Armellini mixes open road with city requirements

Oct. 1, 2004
Flowers fly to Miami in route to florists throughout the US. Armellini Express Lines of Palm City, Florida, provides the next step on the road to retail

Flowers fly to Miami in route to florists throughout the US. Armellini Express Lines of Palm City, Florida, provides the next step on the road to retail sale — refrigerated truck transportation from the point of entry to wholesale florists throughout the country.

The company has been doing almost the same thing since 1945 when Jules and Sarah Armellini began transporting flowers from Vineland, New Jersey, into Philadelphia and New York City. Today Armellini Express Lines, a division of Armellini Industries is the largest carrier of fresh cut flowers in the country. Armellini Industries also operates J A Flower Service, the largest customs clearance facility for perishables entering the US through Miami International Airport. In addition to customs clearance, J A Flower Service provides USDA inspections. Another Armellini Industries company is Fresco Service Inc, a refrigerated and bonded warehouse that provides ground handling for perishables such as flowers arriving Central and South America. Fresco provides storage, pre-cooling, inspection, and handling for imported goods. NorthStar Transportation Inc is a full-scale truck brokerage formed to provide additional transportation services when demand for hauling flowers reaches its peak around holidays. NorthStar can provide truckload service throughout North America.

Nearly all flowers sold at retail in the US are imported, and Miami is the largest port of entry for imported flowers, especially those grown in South and Central America. While flowers are imported, most of the floral greens — ferns and the like that florists add to flowers to produce attractive arrangements — are grown in central Florida. For that reason, Armellini and other flower haulers are based in Florida for easy access to the flower port of entry in Miami and the source of greens clustered in the rural areas surrounding Orlando.

Rapid customs clearance

J A Flower Service provides critical handling getting imported flowers ready for movement to wholesalers. Rapid customs clearance is critical to get cut flowers on the way to market as quickly as possible. Most flowers begin the journey within two days of landing. Some shipments also make same-day direct delivery.

Armellini Express Lines provides outbound transportation with a fleet of 130 tractors and 350 refrigerated trailers from a network of four terminals — Miami, the headquarters in Palm City, Pierson, Florida and in Oxnard, California, a flower-shipping center up the coast from Los Angeles. Average length of haul with a flower load is 3,000 miles and requires 12 to 15 stops. The company delivers only to floral wholesalers and mass market warehouses operated by major supermarket chains. Although customers are wholesalers, most deliveries are fairly small, because wholesalers are small and in recent years have begun ordering flowers packaged for delivery to retailers with little or no additional handling. Few of Armellini's receivers can handle a full trailer load of flowers, which may include up to 1,500 boxes of flowers. All loads are scheduled with a set day for shipping and narrow window for delivery.

Armellini puts its fleet to use in areas that most truckload carriers never enter, because floral wholesalers tend to be small facilities located in congested urban environments. Getting to those locations with conventional highway tractors with a 230-inch wheelbase and 53-ft refrigerated trailers is different than the delivery conditions experienced by most other carriers, says Dan McNabb, vice-president of maintenance at Armellini.

Congested city delivery

“We're really a combination of a pick-up and delivery fleet and an over-the-road fleet rolled into one, because we send our highway equipment into big cities where other people wouldn't even consider sending such equipment,” he says. “Our operation requires us to use equipment that performs well in both on the highway and on congested inner city streets.”

For highway performance, McNabb has picked conventional cab International tractors for the past several years. A lot of the fleet is made up of 9200 or 9400 series International tractors. Some of the most recent purchases are powered by Cummins ISX engines rated at 435 horsepower. Transmission selection is about an even split between 10-speed manual gearboxes from ArvinMeritor or AutoShift transmissions from Eaton Fuller. In either case, tractors use ArvinMeritor tandem drive axles that provide a governed road speed of 68 miles per hour using a 3.42:1 final drive ratio. With that drive train combination, the fleet averages between 6.2 and 6.3 miles per gallon, he says.

