New Maintenance Facilities Keep Service Transport Vehicles Rolling

Feb. 1, 2000
KEEPING 350 tank trailers and 260 tractors on the road isn't hard for Service Transport Company because managers believe in, and practice, preventive

KEEPING 350 tank trailers and 260 tractors on the road isn't hard for Service Transport Company because managers believe in, and practice, preventive maintenance. They know their program reduces repairs and downtime significantly, thereby contributing positively to the carrier's bottom line.

To reinforce the program, the company recently invested $2.95 million in new maintenance facilities at terminals in Houston, Texas, and St Gabriel, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, says Peter Rozdilsky, vice-president for operations. The St Gabriel facility received an infusion of $2 million, and $950,000 was invested in Houston.

In addition to reinforcing the preventive maintenance program, the capital investment comes as a result of the company's continuing growth of about 10%-12% per year. That means, among other business considerations, more vehicles have to be kept in top operating condition.

"The new maintenance facility in Houston replaces a two-bay shop that was about 30 years old," Rozdilsky says. "With the new shop added to the four commercial wash bays and two cleaning equipment bays that we have, we are able to enhance our performance significantly.

The 30,000-square-foot, two-story building next door to the company's corporate headquarters is on 17 acres just south of Hobby Airport. Adjoining the 20,000-square-foot shop area are offices for maintenance, environmental compliance, training, and purchasing personnel. Drivers were also considered when the maintenance facility was designed. A driver lounge, lockers, storage space, and showers are all provided.

The shop functions with eight maintenance bays - one of them dedicated to welding - each 100 feet in length to accommodate two units at a time. Certain bays are used solely for tank trailers, tractors, or work on tires.

"Things just don't get so congested with the bays organized that way," points out Chris Lee, maintenance director. About 25 tractors and 50 tank trailers pass through the facility daily, says Rozdilsky. "Take into account that this is all inspections and repairs on different units that the shop is involved with," he adds.

Maintenance Capability The new shop can perform almost all tank trailer inspections, scheduled maintenance, and repairs, excluding only vessel welding and related code shop procedures.

Equipment includes computer analysis instruments for use on tractor engines and global positioning systems (GPS). Fabrication equipment includes a lock seamer, lock former, shears, welders, and bending equipment. The facility is capable of installing sheets for wraps and working on tank heads, frames, and landing gear. The need for painting has been reduced by specifying as much stainless steel equipment as possible.

For about the last five years, the company has used HT-1202A Enviro-Acid from Hou-Tex Distributors for passivation of stainless steel tank trailers. HT-1202A is a liquid, highly buffered, acid mixture designed to replace nitric/hydrofluoric acid and other hazardous products for the cleaning and passivating of stainless steel.

"We haul a lot of products that stain the tanks, and we had to go in there and buff it out," says Rozdilsky. "This product has saved us a lot of time in getting rid of those stains."

For parts cleaning, Service Transport chose a System One Inc unit. Before the company installed the unit, the parts cleaning produced about 30 gallons of waste per month that had to be disposed of. The solid residue can be discharged into a waste system that is later disposed of. The new maintenance shop benefited from the underground drainage system that was already in place for the wash rack.

"This is just one more way we have found to be more efficient," says Rozdilsky.

The shop is well lighted for vehicle maintenance. In addition to the artificial lighting, translucent fiberglass panels installed along the top of the walls let in natural light.

24-hour Maintenance Shop The maintenance shop operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thirty-eight mechanics are assigned to the department that runs three shifts. A shift leader and assistant shift leader are on duty at each shift.

About 165 trailer-tractor units are based in Houston, but vehicles from a satellite terminal in Nederland, Texas, also are served at the Houston shop. The 16,000-square-foot St Gabriel terminal has a 4,000-square-foot shop and is very similar to the one in Houston. On line are two maintenance bays, but the terminal also has a wash rack. Two of the wash bays can be converted for maintenance on an as-needed basis. Twelve mechanics are assigned to the shop.

"We have the basic equipment in the shop at St Gabriel to do all HM183 inspections and perform required preventive maintenance," says Rozdilsky. "We don't do any major repairs on tractors or trailers. That is done in Houston."

Vehicles are worked on around the clock, seven days a week. The new facilities will be able to handle many more units per day as necessary, says Rozdilsky.

Other satellite terminals are located in Mobile, Alabama, and Corpus Christi, Texas. Maintenance at Mobile is outsourced, but Corpus Christi has both wash rack and repair services available.

The Service Transport fleet is composed almost entirely of MC307, DOT407, and DOT412 tank trailers from Brenner Tank Inc. About 95% of the tank trailers are insulated and some are heated. Recently, the company purchased three fiberglass trailers from Tankcon FRP Inc dedicated to hauling hydrochloric acid. The company utilizes Freightliner and Kenworth tractors almost totally.

