Sentinel Transportation Flourishes Under Close DuPont, Conoco Relationship

April 1, 2000
Sentinel Transportation LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, has a long history with DuPont and Conoco, going back to 1984 when the fleet was Conoco's private fleet.

Sentinel Transportation LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, has a long history with DuPont and Conoco, going back to 1984 when the fleet was Conoco's private fleet. At that time, the company operated for both Conoco and DuPont. In 1996, Sentinel moved out of Conoco, and Sentinel Transportation Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont, was formed. But in 1998, DuPont decided to spin off Conoco.

At that point, Sentinel's future was undecided. Would the carrier be split up between DuPont and Conoco? Would the carrier be dissolved? What were the alternatives? To settle the dilemma, DuPont and Conoco conducted a study that resulted in a joint venture between the two companies so that the partnership could own Sentinel as a subsidiary fleet.

The partnership, finalized in January 2000, is beneficial for all three entities. The arrangement gives the carrier the opportunity to operate independently while retaining resources of the two major companies. At the same time, DuPont and Conoco retained a company-tailored carrier dedicated to moving their products.

"They saw the value in Sentinel and wanted to be involved in its continuation," says Jerry Carson, Sentinel president. "We have a close relationship with DuPont and Conoco. We have the added advantage that we are owned by them and have the opportunity to represent them. Both companies use other carriers, but we are involved with the decisions they make that affect us."

Historically, almost 60% of the business comes from DuPont with most of the remainder generated by Conoco. A small amount of the business, 2%-3%, comes from third parties.

The carrier has 44 terminals with locations in Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and California.

"There is one thing that I believe is unique about Sentinel," says Carson. "As a single carrier, it is as broad an operation as exists anywhere."

In the work it does for DuPont, the carrier hauls various chemicals, including specialty chemicals, plastic pellets, acids, and corrosives, as well as cryogenics, and hazardous and nonhazardous wastes. Products are transported to DuPont plants, from plant to plant, and to DuPont customers.

The Conoco business includes crude oil transportation to pipelines and storage facilities. Diesel and gasoline also are transported from storage facilities to retail stores, and wholesale customers. In addition, Sentinel hauls jet fuel, lube oil, and petroleum coke for Conoco.

Vehicle Fleet Sentinel's fleet numbers almost 1,200 trailers, including about 650 tank trailers for chemicals and about 120 for petroleum products. There are 65 dry bulk tank trailers, about 450 refrigerated and dry vans, including a few rack vans used to transport industrial nylon on spools. Dump trailers are available for hauling solid wastes and petroleum coke. A few tank containers, intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), and roll-off refuse boxes are transported.

A majority of the trailers are dedicated to specific products and usually include short-distance hauling. That doesn't mean there aren't some longhauls, but the percentage is somewhat lower, says Carson.

Having many different types of trailers and delivering many different types of hazardous materials reinforce the company's commitment to safety, an essential element for any carrier's success. Because of the longtime emphasis on safety by DuPont and Conoco, Sentinel has adapted some of the procedures, training, and incentive programs to fit its own operation. These programs have proven effective over the years for the parent companies, which brings an added reliability. They are another example of the advantages Sentinel reaps through the connection to DuPont and Conoco.

A program called "Safety Challenge" was introduced in late 1998 with the goal to eventually achieve zero accidents. In order to determine its effectiveness, it was set up as a three-year test. Any operating employee who completes one year without any kind of accident injury on the job, driving, product spillage, etc will receive a bonus based on gross earnings. Each year the record is sustained, the reward increases another percent, up to a maximum of 5%. If a preventable safety failure of any type does occur, the employee must move to the bottom of the ladder and begin again.

"We are seeing this reducing health and damage claims," says Carson. "And, it's a way of recognizing employees who are helping us reach the goal of zero accidents.

Safety Leadership Safety Leadership is a program developed in response to feedback from employees who expressed their desire to be directly involved in safety management. All supervisors and managers attend a 21D 2-day training seminar that is designed to incorporate employee participation in successfully managing safety.

"These training sessions are held periodically for new supervisors, part-time terminal dispatchers and supervisors, terminal employee trainers, and other key personnel nominated within the regions," says Rick Preston, safety, environmental, and regulatory affairs manager.

The goal is to raise employee awareness of hazards that may exist and could cause injury, collision, or product spill. If there is a safety failure, an initial investigation is conducted to determine the cause, and the information is presented for peer group review. Typically, the peer group includes a supervisor, the employee involved, and one or two peers of the employee.

