Fuel economy outweighs tread life for Dot Foods

Sept. 1, 2005
Most fleets track tire costs; far fewer monitor tire performance and cost as a factor in fuel economy. Dot Foods, a redistributor to the foodservice industry in Mount Sterling, Illinois, tracks tires carefully in a constant pursuit of improved fuel economy.

Most fleets track tire costs; far fewer monitor tire performance and cost as a factor in fuel economy. Dot Foods, a redistributor to the foodservice industry in Mount Sterling, Illinois, tracks tires carefully in a constant pursuit of improved fuel economy.

“We pay a lot of attention to tires to the point that we use special software to track performance,” says Doug Underwood, tire purchasing manager. “The difference in our tire program from some other fleets is that we are willing to sacrifice tread life to a certain extent if we can gain fuel economy from a given set of tires. Fuel economy makes a big difference for a fleet that runs a total of 58 million miles a year.”

Dot Foods has been using TVTRACK tire database software from Goodyear for 10 years. The system gives the company the ability to track tire wear and operating costs by individual tire. Software is installed in the maintenance departments at each of the company's six distribution locations, which include Ardmore, Oklahoma; Liverpool, New York; Modesto, California; Vidalia, Georgia; and Williamsport, Maryland, in addition to the headquarters distribution center in Mount Sterling. Local maintenance personnel gather data and enter it locally before sending reports to Underwood by fax. Maintenance technicians gather tire data at preventive maintenance inspections and at axle alignments scheduled every 60,000 miles and at every tire rotation, which is performed at 100,000-mile intervals.

Planning retread schedules

Information from the tracking system is used to plan tire retreading and replacement schedules and to compare different tire models for fuel economy and durability. “The ability to track performance has allowed us to make changes in our tire specifications,” says Duane Fischer, maintenance manager in Williamsport. “From the tracking system, we have learned to adjust tire pressure in relation to the prevailing climate at a distribution center and to match tread depth to road conditions. The tracking system also lets us monitor fuel consumption and tire wear by driver, because drivers are permanently assigned to trucks.”

With more than 5,500 tractor tires on the ground and several hundred more in inventory, managing tires requires considerable attention, Underwood says. While tires are constantly under evaluation, the most common drive tires currently in service are Michelin XDA3s and Bridgestone M720. New Volvo tractors are delivered with the Bridgestone drive tires and Continental HSLECO steering axle tires.

Tread life for the Michelin drive tires averages 224,000 miles, and the Bridgestones run a little longer to 260,000 miles. Steering axle tires have an average tread life of 121,000 miles. Dot counts on two recaps per casing. Steering axle tires are recapped with drive tire treads and run in that position until getting a second cap for use on trailers. Original drive tires are recapped with ribbed treads for mounting on trailers. Regardless of remaining tread depth, Dot Foods keeps tires no longer than six years, Underwood says.

Tractor tires get the most attention; trailer tires are not monitored by the tracking system. However, trailers on distribution center property get a daily inspection. “Trailer tires get a lot of wear, because our business puts them into two distinct operating environments,” Underwood says. “When first dispatched, our equipment runs like a medium-haul truck line with trips ranging from 500 to 800 miles. Once we reach our delivery area with five to six scheduled stops, we become a local distribution operation with the tires subject to a lot of curbs and scrubbing.”

Testing for fuel economy

The tire tracking system is used extensively in a constant search for improved fuel economy. At any given time, Dot Foods has 35 to 40 tractors involved in tire testing with fuel economy results reported every four weeks. Testing includes recaps as well as new tires. At least five tractors are used in every tire test to help eliminate driver differences, Underwood says.

