Fleetowner 5092 Fomarch2015cvr Web

Shop strategies

March 13, 2015
Making the right moves can set fleets up for a maintenance win

If hybrid vehicles optimize efficiency and productivity, and lower costs, it stands to reason that a “hybrid shop” optimizes service and repair operations to achieve the same results. For fleets, it’s about what works best in a specific situation with a constantly changing set of variables.

With freight volumes up and its fleet growing, Dan Vander Pol, director of maintenance at Oak Harbor Freight Lines, says there’s increased pressure on the maintenance department to keep equipment running efficiently.

Headquartered in Auburn, WA, the regional LTL carrier serves points in the northwestern U.S. with 600 tractors and 2,000 trailers based at a network of 33 company terminals in five states.

The Oak Harbor fleet is maintained in seven company shops and by vendors at locations without maintenance facilities. “We service and repair as much as possible in our own shops,” Vander Pol relates, “but [the decision on] whether to build a company facility often has to do with the amount of equipment we have domiciled at a location and the amount of work being performed.

“For example,” he adds, “we built our newest shop in Fontana, CA, because the number of vehicles there rose above 50 units and there was a vendor on-site almost all the time. Those decisions are also based on cost and the quality of work available on the outside.

“Like a lot of fleets,” Vander Pol continues, “staffing is a challenge. We’re constantly looking for good technicians, and when we find them, it can tip the balance back to a company shop. On the other hand, if we have a shortage, we’ll bring vendors into our facilities to make repairs or send vehicles out.”

Oak Harbor’s mix of vendors includes some dealer locations—especially for warranty work—and a range of independents based on pricing, responsiveness and availability. It also puts a value on established business relationships.

To help track performance, Oak Harbor uses customized management software to evaluate work performed on equipment, costs and labor efficiency.  “If we service a vehicle after a vendor and find that something was not done well or correctly, we also take that into account,” Vander Pol says. “Then we’ll work with the vendor to make improvements or make a change if necessary.”

While Oak Harbor’s experience illustrates one fleet’s challenge, changing service patterns are an industry-wide concern that was center stage at the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue (HDAD). A panel discussion took up the subject at the event, which was sponsored by the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn. in partnership with MacKay & Co.

According to MacKay & Co., fleets handle more than 75% of their own maintenance, and while they would likely outsource more work, there is a lack of trust in service providers. As one fleet manager said, “We’ve done more work inside because the quality of service we receive from third-party vendors hasn’t always met our standards. When we get a truck back from a service provider, we send a technician to check it and at least 60% of the time we find errors.”

Suppliers on the HDAD panel readily acknowledged that service providers need to proactively improve customer interaction practices. “WheelTime is working to collaborate and communicate with customers more effectively,” said Mike Delaney, president and CEO of WheelTime. “We’re standardizing operational practices so we can speed up service authorizations and shorten repair times.

"What we found was that over 80% of the time units are in the shop is ‘dead time,’ waiting for communications about approvals or parts requirements,” Delaney related. “Since the fastest decision you’ll ever make is the one made in advance, we try to focus on using preapproved terms and operation definitions. When we collaborate like this with our customers, we’ve seen average authorization times drop from two days to 10 minutes.”

Speedier repairs

Delaney also addressed the growing use of telematics, which he says is game-changing in terms of providing faster service to customers. “We’re designing systems that can use that data effectively,” he stated. “The fact that trucks are starting to diagnose themselves means we can be ready when a vehicle arrives at a shop with the right parts and an available bay staffed by a technician trained to handle a particular repair.

“It’s also no secret that a technician shortage is plaguing the service industry,” Delaney continued. “We’re continually reviewing our recruiting and training practices and investing in our workforce. Focusing on training and development is how we can keep the shortage from becoming an extreme problem. Our 32 training centers and our Total-Tech online program for assessing, training and certifying skills on a broad range of subjects give technicians meaningful career and income growth opportunities—and is our best hedge against attrition.”

Packaged as the WheelTime Promise are six service performance metrics used to track every repair order across the company’s service and repair network of nearly 200 locations in the U.S. and Canada. WheelTime also works with fleets that want to outsource repair and maintenance services. Alternatives to in-house shops are customized plans that include leasing technicians to work at fleet facilities, either full-time or as needed.

Brian Mulshine, director of operations technology and innovation at Rush Enterprises, notes that fleet customers should look for providers that communicate well and provide fast and cost-efficient repair services.

“We’re tackling those priorities head on, in part by building a service management interface system to ensure customers receive uniform interactions and communication with Rush Truck Centers at all times,” he says. “We want to immediately provide the ability to improve their service experience by streamlining the communication process during service events.”

