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Maintenance: Double-edged sword

Nov. 11, 2013

The impact of new government regulations on equipment, drivers and daily fleet operations is readily apparent as new rules dictate major changes in truck efficiency, scheduled time behind the wheel, and safety-related recordkeeping.  Although less obvious, many of these same new regulations are also affecting maintenance operations in significant ways and in some cases requiring a full-scale rethinking of how, or even if, a fleet should carry out the work needed to keep its trucks up and running.

The change with the broadest impact on virtually all fleet operations ironically involves no new safety regulation, but is rather a new way to record and track fleet and driver adherence to existing rules.  CSA, which stands for Compliance, Safety, Accountability, quickly collects violation information, ranking the safety performance of fleets with similar operations based on that information and making it available to the public.  Similarly, drivers receive their own scores. 

Driver delays

Driver and fleet CSA records capture both driver and vehicle violations, which creates something of a double-edged sword for maintenance.  Drivers conducting their pretrip inspections now report problems they formerly considered too minor to report.  Problems like broken lamps or under­inflated tires now keep drivers from leaving on a trip because they want to avoid CSA-damaging violations.  That helps maintenance stay on top of those repairs, but it also means they can’t wait until the truck or trailer comes in for its scheduled preventive maintenance (PM).

“Every time a vehicle is fueled now, you need to take that as an opportunity to do a multi-point inspection,” says Dennis Cooke, president of Fleet Management Solutions at Ryder System Inc.  “And you need to be sure you have a rigorous PM program in place,” as well as “a business process that allows excellent communication between drivers and technicians.”

Viewing that CSA data as useful feedback and integrating it along with service call and roadside inspection data into the preventive maintenance process can also pay major dividends in vehicle uptime, eliminating 45 to 50% of breakdowns, according to Melvin Kirk, Ryder vice president of maintenance and quality operations.
“Two years ago, I told people that if they had to worry about CSA then they really didn’t have a good maintenance program,” says Darry Stuart, a former fleet manager and chairman of the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).  “Turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

More uptime, more cost

“At the end of the day, we got what we asked for—more accountability from drivers writing up problems so we can fix them, but it’s also raising our costs a bit,” he says.  “It isn’t changing what we do because we always fixed those problems, but it is changing how we take care of them.  Drivers want to avoid equipment violations, even minor ones, so we have to address them right away and can’t let them wait for a scheduled PM.”
And that, says Stuart, is changing the maintenance manager’s job significantly.

With new hours-of-service (HOS) rules putting ever more pressure on vehicle availability to maximize driver productivity, “you have to be dynamic in how you manage the maintenance to make sure things get taken care of quickly and be more concerned about managing assets than managing maintenance,” says Stuart. 

“Maintenance and operations have to be joined at the hip these days.  Maintenance has to understand that a decision to save a dollar in the shop could cost the company thousands if it pushes a driver over their available driving time and they miss a delivery or have to spend the night in a motel.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Stuart.  Access to standard measurements like CSA scores is “a maintenance opportunity,” he says.  “There’s always been financial pressure on shop costs, but now there’s an opportunity to justify shop spending.”

The pressure created by HOS rules to minimize vehicle downtime is also leading to a growing demand for mobile or onsite maintenance, according to Cooke.  Two hundred of Ryder’s 800 North American shops are already providing onsite maintenance services to fleet customers, he says.  “There’s a lot of demand for maintenance on customer sites, and it’s being driven by their desire to maximize HOS availability.”

Perfecting PMs

That productivity pressure should also be pushing fleets to “perfect PMs,” according to Kirk.  Estimating that an effective PM program combined with a solid tire management program can eliminate 30 to 40% of breakdowns, the Ryder maintenance executive explains that perfecting PMs involves developing a standardized PM process for technicians that allows them to be both thorough and efficient so trucks are back on the road as quickly as possible and repair quality is as high as possible to prevent future problems.

Certifying that trucks meet current diesel emissions regulations is the responsibility of the truck and engine manufacturers, but the impact of running those cleaner trucks falls squarely on fleets.  And it’s the shop operations that have experienced the largest impact.

EPA’s 2007 emissions standards required significant new engine and aftertreatment technology, and the second phase of government’s mandated reductions in 2010 brought another round of technical changes.  Not only were there new sensors, wiring and complex aftertreatment systems, but sophisticated electronic controls and associated software became central to vehicle performance and reliability.

“Knowledge, processes and tooling were all impacted,” says Cooke.   With over 5,000 technicians, Ryder had to make a large investment in training them, as well as invest in the tools required for things like cleaning diesel particulate filters and diagnosing and repairing the new systems.

“Five years ago, I told people not to hook up a [diagnostic] laptop to their trucks because the diagnostic codes weren’t helping them repair problems,” says Stuart. “Now I’ve completely changed my attitude.  You can’t fix a truck today without a laptop that itself is constantly updated with the latest software.  Simplicity in the maintenance world has disappeared.  We’ve got automotive-industry sophistication in our trucks now that requires the same level of sophistication in training.”

Lines of communication

Not only are the new designs complicated for technicians, but drivers also play a larger role in keeping the new trucks running, according to Stuart.  “Drivers don’t understand why they have to pull over and do a forced regeneration [of the DPF] when they get that warning,” he says.  “I work with one New York City fleet with straight trucks that idle a lot.  They were towing in two or three trucks a day [with DPF-related shutdowns] because their drivers didn’t understand why they had to pull over for a stationary regen or what it even is.  It’s maintenance’s responsibility to communicate that and make sure they do understand.”

CSA, HOS and emissions rules are already in place, making their impact in the shop somewhat clearer, but there’s one new area for the industry where rules are far from standardized—the adoption of natural gas (NG) as a truck fuel.  While federal moves in taxing and economically advancing the fleet use of NG will impact overall fleet adoption of the fuel, shop operations are going to find themselves focused on local regulations governing things like building, fire and safety codes.  And local regulations can vary greatly, potentially complicating any fleet’s attempts to make a wholesale conversion to NG.

Ryder currently has eight shops in six states set up to maintain NG vehicles.  “We’ve learned a lot,” says Cooke.  “Regulation varies from state to state and from location to location.  We’re having a great experience with [NG] in terms of fuel cost savings, emissions benefits, and lack of aftertreatment on the vehicles, but we’d like to see more harmonization, more standardization when it comes to safety, zoning and building codes.”

Revamping an entire shop facility to meet local codes can cost $75,000 to $250,000 depending on the size of the building and “the local fire chief,” says Stuart.  “If you want to run NG, I suggest you get to know your fire chief if you want to understand what you need to do because they have the ultimate control.” 

Click for more on:

General Business: Health & taxes

Equipment: Regulatory curve

Drivers: Hot seat

Operations: Cat’s cradle

Maintenance: Double-edged sword

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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