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What to Consider When Coordinating OEM Training Opportunities for Your Shop Technicians

Utility vehicles continually evolve to better meet fleet needs. While these advancements may make life easier for the operator or fleet manager, oftentimes they result in greater complexity for technicians.

For this reason, OEMs offer training programs that help in-house shop technicians stay up to date on the latest models. Although OEMs host trainings, lining up opportunities takes some coordination on the fleet’s part. The following answers to OEM training FAQs can make that task go a little more smoothly.

How Do You Find OEM Training?
Fleets can seek OEM training from manufacturers, dealerships or at automotive service industry conferences.

Scott Behe, senior manager of training operations for Volvo Trucks North America (www.volvotrucks.us), recommended starting with the dealership, where technicians are trained to be the experts on the equipment sold there.

“Our dealer network is really strong,” he said. “They are great partners, and that is where the fleet team should start: by having a discussion with their dealer about getting OEM training that is sponsored by their dealer.”

Vito Cardone, senior transportation specialist for Con Edison in New York, said the utility’s fleet mechanics have received training from several OEMs, including Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Altec, Terex and Palfinger. He starts by working with the manufacturer’s sales and automotive engineering teams to identify training for specific models and equipment, like bucket trucks, digger derricks, cable trucks and IMT knuckle booms.

“The best way for fleet managers to identify the most relevant training is by having a relationship with [the manufacturer’s] automotive engineering team,” Cardone said. “You can work with a salesperson from the manufacturer to ask about training and the latest updates on their equipment and vehicles.”

Like Cardone, Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, has worked directly with manufacturers to set up model- and system-specific training events. For construction equipment, NPPD has worked with Deere, Case, Caterpillar and Bobcat for technician training. NPPD also receives equipment training from crane and aerial manufacturers.

“Work with the sales side of your vendors and they can find and arrange training,” Gilliland suggested.

For chassis training, NPPD technicians have attended VISION Hi-Tech Training & Expo (https://visionkc.com) in Kansas City, Missouri, a conference held annually for technicians in the automotive service industry.

“It’s a great cross-cutting training that is focused not only on each manufacturer but is system specific,” Gilliland said.

How Do You Determine Which OEM Trainings You Need?
If you’re unsure of which specific OEM trainings fleet mechanics need, Gilliland recommended starting with those who will attend them: your technicians.

“The technicians know what is best; we allow them to shape the path,” he said. “They know what they need, what they have interest in, and where the best training and/or trainers are.”

Gilliland also recommended encouraging technician networking opportunities, as well as engaging with manufacturers, professional colleagues, vocational schools and local repair shops to find the best training.

“For example, attending the Upper Midwest Utility Fleet Council meeting a few years ago enlightened us, as sometimes manufacturers have courses specifically related to how the machines accomplish their intended work,” he said. “A basic ‘Operator 101’ type of class can really empower technicians.”

How Do You Build an OEM Training Program?
Cardone said relationships serve as the foundation for building a solid OEM training program.

“The best advice I can give when creating an OEM training is to speak to manufacturers, build a relationship with a subject matter expert at the manufacturer, and create a training course for the specific models that you own,” he said. “Take the time to get a course outline and determine what is appropriate for your organization.”

Cardone said fleets don’t have to accept an outline as written if it doesn’t meet their needs. To minimize disruptions to fleet operations, fleets can also negotiate the length of a course.

Gilliland recommended being proactive rather than reactive when building training programs. One way to do so is to write training requirements into purchase agreements.

“Pursue the training that best matches your footprint, both current and future,” he recommended. “It is best to build an annual training plan. Do not wait for the vendors or manufacturers to come to you; you must seek it out.”

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Image courtesy of Volvo Tech Training
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Image courtesy of Volvo Tech Training
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Image courtesy of Volvo Tech Training
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Image courtesy of Volvo Tech Training
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Image courtesy of Volvo Tech Training

How Much Does OEM Training Cost? What is the ROI?
Behe said Volvo Trucks North America offers basic training videos at no cost, as well as advanced online learning and in-person training for a fee.

In Cardone’s experience, training costs can vary, but the investment is often worth it. “Fleet managers can justify the cost because, although it might be high initially, in the long term we are building qualified technicians, reducing vendor costs and reducing parts usage,” he said.

Behe agreed that fleets see a return on investment from OEM training. “You get a better, happier and more productive team delivering better results,” he said.

“Most importantly, however, is the improvement in safety – both for the tech and the operator,” Gilliland noted. “The only thing costlier than training is not training.”

About the Author: Shelley Mika is the owner of Mika Ink, an Omaha, Nebraska-based branding and marketing communications agency. She has been writing about the fleet industry since 2006.

Fleet Electrification Plans Face Reality Check Amid EV Slowdown

Last year’s NTEA Work Truck Week was a parade of new electric vehicle launches.
But if recent news is a sign, the bullishness toward EVs might be more subdued at this year’s show in Indianapolis in March.

The Sudden Downshift
Until a couple of months ago, the EV market looked unstoppable.

EV sales reached their highest level in the second half of 2023, hitting 17.9% of total light-duty vehicle sales amid the introduction of 20 new EV models during the year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, the average price for battery-electric vehicles fell 24.2% between mid-2022 and December 2023, largely due to Tesla price cuts, significantly closing the price gap with non-EV models.

All good signs, right?

But as of press time, the EV market growth rate has slowed sharply, putting the industry at risk of not meeting the upcoming zero-emission mandates.

Check out the following recent developments.

1. Ford cuts F-150 Lightning production for 2024.
In January, Ford sold 4,674 all-electric vehicles, 11% less than a year ago and the lowest level since April 2023, according to Inside EVs (https://insideevs.com). That’s also just 3.2% of the brand’s total volume (compared to 5% to 6% in late 2023).

F-150 Lightning pickup truck sales dipped 0.3% year-over-year to 2,258 units. But sales of the Mustang Mach-E were hit the hardest, plummeting 51% to 1,295 vehicles. The lone bright spot was the E-Transit commercial van, which saw sales more than triple to 1,121 units, up 214%.

Ford informed suppliers in December that it had cut expected F-150 Lightning EV truck production to approximately 1,600 per week starting in January 2024, down from the previously planned 3,200 per week, according to Reuters.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning
Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company
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Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2. GM dials back EV commitment and shifts focus to plug-in hybrids.
General Motors recently disclosed significant losses and setbacks in its earnings call in January, raising doubts about its ability to meet aggressive EV production targets. Specifically:

  • GM lost billions due to the UAW strike and high battery costs.
  • GM is shifting focus from EVs to plug-in hybrids, marking a pullback from previous electrification goals.
  • GM’s troubled Ultium battery program, originally touted as flexible and cost-effective, is falling short of expectations, as evidenced by high costs and the problematic Hummer EV rollout.
  • The Blazer EV launch has also faced software issues, needing a stop-sale order days after documentation of multiple fault codes.

“Let me be clear, GM remains committed to eliminating tailpipe emissions from our light-duty vehicles by 2035,” CEO Mary Barra said on the call. “But in the interim, deploying plug-in technology in strategic segments will deliver some of the environmental benefits of EVs as the nation continues to build its charging infrastructure.”

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Image courtesy of General Motors
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3. Hertz pauses EV expansion amid mounting losses.
Hertz has backtracked from previous bold commitments to electrify its rental car fleet. After pledging to buy 100,000 Teslas and 65,000 Polestars, the company has now paused plans to acquire more EVs from Polestar amid escalating losses from much higher depreciation costs and lower resale values than Hertz anticipated. Last month, it announced plans to sell 20,000 of its Teslas or one-third of its current EV stock.

Image courtesy of Tesla
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Image courtesy of Polestar

4. Volvo cuts funding to Polestar.
Volvo said it wouldn’t provide further funding to Polestar. The move comes despite Volvo having helped launch Polestar in 2017 in partnership with its largest shareholder, Geely. While Polestar will carry on with Geely’s full backing, it has sputtered since going public in 2022, delivering fewer than 55,000 vehicles last year and planning a 15% workforce cut amid a plunging stock price.

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Image courtesy of Chevrolet

5. Auto dealers pushing back against ‘unachievable’ EPA rules.
Over 4,700 auto dealerships recently sent a letter to President Biden urging him to stop the EPA from moving forward with implementing stricter vehicle emissions standards. The dealers argue that meeting the EPA’s targets is unrealistic given current EV consumer demand, charging infrastructure deficiencies and reduced tax incentives. They want the administration to “hit the brakes” and completely halt the EPA’s emissions reduction efforts.

The Impact on Fleet
Many employers in the utility industry have set ambitious zero-emission targets by 2030, 2035 or 2040. Those milestones are fast approaching. So, how does this news impact you as a fleet professional? What adjustments should you make?

As you confront the uncertainties in the EV market, here are key questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I have the latest data on EV model availability to update projections for meeting our fleet electrification timelines? For example, how will reduced production expectations for models like the Ford F-150 Lightning impact supply?
  • Have I fully explored total cost of ownership impacts for EVs given recent declines in resale values, battery replacement costs, downtime for charging and other unexpected operating expenses?
  • With charging infrastructure lagging, how will limited on-the-road charging options impact vehicle utilization and effectiveness for crews away from home base?
  • Can my fleet adopt a higher mix of hybrids and plug-in hybrids as a bridge solution while we wait for conditions to be better for battery-electric vehicle adoption? This approach could mitigate some immediate capital costs.
  • Am I regularly connecting with my OEM partners to have a finger on the pulse of where there might be delays, shortfalls or roadblocks? This open communication channel can serve as an early warning system.
  • Where could scaled-back ambition or delayed rollout plans regarding fleet electrification put my company’s emission goals in jeopardy? Preventing these sustainability repercussions needs consideration.
  • Do current conditions warrant adjusting our vehicle replacement cycling plans and extending the life of some gasoline-powered fleet assets as we monitor the market? This could allow flexibility.

The Bottom Line
The path to fleet electrification is proving rockier than expected. While the long-term trajectory still points toward EVs, near-term challenges have triggered a needed reality check. Rather than forging ahead with overly optimistic targets, fleets should take a balanced approach: pursuing electrification where it pencils out today while laying the groundwork for larger-scale adoption down the road as more supportive conditions emerge.

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2024?

The industry’s truck and van equipment manufacturers are developing new products that equip your crews to get more work done with less strain and greater safety. They’re incorporating more lightweight materials in their product designs so that you can reduce fuel costs, increase battery range or boost payload capacity. And they’re offering more electrified options so that you can cut engine idle – and your fleet’s carbon footprint.

What are some new products and design enhancements they’ve brought to market to help you achieve your fleet objectives? Here are seven new developments to watch.

Terex
What’s New: FLEX PRO Digger Derrick Control System
Why It Matters: Crews can configure digger derrick controls to suit their needs.

Terex Utilities has introduced FLEX PRO, an optional control system that supports flexibility in configuring digger derrick controls on both the Commander and General series digger derricks.

FLEX PRO can be configured to communicate with the control stations according to the utility line crew’s needs. It supports below-rotation controls like a corner-mount swing-away operator console, plug-and-play radio controls and dual command post joystick controls.

Advanced capabilities – including electrical diagnostic troubleshooting, hydraulic overload alerts and temperature warnings – provide crews with greater insight into equipment status and safety.

FLEX PRO is now available for the Commander C4000, C5000 and C6000 series and the General 65 and 80 models.

Terex Pro Controls
Image courtesy of Terex

Altec
What’s New: JEMS BG (Body/Generator)
Why It Matters: Fleets can cut job-site emissions with integrated battery power to run accessories and auxiliary equipment.

Altec’s new JEMS BG system integrates lithium-ion batteries with the vehicle’s onboard generator to power accessories, ventilation systems and tools using stored battery power instead of running the diesel generator continuously on-site.

The plug-in system uses advanced battery-warming technology to maintain performance in harsh climates. It can charge with Level 1 and Level 2 EV plugs. And it automatically switches between battery and generator as needed to recharge batteries.

A central display lets workers monitor battery levels. At the same time, the JEMS Connect telematics dashboard offers fleet managers insights on utilization, savings from reduced idling and maintenance, and opportunities for further optimization.

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Image courtesy of Altec

Ranger Design
What’s New: Composite Aluminum Shelving
Why It Matters: Lighter-weight shelves reduce strain on EV batteries, enabling better range for all-electric vans.

Ranger Design has released its new Composite Aluminum Shelving. The shelves are made with resilient anti-ballistic composite polymers and aluminum extrusions, making them 33% lighter than their steel counterparts. The reduced weight helps extend the battery range for electric vans.

The adjustable shelving has scratch-resistant end panels that improve aesthetics and simplify maintenance. The integrated honeycomb structure also dampens sound and protects against job-site chemicals.

With 14 possible configurations across varying widths and heights, the Composite Aluminum Shelving system increases storage flexibility for various applications among utility crews.

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Image courtesy of Ranger Design

Stellar Industries
What’s New: Bale-Style Pull-Handle Toolbox
Why It Matters: Crews can open drawers more easily and with less strain throughout the day.

Stellar Industries has introduced a new bale-style pull-handle toolbox system. “Bale-style” refers to the curved U-shape of the handle instead of the traditional T-shaped handle design. The new handle allows users to open latches from the top or bottom with an easy, ergonomic motion to reduce operator strain and fatigue.

Fleets can easily upgrade their existing T-handle models since the new bale-style system uses 90% of the same parts. All that’s required is swapping out the T-handle drawer-front assembly for the new pull-handle front.

The all-metal latches and handles are designed to withstand heavy daily use and come with Stellar’s lifetime warranty.

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Image courtesy of Stellar Industries

Vanair
What’s New: Underdeck All-In-One System
Why It Matters: Combining six essential power functions into one unit eliminates the need for multiple separate machines at the job site.

Vanair’s PTO shaft-driven underdeck All-In-One power system combines six essential power functions into a single compact unit that frees cargo space.

The system includes a 125- to 185-CFM rotary screw air compressor; a 10-kW generator; a 330A welder; versatile battery boosting and charging options; and hydraulic power up to 30 GPM at 2,000 psi.

The FailSafe Dual Sensor Redundancy System provides uninterrupted power in case of sensor failures. For harsh weather conditions, the optional ThermalGuard Weather Protection Kit preheats the compressor oil and regulators using the vehicle’s engine coolant, preventing oil starvation and freeze-ups.

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Image courtesy of Vanair
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Image courtesy of Vanair

 

Stellar Industries
What’s New: LM220M Poly Lube Skid for Mechanic Trucks
Why It Matters: The all-polyethylene construction prevents lubricant contamination, protecting equipment from premature wear and tear.

Stellar Industries has released a new LM220M Poly Lube Skid to improve contamination control and efficiency for service trucks.

The skid’s all-polyethylene construction prevents lubricant contamination, reducing equipment wear and tear. With fewer potential leak points than traditional metal designs, it also decreases spill risks and fluid loss. Easy access for maintenance helps minimize downtime.

Unlike previous models, the LM220M can be crane-lifted when full, simplifying transport logistics. It can hold various fluid types, including oil, antifreeze and diesel exhaust fluid.

Stellar VP Tim Davison said the skid meets the growing demand for reliability and safety from technicians who service trucks, cranes and other mobile equipment. By enabling on-site lubrication, it is a flexible, cost-effective alternative to dedicated lube trucks.

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Image courtesy of Stellar Industries

ZF
What’s New: OnGuardMAX and OnSideALERT Now Available on Nikola’s Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Class-8 Truck
Why It Matters: This partnership represents ZF’s first move into providing advanced safety technologies for zero-emission heavy-duty trucks.

Nikola Corp. has announced the integration of ZF’s OnGuardMAX and OnSideALERT safety technologies into its new zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell electric truck, now in production.

OnGuardMAX is an automatic emergency braking system for commercial vehicles. The system’s integrated high-tech cameras and radars automatically detect, classify and respond to obstacles such as pedestrians, other vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. The system alerts the driver to potential dangers and, if necessary, can autonomously slow down or even stop the vehicle, reducing the risk of collisions, particularly those involving pedestrians.

ZF’s OnSideALERT is a radar-based blind-spot detection technology that continuously monitors the vehicle’s blind spots for stationary and moving objects, which is crucial in preventing or mitigating side collisions.

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Image courtesy of ZF OnGuard Max
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Image courtesy of ZF OnGuard Max
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Image courtesy of ZF OnGuard Max

The New ‘Fuel’: Strategies for Tracking and Managing EV Charging Costs

As more utility fleets add electric vehicles to their mix, fleet managers need to understand the intricacies of managing EV charging costs, much like they would fuel expenses.

Fleets are adopting an emerging array of strategies, tools and practices to monitor and control these costs. After all, utility rates are the new fuel prices and will require similar monitoring to ensure cost-effective charging.

However, the most critical cost control strategy starts before the first EV enters the fleet garage.

Electrifying a fleet requires planning to ensure the necessary charging infrastructure is in place before vehicles begin to arrive and can support future EV additions. With lead times for some EVs extending for many months, the charging depots can be developed as you wait for vehicles to be delivered.

“You not only have to plan for the EVs you have today but also what your charging needs will look like in the next five to 10 years and make sure you have the correct infrastructure built ahead of time to accommodate future needs,” said Nate Lyall, manager of EV technology for fleet management service provider Holman (www.holman.com).

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Photo courtesy of Holman

Southern California Edison is planning ahead for the growth of its EV fleet. The utility is taking deliveries of Ford F-150 Lightning pickups and has added a Class 8 EV truck to its fleet. More than 400 EV charge ports are in place, and the infrastructure for 200 more has already been installed. Through 2028, SCE plans to add 2,000 chargers at 100 locations to support its goal of electrifying all of its light-duty vehicles, 30% of its medium-duty trucks and 8% of its heavy-duty trucks by 2030.

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Photo courtesy of Holman

A Charging Depot Alternative
There is an alternative to building charging depots: plugging into charging-as-a-service solutions. A third party deploys and manages the infrastructure, and customers pay based on usage. A fleet could utilize a mix of owned and third-party charging as the fleet scales; this could help support vehicles that may operate in remote areas.

However, most fleets are investing in charging depots to support their electrification programs. Keep in mind that depots are only one of three possible charging sources, each with its own pros and cons. Charging depots service EVs that return to the yard every day. Also, public charging infrastructure is available, with higher rates and service fees from various providers.

Home charging is the new wrinkle, with drivers taking EVs home overnight. But not all employees’ homes will be suitable, such as apartment dwellers who can’t add a charger. Companies are figuring out how best to reimburse employees for charging EVs at home.

Given the higher public charging costs, Lyall recommended fleets rely on their depots or home charging.

“We recommend public charging should only be used in an unusual situation where the EV will exhaust its battery before it can return to the depot or home charger,” he said.

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Photo courtesy of Holman

Tracking Data
Overall, EV fleet performance indicators are similar to their gas or diesel counterparts, with a few exceptions. Recharging costs replace fuel consumption, while maintenance and repair costs are still a fact of life. Safety and compliance remain a high priority, and advanced vehicle telematics give managers more insight into vehicle and driver behavior. Asset utilization remains a crucial indicator to ensure the fleet operates efficiently.

The ability to track these factors with the new EVs is still evolving. Like other emerging technologies, different elements of the EV ecosystem don’t share information well. It’s difficult to capture data from electric vehicles, chargers, maintenance systems and the combustion engine fleet for centralized decision-making. Companies like Holman offer dashboards that integrate these various data streams.

“Bringing the data into one system is just the first step. Managing it effectively and leveraging it to change behavior or making adjustments based on the data is another challenge,” Lyall said.

He recommended pulling data from the EVs and smart chargers for a comprehensive picture of battery health, driving habits and vehicle performance. The data will help answer questions, such as whether the battery degrades faster on a fast or slow charge, if a driver always charges to 100%, and if they drain the battery to zero. Fleet managers get accurate insights into the actual battery range as compared to the published estimates and can also measure variables such as the impact of a payload on the range.

New Habits Needed
When EVs arrive in a fleet, drivers must develop new habits. Unlike a fossil fuel vehicle that costs the same to refuel at any time of day, charging rates for EVs often vary due to peak rates. Smart chargers can help monitor and control when EVs are connected to the grid to take advantage of off-peak rates.

Telematics can help reveal the work profile of each vehicle to optimize load management. Managers will be able to see how many miles a vehicle operates each day, when it leaves and returns, and the battery performance. If a vehicle uses a fast charger but sits for a shift after charging, the cost per charge will likely be higher than it should be. Swapping to a slow charger may cut charging expenses.

As utility fleets add EVs, Holman is developing data on operating and maintenance costs compared to combustion engine vehicles. There are some tradeoffs. Overall maintenance is lower for EVs because there’s little scheduled preventive maintenance. However, tire replacement costs tend to be higher due to the heavier curb weight of EVs.

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.

Get Up to Speed on Fleet Advancements at North America’s Largest Work Truck Event

From March 5-8, North America’s largest work truck event – Work Truck Week – will take over the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Among this year’s offerings are the Green Truck Summit (March 5), educational sessions (March 5-7) and the Ride & Drive (March 6-7). Exhibits will be open March 6-8.

Mary Aufdemberg, general manager of product strategy and market development for Daimler Trucks North America, will deliver the Green Truck Summit keynote. The summit provides insights, solutions and resources in support of the work truck industry’s drive toward achieving greater sustainability, productivity and efficiency. John Davis, creator, host and executive producer of MotorWeek, will return as emcee and moderate two new panel discussions, one with fleet leaders at the forefront of advanced vehicle technology adoption and another with top chassis manufacturers.

Sponsored by Allison Transmission, this year’s Ride & Drive is open to all event attendees on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendees will be able to choose from nearly 20 vehicles, including all-electric vans, trucks and chassis, as well as internal combustion vehicles featuring advanced technology to improve fuel utilization and reduce greenhouse gases or particulate matter.

“Most fleet managers don’t have the time and capacity to arrange individual meetings with all the players to test-drive the equipment,” said Chris Lyon, NTEA director of fleet relations. “With Work Truck Week Ride & Drive, we’ve done that legwork for them by gathering subject matter experts and vehicles from participating companies in one place for two days.”

Education is a core component of Work Truck Week, with 2024’s program including a range of in-depth special sessions and shorter breakout sessions focused on ideas and strategies to help attendees improve efficiency, implement best practices and enhance operational growth.

According to Jennifer Mitchell, NTEA’s senior director of content development, “Work Truck Week and Green Truck Summit sessions address challenges attendees are facing right now, like grappling with recruiting and training employees, specifying and upfitting alternative fuel vehicles and maximizing productivity.”

Work Truck Week also serves as the world premiere for some of the biggest stars in the commercial vehicle universe. Many of the biggest product announcements will be made during the more than two dozen press conferences scheduled for March 5 through March 7. An hour before the main exhibit hall opens on March 6 and 7, attendees can also check out what’s new from 25 first-time exhibitors in the New Exhibitor Pavilion.


When: March 5-8, 2024
Where: Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis
Web: www.worktruckweek.com

Snapshot: Produced annually by NTEA – The Work Truck Association, Work Truck Week is North America’s largest work truck event, offering attendees the chance to discover new products, attend industry-focused educational sessions and gain access to professionals who can help them improve their operations.

Armor Your Connected Fleet with Cybersecurity Measures

Utility fleets are integrating various connected-vehicle technologies that mine data to boost operational efficiency and effectiveness. But leveraging this brave new world of rich data is not without risk.

The more connected a utility’s vehicles and facilities – and the more data they generate – the more likely they are to come under cyberattack, which can result in anything from a mere nuisance to a full-fledged criminal assault that can shut down the entire enterprise.

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Image courtesy of Cybersecurity Cedit CISA.GOV DHS

The risk is real and it’s growing relentlessly. On the other hand, once fleets know what they’re up against, they can harden their defenses by implementing cybersecurity measures that are designed to protect their data, vehicles, facilities and overall operation from bad actors.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Cybersecurity is the art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.”

And there is ample proof of just how big a threat cybercriminals present to truck operations. Marsh McLennan Agency (www.marshmma.com), a provider of business insurance and other services, stated that per an IBM study, the transportation and trucking industry was the ninth most targeted for cyberattacks in 2022.

Upstream (https://upstream.auto), an international provider of cloud-based cybersecurity detection and response platforms for protecting connected-vehicle data, has stated that cyberattacks against the “smart mobility ecosystem” are increasing in frequency and sophistication.

Into the Depths
For its latest Global Automotive Cybersecurity Report, Upstream’s analysts investigated more than 1,173 incidents, going back to 2010, by monitoring “hundreds of deep and dark web forums” to help uncover key trends driving up the threat level, including the following:

  • Cybercriminals are behind 63% of cyber incidents. “The massive amounts of data, [personally identifiable information], and access points to vehicles open the door for black-hat actors to new monetization potential.” Smart-mobility APIs present a new and significant risk as they “open the door to new attack vectors.”
  • Electric vehicle charging may dramatically change the way vehicles are protected. An “ever-changing attack landscape has led to the emergence of a new attack vector that will be at the core of smart-mobility EV charging infrastructure, which now accounts for 4% of total incidents.”
  • Data-sharing in the tainted depths of the internet “dramatically increased during 2022 and requires action by the entire supply chain.” That year, Upstream found a 35% year-over-year increase in “information sharing among threat actors on deep and dark web sources and platforms.” Specifically, automotive-related searches and the proliferation of knowledge on attack techniques “revealed an increase in attack methods and available access points to connected vehicles.”
  • Regulators are drafting approaches to automotive cybersecurity regulations. As fleet-wide attacks targeting sensitive data and EV charging infrastructure rise, “next-generation regulations will focus on protecting sensitive data and EV charging infrastructure.”

Upstream summed up the rising threat to connected fleets by pointing out that the “proliferation of mobility applications and access to massive amounts of data present malicious threat actors with tremendous opportunities for financial gain. Fleet-wide attacks are expected to increase across the entire mobility ecosystem.”

Cybersecurity Credit DHS
Image courtesy of Cybersecurity Credit DHS

The Connected Risk
Cyber specialists at Marsh McLennan Agency advised that the risk of attacks rises as fleets become more connected. Now that communications, billing and logistics can be integrated via single database systems, cybercriminals have a greater chance of disrupting a business and its supply chain in a single targeted attack.