"The first goal of the peer group is to uncover all physical, system, and human factors that contributed to the failure," says Preston. "Then ideas must be developed to prevent the contributing factor from happening again, avoiding a repeat of the failure."

In addressing prevention, the peer groups are encouraged to brainstorm for the most workable ideas. When the solutions apply to more than one terminal, they are distributed accordingly.

Employees are issued an in-depth safety manual that includes topics such as workplace and driving safety, occupational health issues, company policies, driver responsibilities, Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance, safety management systems, safety leadership, safety training, and compliance programs.

Another safety/incentive program is designed for drivers and mechanics the Hall of Fame/Million Miler Club. Drivers are inducted into the Hall of Fame/Million Miler Club upon completion of 15 years without a preventable collision or preventable lost work day case injury. Mechanics win the honor by completing 15 years without a preventable OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recordable injury or preventable collision. Those who qualify are presented with $1,000.

Preston points out that about 78 employees are currently in the Hall of Fame since the program began. A good deal of the success is credited to the training program that is in place and is continually reviewed and updated.

With a strong safety program and the stability of the company organization, Sentinel has not had as high a driver turnover problem as many other companies, Carson says. Heestimates the rate at 10%-14% for the 550 drivers employed by the company. Another driver-friendly company policy is to keep tractors and tank trailers in excellent condition for high utilization so that drivers aren't left idle.

Despite a shallow applicant pool to draw from, driver applicants must meet specific guidelines to be considered. They must have three years' truck driving experience including six months similar to the Sentinel operation no more than three moving violations in the past three years, and no preventable collisions in 12 months. They must have a tank endorsement on the commercial driver license (CDL) and be at least 21 years old.

New hires undergo classroom and on-road training that may last as long as six weeks. An inhouse-designed, computer-based training program was instituted by Conoco and has been in place for 15 years. It allows drivers (and other employees) to take the interactive training at their own pace and at a time when it is convenient for them. Subjects are presented in small lessons that can usually be completed in less than an hour.

After a driver logs on, the personal list of required modules appears on the screen. The required subjects can be studied one at a time to build a knowledge base before taking a quiz. The computer records when the steps are successfully completed and marks the outcome on the employee's personal menu. The program tracks training dates and indicates on the personal module list when refresher training is required.

Employees who handle specialized products require regular retraining and recertification. Training subjects includes company orientation and policies, DOT regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling. Drivers are cross trained for all of the trailers in the fleet so they can eventually haul all products overseen by the terminal where they are assigned.

Driver Fatigue In addition to the technical training are programs that address driver fatigue. Longhaul drivers are required to complete a four-hour training program, Driving in the Awake Lane, developed by Safety and Fatigue Consultants International.

"We found them to have an excellent program with a multisegment video tape and complete instructor's guide and script, as well as two student workbooks, pre-test, and post-tests," says Preston. "The program includes a medical evaluation sheet for drivers and their families to help determine if the driver may be suffering from any sleep disorders."

Five senior operations managers and Preston were qualified to present the program, and all longhaul drivers completed the program in 1998.

"We will probably repeat again this year, or early 2001, shooting for a two-to-three-year cycle," he says.

For local and shorthaul drivers, a two-hour program, The Alert Driver, was implemented. The program is produced jointly by the American Trucking Associations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It includes a single segment videotape and driver workbooks.

"This program is not as technical, so we developed our own script for supervisors to use as they present the training," says Preston. "The script leads the supervisor and the driver group through an interactive session at the end of each training where they jointly identify the schedules or conditions in each terminal that are areas of high fatigue exposure. Then, the group develops ideas to make schedule changes and help drivers, and their families, manage fatigue in order to prevent serious accidents."

Drivers and some spouses were included in the training sessions.

"We are trying a shift-worker newsletter we recently found on the Internet from a supplier, Circadian Information, www.circadian.com," he says. "The newsletter includes articles managing life for shift workers and the associated fatigue dangers. We are trying it with drivers at a few of our terminals to see if they feel the letter helps keep fatigue management tips in mind."

Safety Meetings Sentinel requires each terminal to conduct a minimum of one safety meeting per quarter. "Many terminals have more frequent meetings as required to meet the needs of each group," says Preston. "These meetings will include training and refresher training on specific hazards of the work at that terminal, as well as general safety issues."

Sentinel chose Solomon IV for Windows from Solomon Software Inc as the primary accounting platform. Also part of the program is a system used by the human resource department developed by FLX Corporation. Other programs customized for Sentinel were developed by ClearView Software Inc.

"By implementing the Solomon system and automating remote processing and approval with centralized check fulfillment, Sentinel significantly cut down the number of people tracking fleet accounting," says James Ingersoll, chief financial officer.

