New building, new program

Feb. 1, 2006
When H-E-B opened a new multi-million-dollar repair and maintenance facility on August 4, 2005, the San Antonio-based corporation already had completed

When H-E-B opened a new multi-million-dollar repair and maintenance facility on August 4, 2005, the San Antonio-based corporation already had completed the groundwork for increasing the readiness level of its fleet of tractors and trailers that haul product to hundreds of supermarkets throughout Texas.

“It's a given that the operation of high-tech tractors and trailers requires competent mechanics to maintain the safety and reliability of equipment for drivers,” says Don Everingham, H-E-B facility manager — fleet maintenance. “It's a given that your drivers complete pre- and post-trip inspections of their equipment. It's a given that you follow well-established preventive maintenance intervals. But that's just the beginning of an efficient maintenance program.

“Predictive maintenance goes beyond the basics. Predictive maintenance is an extension of preventive maintenance. It means you know the life cycle of every component on your equipment. You know, for example, how the life cycle of a water pump will vary on a city truck versus an over-the-road vehicle. You know what vehicles will need brake service more often because you know the application of your equipment. You know that the mileage interval for brakes on a city tractor will be much lower. Knowing the life cycle of various components ensures that drivers won't suffer an equipment failure on the road.”

Data collection

About three years ago, H-E-B fleet maintenance started collecting data to document the life cycle of more than 3,000 pieces of equipment — everything from brakes to alternators to water pumps. All of this information is being gathered, stored, and processed within a software program provided by TMT Software, which allows users access to multiple functions from any computer terminal, including work assignments for mechanics, maintenance intervals, and parts invoices.

Although H-E-B has been using this software for several years, the latest is a Windows-based version that is much more user friendly, especially for mechanics who can use a computer terminal to write comments about a particular component or select a pre-written statement with the touch of a couple of keyboard buttons. The software program is accessible to all of H-E-B's 90 technicians who work in five maintenance facilities, including San Antonio.

“The old system included very strong accounting functions but was not user friendly for our mechanics,” Everingham says. “We want to encourage our technicians to input their specific observations about the equipment. It's a lot more helpful if we can read, for example, that the bearings in a pump appear very rough rather than just some general comment that the pump looks old and may be ready to fail.”

Gathering and analyzing this data is a work in progress that will continue indefinitely, Everingham says, but the results ultimately will help the maintenance department to more accurately set parameters for maintenance intervals and increase equipment availability.

“Safety always has to be the number one priority for any maintenance program,” he says, and reliability goes hand in hand with safety. We've already attained a readiness level of 98% or better for our reefers and dry trailers. Our next goal is to raise tractors to that level as well.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to track component life at such an efficient level that we can schedule more equipment for maintenance and repairs at the same time. It saves a lot of time and money when a technician can take care of a brake job and change the alternator while a tractor's in the shop.”

H-E-B began its grocery business more than 100 years ago in a tiny family shop in Kerrville, Texas. Family members have grown the business from sales of $250 million in 1971 to $11 billion in 2003 serving customers all over Texas and Mexico with more than 300 stores and 56,000 employees.

The new 108,000-sq-ft H-E-B fleet maintenance building in San Antonio handles repairs for 420 tractors and 2,147 trailers. The building was strategically located on 18 acres that is adjacent to one of H-E-B's distribution centers. H-E-B also operates repair terminals in Houston, Corpus Christi, Waco, and Weslaco.

Consistent performance

Consistency of equipment and their components is another hallmark word in the H-E-B maintenance vocabulary, Everingham says. “This simplifies the selection of parts, reduces the number of dealers we work with, and increases our service level.”

H-E-B partners with OEMs the company believes will provide the best product and the most attention to efficient service. “When we are selecting partners, we have to know what is their attitude toward our fleet? Are they willing to focus as intensely on our equipment as we do? If we experience a problem with a new batch of units, are they willing to go back to engineering and figure it out before we have a failure?”

All tractors are Sterling daycabs equipped with Caterpillar C13 engines, the newest units rated at 335 horsepower. The power units usually are traded at about 800,000 miles. They have onboard automatic lubrication systems manufactured by Groenveld and Meritor non-service extended drive lines. “The secret to good performance from automatic lube systems is getting them plumbed correctly. We started using them four years ago and have had perfect performance.”

