-upfitted vehicle. Evaluating both on model year alone would not provide a full or accurate analysis.

As a general rule, the more specialized a vehicle is – especially with regard to an upfit or other specially installed equipment – the more likely it will remain in service for a longer period of time. The specialization likely required a larger upfront investment and that comes into play when determining total cost of ownership. And, of course, a replacement is likely to require that same kind of investment.

Remarketing Cycles and Retail Demand for Used Vehicles
While it can vary based on the kind of vehicle and the current demand, the spring – tax season – through the fall remains the best time to sell used vehicles. Unless you have a vehicle that is in high demand on the used market, it is always a good idea to take the seasonality of the remarketing market into consideration. If you do have a segment of vehicles that is in high demand, consider the benefits of adjusting your cycling to maximize the resale value and take advantage of a hot market.

Branding and the Company Image
It never helps an organization to have vehicles in poor condition on the road. Vehicles with rust, substandard paint or body damage can reflect on the company as a whole and do damage to the brand and public standing of the organization. While not a driving factor, it is something to take into account.

Taking the time to develop a sound replacement strategy can save a fleet money and improve the bottom line. There is not one correct way or a single formula; success depends on a variety of factors that can change depending on the kind of fleet being evaluated and the needs of the business. But by investing a little time and thought, you can have a positive impact and a fleet that is cost-effective and on the road.

About the Author: Partha Ghosh is the director of North American vehicle supply chain and remarketing operations for ARI (www.arifleet.com), a privately held fleet management company headquartered in Mount Laurel, N.J.


Vehicle Replacement Considerations: A Checklist
• Evaluate vehicles by category or segment.
• Know the needs of your business and align vehicle specifications accordingly.
• Use the data your fleet returns to your advantage.
• There are standard factors to consider, such as model year and total mileage, but no single factor should drive the decision.
• Specialization and vehicles with a unique upfit may require additional consideration.
• Take the ebb and flow of the remarketing marketplace into account.
• The condition of a vehicle can affect your organization’s brand and image; be sure to keep that in mind.


What Utility Fleets Can Do to Curb Distracted Driving Incidents

Your company has clearly communicated its distracted driving policy to all employees. And the safety department is doing its part by screening at-risk drivers, providing consistent driver training and building awareness throughout the organization of the dangers of distracted driving. But when employees are out on the road, how can management ensure that drivers actually comply with the policy – to protect their own lives, the public and your utility’s reputation and bottom line?

That’s where your fleet department can make a difference. How? By equipping vehicles with technologies that counteract a driver’s impulse to read a text message or scroll through social media feeds on their phone while driving – even when they know it’s the wrong thing to do.

All It Takes is One Time
No one is immune. Even the best, most conscientious drivers can succumb to the temptation to look at their smartphone while driving, at least every now and then.

Think about it. You’re driving a service truck through a residential area when you hear your phone buzzing in the console, notifying you of a text message. Because you know better, your initial instinct is to ignore the sound and keep focused on the road ahead. But then a few seconds later you hear the phone buzz again … and again.

Now you’re curious. Who could that be?

It’s been a long day, and you’re exhausted. You start justifying to yourself: I’m going pretty slow right now and there’s not much traffic; it won’t hurt to take a quick look.

You take your eyes off the road for what you think will only be a second. But by the time you look up from your phone, you see that a boy on a bicycle has darted out from behind a vehicle parked along the street, right in front of your truck. You slam on the brakes, but there’s not enough time to stop before your truck hits him.

You could be a great driver, day in and day out, but one lapse in judgment and everything changes for you – and for the victim’s family and your employer. And because the truck displays your utility’s logo on it, the press coverage causes a public relations firestorm, while your employer is sure to face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Addicted to Distraction
A survey commissioned by AT&T and Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that while over 90 percent of drivers say they know texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior – a classic sign of addiction. And three in four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.

So, if drivers know that texting, checking email or scrolling through social media feeds while driving is hazardous – and illegal in most states – why do far too many drivers still do it? What makes the temptation so hard to resist?

