Stellar service

Oct. 1, 2006
CUSTOMER service drives the management team at Brenntag Mid-South Inc to run one of the largest chemical distribution fleets in the industry. Or more

CUSTOMER service drives the management team at Brenntag Mid-South Inc to run one of the largest chemical distribution fleets in the industry. Or more precisely, the in-house fleet of part of the chemical distributor's commitment to ensure that customers receive the products they need when they need them.

A division of one of the world's largest chemical distributors, Brenntag Mid-South has been packaging and distributing chemical products for nearly 60 years. The Henderson, Kentucky-based operation maintains a fleet of 100 trucks and tractors, 100 tank trailers, and another 300 trailers that include vans and flatbeds. The company also owns warehouses, tank farms, and drumming and blending facilities.

“Our first objective is to ensure that approximately 85% of the inventory needed by our customers is on hand at all times,” says Ronnie Eblen, Brenntag Mid-South corporate purchasing manager. “Second, we want to make sure that they receive those products safely and in a timely manner. Quality is important, and we are ISO 9002 compliant. All of these are factors making it important to have our own fleet.

“We do use contract and common carriers (primarily for inbound shipments), but our own fleet handles most of the outbound loads. Having an in-house fleet enables us to control the delivery service to our customers. They get the right product when they need it. We have a better lock on each order from start to finish.

“The fleet also plays a critical role in our marketing efforts. Our best truck drivers function almost like salesmen. They build strong customer relationships, and they see the customer's operation from behind the scenes. They can alert us to potential service problems, and we can take action before a situation becomes a crisis.”

Six units

Brenntag Mid-South is the largest of six regional units that make up Brenntag North America, which is, in turn, part of Germany-based Brenntag Holding GmbH & Company. In addition to running the largest distribution fleet of the six regional units, Brenntag Mid-South generates the highest sales revenue.

Founded in 1947 as a supplier of reagent-grade chemicals, the chemical distribution operation was incorporated as PB&S Chemical Company. It was sold to Brenntag in 1989. Holland Chemical Co (HCI) was added to Brenntag's US holdings in 2000, and the regional units were established.

Today, Brenntag Mid-South distributes a wide range of industrial chemicals, and about 90% of outbound shipments are classified as hazardous materials. Products include acids (sulfuric, hydrochloric, phosphoric, and nitric), caustics, solvents, lime, salt, carbon black, and compressed gases (chlorine, sulfur dioxide, and ammonia). The company processes bleach.

Brenntag Mid-South makes use of various transport modes for both in-bound and out-bound shipments. “We can ship and receive by barge, rail, and truck,” Eblen says. “Some in-bound shipments also arrive by tank containers, but we don't use them for outbound movements. Our fleet is used primarily for customer deliveries. We don't backhaul many of the blend stocks going to our packaging facilities.”

The company fleet typically serves customers within a 200-mile radius of the 26 Brenntag Mid-South facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri. Many drivers have regular routes, which helps build customer loyalty.

Finding the right truck driver is a critical factor for the chemical distributor. “We look for candidates who share our customer service focus,” Eblen says. “Despite the industry-wide driver shortage, we haven't relaxed our hiring standards. We will not jeopardize customer service or safety.”

The farm sector across the region also continues to be a good source of drivers for Brenntag Mid-South. Some drivers transfer into the tanker operation from Brenntag Mid-South's less-than-truckload operation, which is mostly local delivery. Drivers must be at least 25 years old to handle hazardous materials tanker shipments, and they must have at least two years of over-the-road experience.

“If a driver is a good prospect for hazmat and tanker work, we'll help him get the CDL (commercial driver license) endorsements he needs,” Eblen says. “We've had good success bringing new drivers into the program, because we provide good pay and a good benefits package. In addition, most of our drivers are home at least two to three nights a week, a factor that is becoming increasingly important.”

Well-maintained late-model tractors also help keep the drivers' seats filled. “We typically keep our tractors five to seven years, and we replace them when they reach 750,000 miles,” says Tony Hempen, Brenntag Mid-South fleet maintenance supervisor.

Brenntag Mid-South runs Freightliner and International tractors. The newest units are International 9400i tractors in daycab and sleeper versions. They have Caterpillar C15 engines (rated at 435 horsepower for the daycabs and 475 horsepower for the sleepers).

Most of the tractor fleet was specified with Eaton Fuller 10-speed manual transmissions, but the chemical distributor has experimented with some of Eaton's automated gearboxes. “We put three tractors with the UltraShift transmission on the road this year, and we've been testing two AutoShift transmissions for the past three years,” Hempen says. “We hope the UltraShift will help us attract new drivers in the future.”

Running gear

Running gear includes Eaton steer and tandem-drive axles with Eaton ESB 16½" × 8" brakes and Accuride powder-coated steel disc wheels. The fleet has standardized on Goodyear tires — G395 LHS and G397 LHS steer tires and G372 LHD drive tires.