Since installing the new system, the company has cut total administrative support in half. The savings come from the elimination of the double data entry, data validation at the source, mainframe maintenance, and other business process streamlining. The applications give Sentinel better control of costs. Responsibility and accountability for source information is now with the people who generate the information.

The terminals are responsible for inputting information correctly, authorizing payments, and managing relationships with vendors, who supply the terminals with everything from general supplies to contract and maintenance services, tires, leases, and more.

The customized system makes all of this possible, ensuring that the outlying terminals have the data they need to communicate accurately and effectively with vendors while payments are being processed and managed centrally. Sentinel finds that it is much more efficient to manage vendor relationships at the terminal level. The remote function gives terminal personnel the freedom they require to maintain important alliances.

In addition, there is a long-range plan to add Sentinel's companywide operations to an intranet. Custom web tools will allow the outlying terminals to transmit data to Sentinel headquarters via the Internet.

Maintenance Technology In conjunction with the accounting program is a maintenance program now underway at the Parkersburg, West Virginia, terminal where operations are dedicated to DuPont. The new three-bay shop introduces in-house maintenance at the terminal where before, all vehicle maintenance had been outsourced. Sentinel maintenance arrangements vary by terminal, some providing in-house service while others send vehicles to outside repair shops. Some of the terminals with in-house maintenance are introducing computerized maintenance programs.

Decisions for outsourcing or implementing in-house maintenance are based on the individual needs of the terminal and what resources are available in nearby commercial maintenance facilities.

At Parkersburg, the Canadian Micro Systems (CMS) program, Maintain, was adapted to fit the carrier's needs, says Quentin Willey, terminal manager.

"The program has a flexible database that we have been able to customize for our power units and trailers," he says. "We have set up maintenance schedules for each vehicle."

Although entering the data to get the program running was tedious, the results have been well worth the effort, Willey says. Parts inventory is controlled, and a comprehensive history of each vehicle is always available.

Not only does the program handle specific maintenance data, it allows managers to compare vehicle performance and use that information for making decisions when new vehicles are acquired. Although Sentinel's tractors are almost identical in specification, performance varies, Willey says. Before the computer program was in place, tracking each tractor for individual and minute details was almost impossible. Now performance can be evaluated on a one-on-one basis.

Each time mechanics complete a work order on one of the 20 power units or 100 trailers, they enter the information via a computer terminal set up in the maintenance office. "We decided to keep the computer in the office rather than on the maintenance floor to protect it," he says.

The shop supervisor doublechecks mechanic entries and then confirms that the work order has been completed. A parts reorder report is provided three times a week, and a weekly report is generated by the shop foreman for review by the terminal manager.

The computer program handles specific queries about vehicles. For example, if an alternator failure has occurred on a tractor, information can be retrieved that will show if it failed before and how often. With the data, managers can determine causes for failures and seek ways to head them off for the future.

One way failures are avoided is through the Sentinel preventive maintenance (PM) procedures. Trailers have scheduled PMs every 90 days. In addition, trailers are routinely checked after every product unloading. "As a result of this schedule, our out-of-service rate has been reduced considerably," Willey noted. DOT inspections are conducted annually as required, but trailers that are used to transport certain hazardous materials are scheduled for additional inspections every six months.

Tractors receive minor service every 15,000 miles and a full service at 30,000. Oil is analyzed at least once a year after a base line has been established. As tractors acquire more miles, the test may be run twice a year. The 30,000-mile oil drain cycle is a result of using Conoco's Power D 15W40 motor oil, he says.

Tractor Specifications Sentinel Transportation uses three basic Kenworth chassis configurations for power unit selections, says Orville White, vice-president, equipment manager. These are the 225-inch wheelbase Kenworth T600B Aerocab with 70-inch integral sleeper berth, 190-inch wheelbase Kenworth T600B daycab, and the 190-inch wheelbase Kenworth T800 daycab. The T800 is configured so that it can be used to haul gasoline or operated in other types of daycab operation. It is also used in offroad crude oil operations.

"The PTO application fits the various operations," says White. "The only other change is on the T800 daycab where a Holland Kompensator fifthwheel is installed for crude oil service."

As primarily a bulk carrier, Sentinel is weight sensitive and currently uses the Cummins M11 and the new Cummins ISM engines. The use of lighter-weight engines saves approximately 800 pounds over the steering axle, and makes it possible to move the fuel tanks and batteries closer to the front, allowing higher payload configurations.

