Head on

Change may be inevitable, but keeping up with it isn't always easy. Unified Western Grocers (UWG) has seen a lot of changes over its 79-year history, and to keep pace, the Commerce, CA-based fleet has had to evolve alongside the retailer-owned wholesale grocery cooperative. UWG originated in California to supply independent grocers with products they need to compete in the supermarket industry. While

Change may be inevitable, but keeping up with it isn't always easy. Unified Western Grocers (UWG) has seen a lot of changes over its 79-year history, and to keep pace, the Commerce, CA-based fleet has had to evolve alongside the retailer-owned wholesale grocery cooperative.

UWG originated in California to supply independent grocers with products they need to compete in the supermarket industry. While the company has subsequently expanded to cover most of the western U.S., a large portion of its customer base still remains in the Golden State, where the fleet has had to deal with some of the toughest emissions regulations in the country. It has also had to rethink its vehicle equipment specs when branching out into states like Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Colorado, where legal weight and speed limits exceed those in California.

Jim Signor, manager-fleet maintenance, Southern California, says the grocery cooperative currently services 1,200 independent stores.

The Commerce HQ facility serves as the hub in southern California for grocery items, while other facilities include a frozen food warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, CA, a general merchandise facility in Fresno, CA, a dual-purpose grocery and frozen foods plant in Stockton, CA, and a facility in Portland, OR, that services the company's Pacific Northwest customers. Each of those divisions has a domiciled fleet and its own mechanical support team.

Altogether, there are 365 power units and approximately 1,090 trailers, 40% of which are refrigerated. UWG, which began leasing its fleet equipment in 1998, has selected a Class 8 Sterling powered by a DDC engine as its primary tractor unit.

“We equip our trucks with some things today that we wouldn't have six or seven years ago,” Signor advises. “For example, we choose engines with higher hp ratings than is typical in a grocery application.”

Despite initial concerns over possibly having to sacrifice fuel economy for higher hp., Signor says that by changing the gearing configuration with the larger engine, truck mpg has not suffered. Pulling heavier loads in areas like the Pacific Northwest is also easier with the higher-hp engines, with less stress on the engine, running gear, and even the driver.

UWG is also in the process of changing the specs of its reefer fleet to meet new California emissions standards that go into effect at the end of 2008. UWG's new basic reefer is a 3000R Utility 48-ft. by 102-in. refrigerated van trailer with 4-in. insulation and a Carrier Ultra XTC refrigeration unit. “We also spec other sizes and we have some special feature 50- and 53-ft. trailers in Portland equipped with sliding, spread-axle air suspensions and even tri-axle air-ride configurations to maximize the heavier highway weights allowed in the Northwest,” Signor adds.

The Pacific Northwest facility's Dean Moyer, supervisor-Portland fleet maintenance, says trailers are also getting Phillips Industries' Permalogic dome lamp controller. UWG began spec'ng the controllers about a year ago and they have worked out so well in the refrigeration fleet that the company is having them installed in 85 more units.

Permalogic is designed as a power management solution for fleets using auxiliary trailer products that can over-work the available trailer electrical capacity, Moyer explains. The controller protects the truck's charging/starting system by preventing dome lights from running inside the trailer if battery voltage gets too low. It also eliminates any chance of accidentally leaving those lights on by cutting off power to the lamps when the brake pedal is applied. Moyer adds: “There's also a programmable timer feature that allows us to control how long the lamps remain on during loading/unloading, so drivers don't have to remember to turn them off manually.”

As fleet maintenance managers, Signor and Moyer say not a day passes that they don't need to prioritize, adjust or make changes to the way they do things in order to be more cost effective for their company. “The way we see it, the UWG distribution and transportation department is our only customer, and we go out of our way to make sure our fleet equipment is ready when needed.”

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