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Dillon Transport Inc Knows Value Of Maintenance Efficiency Program

Feb. 1, 2003
DILLON Transport Inc of McCook, Illinois, grew steadily in the first 10 years after Jeff Dillon began the company in 1984 with one tractor and one trailer.

DILLON Transport Inc of McCook, Illinois, grew steadily in the first 10 years after Jeff Dillon began the company in 1984 with one tractor and one trailer. But it was a 1994 decision to expand into the Southeast that really boosted the business - and the need for maintenance efficiency. Today, the carrier earns $12 million in annual revenue and operates a fleet composed of 79 Kenworth tractors, 100 asphalt tank trailers, and 10 dry bulkers.

With the carrier's growth into Georgia and Florida, and the subsequent equipment acquisition and usage, Dillon looked around for ways to increase maintenance efficiency. Before the expansion, there was some slack time that could be used for more time-consuming maintenance operations. Hauling asphalt in the Chicago area is seasonal, but expansion to the Southeast where the weather is milder meant the trucks are now on the road year-round.

"That was such a good fit for us," Dillon says of the decision to move south.

To ameliorate the maintenance process, Dillon installed a computerized system that monitors tractor parts inventory. He also searched for ways to reduce brake repairs and tire wear. Dillon settled on a standardized brake lining for tractors. An automatic tire inflation system was added to the tank trailers.

"You've just got to look at everything these days in order to be profitable," he says, noting that current competition leaves little room for rate increases. Any good program that can be found to shave off repair expenses and improve preventive measures is an asset to the bottom line.

Parts Inventory Dillon chose the Kenworth PremierCare Connect tractor parts system, which links the carrier's inventory to the dealer's parts department via an online connection. As parts are removed from Dillon inventory, bar code labels are scanned and the information is logged for downloading to the dealer.

"This program allows us to keep our parts inventory in line," he says. "We have what we need when we need it - and not before."

After trying out different grades of brake shoe linings and consulting with drivers and parts suppliers, Dillon and his maintenance director, Mike Brusich, opted for Canadian Metallic 22A-1 from Brake Pro Inc. Vehicles that previously ran about 180,000 miles before the linings have to be replaced are getting extended service.

The ArvinMeritor Tire Inflation System by PSI Inc is used to reduce problems such as in-service failure, increased fuel consumption, and excessive tread wear. The system uses compressed air from the trailer to inflate any tire that falls below the inflation set-point.

Another system Dillon has invested in is Eaton Corp's Fleet Advisor. The system is a complete transportation logistics and fleet management system. Capabilities include engine performance monitoring that can be used in the vehicle's maintenance analysis. The company's terminals, including two with maintenance facilities, are linked into the system and have access to the information.

Satellite Terminals Satellite terminals are located in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, and in Jacksonville, Florida. Maintenance facilities are in McCook and Savannah. Each shop has three bays. Two mechanics are assigned to McCook and three are located in Savannah. They service trailers and tractors for routine repairs and preventive maintenance. Typically, they work on trailer brakes, wiring, baffles, and valves.

Shop personnel receive on-the-job training but also attend training sessions provided by equipment suppliers.

In McCook, the shop is active six days a week from noon until 9 pm, which are the hours when drivers return from routes. In the Southeast, maintenance is ongoing 24 hours, seven days a week.

An emphasis on maintenance has always held a priority with Dillon since he first saved $12,600 from a truck driving job begun at the age of 18, and used the money as a downpayment on his first tractor. (He still holds a current commercial license should he have to climb into the driver's seat to fill in.) For the first decade, the company hauled road-grade and industrial asphalt.

"We had about 26 units for about the first ten years," he says.

Then in 1994, the opportunity arose with Owens Corning Inc in Savannah to haul industrial asphalt from Atlanta to Savannah.

"I bought four trucks for the job and sent Jon Josefik, one of my veteran drivers, to head up operations and hire local drivers," says Dillon. "Now, we have 26 units operating in Savannah."

About 80% of the business is involved in transporting asphalt. The company also hauls number six industrial heating oil.

Ten dry bulk trailers are dedicated to Owens Corning in Jacksonville. The dry bulkers are used to haul mineral filler that also is used in the manufacture of asphalt shingles.

Coordinating operations has been addressed by the use of the Fleet Advisor system. Eaton provided the system training for the dispatchers and drivers. The global positioning technology supports trip planning, monitors route execution, and provides paperless Department of Transportation (DOT) logs.

