New dedicated fleet rises from private fleet past
Jul 26, 2002 12:00 PM, Gary MacklinMANUFACTURERS build engines to last a million miles before overhaul, so why not keep them that long, says Ray Buckner, vice-president of Heritage Dedicated Services in Waco, Texas. He says that with careful attention to detail, especially to coolant, engines can run cost effectively for the full service life predicted by the vendors without the need for costly major repairs.
Heritage is a new dedicated fleet business with an old lineage. It started operation in the late 1960s as a private fleet for a poultry processor. In fact, the linehaul distribution fleet was founded specifically to serve one customer in Brooklyn, New York. Following a change of ownership for the poultry plant, Heritage Dedicated Services was formed out of that private fleet to meet the new owner's desire to outsource transportation. The organizational change took place in 1999.
The trucks and physical facilities all moved under the Heritage umbrella with the fleet ownership change. The challenge became to build a business around the physical assets, because all the support services such as accounting and payroll were lost when Heritage management took over. “We had a fleet and a shop, but we had to build a business from scratch,” says Buckner. “One of the greater advantages of dedicated service is simplicity of operation. With a single outbound customer and just a few inbound customers, it has been possible to organize the business with simple systems.”
Essentially, Heritage performs the same services as the previous private fleet. Apart from ownership, no significant change for the customer accompanied the move from private fleet to dedicated fleet. “Our task remains the same,” Buckner says. “We're here to supply transportation services in a way that makes the customer feel as though the fleet is still theirs. At the same time that we relieve our customer of the capital expense of owning a fleet, we strive to provide service levels that are even better than the private fleet used to provide.”
Long personnel history
Many of Heritage's personnel have a long history with the private fleet. Buckner moved into his current position from the post of director of operations and maintenance in the private fleet after a previous career at Central Freight Lines, a dry freight LTL carrier based in Waco. Buckner's father, Earl, was the private fleet maintenance director for years.
Organized into four departments with a total of 90 employees and 70 power units, the company provides longhaul distribution, feed delivery to poultry growers, live bird transportation from farms to the processing plant, and maintenance for all rolling stock. The linehaul department uses 31 tractors and 45 refrigerated trailers to haul finished product, which can range from frozen turkeys to cooked deli meat products.
Heritage handles the difficult traffic lanes for its customer. For-hire truckload carriers handle full loads to many destinations. Heritage is more likely to be assigned multi-stop loads, particularly into the Northeast. Western New York and Pennsylvania are common destinations. In addition to Northeast traffic, the company has three tractors dedicated to delivery within Texas. Those changing traffic lanes make securing regular backhauls difficult, so Heritage depends on third party logistics providers to arrange many of its return loads to Texas.
Ten days, four stops
An average outbound load contains four shipments and can take eight to 10 days to complete with an average length of haul running 1,200 miles. “We try to balance the work load for our drivers,” Buckner says. “If a driver takes a 10-stop load one week, we try to switch to an easier schedule for the next load so that the driver spends less time waiting and puts in a little less work breaking freight down onto separate pallets at delivery.”
An average delivery work load puts 125,000 miles a year on Heritage tractors for an average fleet total of 3.5 million miles for the 28 tractors in interstate service. The three Texas tractors boost the annual fleet mileage to more than four million. Rather than base fleet replacement on individual tractor mileage, which would be roughly every eight years for a one-million-mile service life, Buckner bases replacement on total fleet mileage. “If we ran four million fleet miles last year, we need to buy four trucks this year,” he says. “Trailer life is based on age. We think a refrigerated trailer should last 10 years.”
The cost of running trucks 10 years is not as high as some operators fear, Buckner says. Operating and maintenance cost goes up about three cents per mile after a truck reaches its fifth birthday, but that higher cost is usually offset by the higher capital cost for new equipment in the first five years, he says.
In line with manufacturer statements, with few minor exceptions, engines are running a million miles before overhaul, Buckner says. When Heritage replaces tractors, the oldest are not always the first to go. “Of course, we look at mileage,” he says. “We also take a lot of advice from our mechanics. They are around this equipment constantly; they know what repairs have been done; and they have a good feel for how the equipment is running. If we have recently spent a lot of time repairing a truck, we may extend its life and take a younger vehicle that is having more problems out of service. One of the advantages of our multi-use fleet is that we can move trucks from high mileage to lower mileage applications. However, we always put new trucks into the linehaul fleet first.”