“Those tractors work hard and perform well,” McNabb says. “And they perform a lot. We put about 200,000 miles a year on tractors using teams of drivers. Trucks are never just sitting around. “With the finite life of fresh flowers, we can't cover all the miles along our delivery routes in time with solo drivers; teams are necessary to meet the delivery windows.”

Tractors stay in the fleet for an average of four years and are cost efficient throughout that life cycle, McNabb says. “The warranty is excellent, and the service we receive after the purchase has been excellent as well,” he says.

Tough delivery conditions

Delivery conditions impose a lot of abuse on Armellini's tractor and trailer tires. Using long tractor and trailer combinations to deliver in urban areas makes the potential for tire damage almost impossible to avoid. Tight quarters around wholesale locations require jumping over curbs and that can puncture the tire, ruin the tire's sidewall, and even knock the truck suspension out of alignment.

For almost 20 years, Armellini has worked with Goodyear to provide tires that perform well on the highway and resist damage from city delivery conditions. In fact, Armellini has been an important partner with Goodyear for tire testing. At one time, almost 40% of the tires in the fleet were for testing.

In recent years, the company has settled on tires that work best in its applications. In addition, Armellini runs a careful program to ensure that tires are maintained properly and are kept inflated to the correct air pressure. Proper inflation pressure, careful maintenance, and judicious use of retreaded tires has helped reduce overall costs.

Without a doubt, maintaining proper inflation pressure is at the top of any preventive maintenance program for tires, McNabb says. Goodyear has shown that running tires under inflated by 20% cuts fuel economy by about 2% and reduces tire life by about 16%, he says. In addition to maintaining proper inflation, Armellini's maintenance department runs tractors and trailers over a sideslip machine to measure tire scrub and alignment as part of every preventive maintenance inspection. The company has the capability to maintain suspension alignment and to balance tires for both drive and steering axle tires in its own shop.

Automatic inflation systems

To insure that tires are kept properly inflated, they are inspected before every trip. In addition, a pressure check is part of the yard inspection performed on equipment twice a day at all three Armellini terminals. In addition, about half the trailer fleet is equipped with the ArvinMeritor PSI automatic tire inflation system that ensures a constant 100 psi. “Even if we hit a nail and have a slow leaking tire, the system maintains 100 psi, and we can keep running until we can get the tire repaired,” McNabb says. “Unless there's a complete air loss, the system works just great. The inflation systems are worth every penny and pay for themselves quickly.”

After years of using Goodyear's G397 LHS tires on steering axles, Armellini switched to the new G395 LHS in 2003. “We're getting good, even tread wear and extended mileage from the new tires,” McNabb says. “They've been a great addition to our fleet.”

Average tire life on the steering axle for the G397 was 140,000 miles. That has climbed to 180,000 miles with the G395. A typical life cycle for steering axle tires at Armellini is to run them down to a tread depth of 10/32-inch on the front axle and then move them to trailers. Trailer tires are kept until tread depth measures only 4/32. At that point, tires are pulled and recapped. Armellini uses Goodyear G372 retreads. After recapping, tires are mounted on drive axles and run for an average of 225,000 miles. If, at that point, the tire carcass is less than four years old, it is capped again with a Goodyear G314 retread and put back on a trailer for another 150,000 miles.

New tires for drive axles are the Goodyear G372LHD. After about 360,000 miles, when the tread is worn down to 6/32, drive tires are capped with G372 retreads and run another 275,000 miles. At that point, tires less than four years old get a G314 retread for use on a trailer. New tires for trailers are the Goodyear G314 that run for about 250,000 miles before recapping when tread depth is 4/32 inch. Typically trailer tires are recapped once.

McNabb credits Goodyear for saving Armellini a lot of money with the comprehensive tire program. It's more than just tires in a total program, he says. “A lot of vendors will sell tires for less, but what happens after the sales counts as well,” McNabb says. “Once Goodyear commits to an account, they provide the whole package — quality tires, dependable service, and they back the product, all factors that keep us with their program.”

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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