Rush announced at the Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition that it is working with Decisiv to integrate its RushCare communications system with the provider’s service relationship management platform. The integrated product, which will be available at more than 110 Rush Truck Center service locations initially, will be installed at Rush Truck Leasing locations later this year. The application programming interface (API) will allow Rush systems and the Decisiv platform to interact and share data seamlessly.

Mulshine also relates that Rush is focused on training technicians, and cited the company’s investment in training and in tracking systems. “The average Rush Enterprises technician goes through 60 hours of training per year,” he says. “We spend significant amounts of money annually on training, and we recently developed a technician training tracking system. That investment helps our technicians prepare to work quickly and efficiently and lets our customers know that when they go to Rush, they know exactly what to expect.”

OEMs and their dealer networks are also upping the ante by providing a wide range of maintenance services and, perhaps more importantly,  streamlining processes for fleets by backing them with management information systems.

To make it easier for fleet managers to coordinate repairs and communicate in real time, service providers at Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks are using ASIST, a web-based service management system that provides service estimates for approval and gives dealers automated access to fleet requirements, including vehicle-specific data on recalls, warranty coverage, and repair plans.

Making a dealer connection

At Freightliner Trucks, fleets can utilize the Alliance Service Advantage program for contract maintenance to manage tracking and scheduling, negotiate repair estimates, and help keep accurate records. Kenworth’s PremierCare and Peterbilt’s TruckCare programs offer fleet service and maintenance through a nationwide network of dealers, including personalized customer profiles to specify preferences.

International Trucks provides repair and maintenance services through its dealer network and online access to fleet management tools with VIN-specific information for each truck. The OnCommand Service Partner dealer-provided maintenance repair program has a portal for access to estimates, repair status updates and communication tools.

At Penske, offerings include maintenance and repair services as part of full-service lease and contract maintenance solutions. An essential part of determining which alternative is best, notes Jim Molinaro, senior vice president of sales-Penske Truck Leasing, is for fleets to understand the total cost of operating a shop. “They have to open their books and fully evaluate their shop, technician and parts costs,” he says. “The other cost area we’re seeing and talking about today has to do with technology on trucks, and the investment in diagnostic tools and technician training that’s required for new vehicles.”

Ongoing technician training is also critical. “We’re passionate about keeping our more than 5,000 technicians up to speed,” Molinaro says. “The industry is going in the right direction when it comes to advanced technology that improves efficiency and safety, but that also means there’s a need to continually educate the workforce, and that’s an investment fleets have to be able to make.

“We’re always willing to work with a fleet to perform what we call a competitive value analysis and develop a recommendation,” Molinaro adds. “It could be that an in-house shop is the best choice, or there might be opportunities to outsource that are advantageous.”

In either case, Molinaro is quick to state that collaboration is critical to identifying and understanding choices. “There has to be a commitment on both sides to learn from each other and a desire to set goals and track progress,” he says. “It’s often about developing a baseline and then seeing how different service options impact costs, vehicle uptime and utilization.”

“Numbers tell the story,” says John Gleason, Ryder’s senior vice president of sales for Global Fleet Management Solutions. “Fleets that truly understand their costs have the data they need to perform the deep analysis that is required to reach the best conclusions about how to meet maintenance needs.”

Gleason notes that fleets should evaluate all aspects of their operations that impact maintenance. For example, new hours-of-service regulations are impacting productivity in some operations. For that reason, fleets that know their drivers’ availability can work to schedule maintenance during off-duty hours. “Once fleets understand all their requirements, including where vehicles are based, fleet sizes, and planned service needs based on equipment lifecycles,” he adds, “they can make more informed decisions.”

Alternatives from Ryder cover a range of maintenance services from full-service, comprehensive plans to preventive services where offerings are based on vehicle age and other factors. There are also captive shop options, where Ryder staffs and operates a dedicated facility at a fleet’s location, mobile maintenance, and modular shops, which Gleason calls “shop in a box” facilities that are set up at fleet locations complete with tools and storage.

“The best operators understand all their costs,” says Gleason. “We can bring expertise and knowledge based on 200,000 serviced vehicles to help them determine the best alternative for each location and each set of assets. Whether you have five trucks or 5,000, the right numbers drive the right conclusion.” 

Sponsored Recommendations

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...

80% Fewer Towable Accidents - 10 Key Strategies

After installing grille guards on all of their Class 8 trucks, a major Midwest fleet reported they had reduced their number of towable accidents by 80% post installation – including...

Proactive Fleet Safety: A Guide to Improved Efficiency and Profitability

Each year, carriers lose around 32.6 billion vehicle hours as a result of weather-related congestion. Discover how to shift from reactive to proactive, improve efficiency, and...

Tackling the Tech Shortage: Lessons in Recruiting Talent and Reducing Turnover

Discover innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining tech talent in the trucking industry during this informative webinar, where experts will share insights on competitive...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!