Cost trimming

COMPANY: Lewis Tree Service OPERATION: Tree trimming and vegetation management services for utilities throughout the Eastern U.S. PROBLEM: Headquartered in Rochester, NY, Lewis Tree Service (LTS) has 2,300 on-road trucks and another 2,000 pieces of motorized equipment roaming from Maine to Miami trimming trees and other vegetation around power and utility lines. Often called into emergency service

COMPANY:

Lewis Tree Service

OPERATION:

Tree trimming and “vegetation management services” for utilities throughout the Eastern U.S.

PROBLEM:

Headquartered in Rochester, NY, Lewis Tree Service (LTS) has 2,300 on-road trucks and another 2,000 pieces of motorized equipment roaming from Maine to Miami trimming trees and other vegetation around power and utility lines. Often called into emergency service to handle storm damage, the equipment includes a healthy number of high-maintenance vehicles such as bucket trucks and log loaders, as well as more common ones like dump trucks, flatbed equipment haulers and pickups.

Despite the large and varied fleet, LTS doesn't own a single terminal or vehicle storage facility. Instead, field crews park their equipment wherever they can when they go off-duty, coming back the next day to pick up work on their line-maintenance route.

The gypsy nature of the business not only created equipment productivity issues, but also required a less-than-optimized preventive maintenance process. “The best way to manage maintenance is by odometer and hour-meter readings, but they were tough to get from the field,” says Mike Moser, director of fleet and purchasing.

SOLUTION:

The answer was to install a GPS tracking system with wireless communications. LTS chose the Teletrac Fleet Director system, which combined tracking with a range of management services well suited to a field service operation. Initially installed in roughly half the fleet, the decision was quickly made to outfit all of the company's on-road equipment with units.

“The biggest challenge we've been able to address has been equipment utilization,” says Moser. “We've put together a data warehouse that incorporates the Teletrac data with our fuel-control system, job-costing system and the fleet database. We have access to all kinds of reporting that allows us to know what's working [with equipment specs], how long has a truck been sitting, [and] where is it. Our utilization is getting better. We're not buying as much new equipment because we're using what we have more efficiently.”

On the maintenance side, using real-time mileage and hour readings to schedule PMs based on need rather than arbitrary time limits has saved LTS 10 to 15%, Moser says. “It's also streamlined the scheduling process,” he says.

There have been unexpected cost savings, as well. For example, fuel-tax reporting had been handled manually by a third party, which had to differentiate between taxed on-road fuel use and untaxed off-road time. “That reporting is handled electronically using the Teletrac system now, which has cut the fee we pay to administer [tax reporting] in half,” says Moser.

Being able to accurately track individual job costs with little or no manual input has also helped LTS assign job costs more accurately for billing, as well as help it identify what equipment specs work best for specific jobs, he explains.

Given the success of the initial deployment, LTS has begun planning for a second phase. “In phase two, we'll add the optional driver terminal to explore the benefits of electronic reporting from the field,” explains Moser. “We'd like to go paperless, and see it as a huge opportunity to streamline our processes.”

The company is also just about ready to go live with a web portal that will give field personnel real-time access to vehicle locations, PM schedules and other information, and give customers more insight into how LTS is servicing their contract.

TAGS: Technology
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