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ExxonMobil Works to Revolutionize Refined Petroleum Distribution Process

OVER the next five years, US refined petroleum operations at ExxonMobil Fuels Marketing Company will undergo a major transformation. By the time all of the changes are in place, the company hopes to have revolutionized the process.

The steps to achieving that objective include adopting a uniform, worldwide tank trailer specification that incorporates safety and technology best practices identified and experienced in its global operations. New relationships will be built with contract carriers. Loading and delivery operations will be standardized and optimized across the country.

“Improved safety and efficiency in petroleum fleet operations are two key goals with this program,” says Cameron K Bower, US fleet manager for ExxonMobil. “In developing the program, which is detailed in our Vehicle Safety Management Guide (VSMG) and Safe Truck Operating Procedures (STOPs), we've tried to identify the best practices for this industry throughout the world, and then pull them together into a single, cohesive strategy.

“While we're just now rolling out the program in the United States, it's already up and running for about five years now in other parts of the world. We've seen some impressive achievement in the area of safety. Our global flawless accident rate target is less than one motor vehicle accident per million miles, which includes all accidents regardless of fault, cost, or reporting criterion. We have accomplished this in Asia, Europe, and Americas South. We have made significant improvement in the United States since we began implementation of our best practices, but still have some more work to do before we reach the flawless level.

“We're starting with areas in the United States where we've had the most safety and customer-service issues. The program should be in place in California and Florida by the end of the year.”

Program Architect

Bower was one of the architects of the program, which was developed while he was assigned to customer service in China. The fleet safety effort in the United States is part of an overall restructuring of fleet operations that was prompted when Exxon Corporation and Mobil Oil Corporation merged in 1999.

The ExxonMobil Fuels Marketing unit manages worldwide fleet and delivery operations. While Bower directs fleet operations in the United States, he reports through Mike Schwehr, the US customer service manager, to the global customer service organization headed by Jesse Tyson.

They coordinate the order fulfillment process, which includes the dispatch and delivery of gasoline and other refined products in five geographic regions. In addition to the United States, these areas are Europe, Asia Pacific, Americas South, and Africa/Middle East. In excess of 700 tank trucks are under the direction of the ExxonMobil US Fuels Marketing customer service organization, including company and contractor vehicles. About 250 tank trucks belong to ExxonMobil.

Over the next few years, ExxonMobil wants to achieve a high degree of uniformity in the fleet, especially tank trailers. That objective led to the development of a set of minimum specifications that were incorporated into the VSMG.

“We started on the trailer design project about five years ago, and it's a work in progress,” Bower says. “We looked at the best systems that were available, and many of the design and technology concepts originally came from the United States.”

Rob LeGrow, the Americas South fleet management advisor, is ExxonMobil's “subject matter expert”, and has been instrumental in pioneering many of the equipment and technology enhancements in his region.

Aluminum Preference

ExxonMobil has a preference for aluminum petroleum trailers, but carbon steel construction is still the norm in many parts of the world. Bower says the petroleum company is working to educate governments around the world regarding the benefits of aluminum cargo tanks and their proven safety record. Strategic partner Heil Trailer International aids ExxonMobil in the effort.

Petroleum cargo tanks are built to local code or to DOT406 requirements, whichever is more stringent. Heil Trailer International and its overseas units build the aluminum tank trailers. “Heil has been up to every challenge, and that is why they are our strategic partner on this project,” Bower says.

About 30 of the VSMG-spec trailers have entered service in the United States, and more are coming. These are four- and five-compartment transports with capacities ranging from 9,300 to 14,500 gallons. “We want the largest payload that is legal and safe in each area where we operate,” says Ken Jones, ExxonMobil fleet technical advisor. “While the 14,500-gallon trailers are straight barrel, we order double-taper tanks in the other capacities.”

Tank hardware includes Knappco internal valves and manholes, Betts vents, Civacon API bottom-loading adapters with sight gauges, and EBW vapor fittings. ExxonMobil has standardized on Viton gaskets, which perform well with a variety of gasoline additives. Tanknology eight-sided product indicators are standard.

The valves can be configured for air or cable operation. Jones points out that air-operated valves are increasingly popular in the United States, but cable controls remain the standard in other parts of the world.

Scully's Intelli-Check system is specified for overfill protection, and probe sensors in the domelids are positioned to ensure hard valve shutdown within five to six seconds. The grounding system can be stand-alone or combined with the overfill protection.

Side Underride

One VSMG requirement in particular will make the ExxonMobil trailers stand out from those operated by other US tank fleets. The type of side underride that is mandated in Europe and other regions is now required on the ExxonMobil distribution fleet. Contract carriers are included in the requirement.

“We decided to put the side guards on because they have a proven track record in saving lives in other parts of the world,” Jones says. “Fabricated from four-inch aluminum channel, the guards are attached to the trailer frame. They are designed primarily to prevent or mitigate injuries in the event of an accident with pedestrians, motorcycles, or bicycles. They are not intended to absorb a head-on impact from another motor vehicle.”

The trailers also have extra rear underrun protection. Ground clearance for the Heil-designed assembly ranges from 16 to 24 inches depending on local requirements.

Fall protection is another factor that makes the VSMG units different from most other tank trailers in the United States. The protection goes well beyond the front-mounted safety ladder with wider-spaced rungs.

Two steel cables run the length of the trailer along the top walkway. When workers go on top of an ExxonMobil trailer, they are required to wear a full body harness with lines that clip to the fall protection cables.

“Fall protection is important to us,” Jones says. “Here in the United States, it's mostly mechanics and other shop people who go on top of tank trailers. In other parts of the world, though, drivers still have to climb up on top to check product level.”