According to Dr. Greenfield, the answer comes down to addiction. “We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Greenfield said in a statement announcing the AT&T study. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

Amy Dobrikova, president of Intelligent Fleet Solutions (www.intelligent-fleet.com), a fleet consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., refers to distracted driving as “the new DUI,” not only because it impairs your ability to drive but also because it’s the result of an addiction that causes you to think, “I can handle this,” much like a drunk driver, when engaging in risky driving behavior.

How Fleet Can Help
What can you do in fleet to help curb distracted driving incidents in your company?

“As a fleet manager, one area I have influence over [when it comes to reducing distracted driving incidents] is specifying new vehicles with available driver-assist technologies, such as reverse sensors and cameras, adaptive cruise control and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for communications,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority in Fairfax, Va. “As technology advances become more mainstream, we’ll be able to bring additional driver aids, like collision avoidance systems, blind-spot detection and lane-keeping assist.”

The idea here is that even if the driver gets distracted, the vehicle won’t. That’s because it’s equipped with technology that can respond and avoid imminent danger, usually much faster than a human driver could.

But while automated driving technologies offer the promise of curbing the consequences of distracted driving, they aren’t yet foolproof, as the highly publicized fatal collision earlier this year involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot demonstrated. It has been widely reported that the driver was distracted and never took over control of the vehicle to apply the brakes before it slammed into the side of a box truck.

“There are many advances in technology being applied to vehicles that are helping fleets achieve improvements in safety and in most every other area imaginable,” Collins said. “Yet, as with any new technology, there can be a bit of trepidation with an operator’s fear of losing control, and the risk of unintended circumstances, where operators think, ‘I’ll just rely on the technology to do it all for me.’”

But what if you could equip the vehicle in a way that prevents drivers from being tempted to pick up the phone in the first place?

For example, Dobrikova recommends installing technology that disables certain functions of the phone while the vehicle is in motion, taking the possibility of phone distraction completely out of the hands of drivers.

“I always like to say that people are human, and no matter what policy is out there, people are going to break the rules,” she said. “I like having solutions that prevent the problem to begin with.”

The product Dobrikova is using with some of her fleet clients is DrivePROTECT from Cellcontrol (www.cellcontrol.com), a Baton Rouge, La.-based firm that develops technology to stop distracted driving in passenger and commercial vehicles.

“A device is placed inside the vehicle behind the rearview mirror, which senses the vehicle’s acceleration,” Dobrikova explained. “While the vehicle is moving, the system sends a Bluetooth signal to the phone to go into safe mode. But when they’re at a stoplight or a stop sign, drivers can still access their phone.”

Dobrikova said that fleet or safety administrators can customize the Cellcontrol system to allow for certain types of calls or apps to run – such as for navigation or music – while shutting down all other functions. “This way, if the fleet wants to be able to say, ‘Dispatch needs to call you at any time,’ you can set up the system to allow dispatch to call. Or, if you want drivers to have a route optimization app that they need to open, but they don’t need to be on Facebook, you can set it up that way as well. The fleet can decide what the parameters will be and what they’re going to allow for the phone usage.”

The Bottom Line
It’s one thing to have a strict distracted driving policy; it’s entirely another to ensure that drivers actually comply with that policy when they’re out in the field. That requires accountability – and technology can help. As Dobrikova put it, “I’m sure everybody will admit to being distracted on their phone at least one time in their life. If we eliminate that risk and are held accountable, we can prevent distracted driving from happening in the first place.”


