AmeriGas Retrofits Bobtail Fleet With Emergency Shutoff Equipment

Aug. 1, 2001
AMERIGAS Inc of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a national marketer of propane, has not hesitated in retrofitting the company's 2,395 bobtail trucks with

AMERIGAS Inc of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a national marketer of propane, has not hesitated in retrofitting the company's 2,395 bobtail trucks with emergency shutoff devices. The process started well before the Research and Special Programs Administration's (RSPA) deadline of July 1, 2001.

“Since this was being done for safety purposes, we wanted to expedite the process,” says Tony Przychodzien, AmeriGas fleet manager. “Our top management agreed it was important to go ahead and get it done.”

The company was responding to the new RSPA rule, which required installation to begin by July 1, 2001. But at AmeriGas, equipment has already been installed, and the shutoff system has been specified on all new vehicles ordered.

“We like to be the front runner in the industry,” says Przychodzien.

Similar company standards have paid off for the company that serves over 873,000 residential customers in the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. Retail propane sales volume in fiscal 2000 was 771 million gallons. The company supplies not only residential, commercial, and industrial customers, it transports propane for other propane distributors.

Research and Development

Although AmeriGas is on top of the shutoff situation, the decision is not the company's only effort to improve its fleet's capabilities. An active research and development division works with fabricators and other suppliers to guarantee as much equipment safety and efficiency as possible, says Przychodzien.

Currently, AmeriGas is involved with Kleespie Tank & Petroleum Equipment and Arrow Tank & Engineering Company to reconfigure the 2,400- to 2,600-gallon bobtail tanks now in service to 3,000-gallon capacity. Larger tanks will provide more payload, says Przychodzien.

The company has 414 MC331 propane trailers, which are being outfitted with passive control devices, another system required by the RSPA rule. Passive shutdown equipment is mandated for MC330/MC331 vehicles not in metered service. They have to be retrofitted at their first scheduled pressure test after July 1, 2001, and all retrofits must be completed by July 1, 2006. Although the company is installing Base Engineering and Smart-Hose Technologies equipment, it also is developing its own in-house device, says Przychodzien.

About 90% of the AmeriGas truck fleet has propane engines, but new trucks are being ordered with diesel engines. “We are finding it more difficult to obtain propane-fueled engines,” says Przychodzien. “Some truck builders and OEMs that were our suppliers just aren't doing the work anymore.”

An on-board truck computer evaluation is now in a pilot stage. “Should this system prove effective in meeting our goals, we will implement it nationwide,” says Przychodzien. “Other technological advances we are evaluating include new computer software for truck routing and scheduling, as well as equipment that will allow us to electronically monitor fuel level in a customer's tank.”

The company buys new bobtail trucks at 10-year intervals, and tractors are traded every five to six years. In 2001, 26 new tractors will be added to the fleet. AmeriGas is seeking bids from Freightliner, Volvo, and Mack for new vehicles. Currently, the 157 tractors in the fleet are Freightliners. In addition, the company is working on a project with Allison Transmission to test automatic transmissions for fleet use.

Thoughtful vehicle purchases and research and development are part of the company's overall goal of pursuing productivity and operating efficiency. These will subsequently improve customer service.

In addition to vehicle and other equipment efficiencies, AmeriGas is making fundamental changes in the way it manages its business. Front-line managers have been given responsibility for one of three functions: customer relations, equipment service, or propane delivery.

Each location handles its own area's distribution logistics, including sales and deliveries. The offices promote the company's philosophy of “offering the strength of a big company with the friendliness of a corner store.”

Employees manage deliveries with the use of an AmeriGas proprietary software system that provides delivery scheduling and prints tickets for drivers to pick up before starting out on routes. A forecasting system is used for commercial customers, based on usage and storage capacity.

Company representatives in 600 locations serve residential customers who use propane to heat water and homes. Propane is used in household appliances such as dryers and kitchen stoves, and to heat swimming pools and spas.

In addition to residential customers, the company supplies propane to commercial users that include hotels, restaurants, and retail stores. Industrial customers consume propane as a cutting gas, to fire furnaces, and in other process applications. Other industrial customers include large-scale heating accounts and local gas utilities who maintain a standby propane capability for use during peak demand periods.

Another commercial service is provided to the agriculture industry. Propane is used in tobacco curing, crop drying, and poultry brooding. It also is burned in internal combustion engines that power over-the-road vehicles, forklifts, and stationary engines.

To get the product to customers, AmeriGas purchases bobtail trucks that are fabricated by several companies. The propane tanks are mounted on Freightliner or International chassis. Freightliners are specified with Caterpillar 210-horsepower engines, and International engines are rated at 230 hp.

Equipment for bobtails includes registers and meters from Schlumberger and Liquid Controls. Pumps are from Blackmer and Corken. Fisher and RegO supply valves. Reels are from Hannay.

AmeriGas specifies aluminum decks to lighten vehicles and to reduce painting costs. “We want a standard look among all our bobtails,” adds Przychodzien.

Tank trailers are used to transport company product, as well as product for other companies. Fifty-seven are used for the company and 357 handle the wholesale side, for a total of 414 in the fleet. The MC331 11,300-gallon tank trailers are supplied by various manufacturers. They are equipped with Fisher valves, Schlumberger meters (for retail deliveries), and Blackmer pumps. The company has begun specifying Drum hydraulic drive systems on new trailers.

AmeriGas outsources its maintenance administration, service, and repairs. Maintenance is tracked by the service supplier, which also selects and recommends shops that will be used, and oversees preventive maintenance schedules. Trucks and tractors receive an oil and filter change every 90 days. “We prefer to use time calculation rather than miles, because it makes it easier to track,” says Przychodzien.

Drivers are trained by local instructors at each location. The training program is overseen by the corporate safety department and regional managers. It includes company orientation and policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling.

“Our drivers are a major part of the company's resources and experience that allows us to provide responsive propane service,” says Przychodzien. “We believe that the key to a superior customer relationship is the ability to build a partnership based on a commitment to quality, service, and exceeding customer expectations. We have a quality control team in place that measures customer satisfaction.

“This team meets on a regular basis to monitor key performance indicators. We are always researching new ways to improve efficiency so we can better serve our customers.”

About the Author

Mary Davis