Strobe Lights

Safety was a factor in the electrical and lighting system configuration. The initial order of VSMG trailers has the J560 seven-pin connector and an ISO 3731 cable that is used to meet some of the additional power requirements. “We'll probably move to the PLC4TRUCKS system in the future,” Jones says.

LED lights are standard for the marker and brake lights. A flashing strobe light has been combined with the high-mounted brake light at the rear of the trailer to enhance safety. Trailers also have backup alarms.

Revolver upper couplers are made of a smooth polymer material that eliminates the need for grease on the fifthwheel. “This helps keep our equipment much cleaner,” Jones says.

Antilock braking is from MeritorWABCO. ExxonMobil also specifies Hendrickson Intraax air suspensions with Meritor brakes, aluminum wheels and hubs, and Michelin's new X-1 super-single tires.

Kenworth Tractors

In the United States, ExxonMobil is primarily operating Kenworth T800 day-cab tractors with the tank trailers. Every effort is made to keep the tare weight as low as possible, and the newest tractors in the fleet average 13,400 pounds.

“We use as much aluminum as possible, but that's not the only aspect of our weight-saving effort,” Jones says. “Tractors pulling tanks with capacities under 13,000 gallons have all-aluminum frames. We also spec aluminum wheels and hubs. Our typical fuel tank holds 57 gallons. Ingersoll Rand air starters make it possible to get by with just two batteries, which saves 50 pounds per tractor.”

Tractors hauling tanks under 13,000 gallons have Caterpillar C10 engines with horsepower ratings from 340 to 370. Tractors pulling the larger tanks are specified with Caterpillar's C12 rated at 380/430 horsepower. Engines are governed for a maximum road speed of 57 miles per hour.

Also part of the drivetrain is ZF Meritor's 10-speed transmission and Meritor drive tandem with MeritorWABCO ABS and automatic traction control. Air-ride is specified for the drive axles and the cab in an effort to reduce driver fatigue, improve driver comfort, and reduce wear and tear on the trailer.

While the larger capacity units are specified with duals in the drive positions, ExxonMobil wants to use Michelin's X-1 super-single on as much of the fleet as possible. “We believe 75% of our tractors can be on the Michelin tire,” Jones says. “The only problem is that it is a retrofit item on Kenworth tractors right now. Still, we're putting five tractors with the Michelin single into our Linden, New Jersey, location.”

Cabs are equipped to provide comfort and functionality for drivers. In addition to air-ride driver seats and cab noise-suppression package, tractors are spec'd with full gauge packages, including an exterior-temperature indicator. New onboard computers are being ordered for tractors at two ExxonMobil fleet locations.

Distribution Efficiency

The new VSMG equipment is the most visible aspect of a major structural change in the way ExxonMobil fleet operations are handled. Besides promoting safety, the tractors and trailers are being designed to enable management to wring out maximum productivity.

The drive to meet that productivity objective is a top-down effort throughout the distribution process. Loading rack productivity is being addressed, and bottlenecks are being removed.

“We don't have a shortage of distribution terminals,” Bower says. “We just need to make them function more efficiently. We're working hard to remove bottlenecks at the terminals.

“We're taking as much manual input as possible out of the service station inventory management and dispatch process. We want to fully automate all of the sub-processes, so we can do a better job of demand forecasting. We want a large delivery window for all of our service stations. Some of the US stations today have a four- to five-hour window between the time a station is able to accept a delivery and the time it will run out of product. That is way too small.”

Extending delivery windows means increasing product capacity at many locations. “We're looking at installing bigger tankage at service stations,” Bower says. “We're also putting blending pumps at service stations.”

More consideration is being given to product delivery operations when new service stations are planned. Architects use a truck-access template when laying out new service stations. They study traffic patterns around the planned station. Even the curb cuts receive scrutiny. “We don't want them too tight,” Bower says.

Bower and his management team are taking a closer look at the factors that determine whether deliveries are made by the ExxonMobil fleet or by contract carriers. “We'll build up the company fleet where it makes sense,” he says. “We'll run our equipment where we think we can do it safer and more efficiently.”

Contract carriers will remain a major part of the ExxonMobil distribution program, but changes are underway. “We're moving to a dedicated carrier approach,” Bower says. “We've done this in most of the countries where we operate.”

The petroleum company is looking for well-established tank truck carriers with managers who have vision and a willingness to grow with ExxonMobil through strategic partnerships. ExxonMobil is offering these carriers five- to seven-year contracts.

In exchange for the long-term contracts, ExxonMobil expects its carrier partners to run branded trailers with the VSMG spec and dedicate drivers and tractors to the ExxonMobil business. Partners will be expected to achieve a base safety goal of less than one accident per million miles.

“We've gotten these accident results in Argentina and Brazil,” Bower says. “We know it can be done in the United States. We have the best infrastructure in the world here and the best equipment. We have a huge base of experienced tank truck drivers in the United States.”

Financial Success

ExxonMobil recognizes that a successful partnership depends in large part on a carrier's financial success. “We'll work together on profitability,” Bower says. “We can help our carriers achieve economies of scale by encouraging the use of the largest legal equipment, ensuring that it hauls a full load every time, and that equipment stays fully utilized.”

Carriers don't have to be enormous to fit the ExxonMobil program, but they shouldn't be too small either. “We don't necessarily want a 1,000-truck carrier,” Bower says. “At the same time, we recognize that this program requires as much time and effort with a small carrier as it does with a larger one. Regional carriers with vision can meet our needs.”

The first steps in the carrier development program have been taken in the US mid-Atlantic region. McKenzie Tank Lines was the first carrier signed under the program and has already purchased 12 of the VSMG trailers for its own fleet.

More carrier partners are sure to follow in coming months as ExxonMobil extends the program across the United States. In the process, the VSMG-spec trailers with their distinctive features will become more of a common sight.

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