A leader in the beef and pork packing industry, Excel Corp. has operated private truck fleets to haul its products for over 50 years. It wasn't until 1982, however, that the company decided to build a fleet that was entirely owner-operated. Today there are over 174 independent contractors working for Wichita, KS-based Excel Transportation, the company's in-house transportation provider.
In addition to shipping packaged meat for Excel Corp., the transportation division hauls other freight products for its parent company, Cargill Inc., including oil seed, flower, salt and fresh produce.
According to operations manager John Miller, the company has a second trucking line, Wispak, located in Milwaukee, WI. Wispak is an LTL consolidator and redistributor, as well as a dedicated fleet for the company's Milwaukee plant. It runs another 150 trucks, 35 of which are company-owned (mostly late-model Freightliners), and the remainder owner-operated.
Miller notes that although the majority of the trailer fleet is company-owned, some owner operators pull their own reefers. “We use a mix of 48- and 53-ft. Utility and Great Dane vans,” he says. “All trailers are refrigerated, and we spec both Carrier Transicold and Thermo King refrigeration units. This year we will be purchasing 30 more reefers, but as yet we are undecided which makes and models we will go with.”
To protect the fresh produce it now transports, Miller reports that the company is currently switching from spring-leaf trailers to air-ride. “We're also now spec'ing chutes inside the trailers. These canvas blankets funnel air to the back of the unit to help keep the inside temperature uniform from front to back.
“The canvas chutes, however, can rip easily and when they do the whole unit has to be replaced, which is expensive,” he explains. “Thermo King has just developed a new plastic chute that comes in sections, allowing you to replace just the piece that's damaged.”
Miller says trailers are generally kept in the fleet for seven years. Maintenance is done in-house, with the trailers scheduled for inspections and PMs every 120 days. There's a maintenance shop located in Wichita as well as one in Plainview, TX, and “we're also looking at putting another shop in Beardstown, IL,” he says.
While owner-operators decide where they want their trucks serviced, Miller says the company does allow them to use its facilities for a fee of $40 per hour. “We do everything except major work like engine overhauls.”
To better manage fleet operations, Excel Transportation began using McLeod's LoadMaster dispatch and accounting management software two years ago. The software is integrated with Excel's PeopleNet messaging and positioning system.
Besides the Mobile Communications Module, Miller says his company uses several others that are available with LoadMaster, including the General Ledger. “We use it to track revenue per mile, and to generate reports based on customer and/or driver. We also went with McLeod's EDI Module that allows us to exchange financial and distribution information electronically, and we're now looking at integrating the Document Imaging System as well.”
Miller points out that having up-to-date systems in place is one of the ways the company can attract and keep a good pool of owner-operators. “Finding quality independents,” he says, “has become more and more difficult in recent years.
“We try to make the job attractive to them by offering bonuses for consistently operating safely and legally. All drivers are trained in food safety and FDA requirements. We also recently started having them fill out forms telling us what areas of the country they prefer and prefer not to work. Our drivers are often out on the road for two weeks at time, so we are trying to accommodate them any way we can,” Miller summarizes.