Founded in 1960 as Associated Dairy Products Company, Dot Foods fits an extremely narrow niche in the food industry. It is a foodservice distributor, but it doesn't deliver to hotels or restaurants. It sells to food wholesalers, but is not a manufacturer or broker. Dot Foods is, by its own definition, a food redistributor. The company buys in relatively large volume from about 550 different vendors and consolidates orders from those vendors for foodservice wholesalers that would otherwise not carry some of the products or have to buy in uneconomical quantities. Dot Foods offers a full line of frozen, fresh, and dry foodservice inventory with the notable exceptions of produce and fresh meat. Standing inventory runs to 28,000 line items, and additional special orders can boost the available product line to 60,000 items.

Frozen foods were added to the product mix in 1990 with a subsidiary known as Arctic Foods. That subsidiary was absorbed into the parent company, which had become Dot Foods — named after the founder Robert F Tracy's wife — in 1981. Delivery is actually carried out by Dot Transportation Inc, a corporation that owns 548 tractors and 900 refrigerated trailers.

Buy big, sell small

“In a sense, we are the corner grocery store for the foodservice industry,” says Mike Buckley vice-president, business development. “We maintain the inventory that allows our more than 3,300 customers to buy what they need in small lots. Our customer base includes the largest foodservice houses in the country right down to the smallest of local wholesalers. Our service matches the needs of our clients, some of whom get daily deliveries and some of whom we visit only monthly.”

Dot provides a service both to manufacturers and distributors, Buckley says. It helps manufacturers reach customers that they cannot serve efficiently, and it allows distributors to purchase the quantities needed for delivery when needed. “Essentially, we form a partnership with manufacturers and distributors,” he says. “Our purpose is to help vendors eliminate the costs associated with serving customers who buy in LTL quantities. At the same time, we provide a high level of customer service to distributors who can purchase from Dot Foods at economical prices and usually receive delivery faster than they might by buying small lots directly from the manufacturer.”

Deliveries are by standing appointment with a 48-hour lead-time for distributors east of the Mississippi and normally 72 hours in Western states. Opening the company's newest location in Oklahoma has reduced order lead-time for customers in the Southwest.

Six-year tractor cycle

Dot Foods replaces tractors on a six to seven year cycle with 150 new tractors scheduled for delivery during 2005. The order includes 110 Volvo VN630s and 40 9400i tractors from Navistar International. They are powered by Cummins ISX-400 ST2 engines with dual torque capacity — 1,450 lb ft for first through eighth gear and 1,650 lb for the top two transmission gears. The company has been using Eaton Fuller AutoShift 10-speed transmissions since 1999.

“When we first introduced them to the fleet, some drivers voiced a little resistance, but have since changed their minds,” says Kevin Buss, director of fleet maintenance. “AutoShift certainly helps speed driver training, but mostly, we see the transmissions as a safety factor. If the driver does not have to shift the gearbox, it is just one less thing to be concerned about while operating a truck in traffic.”

The quest for fuel economy is critical, because new engines with exhaust gas circulation have increased fuel consumption compared to engines placed in service prior to October 2002. Tires as well as driver bonuses help boost fuel mileage. “We pay a bonus for reducing idle time,” Buss says. “We also pay an additional two cents per mile to drivers who commit to driving no faster than 60 mph. In the past year, we have given away a motorcycle and eight all terrain vehicles to drivers in our HOG (Help our gallons) program.”

One constant subject of testing for fuel economy is the Michelin X1 wide-base single tire. The single tires offer the potential for a smoother ride and weight savings as well as fuel economy. While the desired fuel economy has not yet shown in tests, the tires do save weight. All of the company's fuel tankers use the X1, Buss says.

Delivering such a wide range of products requires Dot Foods to mix frozen and refrigerated products in the same trailer. For that reason, at least 700 of the 900 trailers are equipped for multi-temp operation with three compartments separated by Randall folding bulkheads. The fleet contains trailers from both Great Dane and Utility. For 2005, Dot Foods has purchased 110 new trailers with Carrier Transicold Genesis refrigeration systems. Trailers remain in the fleet for an average of eight years.

View more Refrigerated Transporter news relating to alternative fuels, idle reduction, fuel conservation, fuel economy and diesel fuel prices.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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