Distracted Driving By the Numbers
• Text messaging increases your crash risk by 23 times. -Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)
• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which is roughly equivalent to covering the length of a football field blindfolded when traveling 55 mph. -VTTI
• Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. -National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
• Engaging in visual-manual subtasks associated with the use of hand-held phones and other mobile devices – such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting – increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times. -VTTI
• In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and approximately 424,000 people were injured. -NHTSA


Eversource Energy’s New Approach to Change Management in Fleet

About a year ago, the fleet team at Eversource Energy (www.eversource.com) launched an initiative to standardize vehicle and equipment specifications across their three-state service area that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Their objective: Cut fleet costs by limiting vehicle configurations to specific job descriptions. This would enable the fleet to strengthen its buying power (by purchasing a higher volume of same-spec units); streamline parts inventories across all their locations (by operating more equipment from fewer OEMs); and benefit from shorter order-to-delivery cycles (by ordering from fewer vendors).

“If you’re a lineworker, the function of a material-handling truck is going to be the same whether you’re in New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts,” said Steve Driscoll, vice president of operation services for Eversource, which is New England’s largest electric and gas utility, with about 6,500 fleet assets, including trailers. “In the past, we allowed for differences and customization in equipment, based on an operator’s personal preferences. We recognized the need for going to a standard vehicle across the board to be more efficient and reduce costs.”

But the Eversource team also recognized that many of their end users might not like the change. After all, operators had become accustomed to having their vehicles a certain way for years. And they would likely feel resentment toward fleet, especially if no one clearly explained the why behind the changes.

Effective Change Management
So, to help ease the transition, Eversource decided to take a new approach to introducing new vehicle and equipment models to operators. Beginning earlier this year, the Eversource fleet team began conducting comprehensive in-service events, each lasting about two to three hours, with classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations.

The events are led by each of the key vendor partners involved with the build-out of the truck, including the chassis manufacturer, body manufacturer and equipment upfitters. The utility’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, also sends an expert, who typically opens the event by teaching safe driving and equipment operation practices during the classroom portion of the agenda.

“We recognized that this change toward fleet standardization was significant, and we would need to address the change directly with those who would be affected by it,” Driscoll said. “We couldn’t simply have new trucks dropped off – as in, ‘Here’s your new truck’ – without explaining the changes. So, it’s helpful to have all the manufacturers there because they bring a lot of credibility in helping explain some of the benefits that come with the new specs.”

In the past, if an aerial platform truck was being delivered, only the aerial device manufacturer would conduct a brief in-servicing overview for the operators. “There was no involvement of the chassis manufacturer, no involvement of any of the other upfitters involved with the truck. They would come in, go over the owner’s manual and briefly demonstrate the platform operation,” Driscoll said. And in some cases, depending on the vehicle, “it would just be in-serviced by the mechanics in the garage, with a ‘come by and pick up your new vehicle’ approach.”

But now, Eversource puts on a full-scale in-service event whenever they introduce a new vehicle. “You’re taking the time to explain the whys behind the way things are, and I think this has been very helpful with our people accepting the changes,” Driscoll said.

A ‘360-Degree’ In-Service Event
By the end of 2016, Eversource will have conducted over 30 of these comprehensive in-service events – about two to three per month – with anywhere from five to 30 people in attendance, depending on the location and the vehicle being introduced.

What’s on the agenda?

Driscoll said the event starts right after the attendees’ departmental morning meeting. “We try to get the event started early in the morning so the crews can get out to the field.”

The first part consists of a 30- to 40-minute conference room session, with a welcome and introduction by Eversource leadership, a presentation by Liberty Mutual on safe driving techniques and an overview by the vehicle manufacturer. “If it’s Altec, for example, they’ll go over some of the highlights and what’s new in the equipment from previous years,” Driscoll said.

“I’ll do a ‘walk-around’ on PowerPoint,” said Adam Engel, senior account manager at Altec Industries (www.altec.com), who has participated in several in-servicing events with Eversource this year. “And whatever the option we’re going over – whether it’s a ladder rack, a cross-arm holder, a chainsaw box – the goal is to make sure [attendees] understand that there’s a function to each piece of equipment that was put on the vehicle.”

After the indoor session is over, the attendees take a quick break and head outside.

“We have a couple of the vehicles outside pre-staged to go through,” Driscoll said. “We’ll do a walk-around on the vehicle with the attendees, with the chassis manufacturer explaining all the options inside the cab. Then we’ll go through the body with the body manufacturers.”