“The G397 LHS has done a good job, but the G395 LHS is even better, especially when it comes to edge wear,” Hempen says. “Because of smoother wear, we've probably gained more than 10,000 miles in tread life.”

He adds that the more even wear of the G395 LHS has been a key reason for the gains made in tread life. “In tanker operations like ours, you tend to get more uneven wear because of the way the load moves,” he says. “Once an uneven wear pattern starts, it will get away from you quickly. The G395 LHS is better at preventing that uneven pattern from starting in the first place.”

Brenntag Mid-South also has achieved cost savings by switching to G372 LHD tires on the drive positions. Based on Goodyear TVTRACKS data, the G372 LHD tires are averaging 301,449 miles compared with 204,252 miles for the Goodyear drive tires they replaced. That is a 47% improvement. Tire cost per mile dropped to .010 cents from .015 cents.

All of this means less tire replacement. “When you look at the better numbers that come from running the G395 LHS and G372 LHD, it means we may be able to put one less set of tires on the trucks that we run out to 750,000 miles,” Hempen says.

Safety is enhanced with PeopleNet's on-board tracking and communications and the Eaton Vorad collision avoidance system. The sliding fifthwheel is from Fontaine. Tractor-mounted product-handling equipment includes a Blackmer compressor, Ranger gear pump, and Muncie PTO.

Trailer diversity

The trailer fleet is quite diverse, something that isn't particularly unusual for a chemical distributor. Tankers are used for large bulk shipments, while vans and platforms handle packaged products. Brenntag Mid-South prefers to own most of its trailers.

“We believe we can own equipment more cost effectively,” Eblen says. “We lease when we need a tank trailer immediately, and we use Transport Resources Inc and Southern Tank Leasing. One of the challenges we faced in 2006 was a lead time of up to six months for new tank trailers, and we sometimes had no choice but to lease.”

The chemical distributor prefers stainless steel DOT407 trailers from Brenner Tank LLC and fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) trailers from Comptank Corporation. “Both manufacturers build quality products, and they deliver exceptional service after the sale,” Eblen says.

Average capacity for the DOT407 stainless steel chemical tankers is 5,000 gallons, and the FRP trailers hold 5,500 gallons of corrosives. The fleet also runs 8,000-gallon, four-compartment, aluminum MC306 tankers that are used for solvents.

Brenntag Mid-South uses both insulated and uninsulated stainless steel trailers. The single-compartment, unbaffled trailers have Betts domelids and outlets and Girard pressure- and vacuum-relief vents. “In my opinion, Girard makes the most bullet-proof vent on the market,” Hempen says.

Safety features include larger work platforms on the tanks. “Our platforms cover more of the work area, and we have more handrails and ladders with more handholds,” Hempen says.

The chemical distributor has switched to Minimizer plastic fenders on its DOT407 trailers. It is also specifying spring-loaded lightboxes with LED lighting. “These light boxes are less susceptible to damage at loading racks and in parking lots,” Hempen says.

The Comptank FRP trailers are preferred for corrosives because they are lighter than a rubber-lined carbon steel DOT412 tanker. Most of the Comptank trailers are lined with Derakane. Hardware includes Durco outlets with Kinetrol air actuators and Girard Teflon-coated vents.

Tank cleaning

About 30% of the tank trailers in the fleet are in dedicated service, but the rest are cleaned as needed between loads. Brenntag Mid-South has its own single-bay wash rack at the Henderson facility. The company also uses two commercial wash racks in nearby Owensboro, Kentucky.

“We clean four to five tanks a day at our own wash rack,” Hempen says. “We use just a hot water rinse at 180°F. Our Chemdet and Spraying Systems Inc spinners run at 150 psi. Our wash rack is limited in the products it can handle, as are the commercial cleaning facilities in Owensboro. Any difficult cleaning must be done at other commercial racks, but we don't have a lot of need for that.”

The wash rack occupies one bay of a four-bay maintenance shop at the Henderson facility. Open 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday, the shop is operated by four mechanics who handle projects ranging from routine vehicle service to engine and transmission overhauls.

“We have a CT number, and our mechanics do the federally required cargo tank tests and inspections,” Hempen says. “However, vessel repairs or modifications are handled by code shops, such as Lantz's Coach Works (in Evansville, Indiana). We also contract out all lining repairs in our corrosives trailers.”

Brenntag Mid-South has an aggressive preventive maintenance program. Tractors are serviced every 15,000 miles, and trailers are brought into the shop at least once a month.

Tires get plenty of attention from Brenntag Mid-South's mechanics. Tire pressure on every tractor and trailer in the fleet is checked weekly. Steer tires are maintained at 100 psi, and tires in the drive and trailer positions are kept at 95 psi.

All of the maintenance attention adds up to a reliable chemical distribution fleet that helps fulfill Brenntag Mid-South's commitment to ensure that customers have the products they need, when they need them.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.