New Caterpillar engines receive their first valve adjustment at the San Antonio shop when service time totals between 25,000 to 60,000 miles. The next adjustment doesn't come until about 300,000 miles. For the life of each tractor, H-E-B technicians usually handle four adjustments.

The more than 2,100 trailers hauling products to H-E-B stores are manufactured by Utility Trailer. Dry and refrigeration units are turned every 10 years. H-E-B splits the purchases of refrigerated units about half and half between Carrier Transicold and Thermo King, which provide new units about every five years. The company also buys OEM extended warranties on all major components.

Current filter technology allows H-E-B technicians to change oil from the newer refrigeration units every 3,000 hours. Environmental regulations from the federal government on refrigeration units will come into effect during 2008 and 2009, Everingham says. In the meantime, H-E-B is doing some testing with spinner technology on some of its refrigeration units to see if it will significantly reduce soot and other waste from the oil.

In addition to equipment components for tractors and trailers, consistent tracking of tire life has become an integral part of H-E-B's predictive maintenance program. About two-thirds of the H-E-B fleet runs on Michelin X-One wide base single tires, and the company plans to convert 100% of the equipment, including transports that are dedicated for city hauls. H-E-B is making the conversion because of the significant reduction in trailer weight and improved wear of tire tread.

The San Antonio maintenance facility is equipped with a tire reader that instantly records tire pressure and temperature from an electronic chip inside the tire casing while a rig slowly rolls through the maintenance shop's diagnostic bay. For now, transports pass through the one reader on a monthly basis. The company plans to install tire readers at the other maintenance shops. All trailers are equipped with Meritor Tire Inflation System by PSI.

“Improper and inconsistent air inflation are the leading causes of short tire life,” Everingham says. “Depending on seasons and tire applications, we've already seen an increase in tire life from 35% to 60%. We're working with Michelin to develop a more intensive management program that will provide more data in the future. In addition to visual inspections by drivers and technicians, we'd like to increase the electronic monitoring to once a week.”

Looking ahead, Everingham says one of the biggest unknowns that will affect H-E-B's maintenance program is the government-mandated emissions requirement for engines in 2007 and 2010. H-E-B most likely will not buy new tractors until the company has time to evaluate a myriad of factors that will be affected by the new technology.

“We are waiting to see the impact of low sulfur diesel fuel on engines,” he says. “We eventually want all of our tractors to follow a 40,000-mile drain interval. But for now, we're changing every unit at 20,000 miles.”

Coming to H-E-B with years of experience in the heavy machinery industry, Everingham is a strong proponent of oil analysis technology. H-E-B maintains 420 tractors, and oil samples from every unit are sent to laboratory on every oil change.

Brand new tractors — from the very first oil change — are no exception. The laboratory notifies H-E-B technicians within 12 hours if there is any sign of a problem.

“Oil analysis provides a very solid trend line,” he says. “You can see any changes early on. Every H-E-B maintenance supervisor knows how to read an oil analysis report and can interpret the trend line. Saving one engine will pay for the service, and we already have saved a couple of engines because the analysis flagged some problems.”

H-E-B purchases engine oil and extended-mileage engine coolant from Shell, which also provides a free diagnostic service to H-E-B for engines that need a very close examination. Borescope technology has been available for about 12 years, Everingham says, but the current machines offer much better images inside engine valves and heads.

“Using technicians outside our company who work with scope technology on a regular basis provides us with a valuable opinion and saves us time and money,” he says. “They see and recognize many different problems on a daily basis, such as the color of a deposit inside the engine or early detection of a cracked head.”

The H-E-B maintenance program includes keeping its fleet of tractors and trailers clean on the outside as well as on the inside. Whiting Systems Inc installed an automated wash system that can be custom programmed by computer. The system can be programmed to wash the top, sides, and undercarriage of a tractor-trailer rig in less than 15 minutes.

About the Author

James Russell

Voice your opinion!

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

Sponsored Recommendations

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees and Risks

Fleets looking to effectively manage their operational costs should consider their tolling costs. Download the PrePass whitepaper, “Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees...

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...