Preventive Maintenance At the top of the company's maintenance list is its pre-dispatch inspection (PDI) that is conducted before a unit leaves the yard, a program that is especially important because of the hazardous materials the carrier hauls. About 90% of the company's business involves hazardous materials, and 30-35% of the business is dedicated to BASF Corp. Among the products hauled are sulfuric and nitric acid, and various liquid chemicals.

"The tank trailers have to be in top order to meet shipper demands," says Lee. "The mechanics work on barrel stains and are always checking for pitting. We are always changing gaskets, and we do a lot of valve pressure testing."

Mechanics have a specific PDI list to follow that includes checking tank trailers for internal moisture, cleanliness, and pitting. Swiping the surface with a white cloth to detect any leftover residue is another must-do procedure.

In addition, steam coils are inspected for operation. External and internal valves must be clean, operational, and odor free. All pressure- and vacuum-relief valves are checked for cleanliness and good seals. Internal valves and gaskets are replaced if they are off color. Vapor recovery hardware receives a thorough going over.

Mechanics must insure that temperature of the tank is less than 100 degrees F. "Besides the PDI, trailer running gear and substructures are serviced," says Rozdilsky. "We perform all the repairs on the running gear. These may involve kingpin replacement, complete brake jobs involving brake shoes, cams, bearings, seals, chamber, drums, and ABS braking systems. Also included are lights, landing gear, electrical systems, fenders, bumpers, and ladders. Many accessories are repaired and replaced in our facility." Every 90 days, inspections are performed as required by Department of Transportation (DOT) rules. Typically, the PDI method is used for documentation between PMs. "The equipment is inspected even more than DOT requires," says Lee.

Tractor Program Another example of the company's determination to reduce repairs and downtime lies in its program for tractors. When new tractors are ordered, the specifications call for maintenance-free equipment. Among those specifications are drivelines with greaseless fittings. Additionally, the company is testing a few engines and automatic chassis lubrication systems.

"We've talked to our suppliers and told them what type of performance we are looking for," says Rozdilsky. "Right now we are getting 40,000 miles between oil changes, but we expect to increase that considerably."

The synthetic oil systems being tested with the Cummins Centinel Oil Management System are expected to run 525,000 miles without an oil change, performance interrupted only by a filter change every 75,000 miles, says Lee.

While mechanics perform diagnostics and routine maintenance on the tractors, major repairs are covered by warranty.

Mechanics are installing global positioning systems (GPS) from American Mobile Satellite Corp. "With these systems, we know when an engine is overheating before the driver does," says Rozdilsky. "The Cummins 15-liter engines are fully computerized."

Mechanics also talk to drivers and review their required written reports in order to use the feedback in vehicle evaluations. The communication works two ways: by enhancing mechanic knowledge, which contributes to the upkeep of vehicles, and by producing well-maintained vehicles, which contributes to driver satisfaction and retention.

Maintenance Training Mechanics are trained to not only interact with drivers but to perform many different maintenance functions. The new maintenance facilities have a classroom. Training covers federally mandated tank and trailer annual inspections, routine inspections, air-conditioning, and brakes. Confined space entry training receives high priority, and strict compliance rules are in force. Individuals receive maintenance ratings based on their experience, training, qualifications, and certifications.

The preventive maintenance program is operated in tandem with a progressive purchasing program that covers Service Transport's entire operation. The purchasing department is led by Alan Copeland whose office is in the new building, a location chosen for interaction with the maintenance department.

"The supplier is down the hall," says Lee, smiling. Another emphasis is placed on parts inventory where an in-house developed computerized program helps avoid overstocking while at the same time guaranteeing equipment will be available when needed.

A major parts expense lies in storing fittings to suit the various connections at customer installations. "About $70,000-$80,000 worth of fittings must be kept on hand," says Rozdilsky.

Within the parts department is a section dedicated to tire management. "We spend about $450,000 on tires every year," says Rozdilsky. "It is a very expensive part of any operation. We do not use recapped tires."

The tire manager, Carlos Quiroa, oversees tire matches, rotation, and other related duties. Rozdilsky estimates the program places the company well ahead of the national average for tire costs per mile. The company spends about 2.07 cents per mile while the national average is about 3.56 cents, he says. Another cost-saving factor is present in the program Service Transport has with its supplier, Yokohama Tire Corp.

Whether it is the tire program or one of the other maintenance programs Service Transport practices, the goal is always to keep tractors and tank trailers rolling. "We may move 3,300-3,500 loads per month, but if one or two are late, we have to explain to the customer why we were late," says Rozdilsky. "We can't afford downtime. With these new facilities in Houston and St Gabriel, our record, which has always been excellent, will not only be maintained, but in addition we will be able to handle the growth that we are anticipating."

Service Transport managers understand that reducing repairs and downtime can equate to cost savings that make a big difference in raising profits. The new maintenance facilities keep equipment in prime condition and strengthen the company's standards for good business practices.

About the Author

Mary Davis