LTL fleet makes trailers changes to cut costs
Manager: Bill Fowler
Title: Director of maintenance
Fleet: Con-Way Transportation Services, Ann Arbor, MI
Operation: Regional LTL
Bill Fowler had a pretty simple mandate when he took over as director of maintenance for Con-Way Transportation Services in October 2003 — make maintenance better.
That was no small task by any stretch of the imagination. Con-Way — the $2.6 billion trucking and logistics arm of $4-billion Palo Alto, CA-based transportation conglomerate CNF Inc. — employs 19,500 people and operates some 38,000 pieces of equipment.
A 20-year fleet maintenance veteran, Fowler took on the responsibility for managing the maintenance of all Con-Way company fleet assets, including those of its four regional LTL operations and its truckload division.
His responsibilities include managing regular preventive maintenance programs and procedures, evaluation and purchase of equipment, annual maintenance plan budgeting, overseeing expenditures, administration and maintenance vendor relationships.
One of the first big maintenance areas he reviewed were trailers.
“For example, we found half of our road calls were for burnt-out trailer lights,” says Fowler. “That's why when you go the ‘low-price’ trailer route, you have to think about what it'll really cost you down the road.”
To vastly reduce that maintenance headache, Con-Way first switched to light emitting diodes (LED) lamps for all of its trailer lights, instead of standard incandescent bulbs.
Though LED lamps can cost 10 times more than incandescent bulbs, because they last longer and don't burn out from exposure to the elements, Fowler was able to significantly reduce trailer road calls.
And he says that spending a little more up front has enabled the fleet to save money on lighting maintenance costs over the long haul.
But that's not the end of his efforts on trailers. Fowler says he's looking at other ways technology can help reduce trailer maintenance costs.
He points out that new approaches CNF may pursue include instituting solutions that automatically alert his maintenance team to potential problems or finding ways to make trailers more aerodynamic to help the LTL operations they serve cut fuel consumption.
“If the trailer could tell you it's sick and it's starting to have a problem, that could be of huge value down the road,” Fowler says.
“Right now, though, such communication costs are very expensive,” he continues. “But if the price comes down in the future, that could open more possibilities for trailer tracking on the maintenance side of things.”
Then there are the fairly simple aerodynamic alterations to trailers that could save on fuel costs.
“We're looking at using special ‘skirts’ along the bottom of the trailer to reduce drag,” Fowler explains.
“The projection is for a 6% fuel savings, which would be a huge benefit to us,” he adds. “But even a 2% savings would pay for itself and save us money over time.”
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