Good maintenance, vehicle specifications equal happy Schneider National drivers

WHAT does it take to achieve a high level of satisfaction among truck drivers?

An internal survey conducted by Schneider National Inc's Bulk Division found that well specified and maintained vehicles rank near the top of the list. It's a message the management team has taken to heart.

Equipment quality always has been an important consideration for the Green Bay, Wisconsin-based tank truck carrier. In addition to building one of the most comprehensive fleet maintenance programs in the industry, the carrier pursues an aggressive effort to identify and test new vehicle technologies.

“There is no question that our strong fleet management program is paying off in many ways,” says Jim Van Hefty, vice-president and general manager of the Bulk Division. “We believe it's one reason we were able to hold driver turnover to 54% in 2004. Truckload carriers, in comparison, reported an average turnover of 116%.

“We have one of the youngest tank trailer fleets in the industry, which helps retain drivers. Our tank trailer average age is approximately eight years old. We will be adding 75 new tank trailers in 2005. We have also steadily upgraded our tractor fleet with 200 new trucks added in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, we will add 150 more new tractors.

“Our fleet maintenance program helps keep driver satisfaction high. The maintenance program also has been a crucial factor that has enabled us to provide customers with a high level of service while keeping a tight rein on operating costs.”

Steady growth

Through the years, the overall management strategy has brought steady growth for Schneider National's Bulk Division. Today, the Bulk Division is ranked as the sixth largest tank truck carrier in the United States, according to Modern Bulk Transporter's most recent Gross Revenue Report.

“This is a growth-oriented company, and we're making steady progress. Schneider National's Bulk Division generated around $142 million in revenues during 2004, and our 2005 target is $155 million. About half of the revenue increase will come from new business.”

While growth is important, it's not the sole objective. Customer service also is a major focus. “We do our best to provide our customers with high-quality service,” Van Hefty says. “This was the first US bulk carrier to receive ISO 9002 certification in 1992. We are even more committed to quality today. It's evident in every aspect of this company.”

Schneider National's tank fleet hauls chemicals (about 20% of which are hazardous) throughout North America. With operations conducted out of 10 US locations, the carrier employs 925 drivers and runs 750 tractors and 1500 tank trailers (including 150 multi-compartment tankers).

Dispatchers and the management team keep a close watch on fleet operations using TMW's Suite operating system. “It gives us excellent capability to analyze our operations,” says Paul Janco, director of customer service for the Bulk Division. “We've integrated TMW Suite with the Qualcomm satellite tracking equipment on our tractors, which gives us a clear idea of fleet status at all times. To improve driver satisfaction, we're in the process of adding the capability to generate detailed driving directions to customer locations.”

Company benefits

Van Hefty points out that building a sophisticated fleet management system is one of the benefits of being part of one of the largest, most diversified trucking companies in the industry. “The size of our parent company (Schneider National Inc) gives us real advantages in serving our customers,” he says.

The Schneider National resources also give the Bulk Division the ability to develop detailed costing information on each customer's shipments. For instance, the Bulk Division was able to provide clear evidence that the changes in driver hours of service last year cut capacity availability by 2% to 4%.

“Our customers responded well to the information,” Janco says. “It's one reason we were successful in obtaining rate increases. In addition, some shippers are working with us on ways to boost efficiency. We work hard to communicate with our customers, and that's part of our effort to provide high-quality service. It's a big reason why most of our growth last year came from existing customers.”

Lost productivity combined with increased customer demand presented the Bulk Division with the same challenge faced by many other tank truck carriers. Drivers are increasingly in short supply throughout the industry.

Driver campaign

The Bulk Division launched a major campaign in 2004 to increase its driver ranks. Michael Hinz, director of operations for the Bulk Division, calls the campaign a major success. In fact, the carrier exceeded its goals.

Initiated in August 2004, the campaign sought 150 driver candidates in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area; Chicago, Illinois; and throughout the Gulf Coast region. The campaign targeted both veteran truck drivers and new entrants with little or no driving experience.