Running an average of one million miles before replacement requires an intensive preventive maintenance and inspection program. “We don't really want to perform engine overhauls,” Buckner says. “We run high mileage, but we want to sell tractors before overhaul if possible.”
Preventive maintenance gets priority
In fact, preventive maintenance inspections are given a higher priority than overhauls by the Heritage shop. With trucks staying in the fleet for a million miles, a few overhauls are inevitable, and the shop is equipped to handle them. However, Buckner says the company would rather send an engine back to the vendor and pay for the overhaul than let the job use shop time that is scheduled for maintenance inspections.
The primary inspection is performed every 20,000 miles. Including an oil and filter change, this detailed inspection requires an average of four hours per truck.
One of the keys to long engine life is to ensure the integrity of the cooling system. This means checking the coolant constantly and maintaining its quality. Test strips are used to test coolant at the 20,000-mile maintenance interval. If a test shows coolant out of specification, the system is drained and refilled. In addition, engines are equipped with coolant filters that are replaced on a strict annual schedule. Heritage uses filters with a need-release additive replacement component.
“These filters are made with multiple layers of supplemental coolant additive,” Buckner says. “Coolant becomes corrosive as it ages. When acidity in the coolant reaches a certain threshold, it dissolves the coating on a layer of coolant additive releasing new additives into the cooling system.”
Closed loop coolant management
The maintenance department at Heritage keeps its coolant in a closed loop system. When coolant is drained from a vehicle, it is run through a separator to remove any oil in the fluid. The coolant is then filtered to take out solid particles. It is tested on-site and brought back to new coolant specifications by replenishing the additive package. Before recycled coolant is used again, a sample is sent to Detroit Diesel for chemical analysis. The result is that Heritage buys replacement coolant in small quantities. “At any given time, we probably have 200 gallons of coolant waiting for a reply on the analysis from Detroit,” Buckner says.
Regular oil changes are the second line of defense for long engine life. Heritage puts more emphasis on coolant quality than oil changes for the simple reason that oil changes are simpler to manage than coolant. Most shop technicians understand the role of motor oil better than they do coolant composition, Buckner says. The company uses ExxonMobil XD3 extended life motor oil and changes it every 20,000 miles.
In fleets with shorter trade cycles, maintenance emphasis is usually on oil changes and extremely minor repairs. Keeping engines for their full service life requires more detailed service. For instance, Buckner says that all the linkages in the engine overhead must be adjusted regularly according to manufacturer recommendations. Belts and hoses need careful inspection. Belts wear out because they are in motion constantly, but hoses will last indefinitely as long as they are not subject to abrasion, Buckner says. “We don't have a special specification for hoses,” he says. “We accept the hoses that Freightliner uses as standard equipment.”
Freightliner tractors standard
At present, the standard tractor in the Heritage linehaul fleet is a Freightliner FLD 120 powered by a Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine rated at 430/470 horsepower. Tractors use 10-speed overdrive transmissions and tandem drive axles from ArvinMeritor. Final drive ratio for the rear axles is 3.9:1.
Buckner has no plans to avoid purchasing new engines with exhaust gas recirculation for emission control. “We will buy on our regular schedule,” he says. “We refuse to let the Environmental Protection Agency determine our purchasing plan. We only buy four trucks a year; so, if the engines have problems, the bugs should be worked out by the time we buy the next four.”
Careful inspection and maintenance are the keys to keeping trailers 10 years. Heritage inspects trailers before every load, which works out to once every 10 days. In addition to checking brakes and the refrigeration unit, the company watches carefully to verify the physical condition of trailers. “We take a digital photo and keep it on file before every load,” Buckner says. “We want to identify when and where physical damage happens if we can.”
Floor condition is the determining factor in picking trailers for replacement, he says. After 10 years of constant fork truck traffic, floors simply begin to break down. Heritage specifies heavy-duty floor material and extra cross members near the rear door and heavy plastic scuff bands along the lower sidewalls.
The current trailer standard at Heritage uses 49/102 refrigerated vans from Wabash National. Based on requests from backhaul shippers, the next trailers purchased will be 53 ft long. The current standard for refrigeration units is the Thermo King Super II Whisper Edition with DAS data logging.
With consistent maintenance, refrigeration units have no trouble reaching the 10-year service life desired by Heritage. Units from Carrier Transicold and from Thermo King usually run 25,000 to 30,000 hours before overhaul is required, Buckner says.