Meeting standards

Feb. 1, 2007
WHILE some company owners and managers may shudder at the thought of an inspection by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials,

WHILE some company owners and managers may shudder at the thought of an inspection by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials, Wayne Thompson, president of Elite Trailer Sales and Service, invites inspectors to his shop every two years.

“We have a good working relationship with them,” says the owner of the Nashville, Tennessee, tank trailer repair and cleaning facility. “When OSHA inspectors come here, they conduct the same compliance check that they would in any other inspection. It's just a good way to be sure we are meeting their requirements.”

All of this stems from Thompson's focus on safety for company personnel working in the 12-bay shop on the five-acre site. All safety training, which includes emphasis on company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, and OSHA requirements (such as confined space entry, respirator and other personal protection equipment, and fall prevention), is conducted by Thompson and David Grimsley, service manager.

“We are fortunate to have experienced employees and little turnover,” says Thompson. “Our newest tank craftsman has been here nine years. In addition, almost all of our welders are code-certified. It takes three to four years on the job to produce a tank craftsman. Employee expertise is very important to us because our business is based on a reputation for excellence.”

Each employee is given a safety manual and expected to keep it on hand for reference and to follow the procedures. Bonuses are based on work performance, including safety, no worker compensation claims, no unauthorized work absences, and aptitude for the job. Also taken into consideration are job profitability and work quality.

Service schedules

Elite provides road service 24/7 and the shop is open 7 am until 6 pm Monday through Friday. The wash bays are in operation from 7 am until 8 pm Monday through Friday. All services are available on call. Most work is scheduled by appointments, but when a carrier has an emergency, such as a probe problem at a gasoline loading rack, the repair service can be provided quickly.

“Our employees are available for a four-hour minimum call-in outside our regular schedules,” Thompson notes.

Among the maintenance services offered at Elite are tests for leakage and vapor recovery, as well as pressure and MC330/331 retesting. The company performs minor and major barrel repairs and tank changeouts. Fabrication is sent out to other facilities. The shop is certified with a National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors “R” stamp for tank repair and fabrication, and mechanics are American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) certified. Tank service at the shop includes petroleum, chemical, dry bulk, crude oil, compressed gases, and vacuum trailers.

At any given time, the shop will be working on tank trailers, bobtails, and/or tankwagons. Elite also builds tank wagons with tanks supplied by New Progress Llc.

Since MC331 tank trailers and bobtails can be used for transporting anhydrous ammonia and propane, Elite is called in to provide required testing before the switch is made from one product to another.

Vehicle reconditioning

“Another side of our business, about 10%, is devoted to reconditioning older tank trailers, and adding them to our sales lineup,” Thompson says. “A recent project required 300 hours to rebuild an MC306 tank trailer with 9,200-gallon capacity and four compartments. The original side shell had five seams. We rebuilt it so that it has only one seam.”

Another shop project centered on testing tank trailers for the US Army's 101st Airborne Division. About 8-10 trailers went through the shop each month before being transported to Iraq.

Maintenance and repair services also are available for tractors and trucks, including preventive maintenance and repairs for transmissions, alternators, and other powertrain components. When Thompson bought the Nashville facility, he added new welding machines and transmission jacks.

The eight-bay shop (one bay dedicated to truck service) has a manager and seven mechanics. Trailer Mate, a shop management software program, manages the $500,000 worth of parts inventory, as well as work orders. It can be used to scan and manage time cards and billing, as well.

Tank cleaning

The computer system also tracks data for the tank cleaning division that includes two chemical bays and one foodgrade bay. Four tank cleaners share an overlapping schedule, two on duty from 7 am until 6 pm and two working 11 am until 8 pm.

Three vats, each with 2,000-gallon capacity, contain hot and cold water and caustic. The in-house-constructed system is equipped with Sellers Cleaning Systems and Gamajet Cleaning Systems spinners, while three Alladin boilers, each with 60,000 btu, supply steam.

“We steam or wash all tank trailers before we begin repairs,” Thompson says. “Nitrogen is forced off with water and we test the atmosphere of every tank at the wash rack and in the shop. Asphalt and petroleum trailers are metered every two hours to be sure there is no vapor buildup that could ignite.”

A wastewater system includes a 10,000 gallon holding tank that receives effluent from underground vats in the bays where solids are separated. A probe in the tank reads the wastewater pH count for automatic adjustment.

Expanding business

With the repair and tank cleaning bays staying busy, Thompson says he would like to expand the business, but will have to purchase property in another location because the current site has no room to grow. The company was started in 2001, but Thompson has 37 years of experience in the industry.

He first began a repair business in 1969, and eventually sold that company. He returned to ownership when he bought the current Nashville facility from Foxcraft Trailers Inc. For years after selling his first shop, Thompson was employed by Foxcraft and oversaw construction of a Tampa, Florida, facility. When the opportunity arose for him to purchase the Nashville shop, he snapped it up.

Today, Thompson and his wife, Barbara, manage the business that has annual revenue of $2.2 million. She focuses on administrative duties, including parts and inventory management. He oversees the shop and tank cleaning operation.

The company is a dealer for Polar Corp tank trailers and New Progress Llc truck tanks. Girard, Civacon, EBW, Scully, Emco Wheaton, Roper, and PT Coupling are included among the suppliers. Florida Rock and Tank Lines Inc, Highway Transport Inc, and Dupre Transport Inc all have terminals on site, and Spirit Express and Bulkmatic Transport Co use the yard to park equipment.

Looking to the future, Thompson says he plans to continue emphasis on safety and quality service while considering another location in order to expand. Meanwhile, the repair and cleaning bays are filled with work and the future appears rosy.

About the Author

Mary Davis