“We wanted to build our driver force to about 900 total to keep up with demand, and we did better than that,” Hinz says. “One reason we succeeded is that we're one of the few large carriers in the tank truck industry that accepts drivers with limited experience. You'll find a wide range of driving experiences in our driver force.”

Parent company, Schneider National, posted a new web site last year (SchneiderJobs.com) to further promote opportunities at the company. At the site, potential applicants can search for driving, maintenance, and office positions.

Driver retention was addressed in a number of areas, including pay and benefits. Pay was raised in early 2004 by up to $2,500 a year for solo drivers and $4,500 for team drivers. The carrier followed up in February of this year with the largest driver pay increase in its 70-year history — a doubling of last year's increase.

“Schneider is 100% committed to providing the most rewarding driving careers in the industry,” says Scott Arves, president of transportation for Schneider National. “This investment lets our more than 15,000 drivers and owner operators (including the 925 in the Bulk Division) know that we've listened carefully to their concerns and are making investments that will impact their paychecks, careers, and quality of life both at home and on the road.”

Driver friendly

Van Hefty adds that the Bulk Division, as well as all other facets of Schneider National, are trying to perform as a driver-friendly company. “We pay people right, we treat them right, and we provide them with good equipment,” he says. “We know from experience that if we can keep a driver a year, he or she will be with us for the long-term.”

Treating drivers right includes giving them the training they need to do the job safely and well. One of the benefits of being part of Schneider National is that the Bulk Division has access to extensive driver training and management resources.

“We recently added truck simulators at our driver training centers, and all new drivers will spend a half day on the simulators during their 11-day initial training when they are hired,” Van Hefty says. “The simulators even give the feeling of the surge they will experience with an actual tanker rig. The simulators are a valuable enough tool that we began sending our terminal managers to spend time on them at the beginning of this year.”

From the first interview through the training program, a driver applicant is told the full nature of the job at Schneider National's Bulk Division. “We make sure they know up front what the job involves,” Van Hefty says. “Our drivers run all over the country, and trips average 10 to 14 days. They get a 48- to 72-hour break at home between trips, and we have a 98% on-time rate for getting our drivers home when scheduled.”

Regulations, especially those relating to hazardous materials transport and security, are covered in depth during the initial training. The program also includes detailed instruction and hands-on training with the product transfer equipment and tank trailers used in the Bulk Division.

Drivers learn during the initial training that Schneider National is a charter partner in the SmartWay program, a voluntary initiative developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The objective is to lower greenhouse gases through the use of more efficient trucks and other transport equipment.

Younger tractors

Freightliner Century S/T conventionals are the newest tractors in the Bulk Division fleet. Virtually all of them have sleeper cabs. Standard practice in the past was to run tractors for eight years, but the carrier is reducing that to four years in part to increase driver satisfaction.

“Freightliner tractors are easy to work on, an important consideration as we move to a younger fleet,” says James Enright, manager of the Schneider National maintenance shop in Houston, Texas.

Seventy-inch sleepers are being ordered on the Century tractors, and the carrier is outfitting them with Webasto cab bunk heaters. “The Webasto heater has gotten rave reviews from our driver force,” Van Hefty says. “We're now looking at the practicality of an auxiliary cooling unit.”

Tractors are specified with 12.7-liter Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines rated for 455-horsepower at 1800 rpm. “Our drivers report that the Detroit Diesel engines have plenty of pulling power,” Van Hefty says. “These engines are proving to be more durable than the lighter weight engines we spec'd in the past.”

Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions are the standard for the fleet, but the Bulk Division will be testing Eaton's UltraShift automatic transmission. Running gear includes Meritor drive axles with MeritorWABCO's roll stability control system to reduce the potential for rollover.

The newest tractors were specified with Michelin's X-One 445/50R22.5 widebase tires in the drive positions. “We're saving 400 pounds per tractor with the X-One,” Van Hefty says. “Drivers report better ride and better handling with the X-One.”

A modular product-handling package is mounted on each tractor. Drum hydraulics provide power to run a Drum J150 compressor and a Blackmer TransMax variable-speed pump. Up to five hoses can be carried on a lightweight rack behind the cab.