"Although the fleet is primarily Cummins powered, we are testing 21 Caterpillar C10 and C12 engines to determine any possible power, fuel, and increased operating efficiencies," White says.

All daycabs have engines set for 330 horsepower at 1800. When used in an application exceeding 80,000 pounds, power is increased approximately 20 horsepower for every additional 10,000-pound increase in gross combination vehicle weight (GCVW). All over-the-road Kenworth T600B Aerocab sleeper tractors operate with either 350- or 370-hp engines, with the 370 being used where the terminal operating the unit is pulling higher profile equipment than a standard tank trailer.

Most power units are specified with Eaton's nine-speed RTX-14709H overdrive transmission. Those pulling over 100,000 GCVW are specified with Eaton's 18-speed transmission to allow more gear selections on grades and to allow more flexibility in mountainous terrain. All units have Eaton's DS404 rear axle with a 4.33 ratio. The transmission and rear axle combination help optimize fuel economy in conjunction with the company's maximum operating speed limit of 60 mph.

"Several of our over-the-road fleets that operate basic tank equipment consistently return a fuel economy exceeding eight miles per gallon using the Cummins M11 and ISM engines," White notes.

All power units are specified with Meritor WABCO antilocking braking system (ABS). The addition of the traction control feature has allowed Sentinel to specify only the DS404 drive axle for all power units, including off-road crude oil operations operating at 115,000 plus pounds.

All of the units use the Kenworth Airglide 200 suspension. Air ride cabs have been selected since last year. An additional weight savings of approximately 120 pounds is achieved in the T800 daycab and T600B Aerocab sleeper units used in highway applications by using Delphi composite front springs.

"One additional benefit is that the composite spring has increased steering tire life from 100,000 miles to over 180,000 on the Michelin XZA+2 steering axle tires," White says. The T800 can be configured for either a tractor or a straight truck operation by simply lengthening the wheelbase from the standard 190-inch to 230- to 245-inch wheel base to accommodate tank or van body.

The T800 daycab, when used in crude oil operations, also is built with an AMOT shut down system to prevent engine runaway during loading and unloading of crude oil products that produce high vapor problems.

Fleet Trailers Sentinel Transportation operates 10 types of trailers. These include 60 MC306 and DOT406 tanks for fuels and lube oils, 50 MC307 and DOT407 aluminum tanks for crude oil, 10 MC307 and DOT407 uninsulated stainless steel trailers for liquid waste, 450 MC307 and DOT407 stainless steel insulated trailers for general chemical, and 30 MC312 and DOT412 carbon steel rubber-lined trailers for acids. Also in the fleet are two MC312 and DOT412 carbon steel Derakane lined tank trailers, and 25 MC312 and DOT412 stainless steel trailers for acids. Another 270 trailers (20 for Sentinel and 250 for DuPont) are used for propane and refrigerant gases. Sentinel also has 80 vacuum-pneumatic dry bulkers used by DuPont.

In addition, Sentinel operates 25 refrigerated trailers, 450 dry vans, nine flatbeds, 35 end dumps, and 10 roll-off chassis.

Crude oil trailers are equipped with Roper loading and unloading pumps that operate in conjunction with a Thermoflow hydrapac unit mounted on the tractor. Speed control is maintained via a variable speed control valve.

"This system is designed in conjunction with the Garnett overfill system that disengages the hydraulic system through a bypass valve," says White. "This helps avoid overfills. The hydraulic system also is sensitive enough to disengage (bypass) in the event a closed valve is pumped against. The sudden hydraulic pressure surge causes the system to bypass before there is any hose damage or hose to couple separation."

The Brenner DOT407 stainless steel tank trailers are built with a full vapor recovery system that can be utilized for closed-loop loading. The vapor recovery is accessible in both the manway area, as well as at the curbside rear of the trailer. This configuration allows closed-loop operation without the driver or operator getting on top of the trailer.

"All carbon steel DOT412 trailers are designed and built with full closed-loop loading capabilities," White adds. "These trailers use the same basic specification as the stainless steel DOT412 trailers with the exception of capacity. The carbon steel trailers typically are used for hydrochloric acid and are rubber lined. They have a capacity of 5,000 US gallons."

The stainless steel DOT412 trailers have a capacity of 3,800 US gallons and are typically used in sulfuric acid service, White says.

The planning that goes into vehicle selection at Sentinel is just one more example of the company's efforts to continue offering its owners excellent service. Most of Sentinel's managers have been employed by DuPont or Conoco, or they have worked for Sentinel in conjunction with the two companies. That experience, coupled with the sophisticated training and advanced technology that has come with the major companies, bodes well for the future relationship.