The types of attacks deployed range widely. They could be phishing scams that target employees by posing as legitimate third parties or as actual employees, or they could breach security systems to insert ransomware and malware to gain access to confidential data, according to Marsh McLennan Agency.

Marsh McLennan Agency’s best practices to thwart cyberattacks on connected fleets include the following:

  • Deploy software designed to detect and flag suspicious emails.
  • To the extent possible, separate critical vehicle function systems – such as the controller area network bus – from any internet-connected components.
  • Employ penetration testers to assess the likelihood of a malicious actor affecting the functionality of fleet vehicles.
  • Verify cybersecurity practices of third parties before doing business with them.
  • Sanitize data input to decrease the risk of SQLi attacks. (Per web-security firm PortSwigger (https://portswigger.net): SQL injection, or SQLi, is a “web security vulnerability that allows an attacker to interfere with the queries that an application makes to its database. This can allow an attacker to view data that they are not normally able to retrieve.”)
  • Implement a robust patch management program.
  • Secure remote desktop protocol ports and use multifactor authentication to defend against remote attacks and credential hacking.
  • Enable encryption for Wi-Fi-connected networks, perform signal audits to ensure signals are not visible outside the network perimeter, and deploy rogue access point detection to block unauthorized access points.
  • Test and encrypt backups to avoid business income losses.
Bruckners Truck and Equipment Volvo Trucks North America
Image courtesy of Bruckners Truck and Equipment Volvo Trucks North America

Worry Points
In its latest business-risk index study, mega insurance firm Travelers (www.travelers.com) again ranks cyberthreats as one of the top three business concerns of 12,000 survey participants from companies of all sizes. The 2023 national survey found that among those asked, 58% said they worry some or a great deal about cybercrime, ranking it just behind medical cost inflation (60%) and broad economic uncertainty (59%).

“Cyber risks have extremely serious consequences – one attack can weaken an organization or potentially put it out of business,” said Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead at Travelers. “Fortunately, there are effective measures that companies can take to address vulnerabilities and successfully manage through a cyber event.”

While Francis said survey respondents expressed confidence that their company had implemented best cyber practices, their responses did not reflect that assessment. At least 25% of the businesses have not taken essential steps, such as installing firewall or virus protection and implementing data backup and password updates. A much larger percentage said they don’t use endpoint detection and response (64%); conduct cyber assessments for vendors (57%) or customers’ assets (56%); have an incident response plan (50%); or utilize multifactor authentication for remote access (44%).

Francis stressed that the survey results show that more can still be done to harden systems against cyberattacks. “A well-designed, multilayered cybersecurity program can help mitigate the threat of a cyber event,” he said.

Cybercrime is not going away, not when connected fleets offer such a tempting target to hordes of unseen yet vicious assailants. To increase a fleet’s cybersecurity, first assess how vulnerable your systems and facilities are, including charging stations. Then, train your staff on the risks and seek out solutions to best button up your data, systems and vehicles for maximum protection.

Mack Truck Charging

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

The Fleet Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication: Inspired by ‘Made to Stick’

Do you struggle with getting your team to understand, remember and act correctly on your instructions?

How can you consistently communicate in a simple, straightforward and memorable way?

How can you expand your influence with your boss and direct reports?

If any of these questions relate to you, read “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath.

The book delves into six principles that make certain concepts “sticky” and effective in changing thoughts and behavior. Those principles comprise what the Heaths call their “SUCCESs” model: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories.

Let’s explore how these principles can be applied in real-life fleet management scenarios to drive positive change in your department.

1. Simple
“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea.”

Focus on the essence of your message – the most straightforward, precise way to convey your idea or solution – and cut out everything else.

Action:

  • Presenting budget and cost analyses: Highlight the key areas where costs can be saved, such as fuel consumption or maintenance, rather than delving into every line item of the budget.
  • Discussing fleet expansion or reduction: Clearly state the reason for the change, such as meeting increased demand or optimizing costs, and how it will benefit the internal customers and the company.
  • New technology training: When introducing new technology, focus on the essential functions and benefits in practical terms rather than explaining the full technical details.

2. Unexpected
“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.”

Look for strategic ways to periodically change things up to grab your audience’s attention.

Action:

  • Introducing a compelling fact or stat: Start with an unusual or surprising statistic about the consequences of ignoring safety guidelines.
  • Varying report formats: Change the format or layout of regular reports to keep them interesting and engaging.
  • Using creative training methods: Use interactive and unexpected methods in training sessions, like games or simulations, instead of standard lectures.

3. Concrete
“Abstractions make it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others who interpret the abstraction in very different ways. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems. This is perhaps the most important lesson that Aesop [and his fables] can teach us.”

Ground your messages in tangible examples – using charts, stories or compelling statistics – to make it easier for your audience to quickly grasp and act upon your ideas.

Action:

  • Communicating with non-fleet staff: When discussing fleet operations with other departments, use clear, nontechnical language to describe how fleet improvements can benefit the entire company.
  • Setting performance goals: Set specific, measurable goals, like “reduce vehicle downtime by 10% within six months,” rather than abstract goals like “improve efficiency.”
  • Conducting performance reviews: Give concrete feedback based on specific behaviors or outcomes rather than vague assessments.

4. Credible
“How do we make people believe our ideas? When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations, we don’t enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.”

Support your ideas with relevant data or testimonials to gain your audience’s trust.

Action:

  • Highlighting industry benchmarks: Compare your fleet’s performance against industry benchmarks to demonstrate areas for improvement.
  • Providing pilot program results: Share results from pilot programs or small-scale tests before rolling out significant changes.
  • Using testimonials: Share testimonials from other fleet managers or drivers who have adopted proposed changes or technologies.

5. Emotional
“The goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.”

A logically sound presentation isn’t enough. Your message must also make people care deeply to motivate real action.

Action:

  • Sharing the bigger picture: Regularly communicate how the fleet’s work contributes to the larger goals and mission of the organization, instilling a sense of pride and purpose.
  • Fostering team spirit: Encourage a sense of camaraderie and collaborative effort, stressing the importance of each team member’s role.
  • Discussing the real consequences of negligence: Share real-world incidents where negligence led to injuries, emphasizing the human cost.

6. Stories
“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations.”

By sharing stories of failures and successes, you pass along accumulated knowledge so your team can learn from others’ experiences.

Action:

  • Sharing accident stories: Tell stories about actual incidents due to negligence, emphasizing the importance of safety protocols.
  • Change management stories: Tell stories about how the team successfully adapted to major changes or restructures.
  • Vendor relations stories: Share experiences of how building good relationships with vendors led to better service or cost savings.

The Bottom Line
By learning and applying these six fundamental principles of “sticky” communication, you’ll develop an invaluable skill to reach the next level of your career.

Addressing Ergonomics in Utility Fleet Vehicles

It’s no secret that there are myriad items a utility fleet manager must consider when spec’ing vehicles for their fleet. Among those are the vehicles’ ergonomic features, which are intended to provide greater operator comfort and efficiency.

According to Pete Gnatowski, director of sales, manufacturing and distribution for global automotive services organization Holman (www.holman.com), “When you’re developing an upfit strategy for your fleet vehicles, the ergonomics and upfit package are certainly a key consideration, and it begins with truly understanding how your frontline personnel are using their vehicles in the field.”

Ameren Illinois is one example of a utility that places great importance on ergonomics at all levels and in all areas of the organization. In particular, fleet has made numerous improvements to its vehicle design with respect to cargo management.

In a recent interview with Utility Fleet Professional, Elizabeth Daiber, Ameren Illinois’s fleet superintendent, and Deborah Short, an injury prevention specialist for the organization, shared their insights and strategies regarding vehicle ergonomics.

Reducing and Preventing Injuries
Ameren hired Short in 2017 as a full-time injury prevention specialist. She focuses on ergonomics at job sites and in vehicles and offices across Illinois.

“Good ergonomic position leads to more comfortable and more productive operators, resulting in fewer repetitive stress injuries and a higher quality of work with fewer errors,” she explained.

According to Short, shoulder injuries account for about 25% of all ergonomic injuries and are generally related to cumulative trauma from many of the daily tasks that workers perform.

“We routinely work directly with our field workers for feedback on process improvements,” Daiber said. “Over the years, we’ve invested in many safety enhancements and initiatives because those who work with the equipment on a daily basis can best tell us what needs to be addressed.

“Historically,” she continued, “operators had to lift ladders on and off the trucks, but with recent design changes, the ladders now drop down to the power zone [the area between the shoulders and mid-thigh level of a person’s body] for safer accessibility.”

She also explained that vises “are a second item that required lifting and storing and are now permanently mounted onto our vehicles with adjustable height that the operator can customize.”

Regarding traffic cones, Daiber said that “operators are utilizing the cones every time they stop the vehicle. Moving their location to keep the work in the power zone has helped improve the overall safety of the vehicle.”

She noted that many other items – including wire reels, straps that hold utility poles, and nut and bolt stands – were moved from the bed of the truck to the side or back of the vehicle to minimize the number of times an operator must climb in and out of the truck bed.

Ergonomic Design for Your Operation
If you want to design more ergonomically friendly vehicles for your fleet, perhaps the best starting point is to gain a solid understanding of the relationships between the vehicle types, cargo/equipment they carry, drivers, intended roles and work environments.

“This is key to tailoring your upfit package to enhance the driver’s comfort while also ensuring safety and maximizing productivity,” Gnatowski said. “Whether it is color choice, the placement of handles, quality partitions, storage options or ease of accessibility, everything becomes a factor.”

He suggested spending time in the field with employees to better understand their behaviors as well as their movements throughout the course of a typical day. Further, interview operations managers to find out how vehicles are used and if there are opportunities for improvement.

“Try to be as hands-on as possible and involve your various stakeholders in the process to avoid a potential disconnect between what looks good on paper and how the units are being used in the field,” Gnatowski said.

Once fleet takes ownership of the vehicles, Short said it’s important to communicate to operators the design changes related to ergonomic improvements – including the why and how – so that they understand how to properly use the new features.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

Matted Surfaces: Safety Considerations and Controls

It’s a busy time in our industry. We have challenges associated with normal operations and maintenance of the grid. We’re also faced with new and increasing work involving distributed generation, vehicle charging infrastructure and major transmission projects.

Both existing and emerging work require access to the respective work areas, and with this comes the associated hazards of off-road access work. As an industry, we talk about the electrical hazards of our work all the time, and we should. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about access work hazards before and after the electrical work is done. This article is intended to get you thinking more about right-of-way access and matting.

Before any work begins, a strong work plan should be developed, starting with an assessment of the right-of-way. Ask some simple questions during the assessment, such as the following:

  • Will matting be required? If so, what type (e.g., heavy timber, wood laminate, composite)?
  • What equipment will be required to handle the mats? Will there be a risk of encroaching on the minimum approach distance?
  • What load capacity is required for the matted surfaces, particularly if the mats will bridge streams or irregular terrain?
  • Will there be railroad crossings? Will there be underground facilities such as gas transmission, petroleum pipelines or oil static cables?
  • Are there water crossings or bodies of water that we will need to deal with? If so, is there a risk of rising water levels that could cause the mats to float?
  • Are there wetlands or other environmental considerations?
  • Have we identified how we will access the right-of-way? Has emergency responder access been considered?
  • Have we resolved any concerns with landowners?
  • What permits will we need?

Establishing Controls
Once the assessment is complete, the next step is to dedicate time to establishing controls for the hazards that have been identified. The remainder of this article provides a number of potential hazards and the controls you will want to consider for them.

Mat Handling
Mats are heavy, and it takes heavy equipment – such as log trucks, forwarders, track rigs, diggers and payloaders with forks – to move them. This can create traffic issues at the work site. Controls to consider include travel routes for different equipment, the use of spotters, work planning to reduce conflict between electrical and access crews, and communication between crews on the site.

When planning travel routes on a matted surface, we must consider the fact that our routes only offer one-way traffic flow. Planners must consider egress options for oncoming vehicles. To allow for egress, we must strategically place work pads to the side of the matting so that operators have a place to go when multiple pieces of equipment are using the mats. As we place the matting and work pads, we also must consider the requirements of any environmental permits and place the matting within the permit requirements.

However, placing the work pads at specific locations on the matting route is not enough; for traffic to flow well, a conversation must take place during the job briefing that covers who has priority during travel and how crews will communicate. No one wants to find themselves nose to nose with another piece of equipment, needing to back up a long distance on matting. Deciding who has the right of way is easy – it is often the heavier piece of equipment. To make it clear to the team, discuss how you are making this determination. Talk about what’s heavier, a tandem-axle dump truck loaded with gravel or a fully loaded forwarder. Investing in this conversation will help you develop a good plan.

Guy Wires
Guy wires are a frequently overlooked hazard. They are a normal part of every right-of-way and need specific consideration because guy wires often are a leading cause of events for matting contractors. If a site’s work plan does not view guy wires as a hazard, striking the wires with equipment and booms could become a challenge. To lower the risk of these events, follow the hierarchy of controls and first see if you can remove the hazard. Ask if the guy wire can be moved, and don’t assume the answer is no. Asking requires minimal effort, and the answer may be yes. If you are not able to move the guy wires, make them more visible instead. Normal guy guards are not enough; crews see guys every day and can become blind to them. So, change the visual indicators and hang flagging on the guys like you are trying to sell them on a used car lot. Finally, don’t assume guy wires are a recognized hazard. Talk about them as part of your daily job briefing, including where they’re located and how they need to be managed.

Spotters
Spotters will likely need to be used at some point, whether it’s during the work of placing mats, moving equipment or operating equipment near guy guards. Using spotters adds complexity to the job, putting people on the ground near heavy equipment that has blind spots.

For one of your safety meetings, have spotters sit in the operator’s seat to help them fully understand the equipment’s blind spots. When a spotter is used, the crew needs to spend time discussing equipment movement, blind spots and communication methods. This conversation should include an agreement on safe working distances, especially the safe distance the spotter needs between their body and the equipment.

It is also recommended that spotters have two-way radios for communication with the equipment operator. However, even when radios are used, the spotter and the equipment operator need to agree – before work begins – on the hand signals they will use to communicate. Radios are a great tool, but they don’t always work when you need them.

The daily safety briefing should include some basic information about the spotters as well as any other people who may walk on the matting when equipment is operating. Where vehicles and equipment are traveling on mats, people should not be on those same mats because the matting can shift or move, potentially injuring a person on foot. If you are the one operating the equipment and you lose sight of the spotter or another pedestrian, stop operation immediately.

Matting by Design
Matting by design provides additional support for the work area. It is intended to support the weight of the equipment, bridge gaps and protect the ground underneath it. Mats can be slippery, uneven, and have gaps and pockets that present hazards. Some matting is so high off the ground that it becomes a fall hazard. If matting is not level, vehicles and equipment could slide off it and roll over.

Hazard reduction starts with building a level matting base. A qualified person should design installations for steep inclines and other high-risk locations. When installing matting, follow the design, inspect the matting before installation to make sure it is in good shape, use runner mats when needed to make the work surface level, and inspect for gaps after installation.

Once working from the mats, plan for and conduct maintenance. In colder climates, there will be snow and ice during winter. All areas will have rain. Snow, ice and rain make mats slippery, but the use of sand or salt may not be an option due to environmental considerations. To reduce slippery conditions, provide stone dust on the job site. Mats can also serve as elevated walking/working surfaces and expose people to fall hazards, so guardrails may need to be installed. For those same areas, devise a plan for equipment movement that limits exposure to the fall area.

Last but certainly not least, include the matting in your daily inspection. Condition the crew to look for, identify and report hazards in the mats as part of their normal work.

Stockpile Hazards
Mat stockpiles have their own hazards. As mats are loaded and unloaded, there are drop zones that need to be identified and managed. Stockpiles are often located in visible areas near public roadways and must be considered in terms of worker and public safety. These storage locations should be flagged or fenced, and they should have some type of barricading and signage that tells the general public to stay out and who to contact with questions. Mats must be properly piled, placed and inspected. When inspecting the matting stockpile, make sure that mats are not leaning, piles have not shifted or become unstable, and rotten mats are identified and removed from service.

Communication
Communication is a common theme in this article. Great communication starts long before the job begins, and it must be reinforced at the job site during the job briefing. Remember, a great briefing is like well-built matting – it is the foundation for a successful job.

During the job briefing, in addition to the discussion topics already covered in this article, include a conversation about the importance of asking questions if anyone is unsure about their role or the work to be done. Verify that the entire team knows your commitment to being able to stop the work if anyone is unsure. Often, multiple teams are working on matted jobs, so don’t assume that everyone knows the plan. Use the job briefing to ask questions, clarify expectations and support the idea of a questioning attitude.

About the Authors: Nathan Boutwell, M.Eng., CSP, SMS, CIT, CUSP, is the business unit manager for Northeast Live Line LLC.

Nick Powers is the vice president of strategic growth for BluRoc.

Bill Hinrichs, CUSP, is the director of environmental health and safety for Northline Utilities LLC.

Women in Utility Fleet: Lissa Brady

Lissa Brady arrived at the University of Washington as an English major and graduated with an international studies degree.

She served in various sales roles for nearly 25 years with GE Capital (now Element Financial Corp.), PACCAR Financial and Terex Utilities, earning her MBA along the way.

Sales is definitely not the traditional road to fleet management. But it was the right path for Brady.

After an entire career on the seller’s side of the table, she has found a home on the buyer’s side, joining San Diego Gas & Electric as the fleet asset manager in 2020. And earlier this year, Brady became a director on the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) board.

What exactly was Brady’s path to fleet management? What valuable insights has she gained throughout her career? And what advice does she have for women considering a career in fleet?

I recently sat down with Brady to delve deeper into her story. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Lissa Brady
Lissa Brady

UFP: I find it fascinating that your degree is in international studies. What interests led you onto that path?

Lissa Brady: I went to college back in the late ’80s. That was when there was so much international investment in the United States. Many of our big companies were being bought by Asian corporations. It seemed smart to me to understand international business a little bit more.

I had started my academic career as an English major – I’ve always been a literature geek. But I realized an English degree basically qualified me to be a secretary at that time. It occurred to me that I would be better prepared for the business world if I learned about the international approach to business.

So, your degree took you to your first job out of college in international shipping?

Yes. My first job was working for Hyundai Shipping. And that set the tone for my career.

I then took on a sales position at CAI International, a shipping container leasing and sales company in San Francisco. I really wanted to travel and was super excited to have the opportunity to be in sales for that company, where I called on ocean carriers from Texas to the West Coast. It was an interesting job, and I loved it. And I loved living in San Francisco.

What led you to leave CAI and move to GE Capital in 1998?

I got engaged to a Seattle native and wanted to move back up there. I was looking around and found an opportunity with GE Capital. I worked for a trailer leasing company there and then moved to GE Fleet – into the equipment side of the business.

While at GE Capital, I pursued my Master of Business Administration because, of course, international studies is a liberal arts degree. I thought I needed a bit more sophistication on the business side of things to continue to grow.

What was the immediate impact of the MBA on your career?

With my MBA, I got a fantastic opportunity in 2004 to go to PACCAR, the parent company of Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, and go into their leadership development program. I worked with their internal finance company that provides financing to PACCAR customers who buy their equipment. Ultimately, I worked for PACCAR Financial for four years. The leadership development program was a one-year rotation program where I got to do short stints all over the companies that make up PACCAR, including working in the Denton Peterbilt plant and helping with an operational audit at the PACCAR Financial office in Milan.

How did you make the shift back from finance to equipment?

In 2010, I left PACCAR for Terex, starting with their finance company and then moving to equipment services.

At the time, Tim Ford was the president of Genie [a Terex brand that manufactures work lifts and platforms]. He basically said to me, “If you can sell financial services, you can sell any service – including equipment service.” I gave it a shot and stayed on the equipment side of the business until I joined SDG&E in 2020.

Image Courtesy of SDG&E
Image Courtesy of SDG&E
Image Courtesy of SDG&E
Image Courtesy of SDG&E

How did the opportunity at SDG&E arise?

The previous fleet asset manager was promoted into another area of SDG&E. And, of course, SDG&E was one of my customers when I was a regional manager for Terex Utilities. So I knew the team. They asked me, “Would you be interested in talking about this?”

Truthfully, as women on this side of the fleet industry, we get a lot of recruiting calls. And, generally, I would say, “Oh, I’m fine. I’m good where I am.”

But the combination of them being such a great team – I always loved working with them – and having the opportunity to come back to California, where I was born and raised, made it appealing. Our daughter was in college, and I told my husband, “You know, let’s do this. Let’s take this meeting. You got the first 30 years here in Seattle. Maybe I’ll get the next 30 years in California.”

It was great timing, and I’m thrilled to be working with SDG&E.

How would you describe your role as fleet asset manager?

SDG&E divides the fleet department into the maintenance team and the asset team. My team works with the user groups to spec the vehicles to go out to bid, works with our supply chain team to get the vehicles on order, works with the vendors throughout the build process, and inspects the vehicles before we release them for delivery. The maintenance team manages the vehicles over their useful life. And then, the vehicles come back to my team for removal from service and send them out to auction.

How has your sales background helped you on the “buyer side” as a fleet manager?

One thing that helped at SDG&E is that my predecessor was also in sales. He came from Altec. The leadership team here saw that a skill set in sales could be a benefit for someone in my role.

I believe many people think of sales as, “Oh, you go golf and buy lunches.” But that’s not really what sales is about.

Sales is about communicating. And that’s a skill that absolutely serves every businessperson in every capacity, including fleet. You have to connect with people and share your priorities in a way that engages your listener – the person with the power to help you achieve those goals. You have to engage them in your viewpoints and persuade them that your priorities are serving the company as a whole, to help the company make better business decisions.

Everybody is here at SDG&E to serve our community. And that means we must all get out of our silos and come together. And communication – in other words, sales – is such a huge part of that.

What challenges have you encountered in your fleet career?

Fleet hasn’t historically been an easy place for a woman to make a career. And it definitely wasn’t in the ’90s when I started.

Although we have so many fantastic women CEOs and CFOs in the utility industry, there are just not as many women on the ground in fleet as there should be. And I would love to see that change. Certainly, I hope to help be a part of that change. And it’s something that we talk about at SDG&E, and we talk about it at the EUFMC board meetings. How do we help support the industry, our specific side of the industry, in making that change so that women are not just comfortable when they get here but attracted to come here and build a career in fleet the way that I have?

The world certainly has changed. And transportation is the next big hurdle that we have to jump to create the kind of world that we want to leave for the next generation.

What advice do you have for other women considering a career in fleet?

It’s the same advice I would give anyone starting out: Really think about what you want. And understand that you have to navigate a path to that goal. How will I educate myself? What experiences will I pursue? What will I cultivate about myself that will allow me to get where I want?

There can be a tendency among a lot of young people to allow themselves to be pushed or pulled rather than navigating to where they want to go. But if you want to get to a goal or particular place in life, you have to think about the steps you need to take to get there and not wait for somebody to come and put it into your lap.

When Will Drunk-Driving Detection Be Mandated on Light Vehicles?

Mandatory technology that promises to curtail the carnage on the highway wrought by drunk and otherwise impaired drivers is on its way. Advanced drunk driving prevention technology (ADDPT) is the umbrella term that covers the work that’s been going on for years to leverage advanced technologies to develop devices designed to stop drunk drivers in their tracks.

This effort is now expected to pick up steam thanks to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that will require light-vehicle manufacturers to develop and factory-install passive ADDPT devices in new passenger vehicles. The facilitating legislation for this rulemaking is a provision – Section 24220 – within the trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021.

However, how quickly that comes to pass will depend on how quickly the wheels of the federal rulemaking machine turn. On paper at least, the congressional mandate requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue a final rule prescribing a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) that will require passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with advanced drunk- and impaired-driving prevention technology by a certain date.

The Timeline
Specifically, Congress wants that final rule issued by November 15, 2024, with installation of such prevention systems in new light vehicles to begin two to three years later. That means mandated ADDPT systems won’t be seen in cars and SUVs – or, presumably, light-duty pickups and vans – until at least 2026 or 2027.

But the mandate could kick in much later. The legislation allows NHTSA to extend its deadline by three years, but it must provide an annual status report to Congress during that period. And if a standard is not finalized within 10 years, NHTSA must file a report with Congress.

Regardless of the final timeline, per the infrastructure legislation, the resulting new FMVSS will spell out that the devices must “passively monitor a motor vehicle driver’s performance to accurately detect if the driver may be impaired.” The mandate also states that these devices should deter drivers whether they are impaired by alcohol, inattention or drowsiness.

The Driving Factor
Why this rule now? The answer is simple: It appears that the decades-long push by safety advocates – especially Mothers Against Drunk Driving – and ordinary citizens to curb impaired driving is now lining up with technological advances capable of preventing impaired drivers from even starting their vehicles.

Consider that in 2019, the total economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. was $340 billion. This represents the economic costs for 36,500 fatalities, 4.5 million nonfatal injuries and 23 million damaged vehicles, according to a report issued by NHTSA in February (see https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/api/public/viewpublication/813403).

What’s more, the agency found that drunk driving alone was responsible for nearly 40% of the crash fatalities that year: “Alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 14,219 fatalities, 497,000 nonfatal injuries, and $68.9 billion in economic costs in 2019, accounting for 20 percent of all crash costs.”

Source: NHTSA. Figure 7-E Crashes by BAC Level from “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2019 (Revised),” issued Feb. 2023.

Some Painful Facts
Among other findings, the report also states that:

1. Drinking more alcohol makes matters worse. “Crashes involving drivers or nonoccupants with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher (the legal definition of impairment in all States except Utah, which is .05 g/dL) accounted for 84 percent of the total economic cost of all alcohol-involved crashes.”

2. The worse the accident, the more likely alcohol was the cause. “The impact of alcohol involvement increases with injury severity. Alcohol-involved crashes accounted for 14 percent of property-damage-only crash costs, 18 percent of nonfatal injury crash costs, and 39 percent of fatal injury crash costs.”