If the truck is equipped with an aerial device, the manufacturer’s representative demonstrates the operation and the characteristics of the aerial itself. “We’re going to start by highlighting everything inside the cab that pertains to the equipment, such as all of the switches and anything that we’ve added inside the chassis that the operators might not be familiar with,” Engel said.

Then there’s an opportunity for hands-on driving for the participants. “We’ll have an area set up with cones, where Liberty Mutual will take each driver through a course to practice backing, using the mirrors or backup camera, and so forth,” Driscoll said. “Depending on the type of vehicle, we take people over the road so they can get the feel of towing a machine behind that specific vehicle.”

To minimize downtime for operators, the Eversource fleet team and vendor partners bring the in-service event to the area where the operators will be using the new vehicles. “We want to have an efficient session and be cognizant of their time – to get people back out doing what they need to do in the field as soon as possible,” Driscoll said.

What makes an Eversource in-servicing event different than typical new vehicle deliveries?

“Eversource’s in-depth and interactive in-service is unique in the industry,” Engel said. “With [an Eversource event], it’s a comprehensive, 360-degree model. You’ve got somebody who has ownership on each piece of this vehicle, who has the expertise to answer questions specific to their part of the truck. Altec is proud to be a part of Eversource’s in-service events, and we recognize the importance they bring with enhancing safety and streamlining the delivery process.”

Moving Forward
Driscoll said the company expects to continue the pace of two to three in-service events per month for the foreseeable future, indicating that the events have been helping smooth the transition to the new standardized specs.

“If you don’t take time to explain things when in-servicing a vehicle, you run the risk that there will be friction with drivers because of all the changes, and that can taint the perception of the fleet,” Driscoll said. “As the asset owner, we’re very sensitive to that. We want drivers to know that when we invest in fleet, we do it in a thoughtful way and understand how they’ll be using these trucks. These in-service events help us communicate that message directly.”


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Michael Rorison, director of fleet operations at Eversource Energy (www.eversource.com), New England’s largest energy provider. The utility serves more than 3.6 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with about 6,500 assets, including trailers, in its fleet.

#1. Build strong relationships with your team and your customers.
“This is the hardest thing and one of the most important things you can do. The relationships you build today will play a major role in your success as a fleet manager. Employee engagement through developing relationships and team-building initiatives will help you retain good, productive employees. And your relationships with drivers will help them better understand the value of a vehicle’s safety features, with greater appreciation for how those features help the organization achieve its overall safety goals.”

#2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
“The key to successful communication is to listen to all stakeholders who are involved and impacted by your business plan to ensure it supports your customers’ needs. And you must be able to clearly convey everything to your team. Consistent communication with team members and customers can solve or prevent most issues before they escalate into time-consuming crises.”

#3. Be a planner.
“Do you have a strategy that supports your organization’s business plan? And are you prepared for the inevitable crisis? Make planning a part of your standard operating procedure, with daily targets and goals to keep you on track. This way, you can reduce the number of ‘fires’ you need to put out on a daily basis, while putting yourself in a position to handle the inevitable crisis more effectively when it does happen.”


3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

A backhoe is not likely to be the asset most often purchased for a utility company’s fleet. For example, Duke Energy – which has more than 15,000 fleet assets – “may only purchase three or four a year,” said Chris Jolly, Duke’s director of regional operations for Carolinas West.

That means a purchaser may not be as familiar with the required specs for a backhoe as he or she may be with, say, the specs for a standard pickup truck used by the utility.

But it is just as important to get the specs right, said Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes at CASE Construction Equipment. “Buyers really do need to understand their entire fleet and how a backhoe plays into it. By under-specifying a machine, you may actually be creating more work and cost for yourself in the future by having to bring in/rent/transport additional equipment to do the job.”

So, when spec’ing the next backhoe for your fleet, keep these three points in mind.

