Manager: Mike Mills
Title: VP of maintenance
Fleet: Celadon Group, Indianapolis, IN
Operation: Nationwide truckload carrier
According to Mike Mills, there is not just a technician shortage impacting truck fleets but a “shortage-within-the-shortage” as well. That is to say, he explains, both the younger techs entering the workforce today and the veterans already long at work may lack certain critical skills.
“We're finding there are two distinct pools of technicians today,” Mills relates. “On the one hand, we have great mechanics - usually but not always older technicians - who don't have a lot of computer skills.
“Then we have the younger technicians who have great computer skills - they literally grew up with computers - but lack mechanical skills,” he continues. “So we are trying to work with two very different skill sets converging on our shop floor. And we need both of those skill sets to maintain the equipment in our fleet.”
This is not a small issue for Celadon, either. As one of the 15 largest truckload carriers in the U.S., the company fields approximately 2,700 tractors and 7,200 trailers, which help generate over $400 million in revenue a year.
“Time is money out here on the road,” Mills says. “Any time you break down, you are going to be fair game because your standards of maintenance don't exist outside your shop.
“It can be expensive not only in terms of the repair but in terms of vehicle downtime as well,” he points out. “So it's important for us to get it right when we have a vehicle in our shop, whether that's for routine preventive maintenance or repairs.”
To ensure he's has the right persons for each job as they roll into a Celadon shop, Mills has created what he terms “diagnostic technicians.” They are experienced techs who function as intermediaries within the shop to determine which technician skill sets are needed to handle each truck that comes in.
“They act as a ‘service advisor’ if you will, like what you find in an automotive dealership,” he explains. “They are a select group of older guys who are computer-literate.
“What they do is take an initial ‘read’ on a truck coming into the shop, using their experience and common sense to determine from the fault codes they are getting if it's a diagnostic or mechanical issue.”
Mills says once the diagnostic techs determine the type of problem being presented, they assign the truck to a technician with the required skills — be they computer or mechanical.
“This allows us to really focus our technicians on their core specialty,” he explains. “Technology is a wonderful thing to have on trucks, but it can be a two-edged sword. Having all the electronic diagnostic capability is great; it's an invaluable tool. But truck technology is constantly evolving, too.
“That's why we're trying to evolve our maintenance operation so we maintain the skill sets required to keep our trucks up and running — both on the mechanical side and the high-tech computerized side.”
Maintenance Bay presents case studies detailing how fleets resolve maintenance-related issues.