3. The statistics are grim. “Crashes in which alcohol was the cause resulted in 11,921 fatalities, 378,000 nonfatal injuries, and $57 billion in economic costs. This is approximately 84 percent of the alcohol-related fatalities and 82 percent of alcohol-related economic costs. It represents 33 percent of all fatalities and 17 percent of all costs from motor vehicle crashes.”

The agency’s separate progress report to Congress (see www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/2023-07/Report-to-Congress-Advanced-Impaired-Driving-Prevention-Technology_07-17-23.pdf), filed in July, relays the current status of the rulemaking. NHTSA stated that it is “working to publish an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) by the end of 2023.” The agency also stated that it “plans to determine next steps after reviewing the public comments received to the ANPRM.”

As to staying ahead of any issues that could lead to delays, NHTSA said it is working “expeditiously to gather data and information related to the mandated requirement … and will rely on robust public input and close stakeholder engagement to identify and/or validate the underlying factors associated with open questions.”

Until this mandate is in place and enforced, and likely even after the technology is operational, the statistics clearly display that fleet operators must be hypervigilant, put in place anti-impairment company safety policies, and be willing to contact law enforcement and to take away the keys.

Per NHTSA, additional information regarding the ADDPT rulemaking (RIN: 2127-AM50) is available at www.reginfo.gov.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

The Evolving Fleet Professional for an Electrified Future

Over the last decade, technology has emerged that can make fleet management a little easier – think telematics, dashcams and integrated fleet management platforms. Electrification is a different story. The next 10 years will likely make a fleet manager’s job more complex, and that means fleet managers will need to develop new skills and approaches to navigate the electric era.

“A fleet manager’s job is already complex. Introducing a completely different propulsion system magnifies the difficulty,” said Maria Neve, a senior fleet electrification and sustainability executive and NAFA senior vice president. “It’s not just replacing vehicles on a one-to-one basis – introducing EVs requires a robust change management program with rock-solid support from the top down.”

What will it take to navigate the electrified future of fleet? Neve recently shared some of the biggest changes to be prepared for, the skills needed to succeed and how to develop them.

Establishing a Charging Infrastructure
“Charging infrastructure is one of the biggest changes for fleet managers, especially for on-site charging,” Neve said. “Utilities need to be brought into the discussion at the beginning when a fleet is looking to transition to EVs. The last thing anyone wants is for EVs to sit in the parking lot waiting for the infrastructure to be completed.”

Here’s an infrastructure crash course:

  • Bring the utility into the discussion early on.
  • When selecting a charging infrastructure provider, be aware of their capabilities for charger management, reporting and servicing.
  • Make sure charging information can be transferred to a fleet management company or fleet management information system so you can accurately calculate total cost of ownership (TCO).
  • Determine who is responsible for charger uptime and servicing.

Training and TCO Calculations
Charging vehicles is new territory that will require fleet managers to teach operators how to drive and charge EVs and to become knowledgeable about home, public and workplace charging.

Neve said charging makes calculating TCO for EVs more challenging.

“Calculating vehicle costs on a [cost per mile] basis becomes an exercise in research, especially if home charging is part of the equation,” Neve explained. “Employee 1 may pay $0.09 per kWh of electricity while Employee 2 pays $0.12 per kWh. How does an organization capture the information to reimburse for home charging? If they don’t capture that info, then fleet managers can’t properly account for operating costs, and employees are paying out of pocket when they didn’t previously with internal combustion engine vehicles.”

Here’s a crash course on charging:

  • Take time to teach operators how to drive and charge EVs.
  • Become knowledgeable about and understand the differences between home, public and workplace charging.
  • Determine how to calculate TCO for EVs.

Vehicle Maintenance
Internal combustion engine vehicles have approximately 2,000 moving parts in their drivetrains. EVs only have around 20. While performing maintenance may be simpler on EVs, finding maintenance providers could be difficult.

“Not all dealers will be certified to work on EVs initially. Fleet managers should be prepared for the possibility that their preferred dealers aren’t EV service centers,” Neve said. “If we’re talking about medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, the choices are even more limited.”

Here’s a maintenance crash course:

  • Ask your preferred maintenance provider about their EV capabilities.
  • Research maintenance providers who are trained to work on the specific vehicles in your fleet.
  • Don’t forget to involve upfitters in discussions about electrification and maintenance.

Managing Up and Down
The shift to electrification puts fleet managers square in the middle of leadership, who are eager to convert to EVs but may not understand the complexity involved, and drivers who don’t want things to change at all.

“Senior management will wonder why the whole fleet hasn’t been converted to EVs in six months, while drivers may be incredibly resistant to give up what they are familiar with,” Neve said. “The ability to handle rapidly changing circumstances is key, as is the ability to communicate those changes.”

Strategic Vision
Fleet managers must be even more strategic as they conduct EV assessments and plan their replacement cycles.

“Looking out five to 10 years is now common, and understanding what EVs will be available and when is vital to fleet electrification,” Neve said. “Light-duty fleets have more EV options available than medium- and heavy-duty fleets right now, which makes electrification difficult for fleets that can make the biggest difference in CO2 reduction.”

Honesty, Enthusiasm and Advocacy
Neve said fleet managers must be the biggest advocates of change and demonstrate that attitude to drivers. “An electrification program is destined to fail if fleet managers don’t proactively address how much EVs will change the work lives of drivers. They must be champions, cheerleaders, therapists and educators to ensure a successful transition.”

Developing EV Fleet Management Skills
Neve said one of NAFA’s key initiatives is providing education on the latest advancements and best practices in fleet management, including fleet electrification.

Fleet managers can develop skills to manage EVs through NAFA’s educational offerings and annual Institute & Expo. NAFA’s Professional Certificate in Sustainable Fleet Management is an excellent example of available education that covers overall fleet sustainability, not just electrification.

“Fleet managers should take advantage of all methods of education: webinars, conferences, community forums, their fleet management companies and consultants,” Neve said.

Back to Basics
For fleet managers who feel ill equipped to take on fleet electrification, Neve has good news.

“It all comes back to Fleet Management 101,” she said. “If a fleet manager understands the basics, they have the proper foundation to cope with the changes that alternative powertrains are bringing to the industry. Things are changing very quickly – what we knew about vehicle electrification six months ago is likely outdated now. Being a part of an association like NAFA helps fleet managers to stay on top of things.”

About the Author: Shelley Mika is the CEO of Mika Ink, an Omaha, Nebraska-based communications, branding and content strategy firm. She has been writing about the fleet industry since 2006.

Truck-Mounted vs. Towed Impact Attenuators

Mobile impact attenuators, be they truck-mounted or towed, are designed to protect utility crews and their equipment by absorbing the kinetic energy released when a vehicle crashes into their work zone.

In simple terms, an attenuator is a cushion fitted to the rear of a truck or trailer. These devices are engineered to improve roadside safety. According to Pennsylvania-based attenuator upfitter Royal Truck & Equipment in a blog post (see https://royaltruckandequipment.com/blog/tma-trucks-explained/), “highway construction zones have become increasingly dangerous for the men and women who work in them.” The company noted that with the frequency of nighttime operations rising, “drivers falling asleep is also becoming a major cause of work zone crashes. … Without [an attenuator vehicle] protecting the workers, a distracted driver could enter a work zone, putting the crew in the direct line of fire of the errant vehicle.”

In the U.S., impact attenuators are tested and classified according to the AASHTO Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware, which sets classification based on the maximum speed of a vehicle during a collision for which the attenuator is designed.

What’s the Difference?
In terms of their basic functions, attenuator suppliers indicate there is no significant difference between a truck-mounted attenuator (TMA) and a trailer truck mounted attenuator (TTMA).

TrafFix Scorpion II
Image Courtesy of TrafFix Devices, Inc.

“Truck-mounted attenuators are securely mounted to the host truck frame,” said Geoff Maus, vice president of engineering for California-based attenuator manufacturer TrafFix Devices Inc. (www.traffixdevices.com). “They can articulate between stored and deployed positions and are moved to the stored position for transport to and from the work zone.” On the other hand, he said, TTMAs “have an axle and wheels and are connected to the host truck by a trailer hitch, a pintle hook and a Lunette eye.”

Gregory Industries
Image Courtesy of Gregory Industries

Jeff Grover, vice president of Ohio-based attenuator manufacturer Gregory Industries (www.gregorycorp.com), concurs on the functional equivalency of truck-mounted and towed devices. “Both are tested to the exact same crash criteria, and both provide the same level of safety upon an impacting vehicle,” he said.

However, Grover also said that from a practical and economic perspective, TMAs and TTMAs do differ. “The TMA is locked to a single vehicle whereas the TTMA can be utilized with almost any vehicle in the users’ fleet on an interchangeable basis.

“In addition, the TTMA frees up its tow vehicle to provide other services once its tour of duty has been performed,” Grover continued. “The user simply disconnects it. However, the TMA remains locked onto its tow vehicle, and that truck can’t provide any other services. Should the TMA’s tow vehicle go down due to a maintenance issue or otherwise, it’s no longer able to provide safety for the people in the work zone. Conversely, TTMAs can be easily moved to any vehicle that’s operational.”

Grover added that federal and state compliance regulations are the same for both types of attenuators.

Operational Costs
What about operational costs?

“Operationally, the costs are relatively the same,” said Kevin Mally, Gregory Industries’ national marketing manager. “There might be some minor savings when operating a TTMA where lighter tow vehicles could be used in certain circumstances, to use less fuel.”

But from a maintenance standpoint, the TTMA “requires far less maintenance – typically just tires – versus the TMA, which will require maintenance on other components, like the hydraulic system,” Mally said. “A TMA has more moving parts, so there is a likelihood more stuff could go wrong.”

Maus pointed out that, “in some locations, towable attenuators must be registered as a trailer. As truck-mounted units are attached to the host truck, they’re covered by the host vehicle’s registration. Both versions require basic maintenance to keep them in optimal, safe working condition. And in some instances, a towable attenuator can be used with a slightly lighter-duty host truck, which could lower operating costs.”

Turning to specific use cases in which one attenuator type is preferable to the other, Mally said that the TMA has an advantage “if the work zone traffic pattern is categorized as ‘must be picked up in reverse.’” That calls for the operator of the host vehicle to drive backward on the highway. However, this operation is illegal for any other vehicle operator on the road.

“On the other hand,” he said, “TTMAs have an advantage in that they can be put on almost any vehicle in the fleet that meets the minimum weight requirements for the host vehicle. In addition, roll-ahead distances are sometimes tailored to the work zone of a specific project, and for individual workdays, a project can call for longer or shorter roll-aheads. In this case, use of TTMAs would allow a simple selection of a heavier or lighter tow vehicle that same day.”

Maus pointed to how experience can be the driving factor when selecting an attenuator type. “Drivers with less experience may find that a TMA is easier to back up, especially in operations that require extended backing, like cone retrieval,” he said. “But towable attenuators are more forgiving when driven across center median ditches. Also, towable attenuators are always in the deployed, ready-to-be-impacted position. But truck-mounted attenuators must be deployed to be in their safest position.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

6 Factors to Consider When Spec’ing Onboard Cameras

Onboard cameras can help utility fleets lower litigation risks and offer an extra set of eyes to coach drivers and improve safety.

But they can also be a hard sell to many operators – and their unions – who may feel that constant video surveillance infringes on their privacy rights, especially with cab-facing cameras.

How do you spec an onboard camera system that balances the need for greater safety and risk reduction while keeping privacy in mind?

UFP recently spoke with Austin Schmidt, director of performance marketing at Netradyne Inc. (www.netradyne.com), a San Diego-based Software-as-a-Service company that integrates camera systems, telematics and artificial intelligence to improve fleet safety. Schmidt provided the following six factors to consider when spec’ing onboard camera systems.

1. Privacy
It’s essential to address potential driver privacy concerns and establish clear policies on how the footage will be used. This will help protect the company’s and drivers’ rights and interests.

Schmidt said that two approaches to privacy have worked well for Netradyne customers.

The first is being completely transparent. “You can’t let that camera be a black box where operators don’t know what your fleet and safety managers are viewing,” Schmidt said. “It’s important to walk your drivers through what you see when looking at the video and for what purpose. It’s also important to have a driver app where operators can review their data and videos.”

The second approach is to give users more control. “We call it ‘Enhanced Privacy Mode,’” Schmidt said. “It analyzes any risk factors in the cab – things like distracted driving. It can be set up where it sends an audio alert to the driver without actually recording that video and sending it back to the fleet manager. It’s completely optional, but it allows users to take control of their privacy and make their own privacy decisions.”

2. View
What do you want the camera to see? Will it be front-facing only? Will cab-facing capabilities be acceptable to operators if appropriate privacy measures are agreed upon? Should you consider 360-degree visibility around the entire vehicle?

Some of the advantages of getting a 360-degree view:

  • Damage reporting: Cameras can help document when and how damage occurred to a vehicle, ensuring it gets reported and repaired promptly.
  • False claim defense: There are instances when drivers or pedestrians may make false claims against a company’s vehicle. Having footage can defend against such fraudulent claims.
  • Collision avoidance: The camera system can alert drivers about nearby objects, pedestrians and other vehicles, reducing the likelihood of accidents.

The 360-degree view requires installing multiple cameras and integrating the footage from them. Schmidt said Netradyne has a system with 270-degree visibility, including seeing both sides of the vehicle with a single camera.

In-Vehicle Onboard Camera
Image Courtesy of Netradyne

3. Recording
There are two primary recording options to consider:

  • Trigger-based: This system initiates recording based on specific events or triggers. Common triggers include hard braking, rapid acceleration, sharp turns and impact. Some systems also allow custom triggers, like entering/exiting specific geofenced areas. Since it records only around the trigger event, you might miss some context leading up to or after the event.
  • 100% drive-time: This system records continuously while the vehicle is in operation, capturing everything that happens from the moment the engine starts to when it’s turned off. It provides a complete record of the entire trip without any gaps. Because it captures everything, the amount of data generated can be significant, leading to larger storage needs.

“I can’t tell you how many people we’ve spoken with who did the right thing by implementing cameras. But when they really needed the trigger-based camera to turn on, it didn’t pick up the specific footage they needed, and that caused some problems for them,” Schmidt said.

4. Quality
“Lower-quality [versus high-definition] cameras might capture a license plate when your vehicle is sitting in a parking lot,” Schmidt said. “But they can’t do it very well when the vehicle moves 65 miles per hour.”

High-definition or HD recording offers higher resolution, which provides clearer details in the footage. This clarity can be crucial when identifying license plate numbers, faces or other specific details that may be significant in the event of an incident. If the footage is to be used as evidence in court or for insurance claims, HD video is more likely to be considered credible due to its clarity and the ability to discern details. Grainy or pixelated footage can be dismissed or may not offer the needed evidence.

Netradyne-156
Image Courtesy of Netradyne

5. Filtering
One challenge with 100% drive-time camera systems is filtering through the massive volume of footage they record to find the relevant clips you need.

This is where artificial intelligence capabilities become essential. Instead of manually sifting through hours of footage, AI can automatically tag and categorize events – like near-misses or hard brakes – making it easier for fleet managers to review incidents.

“That’s why it’s crucial to have accurate AI, so you’re able to make those differentiations and make those coaching and safety decisions without literally having to go through hundreds of hours of video,” Schmidt said.

6. Safety
“Ultimately, you want to spec a camera capable of helping change driver behavior,” Schmidt said. “And you change driver behavior by giving them the tools they need to understand how they’re doing, what they need to do better and how they’re tracking towards those goals, and give them that feedback as much as you can in real time.”

OEM vs. Aftermarket Parts: What’s Best for Your Operation?

When it comes to purchasing parts, how do fleet professionals decide whether to take the OEM route or explore aftermarket options?

UFP recently spoke with Alan Cunningham, superintendent of fleet maintenance for Ameren Illinois, and James Kuha, transportation operations supervisor for Central Hudson Gas & Electric, to gain some insight on how they make these decisions.

Involve the Experts
According to Cunningham, relying on your frontline team is critical when making parts purchasing decisions.

“Our fleet technicians and frontline supervisors are the best resources for knowing which part works best, how best to source those parts, and how to get the job done in a safe and timely manner,” he said.

The Ameren Illinois fleet consists of approximately 3,700 assets, ranging from small pickups and SUVs to large digger derricks and aerial units, trailers and off-road construction equipment, and a growing number of hybrid and fully electric vehicles.

The supervision team meets virtually every week. These meetings provide a forum for team members to bring up issues related to parts availability that may also affect their peers. Shop visits are conducted throughout the week, and the team usually meets in person every one to two months.

“We will always review the data and compare costs, but it’s equally important to create and maintain open two-way communication with our fleet technicians and supervisors,” Cunningham said.

Central Hudson shares the same perspective. The utility’s fleet consists of 1,089 assets, including tracked equipment, bucket trucks, digger derricks, dump trucks, light-duty vehicles and pickups, and a variety of off-road equipment.

“The employees performing the work should be involved in the discussions surrounding these decisions,” Kuha said. “They will be able to tell you about the quality of the materials/parts they are using, as well as offer insight into the durability of the parts over lengths of time. Additionally, first-line supervisors should be engaged in these decisions.”

He suggested reviewing analytics as well. “Having a better understanding of your fleet, how the equipment is used and the ramifications of not having that equipment available will allow fleet managers to make more informed decisions.”

It’s also helpful to have employees who are well-versed in fleet maintenance and aware of aftermarket options.

“We do have a parts person who orders parts needed for our technicians,” Kuha said. “This person is aware of the parts that should be bought as aftermarket, such as preventive maintenance items. She will look at availability when making larger decisions. Since she deals with vendors and parts daily, she is acutely aware of the offerings.”

Shop Around
Both Ameren and Central Hudson have a mix of OEM and aftermarket parts in stock.

One of the most important drivers for Ameren is getting the correct part for the job at hand. Price, availability and turnaround time are other factors taken into consideration.

“Ensuring our fleet equipment is safe and ready to use when needed are our primary goals,” Cunningham said.

Quality and availability are the most important factors for Central Hudson. In addition, the utility looks at the ease of obtaining the part and the associated costs.

According to Cunningham, the main advantage of stocking OEM parts is knowing they will work correctly as designed. However, cost and availability do come into play.

“Over the past two to three years, we’ve seen an increase in back-ordered parts, with some OEM electronic modules having lead times approaching a year or even more,” he said. “In these cases, we’ll work with our suppliers in finding alternatives and purchase aftermarket parts when those are an option. Early on we had problems sourcing some fairly common filters and tires, but for the most part, those have been resolved now.”

Central Hudson has been impacted by the focus on warranty work provided by OEMs.

“Since OEMS won’t use aftermarket parts, in most cases, this has extended the wait for some warranty repairs,” Kuha said. “For example, we have had several units waiting on rear differentials. Some wait times have exceeded several months.”

Finding Workable Solutions
Cunningham said that service after a sale plays a part in Ameren’s decision on whether to use OEM or aftermarket parts. While OEM is the preferred choice, aftermarket parts can also help fill in the gaps.

“If we run into an availability problem, we’ll first contact the supplier and request they work to find a part elsewhere in their system, although that may take somewhat longer,” he said. “In some cases, if a unit is out of service awaiting a part, our technicians will work with their supervisor to research possible alternate parts available from an online supplier.”

However, Cunningham emphasized the importance of sticking with only high-quality parts from a reputable source.

“There are many look-alikes of lower quality that equate to a shorter life span that should be avoided,” he said. “On occasion, we’ve had quality issues with some aftermarket parts that were marketed and sold as replicas of the OEM part but then failed early. When this happens, we’re often stuck with no recourse for service. Using trusted OEM suppliers that we’ve built relationships with over the years has greatly helped alleviate this challenge for us.”

For remanufactured driveline parts including engines, transmissions and third members, Ameren tries to purchase from the equipment manufacturer as much as possible.

“This helps ensure the rebuilt part contains any revised or updated components, meets the latest industry standards and generally includes a more robust warranty,” Cunningham said. “Normally, aftermarket and OEM warranty coverages will be similar, but working through some aftermarket return/credit processes can take more time and cost more than the potential savings.”

Lighting products and filters are some of the aftermarket parts that the utility sources.

Kuha said that for Central Hudson, OEM-specific parts work best for aerial devices and digger derricks since the utility has not found good aftermarket support for those products.

The utility does buy many of its preventive maintenance parts from aftermarket suppliers, including brakes, brake components, filters, oil, lighting and wipers.

“We have been doing this for many years now,” Kuha said. “These parts are cost effective and offer good quality.”

But while costs are important, Cunningham and Kuha both advised against looking only at costs when choosing a vendor.

“Avoid the temptation to go with the lowest-cost item or an unknown supplier,” Cunningham said. “Quality parts from a reputable source that provides personal service is still your best bet. It may take time to develop those supplier relationships, but the payoff is well worth it.”

Kuha agreed, noting that buying aftermarket parts doesn’t always translate to lower prices.

“Be careful of costs,” he said. “In some instances, you could be paying more for aftermarket parts than you are paying for OEM.”

Kuha noted that the utility recently discovered an aftermarket vendor was charging double for heavy-duty brake parts. “When we did a comparison to our local dealer, we found we could get these parts directly for 40% to 50% less than what our aftermarket supplier was charging.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

Exhibits and Education Headline the 54th Annual ATSSA Expo

Exhibits and Education Headline the 54th Annual ATSSA Expo
Discover the latest roadway safety solutions and trends at the February 2024 event.

The 54th Annual ATSSA Convention & Traffic Expo will take place February 2-6, 2024, at the San Diego Convention Center. Produced by the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the event is expected to draw approximately 3,700 roadway safety industry professionals from across the globe.

Attendees will have access to the expo’s exhibit hall, featuring the latest industry products and services from over 200 exhibitors. These are expected to include a wide variety of cutting-edge traffic safety solutions and state-of-the-art roadway safety vehicles and heavy equipment, from striping trucks to truck-mounted attenuators. A new products rollout will also be hosted live February 5.

Beyond exhibits, the 2024 expo will offer more than 40 educational sessions designed to inform attendees about the latest roadway safety infrastructure trends. These will be a mix of concurrent sessions and micro sessions; concurrent education is presented by industry professionals and experts outside of trade show hours, while the micro sessions will be presented on the show floor for quick bursts of education. For a listing of all educational offerings at the expo, visit https://expo.atssa.com/education.html.

A full listing of all expo events can be found at https://expo.atssa.com/program.html

The Impact of AI and Machine Learning on Telematics

While the flying automated cars of “The Jetsons” cartoon are still to come, the growing power of artificial intelligence is moving fleet telematics into the future.

Smart telematics systems are already in use by many fleets, but the technology is moving to the next level with the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze data and predict trends.

Terms like “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” get thrown into the conversation as innovations like ChatGPT grab headlines. But what do they really mean? Artificial intelligence is software that can make decisions on its own. Machine learning is a specific technique that helps AI become smarter and more accurate through analyzing and testing mountains of data.

“Think of AI as the brain and machine learning as the method used to improve that brain,” said Kevin Aries, associate director at Verizon Connect (www.verizonconnect.com), a fleet telematics provider.

Verizon dashcam 3
Photo Credit: Verizon
Verizon dashcam 4
Photo Credit: Verizon
Verizon dashcam 1
Photo Credit: Verizon

Changing the Way Fleets are Managed
So far, most telematics-driven efforts to improve fleet safety and driver performance have been reactive. Systems that incorporate artificial intelligence can help managers be proactive.

“Now, our goal is to prevent an accident before it ever happens,” said Barrett Young, chief marketing officer at Netradyne (www.netradyne.com), a fleet safety technology provider.

Traditional telematics records numerical data, bits of information from the vehicle systems that graph into charts that show speeding or sudden braking. Gathering information from video sources such as dashcams has been challenging, but artificial intelligence makes that possible.

Netradyne Asset 1
Photo Credit: Netradyne

 

Netradyne Asset 2@4x
Photo Credit: Netradyne

 

Netradyne asset 3
Photo Credit: Netradyne

 

Netradyne Group 690
Photo Credit: Netradyne

New technology employs edge computing devices – such as intelligent dashcams – that extract information from video, such as whether a driver is wearing a seat belt, smoking or using a mobile phone. Edge computing is where the software runs on a computer in the vehicle rather than sending data back and forth to a central server. Information can be processed much faster, allowing for near real-time analysis and response.

With in-cab cameras recording driver behavior and traffic activity, artificial intelligence can identify video clips that require management attention.

“AI can escalate the most severe driving behaviors directly to the fleet manager, saving them a lot of time because they’re able to focus on the most dangerous driving behaviors that are relevant to them,” Aries said.

Artificial intelligence can sound real-time driver alerts with faster computers and always-connected vehicles. Dashcams equipped with AI can sense when a driver is distracted and sound a tone and verbal warning in the cab.

The more fleets that use AI-driven tools, the better they become for everyone. By observing thousands of drivers over thousands of miles, artificial intelligence improves accuracy in interpreting what it sees.

“Theoretically, we’ve now prevented an accident from happening that had a high probability of happening,” Young said.

At the same time, fleet managers can track good driving and compliment drivers on the 90% of driving that’s compliant with safety standards.

“You can flip the script on the conversation with the driver so you’re not just punishing the 10% of the driving that needs correcting,” Young said.

Predictive modeling can spot driver behavior that could add up to an accident. A manager’s dashboard spotlights drivers with a score over a specified level at which the probability of an accident skyrockets, based not only on an individual driver’s behavior but also on the aggregated history of thousands of drivers.

“We’re not only going to prevent the bad things, but we’re also going to increase the good things,” Young said.

Linking Roads and Vehicles
One of the reasons the commercial aviation industry has such a stellar safety record is that systems on the aircraft link to systems on the ground, including radar as well as fleet management tools, said Jamie Sullivan, vice president of business development for Derq (https://en.derq.com).

derqsafetyinsights
Photo Credit: Derq
derq final highr rez2
Photo Credit: Derq

Soon, technology will link vehicles and roadway infrastructure in a similar way. Telematics and traffic monitoring systems will talk to each other to bring the same level of safety to the roadways. Companies like Derq are working with municipalities and transportation agencies to gather and communicate real-time information to improve traffic flow and provide routing information to avoid problem areas, using technology installed in roadways and traffic lights.

