Manager: Mike Burger
Fleet: Saia Inc., Duluth, GA
Operation: Regional LTL
Maximizing fleet uptime is never an easy task. But adding the words “cost control” to the mix makes it even more difficult. For Mike Burger, however, maximizing reliability and cost control go hand in hand.
“Reliability is a key cornerstone at Saia, in large part because we've dramatically increased equipment utilization over the last five years,” he says. “But we have to keep a handle on maintenance costs. We keep our tractors between 10 and 12 years on average, running them almost one-million miles by the time we're done. So we have to make sure we don't overspend on maintenance to keep uptime where we want it.”
Burger manages the care of 2,589 Volvo single- and tandem-axle tractors and 8,263 trailers from the company's New Orleans maintenance headquarters, using 250 technicians scattered among 30 maintenance facilities in the 128-terminal network.
It's a job complicated by Saia's rapid growth over the last decade. Saia had 23 terminals in 5 states when Yellow Corp. purchased it in 1993. By the time Yellow spun Saia off in 2002 as part of SCS Transportation, it had over 100 terminals in 21 states.
“That kind of expansion means our equipment works harder and we have to add new maintenance facilities and staff to keep up,” Burger explains.
The key to meeting Saia's equipment uptime and cost control goals, says Burger, hinges on one word: flexibility. “Fully 75% of our truck and trailer maintenance from a cost standpoint is kept in-house,” he explains. “But we can outsource anything where and when we need to. It really depends on our workload.”
Saia maintains its equipment on a 21-day PM cycle. If a piece of equipment turns up at one of the carrier's smaller maintenance locations on Day 21 it may get shipped to a dealer or local shop to minimize equipment downtime yet not compromise equipment care.
That 21-day PM cycle is more frequent than most carriers, Burger adds, but it helps Saia increase unit reliability and longevity, thus reducing the need to spend precious capital dollars on new equipment.
Saia is also in the midst of a four-year effort to shift to more single-axle tractors to make the fleet itself more flexible in terms of meeting operational demand, Burger says. “All of our new equipment goes straight into linehaul operations, racking up some 600,000 miles in five years,” he explains. “Then it gets shifted to city P&D operations for the rest of its life cycle, which only totals 30,000 to 40,000 miles a year.”
“With single-axle tractors becoming our standard model, not only will maintenance be simplified to a degree, but we can shift them between linehaul and city operations much more easily since single-axle tractors give you that maximum maneuverability in tight areas,” he points out. “That's the benefit flexibility gives you.”
Maintenance Bay presents case studies detailing how fleets resolve maintenance-related issues.