Optimizing Your Shop Schedule
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Like many managers, utility fleet professionals face conflicting priorities in managing people and fleet services. Budgets are under fire, so keeping a close eye on labor costs is a top priority. But trucks and other vehicles must be adequately maintained and ready to go to work.
It’s up to fleet managers to strike the right balance between managing operational costs and efficiencies and maintaining a high level of service and acceptable turnaround times.
In 2020, the City of Missoula, Montana’s Fleet Maintenance Division added several departments to its service group, resulting in 20% more vehicles to maintain as well as numerous pieces of small-engine equipment. Fleet Manager Scot Colwell presented his proposal to the city administration for additional staffing using the maintenance and repair unit (MRU) factor.
“Without staffing, we will need to cut support to all enterprise fund equipment and vehicles so that we can keep up with the demand of non-enterprise fund equipment and vehicle breakdowns and maintenance,” he said.
The MRU factor indexes a vehicle class’s maintenance and repair requirements compared to a base vehicle class, usually a passenger car. A heavy truck, which has more significant maintenance and repair needs than a passenger sedan, has a greater MRU factor. MRU factors by class are then multiplied by the number of vehicles in each class to produce the number of MRUs. For a mixed fleet, such as a local government fleet operation, these factors are combined for a total of the fleet’s MRUs, or vehicle equivalents. The mixed fleet size can be used to estimate technician and indirect staffing requirements for the fleet operation.
Colwell noted that the City of Missoula Fleet Maintenance Division delivers a 98% in-house repair rating, meaning that outside vendors do only 2% of the work.
Dakota County Management
In 2007, Dakota County, Minnesota, merged all fleet operations from 16 departments into one service organization, according to Fleet Manager Kevin L. Schlangen, CPFP, CAFM, CEM.
The combined organization manages nearly 700 pieces of equipment, including on-road and off-road vehicles and tools for all departments, such as parks and recreation and the county sheriff, as well as utilities and road maintenance.
The move consolidated 16 different service operations into one location and added mobile service trucks to take care of minor repairs in the field. Anything that can’t be handled in the field is transported back to the central shop.
The maintenance shop operates core hours of 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with shifts staggered to cover the start and end times. There’s an on-call number for users who need maintenance outside of those standard hours. As the preventive maintenance program has reduced the number and frequency of breakdowns, the need for emergency service has dropped dramatically. A tech gets paid to carry the on-call phone after hours and on weekends. Keeping the core hours to the day shift helps avoid the problems of finding people to cover later shifts.
Overtime is managed by adjusting on-call duty and other afterhours work like snow removal through the roster of employees. Those with the lowest amount of overtime in the previous pay period go to the top of the list for the next pay period. Workers don’t have to accept overtime – if one individual doesn’t accept the work, the offer goes to the next person on the list.
The Dakota County fleet is monitored via data collected at fuel islands and through credit cards if fuel is purchased elsewhere, plus telematics data from some vehicles. The system monitors usage and generates alerts for vehicles due for service. Preventive maintenance software is used to track schedules on equipment all the way down to weed trimmers and chainsaws.
Larger vehicles can be scheduled for different service levels, and the system generates check sheets for technicians to ensure the required service is completed within the allotted flat rate time. “Supervisors must monitor whether technicians are completing jobs within the flat rate time, and if not, figure out why it may be taking longer,” Schlangen said.
The rate may need to be adjusted depending on the vehicle, or the tech may require additional training to do the job more efficiently. Sometimes, flat rates don’t consider unique fleet equipment like extensive electronic gear in law enforcement vehicles.
Certain tasks, like preparing snow equipment for the next season, are done annually. The equipment is reconditioned and stored at the end of the snow season. “It should be ready to go back out when the time comes,” Schlangen said.
The user groups appreciate the consistent scheduling, and the only delays may be waiting for parts. The garage has kept a few older vehicles as loaner trucks rather than cycling them out of the fleet, so users can drop off and pick up vehicles for service and won’t need a ride.
Recruitment and Retention
At the time of the merger, the average tenure for techs was 30 years. Today, that’s the average age of the techs in the shop. Rebuilding the team after a spate of retirements meant thinking about recruiting and retention efforts.
To ensure a well-trained workforce, the county engages with local technical colleges to train and hire technicians. The techs are cross-trained on all vehicles, so there’s no need to wait for someone with specific experience to fill a role. And it’s easier for techs to schedule time off.
“We train and promote techs all the way up to supervisor positions, so there’s a career ladder among our staff,” Schlangen said. “If you’re not investing in your people, they will go somewhere else.”
About the Author: Gary L. Wollenhaupt is a Phoenix-based freelance writer who covers the transportation, energy and technology sectors for a variety of publications and companies.