“Right now, everything is done from the vehicle perspective, but once the technology gets there, a host of things will open up,” Sullivan said.

Dynamic messaging signs alerting road traffic of an accident or slowdown use crowdsourced data. Eventually, that information could flow to vehicles.

“Governments are starting to get more involved in delivering that messaging, which will ultimately feed into the telematics systems and help with rerouting vehicles,” Sullivan said.

Real-time routing updates could pay off, particularly in congested cities. Utility fleets could speed up emergency response with traffic light privileges.

“If you have real-time traffic data, you can still accomplish the operational plan for the day, reduce fuel consumption and reduce overtime for drivers,” Young said. “There are these compounding effects by using advanced artificial intelligence with real-time reporting.”

As more data becomes available from advanced telematics and connected electric vehicles, what seems like science fiction today will become commonplace.

“Eventually, we won’t talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning because it will become synonymous with great tech that enables our business,” Aries said.

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.

How to Spec All-Terrain Tracked Carriers for Aerials and Derricks

How can your line crews safely get to power lines and poles that trucks can’t reach?

That’s where all-terrain tracked carriers with aerial platforms and digger derricks come in. A tracked carrier is a heavy-duty off-road vehicle – with continuous tracks instead of wheels – that transports equipment, materials or personnel across challenging terrain. Its design assures stability and minimal ground pressure, making the vehicle ideal for soft, uneven or rugged landscapes without tearing up the surfaces it crosses.

But when you consider that these machines can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 or more, how do you ensure you select the right carrier for the job? Use this 10-point checklist as a guide.

1. Total Payload
“Choosing the right chassis for your payload is the starting point,” said Scott Merrill, vice president at PowerBully (www.powerbully.com). “You don’t want to overspend on a 36,000-pound-capacity chassis when your equipment only requires half of that. Likewise, an 18,000-pound chassis won’t suffice for a 100-foot aerial. Match the chassis weight capacity to your actual needs, even if it comes at a higher cost – it’s a necessary investment for safe and efficient operation.”

SEC in March 2020
Photo Credit: PowerBully
PowerBully
Photo Credit: PowerBully
Altec DT 80 on 18T for CHGE
Photo Credit: PowerBully
Photo from PowerBully
Photo Credit: PowerBully

2. Aerial Platform Capacity and Capabilities
“When it comes to the aerial aspect, the key considerations are the working height and whether the basket needs to accommodate one or two people and additional materials and tools,” said Tavis Renglich, sales manager at UTV International (www.utvint.com).

Working height refers to the maximum height that the platform can safely reach.

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Photo Credit: UTV International
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Photo Credit: UTV International
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Photo Credit: UTV International
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Photo Credit: UTV International
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Photo Credit: UTV International

3. Digger Derrick Capacity and Capabilities
“The first consideration when spec’ing derricks is the size of the poles you’re working on, which determines the working height you need,” Renglich said. Other factors include weight capacity – the maximum weight the digger derrick can safely handle – and jib capacity, which dictates how much weight the derrick’s extendable arm can lift when extended to its maximum reach.

4. Tracks
“Track selection depends on terrain,” Renglich said. “A one-piece rubber track might do if the machine operates on mostly smooth and level terrain. But if you find that it needs to operate on rough terrain with ditches, rocks, steep inclines, water, and heavy-duty mud and snow, you need more robust tracks that offer the maximum traction and durability.”

5. Climate Conditions
For colder climates, consider options like winterized tracks and extreme cold packages. Winterized tracks are designed to maintain traction and durability in icy or snowy conditions, which are crucial for safety and functionality. Extreme cold packages may include features like engine block heaters, specialized lubricants, and insulation materials designed to keep the machine running smoothly even when temperatures drop to extremely low levels.

What about extreme hot temperatures? Add an enclosed air-conditioned cab to ensure operator comfort and safety.

6. Controls
Should you spec a steering wheel or dual stick controls?

“The steering wheel controls are more intuitive and easier to operate for crews not familiar with operating heavy equipment,” said Brett Barlow, engineering lead at PowerBully. “But some fleets have operators who prefer the precision and control they can get with the stick. So, operator preference and ability are some things the fleet manager will need to factor into their decision.”

7. Overhang
Overhang refers to the tracked carrier’s parts or equipment that extend beyond the main body. Excessive overhang can be a limitation when maneuvering through narrow environments or deep ditches. “You need a lot more space to turn the machine around [with an excessive overhang],” Renglich said. “You also need to be careful if you’re crossing ditches where you might end up with the boom hitting the ground before the rest of the carrier does.”

One way to reduce the overhang is to spec a telescopic boom whenever possible.

8. Lighting
“If you have to operate in low light conditions or at night, make sure your carrier is equipped with sufficient lighting options to ensure a safe and effective work environment,” Barlow said.

9. Fording Depth
Fording depth refers to the maximum water depth that the carrier can safely cross. This is critical if the carrier trudges through streams or flood conditions of 3 to 4 feet.

10. Telematics
Telematics systems offer in-depth, component-level insights into the carrier. “It’s not just about finding out where the machine is but understanding how it’s operating,” Merrill said. “When problems arise, [the telematics system] generates diagnostic codes, enabling more precise and, in some cases, remote problem-solving. Telematics has become essential for fleet managers who want to improve their machines’ operational efficiency and uptime.”

The Bottom Line
Selecting the right all-terrain tracked carrier isn’t just about cost; it’s about investing in the safety, efficiency and longevity of your equipment – and your line crews. So, whether it’s an aerial platform or a digging application, use this 10-point checklist to help ensure you’re investing in a machine best suited for the job.

Using Power Tools in the Bucket

Lineworkers rely on a variety of tools when working from the bucket of an aerial device. Safe work practices require that these tools not create additional exposure to electrocution. Hand tools – such as bolt cutters, knives, pliers and wire strippers – are often made of metal. So, when employees are working in aerial devices, employers typically require hand tools to be insulated with layers of nonconductive material, such as plastic or nylon.

Greenlee Hydraulic Impact Wrench and Utility Auger Bit
Photo Credit: Emerson Electric
Greenlee Battery Powered Cable Crimper
Photo Credit: Emerson Electric
Greenlee Hydraulic Long Reach Chainsaw
Photo Credit: Emerson Electric

Power tools (e.g., drills, impact wrenches, circle saws, chainsaws, crimpers, cutters) are also used in the bucket. Historically, hydraulically powered tools were the only option available, but trends are changing and options for battery-powered equipment are expanding. The remainder of this article offers discussion on the pros and cons of each type, plus tips for the safe use of hydraulic power tools.

Hydraulic vs. Battery Power
Whether to choose hydraulic or battery power for your tools will be determined by your employer’s practices and preferences. Today, some companies are moving away from low-pressure hydraulic systems in trucks and do not require hydraulic tool circuits; they instead favor using battery-powered tools, although there are still some instances in which hydraulic tools are more suitable for the task. For example, tools including long-reach chainsaws, tampers, ground-rod drivers and pole pullers work best on a hydraulic system as the amount of overall energy needed to use these tools is not available from a battery.

Hydraulic tools have other benefits as well, including ruggedness and durability. Not only that, but you cannot replace insulating saws commonly used today with battery-operated or gas-powered tools; that’s because hydraulic is the only option that delivers the power as well as the long runtime needed while also keeping the cutting tool insulated from the operator, which is critical to safety.

There are some downsides to using hydraulic tools when a battery-powered option is available. A hydraulic tool is often more cumbersome compared to its battery-powered counterpart. The weight of a hydraulic tool and hoses – plus an intensifier if needed – can mean more weight in the platform than what a battery-powered tool weighs.

Greenlee Battery Powered Remote Cable Cutter
Photo Credit: Emerson Electric

Battery-powered tools are quickly advancing with new technology that allows users to operate the tools remotely and more ergonomically. Aside from those advantages, battery tools also offer other benefits compared to hydraulic tools. Removing the need for a hydraulic hose or cord can make tools more maneuverable, especially in a small space like a bucket. Additionally, new advancements have led to the development of hydraulic battery-powered tools that offer 1,000 volts of insulation. So, in combination with insulating PPE worn by the operator, these tools can help utility workers achieve another layer of insulation.

The remote tool operation feature now available in some battery-powered tools can help reduce potential risk to the operator when compared to historic work practices and tools. Operating a tool remotely allows the user to put more distance between themselves and potentially energized lines. For example, tool operators can attach a remote cutter or crimper to an insulating hot stick to reach the line instead of having to reach directly from the bucket. Depending on the situation, the work may even be able to be performed from the ground using an extendable hot stick.

Tool intelligence features available in enabled battery tools can provide operators with more insight into the tools’ performance by providing, for instance, crimp force confirmation and cycle counts information. The crimp force confirmation can be used to provide quality assurance so that the operator has little doubt that a termination was done properly. Cycle counts information provides insight into tool usage, which can aid in ensuring proper tool maintenance, potentially reducing downtime caused by a tool failing to perform on the job.

In many applications, battery-powered tools are delivering power comparable to hydraulic tools in a lighter package with smart technology and intelligence for aerial work practices. A key item to keep in mind when using battery tools is that you must monitor battery life and keep the tool charged; having extra batteries on hand can help to eliminate the risk of downtime.

Whether you opt for hydraulic tools or the battery-powered variety, all tools and accessories must be inspected, maintained and operated in accordance with manufacturer instruction manuals and the safety rules that apply to all aerial device applications.

As a reminder, workers should be aware of the dangers of cross-phasing at the boom tip and never bring any conductive object from outside the platform to the inside of the platform. This includes extension cords, guy wires, conductors and power tools; they will eliminate the insulating benefits of the machine. Tool holders and tool trays must also be made of nonconductive material.

Terex-hydraulicTools
Photo Credit: Terex

Tips for Using Hydraulic Power Tools
Hydraulic power tools must be equipped with orange nonconductive hoses to prevent cross-phase creation. In the bucket, hydraulic couplers must not be exposed where they can make contact. Some tools have fiberglass extensions to increase reach and help reduce the chance of electrical injury. Users should be aware that hydraulic oil is flammable and can catch fire if an arc occurs.

It’s possible to use hydraulically powered tools on the ground if the truck is equipped for it. The same precautions are critical to prevent electrocution. Most trucks are equipped with wire-reinforced hoses on reels for use on the ground because this type of hose is more durable. For this reason, there must be an insulating section – often called a whip hose – between the tool and the wire braid hose from the truck to keep the worker isolated and to reduce the chance of tool operator electrocution should the vehicle or boom become energized.

There are two types of hydraulic systems: open center and closed center. The type of hydraulic system used by the tool must match that of the truck; otherwise, the hydraulic system and tool will overheat. Most hydraulic tools can be switched for use on either system, but workers should verify with the tool manufacturer and their employer how to do so properly. Likewise, the type of oil used in the tool and on the truck must be compatible because the tool is run by the truck’s hydraulic oil supply. Hydraulic hoses rated less than the operating pressure should never be used. In addition, do not operate hydraulic tools on high speed for an extended period without stopping. Continuous operation can cause overheating and possible damage to the hydraulic system. The tools and tool hoses, like all other components of an aerial device, must be inspected before each use for leaks and damage and to ensure proper operation.

Conclusion
Hydraulic tools in combination with battery-powered tools may be the best of both worlds. There are more people in buckets today than ever, and both types of tools can provide reliable solutions that, when properly applied, can efficiently accomplish the work required.

About the Authors: Ryan Berg is the director of product management – utility for Emerson’s Greenlee and RIDGID brands. In coordination with engineering and manufacturing, he leads the development of new products as well as improvements in current products.

Jim Olson is senior product engineer at Terex. He has been working with aerial devices and digger derricks for more than 39 years, and with mobile hydraulic equipment for much longer.

How to Best Deliver In-House Technician Training

Top-notch technicians who are kept up to date on effective maintenance practices and compliance with safety and environmental requirements are the beating heart of any successful truck fleet. That’s even more so with electric utilities, which operate an array of specialized equipment.

Finding the best techs to do the best work begins with a fleet’s recruitment approach. But once qualified techs are hired, their knowledge and high skill levels are just the starting point.

While the basics of truck and trailer maintenance are well-established, the rapid clip at which trucking equipment is changing – as more onboard technologies, including electric drivetrains, proliferate and evolve – means that continuous training is becoming more critical for techs. What’s more, both techs and the fleet will be better served if regular in-house training is coupled with showing technicians a clear path to career advancement.

Train and Certify
Utility fleets can raise their tech retention levels by investing in training as well as providing techs with access to third-party certifications, such as those offered by ASE. Integrating these approaches presents techs with smooth stepping-stones to career advancement within their chosen profession, a recognized driver of retention in any field.

There are a lot of moving pieces to setting up, monitoring and updating an effective and comprehensive in-house training program. The first step is determining what essential information must be communicated to reduce equipment downtime and ensure its safe operation.

From there, decide whether the content should be presented by on-site instructors, via online programs or some combination of both. Bear in mind that in-house training can be amplified or expanded by requesting that equipment suppliers and vehicle OEMs send in their experts to conduct customized training on new developments or to resolve specific issues.

This aspect is growing in importance given the speed-up in the adoption of electric trucks and the service expertise and charging infrastructure they require. In this case, it may be one or several types of suppliers that can provide needed training.

Apprenticeship Angle
Another option is to train technicians through an apprenticeship program, according to Thomas Bray, senior industry business adviser at J. J. Keller & Associates. “The key to success is having a regimented program with in-house and external training benchmarks,” Bray explained in a blog post (see https://eld.kellerencompass.com/resource/blog/is-your-fleet-technician-qualified). He stated that the goal should be to “ensure that your company and technicians exceed basic requirements. Doing quality-control checks and insisting on ongoing training are standard methods used by fleet professionals to make sure their technicians are exceeding the requirements.”

As for the whys and wherefores of a solid in-house training program, perhaps the most respected source for designing a program unique to your fleet can be found within several of the Recommended Practices (RPs) issued by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC). Developed over decades by expert fleet managers, these detailed best practices are devoted to the training and development of truck techs.

Instructor-with-tech-students-Credit-Mack-Trucks
Photo Credit: Mack Trucks
International eMV Charging Credit Navistar
Photo Credit: Navistar
Tech at Work Credit PacLease
Photo Credit: PacLease

Tech Focus
Here is a primer on some of the eye-opening elements of the TMC training recommendations (note: full access to the RP manual can be purchased from TMC at www.atabusinesssolutions.com/Shopping/Product/viewproduct/8529202/). For starters, the TMC contends that a training program should focus on the performance of the tech. “A fleet’s goal should be to have an ongoing, systematic program that furnishes the technician with training that delivers all the necessary technical information and hands-on skills needed to maintain and improve the competency of the technician during employment.”

To that end, the program must be written to deliver the objective of training, define expectations and allow for measuring for improvement: “Once the manager determines the desired outcome, then the objective becomes easy to write.”

Factors that the TMC lists as essential to a performance-based training program include the following:

  • Set expectations for training.
  • Identify, analyze and sequence job tasks the tech must carry out to meet objectives.
  • The program must focus on need-to-know content (i.e., the knowledge and skills required for the job).
  • Tech participation should be encouraged via demonstration activities, worksheets, homework, training aids and so forth to ensure goals and objectives are met.
  • After training, content should be reviewed in light of the objectives and outcomes.
  • Support of techs should continue beyond completing coursework. “It is important to develop post-training support materials to act as ongoing reinforcement of the training.”

The TMC manual also offers guidance on how to assess training needs, including by drawing from employment screening tests, OEM direct-warranty training requirements and the ASE detailed score reports given to certification candidates after each test. Also suggested is considering the “organization, culture, and other unique requirements of the shop.”

Blended Learning
Ryder System, a provider of supply chain and fleet management solutions, is another top resource for tech training tips. The company’s operations include its massive fleet of lease/rental trucks and trailers. Ryder recently expanded its diesel technician training to further enhance the recruitment and training of techs, including student trainees, early career professionals and military veterans.

Given that diversity, it’s not surprising that Ryder offers what it calls a “blended-learning curriculum that begins with training on how to engage with customers, conduct multi-point vehicle inspections, and fuel vehicles.” Tech trainees complete a range of assignments, from navigating one-on-one interactions with employees in various operational roles to taking technical instructor-led classes on foundational topics, such as air-conditioning, heavy-duty electrical systems and preventive maintenance.

According to Bryce Kinsley, Ryder’s vice president of maintenance operations, “Our technician trainee program takes a holistic approach in the overall training and development of new Ryder technicians. We not only focus on the technical skills necessary to be a professional technician, but we also ensure the trainee’s performance meets our standards on safety, quality, and providing a positive customer experience.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

How to Best Interview Fleet Personnel

The hiring process for any job involves some dancing on the part of the employer and the applicant. Depending on the savvy and experience of the job seeker, the footwork gets most intense when the discussion moves to compensation, which covers everything from wages to health benefits to overtime rates and paid time off.

The dance is more subtle at the start of the hiring process; it’s akin to two chess players taking stock of each other in their early moves. Of course, the goal for the employer should be to hire the best person for the job within the budget set for filling that position. But all the while, the employer should also ensure that the applicant knows that they are not getting into the ring for nine rounds but rather being invited to try out to join a winning team.

Navigating this fraught process requires a road map. And that is what well-thought-out, tailored-to-the-job interview questions are meant to provide. Couple those with a professional, respectful demeanor toward applicants, and it’s far more likely a fleet will hire personnel who fit well within the organization and will become successful long-term employees.

The Greatest Challenge
Most of the critical fleet positions that utilities seek candidates to fill fall into the realm of shop operations. Given the technician shortage across all of trucking and many other industries, it is securing new mechanical/technical talent that looms largest for fleets of all types. On the other hand, the general principles of effectively interviewing techs also apply to hiring other staff, from administrative to executive. After all, whether the employee works in the office or the shop, their mission is to help operate the safest, most efficient fleet possible.

When talking to techs or other workers, you need to know what you are looking for before you can ask candidates how they will fit that bill. To get there, AssetWorks (www.assetworks.com), a Wayne, Pennsylvania-based provider of fleet management solutions, recommends using the interview process to zero in on who has the six key traits of a high-quality technician (i.e., diagnostic skills, experience, desire to learn, resourcefulness, work ethic and tech savvy).

A utility fleet manager could put this approach to work by developing questions that will shine a light on how closely candidates mirror these top-notch traits. Following are some examples.

1. Diagnostic Skills
Mechanics must be able to quickly diagnose the root cause of a problem. To enable that, techs should have access to fleet software on the shop floor. Therefore, a key question for applicants is to ask them to discuss their expertise in diagnostics and their experience working with shop software and other technology.

2. Experience
Exactly how experienced is the applicant? Have they worked on the types of specialized truck and trailer equipment used by electric utilities? How many vehicle systems are they already trained on, such as electrical, fuel, braking and powertrain (including electric)?

3. Desire to Learn
What is the technician’s thinking on continuing their education? With the rapid advancements in truck technology, including the advent of electric drive and automated systems, techs who are not open to further developing their skills are at great risk of falling behind their peers.

Also be sure to inquire about any professional certifications they have earned, such as through ASE. According to AssetWorks, “Not all technicians will be certified, but those who are offer security by ensuring they are qualified to complete repairs correctly. Technicians can receive an ASE [certification] every five years to keep their knowledge up to date.”

4. Resourcefulness
Even experienced technicians can get stumped by service requests now and then. The question here is, what steps would they take if they were at a loss about how to move forward? Who would they reach out to for assistance? If their response includes asking you about the shop hierarchy and whether the fleet has a formal mentorship program, that’s likely a clue to their resourcefulness.

5. Work Ethic
In many ways, techs are the tip of the spear. They are charged with the responsibility of releasing service equipment only when it has been properly maintained and repaired so that it operates correctly and safely. Techs must also be productive to keep downtime to a minimum. During the interview, ask them how they respond to pressure without losing their edge. When needed, can they multitask to keep the flow going? Are they passionate about maintenance – or about any other type of job the applicant may be seeking, from shop to office?

6. Tech Savvy

The best techs are smart and savvy. Given that, does the applicant grasp the importance of implementing new vehicle and service technology? Can they leverage technology to cut downtime while also ensuring quality repairs are done and maintenance schedules are adhered to? You might also ask what technology they would like to see in your shops.

Just as there are no right or wrong answers to questions designed to elicit information, there isn’t one set of interview questions that will give managers all the answers they seek to make the best hiring decisions possible. Write the questions you want for the answers you need.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

What’s New in Aerial Lift Equipment in 2023?

When repairing power lines, inspecting high and hard-to-reach areas, or lifting transformers and other heavy equipment, the objective is clear: How can line crews do their jobs safer and faster?

That goal has driven the development of several new products and upgrades released by top aerial platform and crane manufacturers in the past few months.

So, what new aerial lift products have come to market recently? How can they equip utility companies and contractors to improve crew safety and productivity? Here are six new developments to keep your eye on.

Elliott Equipment Co.
What’s New: V63 HiReach material-handling aerial platform

Designed for a 19,500-pound chassis, the V63 HiReach offers a 40-inch-by-60-inch rotating aerial work platform, suitable for two workers and their tools, with a lifting capacity of up to 1,000 pounds.

The V63’s 38-foot-wide side reach combined with zero tail swing optimizes the platform’s operation within a single setup. Its 8-foot outrigger spread also allows for setting up the machine in tighter spaces.

The onboard remote diagnostics system provides real-time performance monitoring.

Elliott V63
Photo Credit: Elliott

Terex Utilities
What’s New: Z-60 Substation Utility Boom

At the 70th Anniversary Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference in June, Terex Utilities introduced the Terex Z-60 Substation Utility Boom (SUB), which followed the earlier release of the Z-45 SUB in 2021.

The Z-60 SUB is designed for substation work and other applications where an insulated device is needed and an articulating z-boom is a more practical option than a bucket truck. Examples include working in tight areas where a truck’s footprint is too large or applications that require a higher level of boom articulation. Its dielectric features isolate the boom tip from the chassis ground, reducing the need for boom-tip bonding.

The Z-60 SUB offers two operational modes. The unit can work a complete shift on a single battery charge in all-electric mode. And in hybrid mode, it has more than a week’s worth of run time with a single diesel tank. The hybrid system automatically senses if the batteries need to be charged and will use the 24-horsepower diesel engine and the onboard generator to recharge the batteries.

Terex_Z60SUB
Photo Credit: Terex

Altec
What’s New: AC65E telescopic boom crane truck

Altec has introduced the AC65E, a telescopic boom crane truck with a six-section main boom that offers 155 feet of maximum extended length and a lifting capacity of up to 130,000 pounds. The unit can reach a platform working height of 216 feet when configured as an ANSI A92.2-compliant aerial device.

A two-stage hydraulic jib can be articulated from zero to -80 degrees with a rated load on the hook. The main boom features two selectable extension modes to maximize capacity close to the machine and farther away.

The machine also features a 12,500-pound hydraulically removable counterweight that increases load capacity at high-radius picks and allows for an easy, one-person installation and removal from inside the cab.

The 22-inch outrigger penetration and four-span options provide the flexibility to set up the machine on the most challenging terrain.

According to Altec, the AC65E is the only machine in its class under 40 feet long. It can be configured to comply with federal bridge laws so that it can travel without additional permits.

Altec AC65E
Photo Credit: Altec
Altec AC65E
Photo Credit: Altec

Manitex International
What’s New: ECSY-Electric Crane System

Manitex International introduced its ECSY-Electric Crane System as a new module option for the Manitex TC series cranes. The system is designed for job sites that require reduced noise and emissions.

Designed with a 480-volt electric motor and a variable displacement hydraulic pump, the ECSY allows for prolonged on-site use, drawing from local power sources. The system also offers a self-contained pin-on configuration, ensuring easy transitions between cranes in “ECSY Ready” fleets.

Manitex_Electric Crane System
Photo Credit: Manitex
Manitex_Electric Crane System
Photo Credit: Manitex

DICA
What’s New: ProStack Slot Lock Interlocking Cribbing Blocks patent

DICA recently received a patent for its ProStack Slot Lock Interlocking Cribbing Blocks.

The patent (U.S. Patent 11,479,939) is for the slot and flange interlocking system. Each block has a flat lower surface with downward extending lips positioned at opposing ends of the lower surface. When the blocks are stacked and pressure is applied, the blocks lock together, allowing users to safely gain cribbing height in unlevel conditions.

“Slot Lock Cribbing Blocks can be used under medium-sized equipment with stabilizer or outrigger reaction forces up to 100,000 pounds, such as aerial lifts, digger derricks, concrete pump trucks and knuckle boom cranes,” said Kris Koberg, DICA’s CEO.

The interlocking system can be used independently or integrated with slotted SafetyTech Outrigger Pads to increase bearing area and decrease ground-bearing pressures. Each layer increases the cribbing height by 5 inches.

The cribbing blocks are composed of a blend of post-consumer and post-industrial recycled material. According to DICA, this material mixture provides users with an eco-friendlier, longer-lasting solution that won’t splinter, crack or rot.

DICA_ProStack SlotLock
Photo Credit: DICA

Manitex International
What’s New: TC850 Series truck-mounted crane

Manitex International introduced the all-new TC850 Series truck-mounted crane at CONEXPO-CON/AGG earlier this year.

The TC85159 features an 85-ton base rating at a 10-foot radius and a five-section, 159-foot, full-power, proportionally extended boom with a 168-foot tip height. The machine also offers a 228-foot tip height with an optional two-piece, 30-foot to 60-foot bifold offset lattice jib.

With a 360-degree area of operation without needing a front (fifth) outrigger, the machine’s all-new outrigger design allows the operator to set up quickly in confined spaces and on uneven terrain.

Manitex - TC850
Photo Credit: Manitex

New 2023 Products to Watch

Sherman+Reilly
Photo Credit: Sherman+Reilly

Sherman+Reilly PLW-200E+ (Booth E1047)
www.sherman-reilly.com
The Sherman+Reilly PLW-200E+ four-drum electric pilot line winder delivers all-electric operation with The Onboard Rapid Recharge System by S+R, providing superior performance and automatic battery management so the operator can focus on the job at hand. With all the capabilities of our standard PLW-200H, the E+ has an all-electric drivetrain designed to exceed all-day use. The Onboard Rapid Recharge System responds automatically, without input from the operator, until the work is done, no matter how tough the job gets. The PLW-200E+ has a pulling capacity of 2,000 pounds and a single-drum capacity of 6,000 feet of 7/16 rope. In addition, S+R Telematics comes standard at no cost, providing industry-leading support in real time. Plus, a 10-inch touchscreen located on the dashboard incorporates how-to videos and the operator’s manual from the safety of the Safe-Zone enclosure with Ocu-View.