Chemical tanks

Brenner Tank Inc has been the primary supplier of chemical tankers for the fleet. The manufacturer has built 900 tank trailers for the Bulk Division since 1997. Most of them were DOT407 single-compartment insulated trailers with a 7,000-gallon capacity. Single-compartment tanks are split between double-conical and rear-unload.

Driver safety features include side-mounted platforms and railings on some trailers to provide fall protection. Most importantly, the Bulk Division has become one of the first US fleets to test the TRAM fall protection system from Standfast Enterprises. The system firmly secures a driver or other worker on top of the tank and makes it virtually impossible to fall.

Tank hardware includes Betts valves and domelids and Girard pressure- and vacuum-relief vents. New trailers also are being specified with Betts chemical vapor recovery systems. “We stay with proven components,” says Dale Brusewitz, Schneider National maintenance manager.

The Bulk Division recently switched to PowerTeam handjacks for discharge valve operation. A non-freezable fluid has improved handjack performance in extremely cold weather.

All trailers have hose trays, because they are easy to clean and make hose handling easier for drivers. Hoses and stainless steel couplings are supplied by E H Lynn Industries Inc. Spring-loaded rear light boxes come from Brenner.

Running gear includes ArvinMeritor axles with longer life 16.5" × 8" brake shoes, steel disc wheels, Goodyear 295/75R22.5 radial tires, and Reyco or Hutch spring suspensions. Plastic fenders over the wheels provide better impact resistance, which means less maintenance and lower operating cost.

Special tanks

A small percentage of tanks in the fleet are designed for corrosives. Two fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) tankers from PolyCoat will be the newest additions to this group. The Bulk Division is testing a single-compartment and a two-compartment FRP trailer. Each has a 5,000-gallon total capacity.

“This is definitely a test,” Brusewitz says. “We'll be comparing these two units with rubber-lined and epoxy-lined corrosives trailers.”

The Bulk Division runs 150 multi-compartment tanks, which account for about 10% of the trailer fleet. Many of the multi-compartment trailers are used for specific customers.

With its large, diverse fleet, the Bulk Division provides plenty of work for Schneider National's maintenance operation. Across the system, there are 32 Schneider National repair shops, about 20 of which can handle major repairs. In addition, shops in Gary, Indiana; Reserve, Louisiana; and Houston are registered facilities with R-stamps for making code repairs to cargo tanks.

“We handle 75% of our tank work in-house,” Brusewitz says. “With regard to the tank itself, we do pit welds at our code shops, but we send out major barrel repairs. We don't want our code welders tied up on any single repair for too long.”

Enright adds that Schneider National wants no more than 12 trailers in the shop at any time. “We move equipment through as quickly as possible because our fleet is busy,” he says.

Preventive maintenance is the focus of the Schneider National maintenance program. “We keep a close watch on due dates and mileage for preventive maintenance, and we're in the mid- to upper-80% range for PM checks system wide,” Van Hefty says. “We have a 4,000-mile PM window.”

Tractor engine oil is changed at prescribed intervals, and the fleet runs a mineral-based oil that was developed by a supplier just for Schneider National. A federal annual inspection is done at the same time as the oil change.

Tank trailers are serviced according to the federally mandated cargo tank inspection and testing schedule. In addition, lined tanks are checked at four-month intervals. Trailers also go through the federal annual inspection for running gear and other non-tank components.

Drivers are an integral part of the maintenance process. They are responsible for reporting any problems, and they discuss vehicle issues anytime they stop at a Schneider National terminal.

Should problems occur on the road, drivers know they can get immediate assistance through Schneider National's emergency maintenance center in Green Bay. The center is staffed around the clock, and hold times are less than two minutes.

“We'll route a driver to the nearest Schneider National shop or we'll arrange for an outside contractor,” Van Hefty says. “In addition, some of our shops have mobile repair units that they can send to the driver's location. We do all we can to get the driver back into operation as quickly as possible. It's as important to driver satisfaction as it is to our bottom line.”

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