Dillon was especially interested in the DOT logs provision in anticipation of new hours-of-service rules.

Dispatchers in each terminal use the system to coordinate transportation. Although orders now come in via telephone or fax, Dillon plans to eventually use the Internet for invoicing and other administrative duties. However, e-business can't replace the importance of personal attention, he adds.

"Our dispatchers have great communication skills," says Dillon. "It is so important for them to have good rapport with each individual plant manager."

Company Representatives Drivers, as the face-to-face representatives of the company, are crucial for good customer relationships, says Dillon. He employs 83 full-time and two part-time drivers. Like all the companies in the tank truck industry, driver retention is a concern, but some drivers have been with Dillon 13-15 years. "Good people are hard to find," he says. "You want to hang on to them."

Although Dillon prefers to hire drivers with tank truck experience, the company will consider promising candidates.

In addition to the Fleet Advisor training, newly hired drivers receive hazardous materials instruction with emphasis on loading and unloading the hot asphalt, which ranges from 325(F) to 440(F). Training includes company orientation and policies, Department of Transportation regulations, and defensive driving. Drivers assigned to dry bulkers receive the same training as the liquid bulk drivers, although they typically are dedicated to dry bulk service.

Drivers working with asphalt are issued heat-resistant gloves and jackets, as well as hard hats and face shields, and are required to use them during the loading and unloading process. Toploading of asphalt is typically handled by the shipper's employees, but Dillon drivers usually handle unloading.

Just as he emphasizes the importance of well-maintained equipment for driver satisfaction, Dillon believes in buying well-equipped tractors, and specifies air ride suspensions and sleeper cabs with refrigerators and CD players. Of the 79 units in the fleet, 40 have sleeper cabs. Tractors purchased within the past three years are equipped with Eaton Fuller 10-speed Autoshift transmissions. The newest ones have push-button controls.

Not only do the automatic transmissions please the drivers, Dillon is satisfied with the 6.7 miles per gallon fuel usage they are producing. "With the automatic transmissions, we get the same economy from all the drivers."

The T800 Kenworths are equipped with 425-horsepower Cummins Engines. Dana axles are specified, the drive axles with a 3.90 ratio. Alcoa supplies aluminum disc wheels. While Dillon uses some retread tires in the Chicago area (service is within a 90-mile radius), Bridgestone tires are specified in the Southeast, where longer hauls are more typical.

Blackmer and Thermaflow hydraulic drive systems are used to drive the pumps mounted on the trailers.

Tractors receive an oil change and lubrication every 20,000 miles.

Tank Trailers Average age of asphalt tank trailers is about seven years. In 2000, Dillon purchased 10 new trailers. They were built by E D Etnyre & Company, Polar Tank Trailer Inc, and Brenner Tank Inc. Dry bulkers come from J&L Tank, and all were purchased in 1995.

The 7,000-gallon road-grade asphalt trailers have an aluminum barrel with five inches of insulation and an aluminum jacket. They are designed to handle 400F product. Carbon steel 7,000-gallon trailers are used for industrial asphalt. They handle hot product up to 500F.

The trailers will retain heat for two days without more than a 5% loss, says Dillon. However, the average hauling time is about three hours.

The newest Etnyre trailers are equipped with the manufacturer's hot product valves. Dillon uses trailer-mounted Roper pumps for deliveries in the Chicago area. Customers have their own in the Southeast.

Trailers have Hendrickson suspensions, Austin landing gear, and Alcoa aluminum wheels. Hart Industries supplies steel braided unloading rubber hoses.

Aluminum dry bulk trailers from J&L Tank typically have a capacity of 1,000 cubic feet and are equipped with Knappco dome lids. They have five-inch butterfly valves for rear unloading. Axles are supplied by Dana. Aluminum hubs are from Conmet, and Motor Wheel supplies the centrifuse brake drums.

Dillon encourages drivers to keep both tractors and tank trailers clean. He invested $10,000 in each of two Hydrotek power exterior washers for their use.

As for the near future, Dillon is projecting 10% annual growth for the company. In the Southeast, he faces tough competition from the railroad, but offers transportation services well within a 300-mile radius. At the same time, he is well-positioned in an efficient operation so that when opportunities occur, the company is prepared to take advantage of them.

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