 

Elliott
Photo Credit: Elliott

Elliott Material Handling Aerial Work Platform (Booths E1436, N553)
https://elliottequip.com
Elliott Equipment Co.’s latest product, the M87 Material Handling Aerial Work Platform, has an 87-foot working height and 77-foot side reach. The M87 provides unmatched access for utility, construction and maintenance professionals. Key features include 2,000 pounds of lifting capacity from its main boom winch and 500 pounds from its platform jib winch. The hydraulically self-leveling platform with 180-degree rotation ensures optimal positioning, reducing setups and strain on operators. The M87 stands out as it can be mounted on a 25,999-pound chassis. No CDL is required, saving costs and increasing operational flexibility. The M87 is certified to ANSI A92.2 in all modes of operation. It is also backed by a lifetime structural warranty.

UTV International
Photo Credit: UTV International

UTV International Achiever RT-02 Digger Derrick (Booth E1015)
www.utvint.com
Starting from the ground up, the RT-02 is designed with a lower center of gravity, wider tracks and deeper treads. As a result, they balance perfectly, attack harsh terrain with ease and keep ground pressure at an all-time low; the Achiever RT-02 will never surpass a ground pressure of 3 psi when loaded. Additionally, the track height offers a 3-foot fording depth. The 134 horsepower of turbocharged diesel engine, when combined with its lighter weight, pumps out about 15 horsepower per ton for one of the highest power-to-weight ratios in the industry. What’s more, it can conquer steep slopes, hills and small mountains with ease, plus it is light enough to be towed on a 12-ton trailer behind a single-axle line truck.

Felling
Photo Credit: Felling

Felling Drill Series Trailer (Booth K125)
www.felling.com
Operators work safer and faster when they trust their equipment and its capabilities. Felling’s Low Pro Drill Series provides that confidence with the double incline beavertail that reduces the top break over in half. The trailer is the ideal unit for transporting directional boring machines (horizontal directional drills). The Drill Series is equipped standard with 25K heavy-duty three-leaf springs and 9700 Hutch 49-inch spread spring suspension. Felling offers Low Pro Drill Series deck-over flatbed tag trailers with 30K-50K capacities.

Stellar Industries
Photo Credit: Stellar Industries

Stellar Single- and Multi-Reel Trailers (Booth N111)
www.stellarindustries.com
Hauling, removing and laying wire and cable is quick, easy and convenient with Stellar Utility and Telecom Single-Reel and Multi-Reel Trailers. Perfect for transporting conduit, capillary tubing, inner duct and many other types of reel-mounted material, Stellar Reel Trailers keep cables neatly contained and organized so they don’t get tangled or damaged. They’re designed for one-person operation, and no forklift or crane is needed to load and unload a reel on self-loading single- and multi-reel models. Drop-on multi-reel trailers are also available. All Stellar Reel Trailers feature DOT-approved LED lighting and heavy-duty construction for durability. Other available features, depending on the model, include 360-degree hydraulic rotation, electric brakes, locking collars, grounding lugs and drop-leg rear-stabilizer jacks.

Altec
Photo Credit: Altec

Altec Sentry Operator Training (Booth E134)
www.altec.com/safety
For nearly 20 years, Altec Sentry has helped employers train and certify Altec equipment operators on safe and proper operation. We are committed to your safety and believe that industry-leading equipment deserves industry-leading training. Altec Sentry offers a variety of instructor-led and online training courses for aerials, derricks and cranes. These OSHA- and ANSI-compliant courses aid in the fulfillment of employer training requirements. General training courses help employers meet the requirements for operator qualification when paired with familiarization and hands-on training. Altec Sentry also offers numerous familiarization courses covering basic safety and operation procedures for specific Altec units. Each course provides a record of training upon completion. For customers looking to take ownership of their safety program, Altec Sentry offers a train-the-trainer program. We will instruct a customer’s safety liaison through training that they can then administer themselves to their organization’s operators. Altec Sentry will also assist customers in documenting and maintaining records of employees who have completed training.

Mobile Desk
Photo Credit: Mobile Desk

Mobile Desk Utility Truck Consoles (Booth S3758)
https://mobiledesk.com
Mobile Desk/Mobile Office Solutions is recognized as the world’s leading manufacturer of electronic utility truck consoles for America’s biggest and best electric utilities. Our electronic control center (ECC) units provide a simple, consolidated solution for almost any type of company looking to streamline and simplify their electronic needs. Our full-size electronic consoles consolidate all of the included features of our ECC units with the added value of full storage; magnetic cup holders; power distribution; adjustable armrests; hanging file support; magnetic accessories; 12-volt and USB C and C+A power; and laptop and tablet mounting solutions.

Andax
Photo Credit: Andax

Andax Transformer Containment Bag (Booth S2819)
www.andax.com
Andax Industries is proud to announce a new addition to the Transformer Containment Bag product line: the Pad Mount Transformer Containment Bag 095-BC (TCB-095-BC). The TCB-095-BC is a containment solution for leaking and non-leaking electric utility pad-mount transformers. It is an extremely strong, puncture-resistant containment solution for the prevention of leaks and spills during changeouts and transportation and can help prevent electric utility employee accidents and environmental damage caused by leaks and/or contamination. The TCB-095-BC includes a clear outdoor weather cap to allow for simple, safe, outdoor weather-resistant storage while also providing Department of Transportation compliance while transporting transformers. The TCB-095-BC is designed to provide complete access to the transformer manufacturer’s lifting lugs, allowing for 100% OSHA compliance while lifting, moving and storing the transformer, thereby helping keep the line crew members safe. The standard Transformer Containment Bag sizes accommodate transformers of various sizes by use of adjustable height caps with straps and buckles. For example, the TCB-095-BC is 46 inches long by 36 inches wide with a variable height from 30 to 36 inches. Fast turnaround and custom sizes are also available to meet customers’ exact needs for any size transformer.

Hannay Reels
Photo Credit: Hannay Reels

Hannay Reels Industry Essentials (Booth N962)
www.hannay.com
When it’s your job to maintain essential services, it’s vital to work with safe, durable and dependable equipment. The spring rewind grounding reel by Hannay Reels supports safe operations on utility and maintenance vehicles. The reel is used by professionals in the telecommunications, water, electric and natural gas industries. It can stand up to the toughest road conditions and is designed to respond quickly with an easy cable payout. The automatic rewind keeps job sites organized, helping prevent accidents and getting crews back in service fast. The reel has been independently tested to 43 kA for 30 cycles and helps meet OSHA requirements for vehicle grounding.

BedLock
Photo Credit: BedLock

BedLock Dump Bed Safety Device System
https://bedlocksafety.com
BedLock Safety Products LLC is working hard to make your dump truck repair shops safer when doing routine maintenance or cylinder and hose change-outs. Our BedLock dump bed safety device system secures the raised dump box with two chains, two hooks and our exclusive double key slot retention plate. This system allows numerous ways to secure the bed in an upright position, eliminating the threat of a falling dump bed causing serious injury or death.

The Utility Expo Returns to Louisville

More than 850 exhibitors will showcase their equipment, products and services at this year’s Utility Expo, a biennial event produced by the Association of Equipment Managers and held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. The 2023 event – which takes place September 26-28 – is currently on track to become the largest Utility Expo to date.

Featured exhibitors include Altec; Caterpillar; Custom Truck One Source; Ditch Witch; Elliott Equipment; Fat Truck; Greenlee; John Deere; LineWise; Milwaukee Tool; Prinoth; Sherman+Reilly; Terex; Vermeer; and Volvo Construction Equipment.

“Whether this is your first Utility Expo or you’ve been to the show before, I can guarantee you will find something new at the show that you’ll want to incorporate into your business practices,” said John Rozum, show director.

In addition to the 1.4 million square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibit space that attendees will have access to, this year’s show will feature a lineup of more than 50 educational sessions. These will be a mix of field classrooms, educational workshops and free sessions covering a variety of topics, from new technologies to traffic safety, locating and more.

“Our education offerings at the show range from peer-to-peer demos to professional instruction,” Rozum said. “Whether you prefer to learn in the classroom or in the driver’s seat, The Utility Expo has you covered.”

The show is also launching several new offerings for 2023. For example, the Community Zone experience, located in the North Lobby, will offer daily events, including presentations, live music and local product samples. The new “Utility Rocks” street party – featuring a local rock band at the Fourth Street Live! outdoor stage – takes place September 27 at 8 p.m. Another opportunity not to be missed is the new Safety Symposium, which offers 10 sessions and two different certifications from the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

“The education programs ATSSA will present at The Utility Expo can help participants expand their knowledge about traffic safety while on the job,” Rozum said. “This is a great opportunity for contractors to bring their crew to hear about emerging safety technologies or to become a traffic control technician and earning an ATSSA Flagger Certification, while also checking out the latest equipment on the show floor.”

 

Tire Procurement Strategies for Utility Fleets

Con Edison, headquartered in New York, operates a fleet of approximately 8,100 active assets ranging from light- to heavy-duty vehicles, including digger derricks, flush trucks, bucket trucks, tankers, tow trucks, buses and trailers.

The utility’s tire procurement decisions are made by an internal tire committee, whose members include engineers from the transportation department as well as garage supervisors and purchasing department employees. The group meets periodically to discuss tire issues and any new updates.

Con Edison engages in various purchasing strategies, such as bulk buying, establishing long-term contracts and forging partnerships with tire manufacturers.

According to Peter Matsis, a senior specialist in transportation, work management, for the utility, tires are ordered as needed to keep inventory quantities comfortable in the company’s 14 active garages. Excluding blowouts, Con Edison follows manufacturer-expected mileage and meets New York State inspection requirements. The company typically purchases about 600 tires a year.

The Best Starting Point
The best starting point for optimal tire procurement is to review what is currently being done, the frequency of tire purchases and replacements, and what the annual spend is, Matsis said.

“Be consistent with tire sizing for vehicle types to allow for smaller tire inventory in the shops,” he said.

Garrison Jelley, account executive, government and metro, for Michelin North America Inc., agreed with Matsis’ guidance. He also recommended creating a list of fleet vehicles and tire sizes, as well as having a designated fleet manager/tire technician on staff.

Con Edison has been buying tires in bulk for over 15 years. Long-term contracts usually last three years.

“Bulk buying allows us to get better pricing, achieve competitive pricing and to apply across [Con Edison and Orange & Rockland Utilities],” explained Larry Jacobsen, who works for the utility as a senior specialist in transportation, IT systems and parts. “Long-term contracts are always helpful with continuity with vendor relationships, and competitive pricing and service.”

Selecting the Right Tires
Utility truck tires are made for specific needs, such as certain applications, traction, wear life and fuel efficiency.

When spec’ing tires, a utility fleet should consider all their needs in terms of how the tires will be used. For a fleet that is fuel conscious, rolling resistance is one of those considerations, Jelley said.

“Start with the type of driving your fleet does, then pick the low rolling resistance version of that tire,” he said. “These often have a special designation within their names. Michelin, for example, designates these product lines with the word ‘energy.’ These tires have been specifically designed to break the compromises that can come with just using low rolling resistance rubber compounds – traction and wear.”

Based on research, testing and personal experience, Jacobsen suggested looking for a high tread wear rating number on the tires being purchased. “This helps with the life and number of miles on the tire.”

Product claims and reviews can be other helpful tools when looking for fuel-efficient products.

Partnering with Manufacturers
A fleet can also consult their tire dealer or manufacturer for assistance in choosing the right tires, Jelley said. It is common for fleets to seek guidance from manufacturers and dealers that can offer expert advice and suggestions.

Con Edison has had positive experiences partnering with tire manufacturers.

“It’s always helpful with continuity, pricing and service, and mutual aid support. Better service, better pricing,” Jacobsen said.

According to Jelley, “The advantages of working with a tire manufacturer allow fleets to stay up to date with the latest versions of tires, as well as work with the tire designers for specific needs. Our engineers and dealers work closely with fleet managers to find alternative solutions if a certain tread or tire does not suit their current job.”

After a fleet is partnered with a local tire dealer, Jelley said they should be able to access a rolling stock of the most common tires and sizes they use. This will allow for faster deliveries by the dealer to the fleet.

According to Con Edison, the typical time frame from order to delivery could be the same day or up to a week, depending on the tire. Matsis noted that limited supply availability is one disadvantage fleets may face if they work with just one vendor.

Jelley echoed that statement. “Supply chain has an impact on all elements, from the raw materials to movement of semi-finished product, all the way to the final delivery to the end user. This is across the industry. These delays impact the ability to be efficient in maximizing plan production and meeting the needs of customers,” he said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

The Utility Expo 2023: A Preview

This year’s Utility Expo – produced by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers – is expected to be the biggest show yet for utility industry professionals, exceeding the size and scope of the last expo held in 2021.

The event, which runs September 26-28 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, will feature more than 850 exhibitors and over 50 educational sessions. New data from The Utility Expo indicates that this year’s show will have 6% more exhibit space than the record-breaking 2021 show.

“Our team worked to create additional space this year while grouping similar product types together better, making it even easier for everyone to find what they’re looking for,” said John Rozum, show director. “That’s important given the show covers more than 1.4 million square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits.”

Attendees will have access to several new features at the 2023 Utility Expo. For example, the Community Zone experience, located in the North Lobby, will offer daily events, including presentations, live music and local product samples. The new “Utility Rocks” street party – featuring a local rock band at the Fourth Street Live! outdoor stage – takes place September 27 at 8 p.m. Another opportunity not to be missed is the new Safety Symposium, which offers 10 sessions and two different certifications from the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

“The education programs ATSSA will present at The Utility Expo can help participants expand their knowledge about traffic safety while on the job,” Rozum said. “This is a great opportunity for contractors to bring their crew to hear about emerging safety technologies or to become a traffic control technician and earning an ATSSA Flagger Certification, while also checking out the latest equipment on the show floor.”

Overall, The Utility Expo will offer an educational lineup that provides a mix of field classrooms, educational workshops and free sessions covering new technologies, traffic safety, locating and more. Visit www.theutilityexpo.com/show-experience/education for additional information.

When: September 26-28, 2023

Where: Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville

Web: www.theutilityexpo.com

Snapshot: The Utility Expo is a biennial trade show known for equipment test drives and interactive product demonstrations. It is the largest event for utility professionals and construction contractors seeking comprehensive insights into the latest industry technologies, innovations and trends.

How to Make the Right Choice: Gas vs. Diesel for Medium-Duty Trucks

Weighing whether to select gasoline versus diesel power for work trucks is enough to make your head spin into another dimension – of choice, that is. Thanks to advances in engine designs and greater availability of gasoline power, there is more than ever to think about when picking a gasoline or diesel option, including deciding whether having some of each is the best choice for your truck applications.

So, what to pick? As with most truck equipment questions, “It depends on your operation” is the usual answer. Fair enough, but to fit the engine to the job, you need yardsticks for comparison. Most experts start by pointing out the key operational aspects of each fuel type.

On one hand, diesel engines compared to gasoline engines pump out significantly more torque, provide greater towing capacity, operate more fuel efficiently and, with proper maintenance, deliver significantly longer life.

On the other hand, gasoline engines outshine diesel in their horsepower and acceleration performance, especially on hills; may have lower maintenance costs because parts are easier to locate; and are the easiest to fuel up as not all service stations carry diesel fuel.

Fuel cost alone is a big consideration, too, given that diesel fuel is now more expensive than gasoline in most locales. And then there’s the matter of diesel technology developments, many of which are driven by emission regulations.

Evolving Technology
Current tech includes variable geometry turbochargers, diesel exhaust fluid and particulate filter aftertreatment exhaust systems. To be sure, today’s EPA-compliant diesels are not simple, yet they are engineered to be quieter and more powerful.

Of course, gasoline power has been evolving, too, especially to deliver higher power performance. That’s a major selling point for OEMs that have jumped back into the gasoline pool. The same goes for the Big Three, which have never strayed from having gas on the menu. Ford, General Motors and Ram offer both diesel and gasoline power plants in their heaviest medium-duty trucks, such as Ford Super Duty and Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra HD models.

“Although your fuel choice will largely depend on your application requirements, there are many factors when comparing the two, including longevity, service/maintenance, towing, total cost of ownership, and more,” Joe Birren, fleet operations manager of truck and upfit engineering for Merchants Fleet, a provider of fleet management solutions, pointed out in a blog post (see www.merchantsfleet.com/industry-insights/diesel-vs-gas-trucks/).

Total Cost of Ownership
In Birren’s view, while diesel trucks have a higher initial acquisition cost, you should also consider the total cost of ownership to operate them, including fuel spend over time, preventive maintenance costs, depreciation impact, and other financial costs over the truck’s expected or planned life cycle.

“Diesel engines, when properly maintained, typically have a longer service life compared to their gasoline counterpart,” he noted. “Advances in metallurgy, fuel, and engine management technology have greatly improved durability over the last decade.

“One key consideration is the service, maintenance, and warranty perspective regardless of OEM or truck class,” Birren continued. “Do you have a local repair facility or dealership with trained, certified technicians who can handle late model diesel engine repairs and maintenance? Will you need to travel further out to a dealership if warranty issues arise and your regular service center is unable to handle your service needs?”

As to factoring an mpg benefit, he advised that 30,000 to 35,000 annual miles is a good baseline to realizing the fuel economy advantages of a diesel. “However, this depends on your application, such as the average payload weight, aftermarket body or equipment requirements, towing, and operating conditions.” Birren added that when it comes to payload capacity, gasoline holds the advantage. He noted that a diesel engine could add approximately 800 pounds over a gas engine on the same chassis model.

Too Little or Too Much
Then there’s the crucial matter of going with too little or too much, as laid out in a blog post by specialized body builder Knapheide (see www.knapheide.com/blog/gas-vs-diesel-which-to-spec/). “While the vast engine choices create additional value, it can also create a dilemma when it comes to properly spec’ing the engine for the intended application of the vehicle. … Over spec’ing and under spec’ing are common mistakes, leading to lost efficiency, productivity or a longer return on investment period.”

With truck makers widening engine choices lately, including bringing gasoline back to several model lineups, the company pointed out that “while gasoline engines still dominate Class 1 and diesel engines make up the majority of Class 6 and Class 7, these new engine choices make the decision much more analytical than ever before.”

Given this, key selection considerations should include higher acquisition costs for diesel, which Knapheide said can stretch “from $8,000 more in light duty commercial vehicles up to $12,000 in heavy duty commercial trucks.”

Another top factor should be power-takeoff units, where needed. “To avoid potential compatibility issues, ensure the engine (and transmission) you select will allow for PTO installation,” the company advised. “At one time, your only choice for PTO compatible engines were diesels. Today, many manufacturers offer gas engines that can easily accommodate a PTO unit for auxiliary equipment.” Also keep in mind that “diesel engines idle at a lower speed and are engineered for severe duty cycles, making them the more popular choice within high-idle applications.”

Clearly, despite the ramp-up in gasoline engines, medium-duty diesel isn’t going anywhere. But just how hot is gasoline in medium-duty? Here’s one solid yardstick: Isuzu Commercial Truck of America recently reported that its gasoline-powered N-Series truck has made significant inroads since it was rolled out fewer than five years ago. Backing that up, in June the OEM stated it had produced its 100,000th such model for the U.S. and Canadian work truck markets.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Best Practices for Managing a Shared Vehicle Pool

How many vehicles does your organization use every day? What about weekly? Monthly?

According to Mike Hicks, vice president of marketing for Agile Fleet (www.agilefleet.com), these can be challenging questions for prospective clients to answer.

“For many organizations, it can be difficult to track what vehicles are owned, where they are, their condition and mileage, whether or not they’ve been maintained, and so on,” he said.

In terms of solutions, managing a shared vehicle pool – a group of centrally controlled vehicles dispatched for use when needed – through a fleet management information system can help to provide these insights, in addition to cost savings, timely maintenance, reduced downtime, vehicle flexibility, minimized risk and fuel reporting.

So, how can fleets effectively run a shared vehicle pool? Hicks shared the following pointers in a recent interview with UFP.

Get the Most Out of Your Fleet
The more vehicles you have, the more money you typically spend. “Every vehicle in your lot comes with carrying costs, and if you can encapsulate the savings to be realized through eliminating vehicles, you can quantify the short- and long-term benefits of a motor pool,” Hicks explained.

A fleet’s utilization rate represents vehicle demand relative to capacity – that is, how many vehicles are being used relative to how many are owned. Many organizations strive for an 80% utilization rate, Hicks said.

The best way to determine the optimal number, types and locations of vehicles in a motor pool is through reviewing vehicle utilization data, ideally over a period long enough to notice seasonal patterns and changes among different groups.

“Based on this information, you might change the composition of your fleet, move different classes of vehicles to locations with peak demand, or set preferences for different vehicle types to different departments,” Hicks said.

Make it Easy for Drivers
Drivers may be concerned that vehicles readily available to them now will be made less available if they are required to access them through a motor pool.

Hicks advised that fleets should provide “a frictionless experience” when drivers are attempting to access vehicles, with vehicle reservation and key dispatch processes similar to the ease of printing a boarding pass in an airport.

“When users log in, they can simply select a vehicle, set a pickup time, confirm a couple of options, and grab a key through an automated kiosk or dispatch desk,” he explained. “Ideally, users would also have the ability to grab and go, wherein they can log in without a reservation, select a vehicle and walk away with a vehicle key.”

In either case, confirming their options should take less than a minute, and with the appropriate credentials, the whole process is secure with a full audit trail.

An effective vehicle reservation platform will also build company policy communication and acceptance into the reservation and key dispatch processes. Users will be prompted to read and accept the policy before completing the processes.

Minimize Maintenance Interruptions
Taking vehicles out of rotation for maintenance or repairs can interrupt a fleet’s ability to provide vehicles to its customers. If there are a limited number of available vehicles, maintenance may mean a work stoppage.

“When we share vehicles, fleet management staff assume responsibility for all elements of vehicle maintenance and repair,” Hicks said. “Fleet managers own the preventive maintenance schedule, coordinate work with the garage, handle payment for services, document work performed and all other items related to maintenance. Most importantly, a shared motor pool means that drivers never have to stop working when maintenance comes due.”

To manage the inspection, maintenance and cleaning of pool vehicles, organizations are best served by using a maintenance management software tool. When used well, maintenance events can be triggered both by time, as with inspections, or by use, as with preventive maintenance like oil changes.

“An effective system will leverage data recorded through trip logging to automatically trigger maintenance events to occur,” Hicks said. “These triggered events can then send automated emails to fleet management staff, drivers and other stakeholders so that vehicles are brought in for work on time. A good system will also allow fleet maintenance staff to check vehicles out of rotation in the motor pool for work and then check them back in as work is completed.”

Ensure Policies are Enforced
Establishing, communicating and enforcing motor pool policy can go a long way toward assuring safety, mitigating risk and running your fleet operation in a cost-effective manner.

“A well-crafted policy will establish boundaries for acceptable behavior and guidelines for best practices with respect to the use of fleet vehicles,” Hicks said. “A policy will define drivers’ required licensure and insurance as well as any safety training requirements for use of specific classes of vehicles. By ensuring that only trained, licensed and insured drivers get behind the wheel, organizations can mitigate their risk and provide documentation of compliance should accidents occur.”

From a cost-efficiency perspective, an organization’s policy can serve to set guidelines for the selection of vehicles. These may include limits on the use of personal vehicles; a requirement that the lowest-cost vehicle available for a given job is selected; minimum mileage requirements for the assignment of vehicles to a person or department; and limits on the use of vehicles through the end of their economic life.
Hicks said it’s important that the policy remains a living document. “It must evolve alongside the needs and makeup of the organization. A good vehicle-sharing platform will force drivers to regularly review and accept policy as part of the vehicle dispatch process. This ensures that drivers have accepted the most recent version of the policy.”

Keeping current with policy communication and enforcement – as well as regularly checking drivers’ motor vehicle records, insurance and licensure with the means to interrupt the dispatch of keys – will serve to mitigate risk. And with a software tool in place, interrupting key dispatch and communicating policy can happen automatically.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

Establishing and Managing Service-Level Agreements

Service-level agreements (SLAs) are a powerful tool in managing vendor performance for outsourced fleet maintenance.

An SLA is a contract that describes expectations for service quality. It may include, for example, guaranteed turnaround time for preventive vehicle maintenance. The fleet manager can bank on an oil change being completed in 72 hours and plan the truck’s work schedule accordingly.

Outsourcing fleet maintenance has become more critical as utilities reduce the scope and expense of their in-house service facilities.

Nebraska Public Power District, which serves 84 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, streamlined its fleet management organization several years ago using SLAs with external service providers. Now, the internal team focuses on new equipment preparation as well as compliance inspections and repairs on mounted equipment. The outsourced service providers take care of all preventive maintenance and emergency repairs.

With fleet vehicles working from over 30 locations across Nebraska, it didn’t make sense to drive a truck six hours each way for an oil change, according to Rob Barbur, NPPD’s fleet superintendent.

“It just made sense logistically to move service to an outside vendor,” he said. “Now we do all of the chassis service outside of our facility, and we have agreements signed with what we call preferred providers.”

An SLA should detail the utility’s priorities, such as prices and turnaround times for standard services, including parts and labor. Priority service is typically even more important than price, especially for after-hours and weekend repairs, which may come at an additional cost beyond standard services.

NPPD is willing to pay for priority service with a vendor that meets their standards, such as following a detailed preventive maintenance checklist.

“We’re not looking for the Jiffy Lube service; we’re looking for the complete service,” Barbur said. “We want everything looked at, corrected and marked on the sheet.”

Flexibility is Key
However, given labor and materials shortages among qualified service shops, even the best-laid plans can go astray. Many shops have been hit hard by labor turnover. One of NPPD’s preferred shops lost five technicians in a single day.