1. Know what you need.
At Duke Energy, an acquisition team works closely with crews in the field, despite having a corporate agreement with one manufacturer for a standard backhoe, according to Jolly. Even with that standard equipment, there are options.

“Listen to your customers and work closely with the manufacturer. They’ve got the history of what the product can do,” Jolly said.

And skip the idea that a bigger engine or greater dig depth is always the answer. Zieser points out that large backhoes provide greater digging depth and power, but their size may limit their access to worksites. In addition, wide tracks may provide more stability yet may be more difficult to transport. “That’s why it’s so important for backhoe buyers to understand their application – and how that backhoe fits into the overall flow of their fleet,” Zieser said.

2. Consider more than price.
While price is certainly an important consideration, utility also must be factored into the equation when spec’ing a backhoe. “Not understanding how that backhoe will be utilized and optimizing the asset to its greatest potential can be even more costly,” Zieser said.

He points to the option of auxiliary hydraulics as an example. “By not adding greater auxiliary hydraulic options to a backhoe, will you now have to bring in other machines to operate certain attachments and perform certain tasks?”

Even with the standard backhoe configuration, Duke Energy permits an integrated tool package to be added, which allows the bucket to be changed out for forks. “It makes the unit a little more versatile,” Jolly said.

Warranty, preventive maintenance and ongoing upkeep also must be considered during the spec’ing process, Zieser said. “Each manufacturer has its own warranty and conditions. It’s important to understand that, and to understand how the local dealer representative works with you to carry out the terms of that warranty.”

In terms of maintenance, Zieser points to CASE’s SiteWatch telematics, which monitors equipment performance and tracks engine hours to ensure maintenance is done on time.

3. Enhance safety features and operator comfort.
Clearly, utility fleet managers have a number of items to consider when spec’ing backhoes, and operator comfort is one that cannot be forgotten. At Duke, Jolly said that could include allowing some modifications based on operator desires. Florida backhoe operators may want an open cab with a fan while those in the Midwest may prefer a closed cab.

Safety also is important, and Duke is always on the lookout for new enhancements. Jolly said manufacturers are open to input about safety features that utility fleets would like to see, such as the inclusion of ladders on the side of bulldozers, which is something Duke discussed with Caterpillar. “Now we can spec and order that,” Jolly said.

Ultimately, an important key to a strong backhoe spec may be reaching out to other utility fleet professionals, Jolly said. “Don’t hesitate to call on other utilities to ask what our experience has been and how things are working for us. We’re open to share that type of information to help others out.”

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


Key Questions to Ask
Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes for CASE Construction Equipment, suggests that fleet managers ask the following questions in order to select the best backhoe for their operation.

1. How will the backhoe be transported? Your current trailer may determine the backhoe size – or bring the added costs of buying a new trailer.

2. What is the anticipated digging depth? Zieser recommends going beyond your average operating conditions to ensure you can tackle typical jobs that come your way.

3. What types of auxiliary hydraulics are needed? “If you are running multiple attachments, a combination hydraulics setup is ideal, as owners can then switch back and forth between unidirectional and bidirectional, as needed,” Zieser said.


3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

Maintaining strong working relationships with vendors is critical to running a smooth fleet operation.

To find out what makes and breaks these relationships, UFP recently spoke with Ron Henne, transportation supervisor for Eversource in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District; and Mel Holloway, product manager for global fleet management company ARI.

For all three men, customer service stands out as a major factor in determining if a vendor is going to be a short- or long-term partner.

Nebraska Public Power District has been working with several suppliers for 10 to 20 years because they continue to meet the fleet’s customer service expectations, according to Gilliland.

“We look for a vendor who will fix or supply it right the first time, on time, and at a fair price,” he said.

In addition to great customer service, vendors that provide total support – including post-sales support such as training – help seal the deal for Henne.

But what prevents fleet managers and vendors from establishing effective relationships? Be cautious of these three pitfalls.

1. Placing Too Much Emphasis on Cost
One mistake fleet managers make is basing purchase decisions – whether for equipment or service – solely on cost. Expecting something for next to nothing is a bad way to start or maintain a strong relationship with a vendor.