SLA terms and penalties must be flexible in light of the current realities of labor and inflation. With NPPD’s vendors, emergency repairs that used to be done overnight are now waiting a week or more for a service technician to have time to roll the truck into the bay. And that’s with a preferred vendor.

“We go to a shop outside our network, and they say they can look at it in three to four weeks,” Barbur said. “That’s not counting the time for the actual repair.”

While enforcing SLA terms may seem like the right thing to do, consider the possible backlash. For a utility with a large, rural operating territory, there may not be many other options. In NPPD’s area, many towns have only one or two vendors that work on commercial vehicles.

“The shop owners talk to each other, so you have to be realistic about enforcement because you could wind up without a provider,” Barbur said.

It’s essential to have a system for drivers and local managers to report problems with the service shops. NPPD keeps a running log of complaints and concerns and phones the service shop to discuss the issues. If necessary, someone from the fleet maintenance staff will visit on-site. When possible, they bring a driver with firsthand knowledge of any issues.

“Generally, that corrects the problem, but if it continues, we will select another vendor in the area,” Barbur said.

Sometimes problems are due to a simple lack of communication. Perhaps a new service writer has started at the shop and wasn’t informed of the agreement with the utility.

SLAs are critical to managing fleet maintenance and repairs with outside vendors. They hold both sides accountable with expectations in black and white.

“You have to have an agreement because it’s worth its weight in gold when things start to go bad,” Barbur said. “It’s good to have the SLA to fall back on, not just a conversation you had.”

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.

 

6 Tips for Establishing and Managing SLAs

1. Formally evaluate candidates. NPPD uses a matrix to assess shops, gathering information about facility size, capabilities, number of technicians and technician certifications. Visit or have local employees inspect shops in person to verify information. “A shop may say they have 25 bays, but half of them are in a building across the street where they store spare parts,” said Rob Barbur, NPPD’s fleet superintendent.

2. Communicate priorities. Be clear if you care more about responsiveness and thoroughness than the lowest price. “We’re not looking for the cheapest down and dirty price; we’re looking for a vendor that will do everything we want,” said Travis Schweer, NPPD fleet coordinator.

3. Ask local employees. Talk with drivers and superintendents, who can recommend shops in their areas.

4. Work with small businesses. Talk with the shop before inviting them to bid. NPPD uses a 14-page SLA document, which could be overwhelming for a shop owner to read and fill out. The document should be detailed but as brief as possible. “If a small shop is overloaded with work, they’re not going to be interested in taking on a huge challenge,” Barbur said.

5. Allow for pricing changes. Shop owners don’t want to get locked into pricing over a multiyear agreement, so allow for price increases as costs rise. However, falling costs should also be reflected in the contract.

6. Have an easy exit clause. Allow either side to exit the agreement without penalty at any time. “If we’re not happy, we can leave, and if they’re not happy, they can leave, so they are not locked into the commitment forever,” Barbur said.

The Best Specs for Cable Reel Trailers

Cable reel trailers are bread-and-butter equipment for electric utility fleets. But that doesn’t mean they come in one size that fits all. Far from it. For one thing, there are at least a half dozen manufacturers producing these trailers. What’s more, these companies produce multiple models of cable reel trailers, with all being customizable to fit the exact capacity, productivity and safety requirements of individual utilities and contractors.

The right matchup between a trailer and the job at hand enables cable crews to get more done more safely in less time for a lower cost of operation. And pay strict attention to acquisition cost, which matters tremendously because cable reel trailers typically last at least 10 years; properly maintained ones have been known to roll for 20 years.

The upshot is that the “pay me now or pay me more later” principle is in play: Not weighing specs thoughtfully means the difference between spending thousands of dollars now or forking over tens of thousands of dollars later.

Manufacturer Suggestions
Given all that, let’s look at what items manufacturers recommend putting on your checklist to ensure your cable reel trailers are spec’d for your application, maintenance program and budget.

“Reel trailers can be a large investment,” said Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products at Felling Trailers Inc. (www.felling.com). “To ensure a long life, make sure you’re getting one that’s rated properly for the job. If the reels you’re hauling now are getting close to the rated payload capacity of the trailer being offered, step up to the next heaviest model.”

Given their complexity, considering every detail is critical. Greg Markert, business development manager for the Utility Group at Dejana Truck and Utility Equipment (https://dejana.com) provided this advice: “One should consider all of the work intended for the reel trailer and compare actual specifications and features, and capacities for lifting and pulling.” For example, he noted that when “using wooden reels for smaller cable operations, having wood reel adapters is a necessity.”

Markert also said that “for a cable puller, usually one empty reel for reclaiming old underground cable is generally used while one full reel is used for installing new cable. This is based more on the design of the machines than what can or will be hauled.”

Felling’s Rapp said that the reel diameter will determine the length of the trailer. Meanwhile, the reel weight will determine the axle package needed as well as the frame requirements. Reel width will determine the type of trailer needed. “Reel widths up to 64 inches in diameter can generally be hauled on a drop-deck trailer. Anything wider than that will need to be moved up to a deck-over-style trailer.”

Rapp also stressed that there are different options that enhance operability. For instance, tensioning brakes can be installed to tension the conductor as it’s being pulled off in overhead stringing applications.

He also pointed to the productivity boost from self-loading reel trailers that can be loaded by a single worker without the need for another piece of equipment. “When spec’d correctly, single-reel self-loading trailers can have payload capacities over 13,000 pounds. Multireel self-loading trailers generally have a much lower payload capacity per reel.”

According to Dejana’s Markert, cable puller trailers have self-contained hydraulic systems and rotate clockwise or counterclockwise to rewind. “Just as important is the pulling power of the pulling motors or rim drives in both directions,” he said. “Hydraulic motors will have the higher pulling power in both directions. Type of cable and length of pulls should determine needed pulling power. Trailers capable of a minimum of up to 40,000 pounds of pulling force can fill any application.”

Enhancing Use and Reliability
Markert offered a list of considerations to enhance trailer use and reliability. “Stabilizers are a safety must. Lifting heavy reels onto or off a pulling trailer can make the unit unstable. Stabilizers should always be used when loading, unloading or performing any pulling operation.

“A trailer’s maneuverability should also be considered when purchasing a trailer,” he continued. “Can the rear carriage be adjusted to be lined up with the manhole? Can the trailer turn in its own radius? What is the trailer’s ability to operate in tight spaces or substations?”

Markert noted that a “trailer with a high-torque drive motor and larger drive wheel will perform best on multiple surfaces and grades. And the use of air brakes in self-propelled mode should be considered for the safest trailer braking with loaded reels.”

Rapp pointed to rotating turret assemblies as an “extremely beneficial” enhancement. “A rotating turret allows parking the trailer parallel with the right-of-way. The turrets can then be turned to line up with the pull. This avoids having to jackknife the trailer to get properly lined up while keeping the right-of-way clear.”

He also advised that 12-volt DC is “more operator-friendly while hand pumps may be better where the trailer is only loading reels once or twice a day. If sitting unused for a long time, the hydraulic power unit’s battery could run down, but there are solar chargers that can keep the battery topped off.”

As for what’s coming down the road, Markert had this to say: “Working on lighter and stronger materials to manufacture trailers without sacrificing capacities and strength is something being looked at.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

What’s New in Utility Construction Equipment in 2023?

When digging trenches, lifting materials or drilling in tight spaces, how can utility crews get more work done in less time at a lower operational cost and with a smaller carbon footprint?

Those are the primary factors heavy-equipment manufacturers consider as they design and develop new utility construction equipment.

What new products have emerged this year to help utility companies and contractors cut time, costs and emissions? Here are eight new developments to keep your eye on.

Caterpillar
What’s New: Redesigned 926, 930 and 938 wheel loaders

Caterpillar has released its latest Cat 926, 930 and 938 wheel loaders. The machines offer an adaptive engine RPM, four powertrain modes and auto wheel torque control for improved durability.

The loaders include a real-time payload system and a bucket shake feature to enhance precision. And the new machines provide improved operator comfort with revamped cabs offering better visibility, automatic temperature control and a new joystick steering system.

Volvo CE
What’s New: First North American pilot program for the EC230 Electric excavator

Volvo Construction Equipment and WM (formerly Waste Management) are partnering to pilot the 23-ton Volvo EC230 Electric excavator, set for commercial launch in North America in 2024.

The pilot will be carried out at a WM East Coast facility, where the electric excavator will undertake the typical duties of diesel machines in waste applications. The project aligns with WM’s commitment to reducing emissions by 42% by 2032.

“This is the first pilot in North America, but the EC230 Electric excavator has been thoroughly tested by customers overseas, and in each case, it has offered the same performance as its diesel equivalent with the added benefit of no direct emissions,” said Stephen Roy, president of Region North America for Volvo CE.

The EC230 Electric excavator, part of a six-machine electric lineup from Volvo CE, made its North American debut at CONEXPO-CON/AGG earlier this year.

CASE CE
What’s New: TL100 mini track loader

CASE Construction Equipment has entered the growing mini track loader (MTL) market with its TL100, scheduled for release in late 2023.

The machine offers a 1,000-pound operating capacity, hydraulic pilot controls and a robust standard auxiliary hydraulic setup. And it’s compatible with a wider range of attachments to ensure your crews have the right tool for the job.

The TL100 includes a five-year subscription to CASE’s SiteWatch telematics. It also features a Common Industry Interface, ensuring compatibility with most major MTL attachment manufacturers.

Vermeer
What’s New: GPS-enabled Verifier G3+ utility locator

Vermeer has introduced the GPS-enabled Verifier G3+ utility locator. The device offers optimized connectivity, easy-to-use controls and the ability to pair with smartphones through the G3+ Map mobile app. The app facilitates real-time mapping of utility data, such as location, depth and operator details, which contractors and utility owners can use for better project tracking and customer service.

The locator can distinguish individual utilities, detect ambient noise and enable frequency adjustments from up to 500 feet away via a wireless connection. Data captured is transferred via Bluetooth 5.0 to the G3+ Map app and can be incorporated into the Vermeer Projects bore planning tool for further use.

Ditch Witch
What’s New: AT120 directional drill

Ditch Witch has unveiled the AT120, its most advanced all-terrain directional drill, to increase productivity in challenging underground conditions for fiber, pipeline and utility installations through hard rock.

The AT120 delivers a 50% performance boost compared to its predecessor, the AT100. And it includes a 20-foot end-to-end drill pipe and a Virtually Assisted Makeup and Breakout system, automating drill pipe adjustments during operations.

CASE CE
What’s New: CL36EV electrified compact wheel loader

CASE Construction Equipment introduced the CL36EV, an electrified compact wheel loader, at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023.

The CL36EV is a 3.6-metric-ton machine with a hinge pin height of over 10 feet. The company said it would release additional product information and commercial availability at CASE dealers in North America at a later date.

“A loader of this footprint, especially one used in yard applications where it stays there and has regular access to primary power, is the perfect application for electrification,” said Andrew Dargatz, product manager at CASE. “The CL36EV delivers the same power and performance as comparably sized diesel-powered loaders and can be matched with a full range of attachments for additional versatility.”

Elliott Equipment
What’s New: M87 material handling aerial work platform

Elliott Equipment Co. has launched the M87 Material Handling Aerial Work Platform, a new offering designed to enhance operational efficiency in the construction, maintenance and utility sectors. The M87 offers an 87-foot working height and a 77-foot side reach, with the main boom winch able to lift 2,000 pounds. An additional platform jib winch has a 500-pound capacity.

The M87 can be mounted on a non-CDL chassis, simplifying the process for operators and offering savings in fuel and maintenance costs. Further, its hydraulically self-leveling platform and 180-degree rotation capability facilitate an efficient and safer working posture.

Ditch Witch
What’s New: PT37 ride-on plow/trencher

The PT37 primarily serves as a plow but comes with additional options – such as a trencher, a reel carrier and a hydra-bore configuration – making it adaptable to various work site requirements. It features a side-facing seat that adjusts to give operators an unhindered view of the machine’s tires and plow box.

Ditch Witch’s PT37 can be reduced to 36 inches in width, granting access through standard gates and into tight workspaces. And the machine offers a foldable design, enabling it to be kept on a trailer and conveniently stowed in garages. Maintenance is minimal due to an efficient exhaust cleaning system and fewer grease points.

Using Supporting Materials with Stabilizers and Outriggers

When utility workers are tasked with setting up equipment, oftentimes it’s along roadsides with slopes, ditches or unstable surfaces. Unfortunately, equipment tip-overs continue to be one of the most common job site accidents, but they are generally preventable with proper planning, training and the use of outrigger pads, cribbing or blocking. Knowing when and how to use these types of products is essential in avoiding these types of accidents.

Truck-mounted equipment frequently used in utility applications – such as aerial devices and digger derricks – will usually be equipped with one of two types of stabilization gear: stabilizers or outriggers. Compact crawler lifts, which can be found in vegetation management applications, are not truck-mounted, but they also have outriggers that must be deployed correctly.

Utility companies should develop a comprehensive plan that establishes procedures for equipment setup. Product selection should be based on the loads and pressures generated by the equipment, the allowable ground-bearing pressure, and other common field needs, such as setting up on slopes or hillsides.

When selecting an outrigger pad, several criteria should be considered, including strength and stiffness of the pad’s material; its size, shape and features; and total cost of ownership.

An outrigger pad size and type can be determined once the minimum required bearing area is established. To establish the bearing area, outrigger or stabilizer loads must be known and the allowable ground-bearing pressure must be determined. The minimum bearing area required can be calculated by dividing the outrigger or stabilizer load by the allowable ground-bearing pressure.

Lastly, to support crews working in unlevel areas, cribbing products can be identified based on height requirements and other potential features, such as interlocking functionality.

Following is a short case study on the process one company followed to develop their equipment setup policy and procedures.

Case Study: Establishing a Safe Setup Policy
Over 20 years ago, EnergyUnited, an electric cooperative in North Carolina serving 19 counties across the state, realized that the wooden timbers they were using for outrigger pads created productivity and safety concerns.

Jimmy Brown, director of fleet services for the cooperative, said that for many years, electric utilities cut sections from wood timbers and bolted them together, then drilled a hole and used rope for a handle. The technique worked, but the final product was cumbersome to handle and transport.

“Pads were hard to keep clean, the edges would wear, and they’d get heavy when they got in the mud,” Brown said. “The wood also degrades when exposed to water and delivered inconsistent performance.”

So, Brown led an initiative to create a company policy that guides equipment purchases so they meet the needs of the crews and the applications. This initiative provided an opportunity for field personnel to provide input while standard specification requirements were being established. Creating standard spec documents for aerial devices and digger derricks is recommended by ANSI to streamline spec’ing and quoting.

Today, EnergyUnited has a policy that all of their bucket trucks, digger derricks and small crane trucks must be set up using outriggers pads. The cooperative specs their trucks to be upfitted with storage bins that accommodate the outrigger pads they want to store on each truck.

After researching various manufactured outrigger pads, EnergyUnited has standardized their trucks with DICA’s SafetyTech Outrigger Pads, Cavity Pads and SlotLock Cribbing Blocks.

“We worked with DICA to complete an assessment of our outrigger requirements, which included the weight of the trucks, boom and brand information, lift capacity and reach,” Brown explained. “We used the standard outrigger pads from DICA for years until the development of the cavity pads. These cavity pads work great to keep the outriggers from sliding off the pad, and they are lighter, which makes handling easier.”

Brown noted that cribbing blocks are used when additional height is needed due to unlevel terrain. When working on such terrain, crews will typically use cribbing blocks on one side of their truck to keep the truck stable.

“Safety is such a key issue for us, our employees, members and for the general public,” he said. “There is no shortage of outrigger pads or cribbing blocks available on the market, but we wanted to align with someone who builds a reliable product and who would be available to answer our questions. DICA was the answer to all those questions.”

Useful Reminders
There are a number of items to keep in mind when working with equipment that uses stabilizers or outriggers. For instance, pieces of equipment that have stabilizers do not lift themselves off the ground; the tires on the chassis are the main support for the equipment. Stabilizers, which extend from the chassis at an angle, provide balance and exert significantly less force on the ground because the tires remain in contact with the ground. Stabilizers are typically found on aerial devices and smaller digger derricks. In some cases, there will be only one set of stabilizers behind the truck cab; in other cases, there may be two sets: behind the cab and at the rear of the chassis.

Equipment that lifts itself off the ground, such as boom trucks and larger-capacity digger derricks, is equipped with outriggers. The outriggers extend out and down from the chassis and provide the only points of contact with the ground during operation. Outriggers will exert more ground-bearing pressure than stabilizers, and the amount of ground-bearing pressure may change as the boom of the aerial device or digger derrick rotates through its working range.

Both stabilizer- and outrigger-enabled equipment may also have an extra bumper outrigger, which is a hydraulic cylinder or manual jack located on the front bumper of the truck.

Regardless of the type of stabilization system a piece of equipment is fitted with, it is highly recommended to always use some kind of supporting materials between the equipment float, foot or pontoon and the ground.

The purpose of supporting materials is to spread concentrated pressures from equipment over a large enough area to levels the ground can withstand, specific requirements, or specified levels based on allowable ground-bearing pressure. Selection of supporting materials should be based on two primary criteria: They should be strong enough to withstand the exerted loads, and they should be stiff enough to distribute the loads over the intended area. The larger the load distribution area needed, the more rigid the supporting materials must be.

Operating within level tolerances is critical. If a slope is unavoidable, the bank of the slope may need to be cut away to establish a flat area, and cribbing should be used to fill the gap to help level the equipment. Keep in mind that when operating on a slope, there is always the potential for equipment to move.

Finally, additional products to help provide safety and support to your crews include wheel chocks and ground protection mats or temporary roads. A good safety and operational plan should include guidance about how to safely, quickly and easily maneuver in and out of job sites without leaving any indication you were there.

About the Author: Kris Koberg is the CEO of DICA (https://dicausa.com).

Tap into ‘The Wisdom of the Bullfrog’ for Career Growth

As a fleet manager, you don’t just manage assets; you also lead people. And your career success hinges on how well your office staff, shop supervisors and technicians perform.

So, how can you become a more effective leader poised to move up the ranks in your company?

Check out Admiral William H. McRaven’s new book, “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy).”

The title “Bullfrog” is given to the Navy SEAL who has served the longest on active duty. Admiral McRaven received this honor in 2011 when he took charge of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

During his 37 years as a Navy SEAL, Admiral McRaven dealt with every conceivable leadership challenge by commanding combat operations that included the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Phillips and the raid for Osama bin Laden.

Here are six lessons with key quotes from “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog” to help you become a more influential and impactful leader in your fleet department.

Lesson 1: When in command, command.
Key quote: “As a leader you must always appear in command, even on those days when you struggle with the pressures of the job … As a leader you can’t have a bad day. You must never look beaten, no matter the circumstance. If you sulk, if you hang your head, if you whine or complain about the leaders above you or the followers below you, then you will lose the respect of your men and women, and the attitude of despair will spread like wildfire.”

When making decisions about fleet purchases, maintenance schedules or personnel, do so with authority and decisiveness. Even when things get challenging – whether it’s a budget crunch, vehicle downtime or staff issues – maintain a positive and confident demeanor. Your team looks to you for guidance, so your attitude will influence theirs.

Lesson 2: The only easy day was yesterday.
Key quote: “The words were a cautionary tale to every SEAL trainee. They said, ‘If you think the hard part is over, you’re mistaken.’ Tomorrow will be just as difficult as today, maybe more so. But the words carried great weight outside training as well. To me the words were a clarion call, a reminder that every day required my full effort. They reminded me that no day was going to be easy and that as a leader I must be prepared to give it my all. Every. Single. Day.”

There will always be new vehicles, technologies, regulations and challenges. Don’t expect things to get easier, but embrace each day as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve. This mindset will help you adapt to changes, solve problems and lead your team more effectively.

Lesson 3: Run to the sound of guns.
Key quote: “When things go bad, that is the time for the leader to be aggressive, to move to where the problem is and address the crisis head-on.”

Vehicles break down, specification mistakes happen, and deadlines get missed. When issues arise, confront them head-on. Your team and boss will appreciate your directness and initiative.

Lesson 4: Troop the line.
Key quote: “In every command tour I had, trooping the line – those daily walks around the building, the base, or the camp – always yielded great insights into how well the organization was doing and how well I was leading.”

Regularly check in with your team, whether it’s the office staff, maintenance shop supervisors or technicians. This personal connection will give you a deeper understanding of your team, help you identify potential issues before they become big problems, and show your team that you care about them and their work.

Lesson 5: Expect what you inspect.
Key quote: “Inspections are not just about ensuring compliance; inspections force a level of discipline into the corporate system, and when discipline is applied, the rank and file know they are in an organization that cares about quality, that cares about results, that cares about hard work. No one loves to be inspected. But every professional appreciates knowing that someone above them cares about the details, because it is in the details that businesses succeed or fail.”

Regular inspections drive a sense of discipline and quality throughout your team. Examples might include spot-checking maintenance work, reviewing purchase orders or evaluating staff performance. When your team knows that quality and results matter to you, they’ll strive to meet those standards.

Lesson 6: Hope is not a strategy.
Key quote: “Never underestimate the power of hope. Hope is what inspires, hope is what encourages, hope is what empowers, and without hope, nothing worthwhile can be accomplished. But hope alone is wishful thinking. Pair hope with a sound strategy, a detailed plan, and a lot of hard work, and nothing is out of reach.”

Hope alone won’t reduce costs, improve efficiency or ensure safety. You need solid, realistic strategies to achieve those goals. So, invest the time to develop comprehensive plans for vehicle procurement, proactive maintenance, effective staff training, robust safety protocols and any other aspect of your job.

 

EUFMC Celebrates 70 Years

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, which brings together fleet professionals, manufacturers and suppliers to network, discuss fleet-related challenges and find solutions through various educational and technical events.

Plans for the special anniversary include a drive-through utility equipment demonstration and an equipment show featuring more than 60 displays, activities for attendees and their spouses, and live music.

James Lawrence, also known as the Iron Cowboy, will share his inspiring message as EUFMC’s dinner speaker. Known for the signature cowboy hat he wears while running races, Lawrence is an ultra-endurance athlete who has pushed himself beyond what many doctors previously believed to be physiologically possible. In addition to speaking at the conference dinner, he will lead the annual guided run and guided walk for EUFMC attendees and their spouses through the Colonial Williamsburg historic area.

This year’s conference will also introduce the first Women in Utility Fleet gathering June 6. The event has been coordinated in response to attendee requests for a networking opportunity for female fleet professionals attending EUFMC.

Following the Women in Utility Fleet breakfast will be the first day of EUFMC’s two-day General Session. This year’s education program – Driving Safety, Sustainability & Technical Expertise – focuses on finding solutions to fleet management challenges. Brian L. Wolff, chief strategy officer and executive vice president of public policy and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, will deliver the keynote address. Topics to be addressed during the General Session include:

  • Fleet Safety
  • ZEV Design, Acquisition, Planning and Testing
  • Fleet Regulatory Update
  • Fleet Charger Construction Updates and Mobile Fleet Charger Developments
  • Legal Perspectives
  • Navigating Supply Chain Disruptions
  • PHEV Medium-Duty Vehicles
  • Telematics Strategies
  • Tire Considerations and Benchmarking

To learn more about EUFMC, including a history of the event since its inception in 1953, visit https://eufmc.com.

Women in Utility Fleet: Julie Gomez

In the past, a passion for cars and mechanical expertise marked the starting point for a career in fleet management. Today, there are many roads to fleet success.

Take Julie Gomez as an example. Her journey began in 2003 with a customer service role at Tucson Electric Power (TEP). Within a year, she transitioned to office support in the fleet department, steadily ascending the ranks over 12 years before taking charge of TEP’s fleet in 2015.

Now, as the T&D Supervisor II of Fleet Services, Gomez oversees TEP’s extensive fleet operations, including about 1,000 assets, 24 employees and one garage. She also serves on the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference board of directors.

What sparked Gomez’s interest in fleet management? What valuable insights has she gained throughout her career? And what guidance does she offer to women contemplating a career in fleet management?

I recently sat down with Gomez to delve deeper into her inspiring journey. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: Many fleet professionals didn’t initially envision this career but became captivated once they entered it. Did you always dream of working in the fleet industry, or did it find you?

Julie Gomez: Fleet found me. My career path started when I got a job at Tucson Electric, working in customer service. While I appreciated the opportunity, I knew customer service wasn’t my end goal. So, about a year later, I thought I’d try my hand at a different role, not realizing I’d land in the fleet department.

Then things progressed quickly. I went from being the newest employee in fleet services to becoming the senior office support person within just three years. I felt like I was constantly drinking from a fire hose because I had to learn tons of fleet information just to do my part in keeping the fleet rolling.

What skills did you learn during that year in customer service that continue to serve you well in your current role?

I learned a lot about the company. The customer service department teaches you everything about the company because you never know what the customer will ask. Gaining knowledge about the company’s operations – from understanding how to read a meter to recognizing the responsibilities of various roles – has definitely benefited me.

What was the most significant adjustment you faced when transitioning from a fleet support supervisor to overseeing the entire fleet as a T&D supervisor?

Before the promotion, the shop supervisor and I were peer supervisors. Now, I was his boss. That took some adjusting.

What made the transition easier for us is that we had established a great relationship during the years we worked together. So, when I became the primary supervisor, it took some getting used to at first. But there was no conflict.

We both understood our strengths. We both understood our roles and that we were a team. I knew I could not do my job well without him, his expertise and what he did every day. And he leaned on me to take care of things that I was good at, like the budget, so he could focus on the shop and the mechanics.

What actions did you take to foster a smooth transition and cultivate that strong relationship with the shop supervisor?

One thing I didn’t do was assume I knew his job. I didn’t act as if I had as much technical knowledge as he did. He knew I wouldn’t try to speak to and explain things I didn’t know about. And he knew I wasn’t trying to prove to anyone that I ran it all alone. We were a team.

Having spent 12 years in fleet services administrative support, what was the most significant learning curve you faced when becoming the supervisor of the entire department?

It was learning about shop operations and culture.

I had never worked in a mechanic’s shop. And it’s very different from working in an office. I needed to become familiar with the processes – like how the mechanics are assigned work, where they work on the vehicles and how they communicate.

I understood the roles of my office employees, but I needed to learn how the shop employees worked together as a team.

During my first days on the job, I thought, “OK, who does what? Why does he do that? Where is he going to work? Why does he have to work outside?”

It was all new to me.

Despite not initially dreaming of a career in fleet management, you’ve spent 20 years in the industry. What aspects of fleet have inspired you to continue in this field?

I like how fleet affects the entire company doing business. For our crews to build, maintain and repair infrastructure – or even to visit customers – they need to drive something.

And we have the privilege of interacting with representatives, managers, supervisors and other employees across all departments. Our responsibility is to support them. And we take that very seriously.

We’re not stuck in our little silo, even if we’re on a different part of the property. We impact the entire company, where our role is critical for ensuring customers consistently get excellent service.

If you could give advice to your younger self from 20 years ago, or to women today considering a career in fleet, what would you tell them?

My advice is to understand that you have the strengths necessary to succeed in fleet. I wasn’t a mechanic. I barely knew how to check my tire pressure.

But [a lack of technical expertise] should not deter someone from being interested in a profession that focuses on vehicles. There’s this whole world related to fleet. Whether you’re good at analyzing information, providing customer service or leading people, all those skills are necessary for fleet.

Sure, technical skills are important. But if that’s not your background or skill set, look beyond that. There are tons of opportunities to impact a fleet department with the skills you have.

Accelerated Development: What’s New in All-Electric Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks

As you navigate the opportunities and challenges brought about by fleet electrification, it’s crucial to stay informed about the latest product news.

This roundup delves into the latest news in the heavier all-electric truck segment from industry leaders Mack Trucks, Isuzu, Hino, Nikola and Tesla. Consider the impact these electric vehicles might have on your fleet.

Mack Trucks: MD Electric
Availability: End of 2023
Range: Up to 230 miles

Mack Trucks unveiled its first electric medium-duty truck, the Mack MD Electric, at the 2023 Work Truck Week held in Indianapolis.

The MD Electric is the second electric vehicle in Mack’s lineup, following the Mack LR Electric refuse vehicle. The MD Electric will be available in Class 6 and 7 models, with respective GVWRs of 25,995 pounds and 33,000 pounds. Both models will be produced at Roanoke Valley Operations in Virginia.

The MD Electric is designed to support various applications, such as dry van/refrigerated, stake/flatbed and dump vocations. The electric truck is powered by nickel manganese cobalt oxide lithium-ion batteries – available in 150-kWh and 240-kWH configurations – and supports AC and DC charging. Its regenerative braking system helps capture energy during the vehicle’s multiple daily stops.

Designed for reliability and durability, the MD Electric features a three-phase permanent magnet synchronous motor and shares the same styling as its diesel counterpart, the Mack Anthem.

Mack dealers, many of which are already Mack Certified Electric Vehicle dealers, will provide support for the MD Electric.

Isuzu: N-Series EV
Availability: Early 2024
Range: Up to 235 miles

Isuzu Commercial Truck of America has announced its first all-electric production model, the N-Series EV, to be available in the first half of 2024.

Key features of the 2025 NRR EV include a 19,500-pound GVWR; wheelbases from 132.5 to 176 inches; a standard cab design; four battery-capacity options with a range of up to 235 miles; DC fast-charging and AC (Level 2) charging capability; and an optional advanced driver assistance system package for increased safety.

The N-Series EV will be powered by lithium-ion battery packs, offering a choice of three, five, seven or nine packs to suit various driving range needs. Charging ports will accommodate popular connectors in the U.S. and Canada, with charging times ranging from one to 2.5 hours for DC fast charging and 5.5 to 10 hours for AC Level 2.

The optional advanced driver assistance system package on the N-Series EV includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning systems, full-range adaptive cruise control and other safety measures.

Hino: M5e and L6e
Availability: Early 2024
Range: TBD

At the 2023 Work Truck Week, Hino Trucks announced that in 2024, the company will release electric versions of their M and L Series medium-duty trucks – named the Me Series and the Le Series – powered by SEA Electric’s SEA-Drive system.

The Class 5 M5e (19,500-pound GVWR) cabover and Class 6 L6e (25,950-pound GVWR) conventional models will offer battery capacities of 138 kWh and 220 kWh, respectively.

Hino Trucks’ President Glenn Ellis stated that the collaboration with SEA Electric is a strategic move to provide powertrain options that meet customer needs across the U.S. Hino’s national dealer network is equipped for the shift to EVs, with high-voltage training from previous hybrid products.

To facilitate the EV transition, Hino is developing charging infrastructure through Hino INCLUSEV, an end-to-end EV enablement solution exclusively available through the company’s nationwide dealer network. INCLUSEV will offer consulting, sales, infrastructure, single-source financing, support and service to customers.

With Hino Edge telematics metrics and driver behavior data, the company has developed its strategy for initial EV vocational offerings, focusing on delivery and final mile applications.

Nikola: Tre BEV
Availability: Now
Range: Up to 330 miles

Nikola’s Tre BEV 6×2 offers up to 733 kWh of energy with an estimated 330 miles of range. The 13-foot-tall short-haul/regional BEV semi is based on an Iveco cabover chassis, featuring a 733-kWh battery pack and twin motors with 645 horsepower and 1,327 pound-feet of torque.

Although charging takes some time, with an 80% charge achievable in 90 minutes using a 350-kW DC charger, the company anticipates technology improvements will reduce this time.

The U.S. versions of the BEV are for day use, with European models including sleeping quarters. The truck’s interior features a 17-inch touchscreen, exceptional visibility and quiet operation. Nikola plans to deliver up to 350 Tre BEVs to dealers in 2023 and 125-150 Tre fuel-cell trucks in Q4.

The digital cockpit includes a wraparound dash and minimal mechanical controls. Drivers can access important information on the dash A-panel, while the 17-inch B-panel touchscreen allows them to control functions like headlights, climate control and radio. The Tre’s chassis houses nine modular battery packs, air disc brakes at all wheel positions, and a dampened air spring suspension for stability and comfort.

Nikola aims to offer a full sleeper cab for the long-haul fuel-cell version of the Tre.

Tesla: Semi
Availability: Now
Range: Up to 500 miles

PepsiCo recently unveiled a new fleet of 18 Tesla Semi trucks at its Sacramento, California, facility, one of the first metropolitan areas in the U.S. to integrate these electric trucks into operations. A Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District grant made the partnership with Tesla possible. PepsiCo said that a single Tesla Semi can travel 400 miles on a one-hour charge and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 302 passenger cars annually. The company aims for a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

Tesla’s Master Plan Part 3 describes two battery-size options for the Tesla Semi: Semi Light and Semi Heavy. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries will be used for standard-range vehicles, while higher energy-density batteries with high-nickel cathodes will be used for larger, longer-range vehicles like trucks and buses. The Semi Light will use a 500-kWh LFP battery pack, while the Semi Heavy will use an 800-kWh high-nickel battery.

A Roadmap to Autonomous Trucks

A Roadmap to Autonomous Trucks

The technology and steps to regulate fully autonomous trucks will evolve bit by bit over the coming years.

By David Cullen

The road to autonomous trucks is a long and winding one. How it’s navigated will ride on everything from how rapidly the technology advances and how quickly it is embraced by truck operators and other motorists to how it will work in practical terms and how many regulations will impact its adoption.

The general media is wont to drum up the coming of “self-driving” or “driverless” trucks. Those adjectives make for grabby headlines that stir fears of “robot trucks.” The real goal is quite different: to deploy rationally based, highly engineered and integrated systems and software on trucks and roadways that will vastly increase safety, greatly increase delivery efficiency, and even cut fuel costs as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

A Constellation of Systems

It’s best to think of all this not as the development of a single new vehicle archetype but as a constellation of advanced systems that will automate one or more aspects of driving a truck. Even once full vehicle automation – picture a truck without a cab – is practically attained and legally allowed on roadways, many trucks will only be partially automated due to cost and/or operational factors.

This is why the truck builders and suppliers now engaged in this work, as well as the federal government, don’t talk about trucks without drivers; they talk about developing and releasing an array of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Some ADAS technology is already on many heavy-duty trucks, such as collision mitigation systems that take control of braking and steering as needed when system software determines the truck driver is not reacting quickly enough to a potential crash on the highway.

The federal government recognizes the importance of ADAS development to the point that it is actively promoting adoption of this technology as it stands now, even as it works to formulate policies for how the eventual full automaton of commercial vehicles will be regulated.

Performance Categories with Potential

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are four general performance categories of ADAS that have the most potential to prevent crashes, injuries and fatalities.

Braking. This includes automatic emergency braking (AEB) and adaptive cruise control (ACC) systems. “AEB systems detect when a truck is in danger of striking the vehicle in front of it and braking automatically if needed. ACC helps with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a prescribed distance between it and the vehicle in front. Some systems can come to a stop and continue.”

Steering. Includes lane-keep assist, lane centering and adaptive steering control, “all of which help drivers maintain proper vehicle control and traffic spacing.”

Warning. Includes lane departure warning, forward collision warning and blind spot warning. “These systems help drivers by warning them of encroaching vehicles, unintentional moves or lane drifting.”

Monitoring. Includes driver-facing and road-facing cameras for training, and camera-based mirror systems for enhancing a driver’s field of view. “These systems help industry stakeholders provide driver feedback and improve driver performance.”

All of these systems are now available for spec’ing on new trucks, so think of them as building blocks toward higher levels of autonomous truck operation.

Levels of Automation

Further out, much is already in play. That’s why manufacturers and industry groups often refer to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Levels of Driving Automation Recommended Practice J3016 to describe where they are now and where they plan to get to with this technology. The levels were first laid out in 2014 and have been updated since.

The SAE levels are usually presented visually (see chart), but here is the gist:

  • Level 0 means no driving automation.
  • Levels 1 and 2 cover the presence of “driver support features” deployed while a person is driving.
  • With Levels 3 through 5, no one is driving when automated driving features are engaged.
  • And, specific to Level 5, the technology can drive the vehicle on all road types under all conditions. In other words, full automation is achieved.

As for the regulatory environment that will eventually rule all driverless truck development in the U.S., some states now have laws on the books that enable limited use of even fully autonomous trucks on certain highways, primarily to enable research and development as well as road testing. While that patchwork of rules will grow, ultimately it will become secondary to yet-to-be-promulgated federal rules and regulations regarding the design and operation of autonomous trucks and the roadways on which they will operate.

Rules of the Road Ahead

So, at some point, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will mandate standards that truck builders will have to follow; the Federal Highway Administration will formulate rules on roadway design and technology to accommodate autonomous trucks; and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will issue rules to update federal safety standards to cover autonomous trucks and the CDL drivers operating them, to one degree or another.

The FMCSA is already engaged in the rulemaking process for its purview over autonomous truck development. For example, in May 2019, the agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – also known as a “pre-rule” – that requested public comment about motor carrier safety regulations that “may need to be updated, modified, or eliminated to facilitate the safe introduction of automated driving systems equipped commercial motor vehicles onto our nation’s roadways.”

Another Step

Earlier this year, the FMCSA took another step forward, announcing it would soon issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend certain Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “to ensure the safe introduction of automated driving systems (ADS)-equipped commercial motor vehicles” onto U.S. roadways.

The agency said its proposed changes to truck operation, inspection, repair and maintenance regulations would “prioritize safety and security, promote innovation, foster a consistent regulatory approach to ADS-equipped CMVs, and recognize the difference between human operators and ADS.” The projected publication date for this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is this November.

In the meantime, major truck builders and their technology partners the world over continue apace to climb that SAE ladder toward a safer and more efficient future for commercial vehicles.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Sizing Up the Electric Pickup Truck

It seems like every time you turn around these days, there’s a new battery-electric pickup truck being unveiled. Iconic American truck builders Ford, General Motors and Ram have begun building full-size electric pickups, while startup manufacturers – such as Rivian and Canoo – are rolling out EV pickups of varying designs. Meanwhile, Elon Musk, head of the biggest EV maker in North America, keeps promising to soon produce the purpose-built Tesla Cybertruck.

These manufacturers and others are poised to profit from what may go down as the golden age of electric pickups. Truck makers are beginning to ramp up their overall EV production, new tax breaks and other incentives are becoming available to trim high acquisition costs for buyers, and more commercial truck customers are getting better acquainted with the advantages of electric drive that go beyond warding off climate change.

Home vs. Work
Regardless of nameplates new or old, the winners will fall into two application categories: consumer and vocational, with – as is typical with all pickups – some use cases straddling that divide.

Consumers will opt for electric pickups for different reasons than work-truck operators like electric utility fleets. The former may go electric to save on fuel, to help save the environment or just to be trendy. But the latter will go electric with set goals of consuming less fuel, burnishing corporate green credentials, operating a less complex and therefore less expensive powertrain, and – in many cases – gaining a mobile platform to run electric power tools and equipment at work sites. Indeed, several or all of the above may sway fleet pickup buyers to go electric.

The electric pickups are coming, and their numbers will eventually soar. But to be clear, despite all the hype, the floodgates are far from open. That is attested to by the following EV pickup delivery numbers:

The Latest on Electric Pickups
As for what’s available now or soon to be, let’s first consider the EV pickups offered by what used to be called the Detroit Big Three: Ford, General Motors and Ram (formerly Dodge). The majority of commercial EV buyers will look here first for the simple reason that their pickup fleets already consist of models bearing one or more of these marques, which were no doubt selected based on their past and continuing performance on the job.

Ford was first out of the full-size electrics gate in the first half of 2022 with its F-150 Lightning and F-150 Lightning Pro 4×4 pickups. Standard range is up to an EPA-estimated 230 miles. Said by Ford to generate 580 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque with a standard lithium-ion battery, the base truck boasts a 2,000-pound maximum payload capacity and up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. Adding an optional trailer-tow package boosts that up to 10,000 pounds.

Under Where the Engine Was
Lightning models include Ford’s Mega Power Frunk, a waterproof trunk area built into the spot where the internal combustion engine compartment resides on a non-electric F-150. Within it are 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space, plus four 120-volt AC Pro Power Onboard electrical outlets and two USB ports for charging smartphones and tablets. Also available is the 9.6-kilowatt Pro Power Onboard system that adds two more 120-volt outlets plus a 240-volt AC outlet in the bed to power work-site tools and equipment. In addition, parameters can be set for power usage.

Rolled out last year was General Motors’ GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 pickup. This truck is clearly marketed to consumers seeking the ultimate in electric bragging rights. Key features noted by GM: three-motor e4WD propulsion system with GM-estimated best-in-class 1,000 horsepower and GM-estimated 11,500 pound-feet of torque; GM-estimated 329 miles of driving range on a full charge; and 800-volt DC fast-charging capability.

GM’s Twins
Also recently announced were GM’s 2024/2025 twin full-size electric pickup stablemates, the GMC Sierra EV and the Chevrolet Silverado EV. Per usual with these two models, their features vary slightly, primarily in their “road feel” for drivers and some interior fitments.

Consider this take on the two GM models posted at www.thedrive.com/news/gmc-sierra-ev-or-chevy-silverado-ev-truckbuyers-face-old-questions-for-new-trucks: “Both trucks … have identical range estimates and nearly identical power figures (the GMC Sierra EV makes marginally more torque: 785 foot-pounds vs. 780 foot-pounds). GMC touts its Sierra EV will make up to 754 horsepower in ‘Max Power Mode’ while the Silverado EV touts 664 hp in ‘Wide Open Watts’ mode. Chevy says the Silverado EV will tow up to 10,000 pounds in RST Trim, while GMC notes 9,500 pounds of towing capacity for its truck. Both companies have alluded to different towing capacities for different models but haven’t specified those ranges.”

Ram’s REV
Ram just entered the game with its 1500 REV pickup, unveiled April 5 at the New York Auto Show. It is to be equipped with a standard 168-kilowatt-hour battery pack with a targeted range of up to 350 miles or an optional 229-kilowatt-hour large battery pack for a targeted range of up to 500 miles.

Ram said the REV’s towing capacity will be up to 14,000 pounds; the payload capacity will be up to 2,700 pounds. The truck can add up to 110 miles of range in approximately 10 minutes with 800-volt DC fast charging at up to 350 kilowatts, the OEM stated. In addition, a Ram 1500 REV XR version that will deliver “class-shattering range” is to follow.

On the startup side, those gaining the most media play that may eventually hold appeal for commercial fleets look to be the purpose-built Rivian R1T, with off-road capabilities, and the Canoo, with 500-plus targeted horsepower. And don’t forget the truly futuristic Tesla Cybertruck EV pickup, still waiting in the wings.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Spec’ing All-Terrain Utility Vehicles

All-terrain utility vehicles (ATUVs) are machines that utility fleets use to transport people, materials and equipment across potentially hazardous off-road environments for the purpose of inspecting or repairing power lines or performing other tasks in remote areas.

These vehicles go where four-wheel-drive pickups cannot, navigating steep slopes, trudging through heavy brush, hovering over swamplands, and even floating and powering across creeks and rivers, depending on the make and model of the ATUV.

But with a wide range of capabilities and options available, it can be easy to overlook an important spec, one that may cost your fleet a lot of money to correct after the fact. So, what are the most common mistakes utility fleet professionals should avoid when spec’ing ATUVs? Here are five to watch out for.

1. Selecting the Wrong Tool for the Job
ATUVs come in a variety of flavors and list prices. You may be tempted to buy a consumer-grade ATV to go easy on the budget, but that choice could end up costing more in the long run. Some manufacturers, like Polaris, offer commercial-grade units based on their popular consumer models. For extreme terrain, tracked and large-tire vehicles can go beyond where the road turns to swamp or desert.

Some ATVs for commercial use are delivered as bare-bones chassis and require an upfitter to prepare them with bumpers, doors, winches and other necessities. A consumer-grade vehicle likely won’t have the necessary safety features and may not stand up to daily use and abuse. Diesel engines may only be available in commercial lines. Some extreme conditions might call for a sealed-cab unit with an HVAC system, for example, that is unavailable on consumer units.

Ultimately, the use case and terrain should dictate the type of vehicle selected for the job. Depending on the landscape, a commercial-grade ATV or side-by-side will handle most of the tasks thrown at it. However, in some extreme environments, there is no substitute for tracked and large-tired vehicles that carry hefty price tags.

“If you’re digging holes and setting poles across inhospitable territory, a tracked vehicle may be the only tool that can get the job done,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully (www.powerbully.com), a division of Kässbohrer Geländefahrzeug AG that specializes in tracked utility vehicles.

Perhaps the best advice is to seek expert input before making what could be a six-figure investment in a piece of equipment.

“The best place to start is talking with a dealer that has both commercial and consumer lines so they can make sure that they fit you in a vehicle that’s good for the application,” said J.C. Kester, founder of Thumper Fab (https://thumperfab.com), an upfitter in Marshall, Texas. “In many cases, the commercial grade is not much more expensive either.”

2. Shortcutting Safety
One of the most significant differences in consumer-grade ATUVs is the lack of rollover or fall-over protection that a commercial unit offers. Some units might provide a basic roll bar and a thin plastic roof that doesn’t meet commercial standards. Upfitters can add steel bumpers, commercial-grade rollover protection systems and half-doors to keep occupants inside the vehicle.

3. Treads vs. Tracks
For an ATUV with tracks or off-road tires, consider whether the vehicle will have to cross or use paved areas. Merrill said that rubber tracks are the best option for occasional road use, but they are more expensive. Steel treads are cheaper but require resources to lay down mats so the tracked vehicle can cross the road without causing damage.

4. Shiny Object Syndrome
Don’t invest in an extreme off-road vehicle just because it’s awesome. Start with the use case first. Understand whether you need an aerial, a derrick or a crane. Then figure out what type of vehicle and chassis can handle the mission. Upfitters must understand the requirements for the center of gravity, hydraulics and electronics as well as the impact on operations and maintenance.

5. Communication Oversight
Telematics are critical for monitoring and managing vehicles in remote locations. Sophisticated systems can identify the point of failure and send an alert regarding what parts may be needed. A repair team can arrive with the right gear to get the vehicle back in service without an extra trip.

“The chassis manufacturer has to be able to communicate with the rig, so if it throws a fault code, we can see it and try to solve it. If we can’t, we know what to tell the mechanic to bring and what parts they’ll need to ensure the shortest amount of downtime possible,” Merrill said.

When time is money, getting a vehicle back in service quickly can pay off. PistenBully, the snow machine sister division of PowerBully, supplies snow-grooming machines for the Olympics and the X Games, so having the right parts and service is critical. The same is true for utilities and contractors renting machines.

“If a machine goes down, the contractor is still paying the rental fee, and then they get really ticked, so we try and get that machine up and running as fast as possible,” Merrill said.

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.

Retooling Your Shops for EVs

Electric vehicles have been rolling out in more and more utilities as fleets continuously strive to green up their operations. But making the transition from combustion to electric involves more than just getting operators on board. Among other things, it also means making sure shops and technicians are well-equipped to properly service these units.

According to Dave Broadwater, manager of fleet management services for Holman (www.holman.com), the methods by and pace at which organizations are embracing EVs vary greatly from fleet to fleet.

“Generally speaking, some fleet operators are rapidly implementing comprehensive electrification programs to align with their company’s overall sustainability initiatives, while others are merely exploring the feasibility of adding EVs to their fleet mix,” he said.

Whether you’ve decided to go all in or are evaluating your options, Broadwater recently shared some tips with UFP on how to ready your utility fleet and shop technicians for EVs.

A Safe Space
As fleet operators begin to integrate EVs into their fleet mix and prepare their in-house garages accordingly, safety should be the top priority.

“For technicians who are relatively unfamiliar with EVs, they can be extremely hazardous to work on compared to internal combustion engine units,” Broadwater said. “Without the proper training and safety equipment, an electric vehicle’s high-voltage powertrain presents significant risk, and if a technician or other employee comes in direct contact with the system, it can result in serious injury.”

Organizations should engage a wide range of stakeholders – including those from the fleet, operations and safety/risk departments – to ensure their facilities are designed with an emphasis on safety, he advised.

Adequate space and specialized tools are two important items to consider.

Fleet operators must ensure their facilities have adequate room to work on EVs; most OEMs recommend a 6- to 8-foot “safe zone” perimeter around a vehicle, according to Broadwater.

“This is intended to keep others clear of the area and avoid an inadvertent static charge near the high-voltage systems,” he explained.

Additionally, technicians will need specialized tools and personal protective equipment to safely handle high-voltage components.

“For example, your standard tools (e.g., wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers) should all be insulating to further reduce the risk of accidental electrocution,” Broadwater said. “Additionally, you’ll need a nonconductive object – with a minimum of 5 feet in length – specifically designed to dislodge someone from a high-voltage system in case of emergency. You’ll also need fire extinguishers as well as protective barriers to establish a safety perimeter.”

In terms of PPE, he advised that technicians should use rubber raincoat aprons, insulating boots, specialty high-voltage insulating rubber gloves and protective eyewear.

Ease Into It
Utilities should ensure the scope of their EV implementation aligns with fleet objectives.

“We often recommend beginning with an initial phase or portion of your fleet,” Broadwater said. “Then you can build on your success by applying the insight and knowledge you gain to other segments of your fleet, keeping in mind there will be some differences and nuances based on vehicle type, region, operating parameters and so forth.”

Because most EVs are still relatively new to the market and most OEMs offer little to no training on their complex and potentially hazardous systems, ensuring technicians are properly trained can be difficult.

“Technician training is perhaps the biggest challenge currently facing those who operate in-house repair facilities,” Broadwater said. “There are some third-party training programs available, but since the OEM technology is proprietary, this training often lags behind. Additionally, proprietary vehicle software can hinder the ability to complete repairs in-house.”

Fleets operators should also be mindful of cost considerations when preparing shops and technicians for EVs.

“Preventive maintenance in general tends to be slightly less on EVs as compared to equivalent ICE vehicles,” Broadwater said. “However, EVs do have some rather costly components that aren’t found in ICE vehicles: high-capacity batteries, specialized electrical components and so on. These items can be extremely costly to repair because often the unit has to go to an OEM facility for service. The good news is that most EVs come with a powertrain warranty similar to that of a typical ICE model, and fleet operators should take advantage of warranty coverage when available.”

Leverage the Experts
With the appropriate training and safety precautions, many fleet operators can conduct basic preventive maintenance and other non-powertrain EV repairs at their in-house garages. However, most fleet operators are likely best served by leveraging external maintenance partners (i.e., OEM facilities) to conduct any repairs that involve the vehicle’s high-voltage system.

“This is an area where it is extremely beneficial to partner with a fleet management provider who can assist you in developing an EV maintenance strategy that maximizes your internal resources and helps make your transition to EVs as seamless as possible,” Broadwater said. “In most scenarios, it is more efficient – both in terms of cost and time – to have your in-house technicians prioritize PM services for your EV units and other repairs for your ICE vehicles while allowing outside resources to handle specialized EV maintenance.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

New EPA Rules Proposal: How Will You Prepare Your Fleet?

In April, the Biden administration raised the stakes on its ambitious emissions targets, proposing new rules affecting all vehicle classes starting from model-year 2027. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projecting significant increases in electric vehicle market share across various categories by 2032, the proposal is seen by many as a faster route to electrification.

But some industry leaders, like Chris Spear of the American Trucking Associations, have voiced concerns about the feasibility of the timelines, mainly for heavy-duty vehicles.

Since tighter restrictions seem likely to proceed despite the concerns, what should you consider as you prepare your fleet to navigate the uncharted waters?

Balancing Pressures and Expectations
As your fleet transitions to EVs, you’ll likely face conflicting pressures from senior management and internal customers. On one hand, executives have committed to ambitious zero-emissions targets for the company and the fleet, which may be challenging to achieve with factors outside your control.

On the other hand, internal customers require the right vehicles to be readily available when needed, especially in emergency response situations. You can’t afford to have vehicles out of service because OEMs can’t supply them in time.