“Don’t just look at price,” Henne said. “Do your due diligence. Equipment is not a short-term purchase. You’re making a 10- to 15-year decision. The purchase price could be great, but what’s it going to cost you down the road? For example, you might save $1,000 on a piece of equipment, but roadside assistance is not included with the five-year warranty and could cost $5,000 to have it delivered every time it has a problem. So you really have to check everything. It’s the total package – the parts, the training, the warranty.”

Gilliland echoed that sentiment. “Poor customer service, poor delivery timelines and shoddy work cost more in the long run than any money saved up front,” he said. “A wise man once told me this: There are three kinds of service: fast, cheap and good. Pick two because you can never have all three.”

He strongly recommends a matrix approach to vendor selection that includes inputs such as local presence, past performance, response time, cost, warranty and support systems.

2. Poor Communication
It is no secret that excellent communication is essential to any strong relationship, but fleet managers and vendors sometimes struggle to effectively interact with each other.

“Many fleet managers have their own preferred communication methods, but above all communication needs to be timely and efficient,” Holloway said. “[Fleet management companies] need to blend a variety of techniques ranging from proactive push reporting to phone calls and in-person communications to ensure they are meeting the client’s need for information.”

Both Henne and Gilliland prefer to communicate with vendors via email.

However, fleet managers and vendors should choose their communication method based on what’s happening within their operation at the time. “If you’re going to buy 50 new trucks, that’s not an email,” Henne said. “That’s when you need to schedule several meetings. For a high-risk or complex situation, you’re going to want to be face to face.”

Holloway advised fleet managers to communicate often. “Don’t wait until there is a problem to reach out to a vendor,” he said. “Treat vendors as if they are a valued part of your team. Communicating changes about the fleet or equipment will help your vendors to stay up to date on your company’s needs.

“Remember that your vendor also has a business to run,” Holloway continued. “Scheduling conflicts, deadlines, cash flow and business growth are problems faced by most vendors. Awareness of and responsiveness to each other’s issues can help build long-term, satisfying and beneficial relationships with vendors.”

3. Unclear Goals and Expectations
Fleet managers must avoid ambiguity about their goals, objectives and expectations, particularly when it comes to expressing them to their vendor partners.

“Make sound decisions,” Henne said. “Develop your spec – consult internal users and make sure it’s detailed with everything needed – and then set out to bid with all the requirements.”

Determine which one vendor can provide what you need, when you need it, and for the right price. Evaluate everything from response time to contract terms to costs. Relationships take time to develop, so select a vendor with whom you and your fleet will be able to grow. At the same time, train vendors to meet your needs if necessary.

When a vendor understands how important customer service is to you, for example, they will be encouraged to work harder in that area. An understanding of your goals will help them make the best decisions in your favor.

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.


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Pete J. Matrunola, director of fleet services at Consumers Energy (www.consumersenergy.com), Michigan’s largest electric and gas utility with 6,227 assets in its fleet.

#1. Make safety the No. 1 priority.
“Safety is the most essential component of a successful utility fleet. So, take the time to invest in safety initiatives and programs that instill a culture around providing a safe work environment and excellent service for your employees and your customers. Safety must not simply be something that is done when it is convenient – it must be a core value and the only way to perform your work.”

#2. Build relationships.
“At work and in life, it is always easier to accomplish tasks and goals when everyone is working together. Spend time with your employees, customers and vendors to fully understand them and their needs, wants, limitations, abilities and so forth. By forging those relationships with your employees and business partners, each becomes engaged to achieve the common goal – to build a safe, reliable, cost-effective and compliant fleet operation.”

#3. Know your finances.
“Your fleet department will always be asked to do more with less. As such, it is critical to fully understand your finances and be flexible enough to quickly adjust to the growing needs of the business. Also, be receptive to change and look to instill a culture of continuous improvement. This will stimulate an efficient fleet that drives consistent financial performance.”

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