To manage these pressures, focus on setting realistic expectations with senior management and your customers. Be candid about the challenges and potential roadblocks in the transition process, as well as the time and resources required to make the shift.

Navigating Product Gaps
Begin preparing for OEM production gaps if the transition to EVs does not progress smoothly or if sufficient EV products are not readily available as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles get gradually phased out.

To mitigate disruption to your fleet, consider reevaluating your vehicle cycling strategy during the EV transition. This may involve:

  • Extending the life of ICE vehicles to ensure a sufficient number of operational vehicles are available, even as an emergency pool.
  • Anticipating a potential buy-ahead boom for ICE vehicles before new emissions rules take effect and adjusting procurement strategies accordingly.

Addressing Infrastructure Challenges
Consider these aspects when addressing infrastructure challenges:

Charger build-out plan: Develop a strategic plan for deploying charging infrastructure at key locations, considering factors such as vehicle types, charging speeds and daily usage patterns. This plan should be closely coordinated with your vehicle acquisition schedule to ensure the seamless integration of new EVs into the fleet.

Charging resiliency: Create a mobile charging plan for emergency response. This will involve backup power sources, such as mobile generators or energy storage systems, to ensure continued access to charging facilities in the field during emergencies when there’s no power from the grid.

Addressing Workforce Challenges
As the transition to EVs accelerates, consider the impact on your workforce, specifically with diesel mechanics. With a growing shortage of diesel technicians, maintaining ICE vehicles during the transition period will require a thoughtful approach to staffing.

Here are four strategies for managing your garage staffing effectively during the transition:

1. Retain and train existing diesel mechanics. Focus on keeping your experienced diesel mechanics and providing them with growth and professional development opportunities.

2. Encourage young technicians to enter the field. Despite the perception that diesel technology may have a limited future, there will still be a need for diesel mechanics during the transition period. Promote the value of diesel technician skills and create attractive career paths for young techs.

3. Cross-train technicians in EV maintenance and repair. To ensure a versatile workforce, offer training programs that enable diesel mechanics to develop EV maintenance and repair skills. This approach will create a pool of technicians capable of working on both conventional vehicles and EVs.

4. Partner with educational institutions. Collaborate with local technical schools or colleges to develop training programs and curricula that address the needs of both diesel and electric vehicle maintenance. This partnership can help to create a steady pipeline of qualified technicians entering the workforce.

The Bottom Line
While you may not have control over the upcoming EPA standards or the OEMs’ capacity to meet them, you do have the power to shape your response to these changes. By proactively addressing potential disruptions and adapting your strategies, you can ensure a smooth and successful transition to a cleaner, more efficient fleet without being caught off guard.

EUFMC Celebrates 70 Years: Embracing Change and Shaping the Future of Fleet

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, which will feature a powerful lineup of events and speakers in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 4-7. Since its inception in 1953, the conference has continuously evolved to address the most pressing challenges for utility fleet professionals.

And that’s what makes the networking and education at EUFMC especially important today as the industry undergoes a tectonic shift to all-electric transportation.

The 2023 educational program – Driving Safety, Sustainability & Technical Expertise – will feature presentations by industry experts and fleet professionals that cover crucial topics such as transitioning to EVs, strengthening fleet safety and navigating workforce challenges.

This year’s keynote speaker, Brian L. Wolff, chief strategy officer and executive vice president of public policy and external affairs at Edison Electric Institute, will discuss the importance of staying informed about emerging trends and technologies. EUFMC 2023 will also introduce the first Women in Utility Fleet gathering June 6, providing a valuable networking opportunity for female fleet professionals, with opening remarks by Julie Gomez, EUFMC director and T&D Supervisor II of Fleet Services at Tucson Electric Power. You can read more about Gomez on page 40 of this issue.

Since becoming the editor of UFP in 2015, I’ve had the privilege of attending EUFMC almost every year. It has become my go-to conference for staying up to date with industry trends and connecting with many of you.

Congratulations to Ann Brown-Hailey, the board and everyone involved in organizing this fantastic conference on its 70th anniversary. Thank you for preserving and building upon the extraordinary legacy that began in 1953 as the Public Utility Fleet Managers Conference at the Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia.

Work Truck Week 2023 Heads Back to Indy

Work Truck Week – North America’s largest work truck event – returns to Indianapolis March 7-10. Education sessions run March 7-9; the exhibit hall will be open March 8-10; and the Ride & Drive is scheduled for March 8 and 9. Also part of Work Truck Week is the Green Truck Summit, which takes place March 7.

Produced by NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry, this year’s Work Truck Week will feature extended exhibit hours, providing attendees additional time to check out the latest commercial vehicles, technology and equipment on display from 500 companies. According to NTEA, the New Exhibitor Pavilion, featuring 25 first-time exhibitors, will also return with an earlier start.   

The 2023 educational program includes a variety of targeted sessions during which industry experts and thought leaders will share strategies to help improve efficiency, implement best practices and grow operations. Concurrent sessions address market data and industry trends, vehicle engineering and compliance, government relations, advanced fuels and vehicle technology, workforce development and more.

NTEA has also added exclusive update sessions from five electric vehicle manufacturers to the Work Truck Week educational program. During the sessions, manufacturer representatives will cover important technical information about their vehicle chassis, designs and powertrains. The EV update sessions will be held March 9. Participating manufacturers are Cenntro Automotive Corp., Lion Electric, Lordstown Motors, VIA Motors Inc. and Xos Inc. Other OEM update sessions begin March 7 and run through March 9.

Back again for another year, attendees will have the opportunity to test drive nearly 20 vehicles at the Ride & Drive, including all-electric vans, trucks and unique new zero-emission vehicles, as well as internal combustion trucks. Ride & Drive also features new components and equipment to help boost performance, fuel economy, safety and efficiency.

At this year’s Green Truck Summit – designed to provide insights and resources to support the work truck industry’s drive toward greater sustainability, productivity and efficiency – Cummins Inc. president and CEO Jennifer Rumsey will deliver the keynote address. Her presentation will be followed by a full slate of sessions addressing the evolution of the commercial vehicle landscape as the shift toward zero emissions accelerates. John Davis, creator, host and executive producer of MotorWeek, returns as event emcee.

Robert Herjavec, an entrepreneur, author and star of the TV show “Shark Tank,” will be the keynote speaker at the NTEA Annual Meeting on March 9.

For full details about Work Truck Week 2023, visit www.worktruckweek.com.

The Latest Developments in the Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Truck Market

Fuel cells powered by hydrogen have become an attractive technology because hydrogen powers an electric motor – without plugging in, as you do with a battery-electric vehicle – and the only emission out of the tailpipe is water.

Big-name truck makers including Toyota, Kenworth and Navistar have entered the fray. And then there are new entrants like Nikola Motor Co. and Hyzon Motors.

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What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2023?

As you evaluate your truck and van specs, where do you see the best opportunities for improvement?

Perhaps you could take weight out of the vehicle to reduce fuel costs or increase legal payload. Or upgrade your equipment to be more efficient and ergonomic, improving crew productivity and safety. Or electrify your onboard equipment to cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Whatever your specific goals, here are seven new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers to help you achieve them.

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The State of Fleet Maintenance in 2023

The outlook for fleet maintenance costs and shop operations in 2023 is again influenced by the state of the economy and the supply chain, as well as by the ongoing nationwide tech shortage. To help pinpoint the leading challenges the year ahead poses to utility fleet managers, UFP spoke with Chris Foster, manager of fleet management services for Holman (www.holman.com), one of North America’s largest providers of fleet management services.

Supply Chain Kinks
Starting out with the remaining kinks bedeviling the supply chain, Foster pointed out that while “the entire automotive supply chain has been severely disrupted the last several years, there’s certainly positive momentum. That comes particularly in terms of new vehicle production, and conditions continue to slowly improve. The key to the supply chain beginning to stabilize has been the OEMs’ ability to steadily increase production capacity.”

Still, the supply chain was severely restricted during the first two to three years of the pandemic, which has prevented most fleet operators from being able to order new units, he pointed out. “As a result, older vehicles had to remain in service much longer than originally anticipated and needed additional repairs, quickly creating a parts shortage. Add to that the long-standing labor shortage and you quickly see the perfect storm of disruptions this creates.

“Today, as a growing number of new vehicles roll off the assembly line, fleets are able to begin replacing these older, high-mileage units, and this is starting to help mitigate parts and labor shortages,” Foster continued. “There are certainly still gaps in the market and lingering challenges, but generally speaking, the supply chain is headed in the right direction and will likely continue to improve throughout 2023.”

Costs: Up or Down?
Turning to which types of maintenance and repair costs are likely to increase or decrease the most in 2023, Foster said that for the last year or so, “supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and inflationary pressures have pushed operating costs significantly higher. In some segments of the industry and certain geographic regions, costs spiked as much as 20%.

“Fortunately, we’re beginning to see the industry stabilize, and price increases are leveling off a bit,” he continued. “As we look ahead, we’re likely to see maintenance and repairs continue to increase slightly in certain areas. Tire prices is one area that comes to mind, but costs are unlikely to climb at the same rate as last year.”

Techs Still Wanted
As for the technician shortage that predates the pandemic and has been growing steadily, Foster stressed that “without question, there is a critical shortage of qualified technicians throughout North America.” He said that puts the onus on utility fleets to recruit, develop and retain technicians to support their in-house maintenance programs.

Foster also observed that hiring skilled technicians is “a competitive process, and keeping them long term is often just as difficult. It is critical that you view your technicians as an integral part of your business and make their satisfaction, training and retention a top priority. Additionally, most utility fleet operators should leverage strong partnerships with their fleet management provider and/or external vendors to help supplement their in-house program and mitigate the risk of prolonged downtime due to technician turnover.”

Jeff Sproat, director of Wheels Donlen’s Maintenance Contact Center, contends that the rising cost of everything from fuel to tires, as well as the impact of widespread parts delays and labor shortages on shop operations, makes a compelling case for being proactive about maintenance.

“The first step in proactive maintenance is to understand the specific needs of your business,” he advised in a 2022 blog post. “You must know what kind of equipment you have and how it operates in order to make informed decisions about when to service or replace a system or part. By focusing on prevention rather than reaction when something goes wrong, you’ll increase uptime while saving money.”

Here is a condensed version of Sproat’s top five tips for leveraging proactive maintenance practices:

1. Assess your fleet. Align vehicle maintenance schedules with OEM guidelines that correspond to how your vehicles are being used. Check the OEM’s schedule recommendations against your usage patterns (e.g., whether a vehicle is being driven more often than average, has a higher number of stops-and-goes than normal, or is driven farther distances each day). In each case, more frequent service intervals may be indicated. Also, evaluate how long you plan to keep your vehicles to determine if any post-100,000-mile services should be scheduled, such as a transmission or coolant flush, or re-evaluated based on OEM recommendations.

2. Follow OEM guidelines. Sticking to OEM guidelines is a good way to reduce costs and keep your fleet running smoothly, especially when it comes to such aspects as routine maintenance schedules and maintaining fluid levels and tire pressures.

3. Check your drivers’ compliance. Are drivers performing their scheduled maintenance? Does it comply with local regulations? Is it in line with your fleet policy? If you find your drivers are continually getting services performed late, this can lead to higher repair costs as vehicles age.

4. Keep maintenance schedules current. Ensure you have the latest version of your vehicles’ maintenance schedules and service information, in addition to receiving any updates issued by manufacturers. The last thing you want is for an emergency to arise when no one knows how to respond.

5. Plan for planning. Fleet maintenance is a task that requires planning. It is important to understand how much maintenance work your fleet needs and when that work must be done. To gain that understanding, set aside time every year to complete an audit of all vehicles in your fleet to build a schedule for minor and major repairs.

“Don’t wait for a problem to occur; work with your drivers to schedule regular maintenance appointments,” Sproat wrote. “This will enable you to address minor issues before they lead to larger ones that could cost thousands of dollars and delay business operations. Not only will this ensure better safety but also lower costs in the long run.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

6 Lessons Learned (So Far) on the Fast Track to an All-Electric Fleet

Ready or not, EVs are coming to your fleet.

Governments have mandated it. Automakers have committed to it. And recent federal legislation has earmarked billions of dollars for it.

But the colossal changes in vehicle design and “fueling” infrastructure will undoubtedly create numerous potholes on the road to electrification. Will there be enough models available to make the shift in time? Will charging times become faster and more practical? Will utility fleets be able to manage emergency response situations when there is no electricity?

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Spec’ing Truck-Mounted Air Compressors

Like most everything else that’s installed in the manufacturing and outfitting of a utility truck, there’s no one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to spec’ing a truck-mounted compressor to best meet the demands of a given application.

There’s a lot to think about, ranging from the compressor’s placement on the chassis to ensuring the correct flow rates. Insights for the following eight-point checklist to help fleet managers spec the right compressor are drawn from information from two leading air compressor manufacturers, Vanair (https://vanair.com) and VMAC (www.vmacair.com):

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Pitfalls to Avoid When Transitioning to a Fleet Management Information System

A fleet management information system (FMIS) is an essential back-office system designed to help fleet managers keep records and generate reports regarding the effective and efficient operation, maintenance, repair and replacement of their fleet assets.

But pulling and integrating data from a wide range of sources into a single system can be a daunting task. So, UFP recently asked industry veteran George Survant, currently vice president of fleet for Revolv Global Inc. (https://revolv.us), to share his expertise about how to smoothly transition to a new FMIS.

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‘The Checklist Manifesto’ for High-Performing Fleet Professionals

As a fleet manager, ensuring efficiency and safety is paramount in your daily operations. But how can you effectively balance these priorities without sacrificing one for the other?

One solution may lie in an unlikely place: the checklist.

In “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Atul Gawande breaks down how checklists can reduce errors and improve outcomes in various industries, including health care, aviation and construction.

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4 Safety Tech Options to Consider for Aerial Devices and Digger Derricks

As you spec your next round of bucket trucks and digger derricks, what are some safety technologies that may not have been available for your previous orders but are now?

UFP spoke with Altec’s (www.altec.com) Michael Newman, digger derrick market manager, and Ryan Hulleman, aerial device market manager, to get their advice. They recommended considering the following four safety tech options.

But before we dive in, a quick disclaimer: Although Newman and Hulleman speak specifically about their company’s products, you can look for similar safety systems from other manufacturers. This article aims to build awareness about the latest developments in safety technologies that can save lives, reduce job site injuries and extend the life of your equipment.

1. Lanyard Detection System for Aerial Devices
A lanyard detection system reminds lineworkers to clip in before they work from the platform. Altec’s system is available in two configurations. One provides an audible alert if the lanyard is not attached. The other disables the upper controls in addition to issuing an audible warning.

Why consider a lanyard detection system?

“Job sites are busy,” Hulleman said. “Workers are thinking about what they just talked about in their pre-op meeting or have other things on their mind. And folks can sometimes forget to clip in. So, this solution helps prevent somebody from getting into that scenario where they want to operate the equipment safely, but, for whatever reason, they forget to clip in.”

2. Load Monitoring
A load-monitoring system helps prevent overload incidents, extend equipment life and determine what adjustments need to be made to vehicle specs.

Altec’s system is connected to the company’s telematics offering that sends wireless notifications to fleet owners when a platform or boom overload event occurs.

Hulleman said that Altec’s system issues both visual and audio alerts. The visual warning is a four-color light bar attached to the unit’s turntable that changes color based on the load.

What are the colors?

“The visual indicator has four colors: blue, green, yellow and red,” Hulleman said. “Those colors correspond to a certain percentage of the rated load capacity. If the light is green, you’re in a good position. As you approach the total rated load, that color will change from green to yellow. Once you reach the rated load and slightly exceed it, you’ll see the red indicator on the light bar come on and hear an intermittent chirping alarm. If for some reason you were to worsen the overload, the light would turn blue, and you would hear that chirping sound become a solid tone. That indicates to the operator that the condition has worsened.”

3. Telematics
Telematics is nothing new for trucks. But receiving alerts remotely on the performance of truck-mounted equipment, like aerials and derricks – that’s a more recent development.

“Altec Insights is a digital [telematics] product for our physical products. It takes the raw data our customers may see as noise and processes it into consumable, actionable information,” Newman said.

What’s an example?

“Consider digger derricks with hydraulic overload protection, or HOP – a backstop system to prevent excessive machine overload,” Newman said. “The telematics insights come in to help determine the severity of the overload. This way, we can provide our customers with appropriate recommendations or actions. Depending on this situation, we might recommend the operator re-perform their daily inspection. Or, if they had a severe overload event, that might require a technician to perform a more detailed inspection.”

Telematics can also provide insight into whether to make specification changes. “You can look at this data to help make better decisions on whether a certain region or user group needs a larger machine,” Newman said. “We know the infrastructure is getting taller and heavier. So, our customers have to respond.”

4. Outrigger-Deploying Steps at the Tailshelf for Digger Derricks
This is an option on Altec’s new DT85 model digger derrick. The system enables the steps at the tailshelf to deploy and retract as the outriggers are raised and lowered.

How is it relevant to safety?

“The steps at the tailshelf make ingress and egress to the back of the truck bed much easier and safer for the operator,” Newman said. “If they didn’t have this step at the tailshelf, the operator would have to walk around the outrigger to where there is a dedicated set of steps or a ladder on the side of the bed. So, when you’re working on the derrick and rotated off the back of the truck, the tailshelf steps allow the operator to cut their steps in half to get to the ground. While that doesn’t sound like much, you’ve cut your risk significantly when getting in and out of the riding seat. The fewer steps on the truck mean a lower risk for slip-and-fall accidents.”

Why is it important for the rear steps to deploy automatically?

“It means that nobody has to remember to set up the steps and put them away when the operator is done,” Newman said. “The steps stow automatically at a good departure angle, so you’re not having to worry about someone forgetting that they deployed the step and tearing it off when leaving the job site.”

Looking at Fleet Management Through a Legal Lens

Aggressive driver behaviors. Improper use of equipment. Distracted driving. These are just a few issues that increase a utility fleet’s risk of preventable accidents that can lead to multimillion-dollar payouts and ignite a public relations firestorm.

So, what can you do as a fleet manager to help protect drivers, the public and your company’s reputation?

UFP recently spoke with defense attorney John O. Radeck Jr., a partner at Charleston, South Carolina-based Hood Law Firm (www.hoodlaw.com), for his legal perspective on how fleet managers can improve safety and reduce risk exposure for their employers. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: What areas do you see where utilities have the most significant risk exposure with their fleets?

John O. Radeck Jr.: The biggest area is technology – the vast quantity of information that can be received through telematics. We see an unwillingness from many companies to fully engage with telematics proactively.

As a result, a lot of information can be weaponized from the plaintiff’s perspective; that’s easy for them to nitpick.

Fleets shouldn’t just be collecting telematics data. They should use that information to correct specific driver behaviors and improve safety. Instead, too many companies just let that data sit there as a vast ocean of information that becomes a vulnerability the plaintiffs could exploit.

What vulnerabilities would plaintiffs be looking to exploit with a fleet’s use – or lack of use – of telematics? 

The plaintiffs want to know, does the company use telematics data to enforce the safety policies they have in place? Or do they ignore that data?

One of the critical parts of the fleet manager’s job is to be able to look at that data, identify trends and problem areas, and then fix those issues.

What is that data telling you about the condition of the vehicle? What is it telling you about the driver’s habits? Whatever the case, the question is this: Is the company proactive in enforcing its policies? If your company is not doing that, and you have this telematics system just collecting data, that’s a vulnerable point for you.

There’s this philosophy that collecting data is a vulnerability in itself. What are your thoughts on that?

That’s old-school versus new-school thinking.

The old-school philosophy is the less information, the better. We don’t want to document things.

But that approach makes you vulnerable, especially with plaintiffs’ attorneys, who are much more aggressive nowadays. With the enormous payouts awarded, these attorneys are not worried about costs. They can get funding from third parties to push these cases.

And the last thing you want is your best defense at trial being, “We don’t have information on that.”

Instead, you want to build a good company story by providing the information. Otherwise, you’ll be painted as a bad company at trial.

Suppose a fleet decided not to include all available advanced driver assistance systems on a vehicle. And then that vehicle is involved in a crash that the missing technology might have prevented. Is the utility company exposed to risk for that decision?

That’s not a specific issue I’ve dealt with yet. But my initial reaction goes back to being proactive and aggressive about using all the safety measures you can.

Otherwise, you’re potentially adding another piece of the puzzle that the plaintiffs could weave into an entire patchwork quilt – a larger narrative that strengthens their case.

It’s the Reptile Theory [see www.lexisnexis.com/community/insights/legal/b/thought-leadership/posts/the-reptile-theory-a-game-changing-strategy-in-personal-injury-lawsuits for more] at work. The plaintiffs will say, “Look, you had a choice, and you chose the less safe option.” That will always win.

What if, say, the vehicle is fully equipped with the available safety systems, but the operator has disabled one or more of them? What’s the risk exposure to the employer?

That’s a significant risk. And I would say that falls within the realm of inflammatory conduct – where a driver has chosen to disable the system. Presumably, that would be against company policy.

The company could be on the hook because they chose to hire that individual. But it really boils down to whether there is a culture of safety.

In this case, the company chose to hire a person who thought it was OK to disable this equipment. So, my thought is this: Is there a policy on this issue from the company? What were the instructions from the company to this employee?

If there were no policy, that would be a dangerous fact for a potential nuclear verdict.

When it comes to distracted driving, what’s the vulnerability there?

When you look at the nuclear verdicts, the data shows that phones are involved in most of those cases. Cellphones are obviously an issue, whether it is a primary factor or not.

But there’s only so much a company can do. The key is establishing that the company has made efforts to curb distracted driving with its policy – and the individual chose to violate it.

What are your thoughts about camera systems on vehicles?

Outward-facing cameras can be helpful. But I’m not so sure how necessary inward-facing cameras are.

I have a case with cameras involved. This 18-wheeler was making a turn. The plaintiff had 10 seconds before he impacted the side of the 18-wheeler. The allegations were that the 18-wheeler pulled out in front of the plaintiff.

The plaintiff had 10 seconds to slow down and avoid the accident. Instead, he stayed in the lane and looked like he had never braked. So, in that situation, the cameras were beneficial because they provided us with a comparative negligence argument.

If you were to think of a checklist that every fleet manager should have in mind to help protect their company from a legal perspective, what would be on that list? 

In no particular order, I would consider these questions: Are you proactive in using telematics? Are you setting alerts and diving into the data to identify and address potential issues? Is your company enforcing its vehicle safety policies? What are you and the company doing today to build a culture of safety where management and employees are taking ownership of those policies?

It’s one thing to have a policy in place. But if it’s not enforced or people don’t take ownership in following it, that’s just as bad as not having a policy at all.

How Fleet Maintenance Can Advance Driver Safety 

Along with controlling the wide range of equipment costs that come with running a fleet, plus the need to maximize vehicle utilization and drivers’ time behind the wheel, every fleet maintenance program should be geared toward improving safety – to reduce operating costs and, above all, to decrease the risk exposure for fleet drivers and the motoring public.

Even a minor maintenance issue that is deferred or, worse, never noted on an inspection can snowball risk to your drivers and other motorists if left unresolved. Maintenance and safety clearly dovetail in the inspection and care given to a range of systems, starting with brakes, lights, tires, and wheels and axles, as well as electrical system components and any instances of physical damage.

“Committing to a consistent preventive maintenance schedule for all of your fleet’s equipment – tractors and trailers alike – not only maximizes uptime, but can help boost longevity, resale value, and even safety,” contends a blog post written by Carlos Mendiola, group director, finance, for Ryder’s Fleet Maintenance Solutions business unit.

Mendiola lays out PM tips in the post, including two that pack a solid safety punch: leveraging DVIR data and VMRS codes. “The DVIR is your canary in the coal mine,” he said. “Regularly review driver vehicle inspection reports or DVIRs and take action to fix things they note as being out of spec. If drivers see that you are taking their findings seriously, they are more likely to become diligent in their pre- and post-trip inspections. DVIRs also note issues that can lead to tractor-trailers failing roadside inspections too.”

Tapping the Codes
As for the vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS), these codes were developed in 1970 by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council to provide a single, concise coding convention for managing fleet assets and analyzing maintenance costs.

“VMRS codes are the ‘universal language’ of the truck and trailer maintenance and repair business,” Mendiola explained. “They define exactly what is wrong with a truck and what was done to repair it.” He said these codes become especially important if outside service providers are used for PM services as “they keep everyone on the same page.”

According to a blog post from Rand McNally, “A fleet safety program isn’t solely about monitoring your drivers. Knowing how to improve your fleet safety program also includes vehicle inspection and maintenance. Regular maintenance helps reduce the costs of unexpected breakdowns and helps prevent accidents caused by damaged parts.”

Each driver should follow an inspection procedure to ensure safe operating conditions, the company recommended. “Regular inspections that are documented and assessed to see if further maintenance is necessary help with early detection of defects or vehicle issues.” Neglecting regular maintenance and inspections can raise repair costs, put drivers at greater risk, and increase the likelihood of violations and fines.

Maintenance and inspections should be scheduled. Rand McNally suggests including oil and filter changes; inspections of belts, brakes, radiators and other critical components; and rotating tires. “Engines, transmissions, and drivetrains require more major work that should be performed when needed.”

Training and Education
Both maintenance managers and drivers should receive safety training. This training can be conducted in phases. For example, Rand McNally advises training your supervisors and core team first. Then they can train other staffers and the drivers. “Mandatory training programs help everyone understand safety policies and procedures. You can also hold regular meetings to discuss company rules, regulations, defensive and backing techniques, adverse weather, maintenance, accident reporting, emergency procedures, and other topics.”

One-on-one training is more hands-on, which is especially helpful when corrective actions need to be taken by a driver. According to Rand McNally, “It’s important to have a predetermined safety threshold and appropriate one-on-one conversations with those who drop below it. Conduct regular coaching sessions in groups and personalized sessions for drivers who go below the safety threshold. Have a standardized script for these instances to eliminate biases.”

Safety Guidance
According to guidance about how maintenance can positively impact safety published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers should know how to properly maintain trucks – for their safety and the safety of others. “Employers should ensure that their drivers know that any vehicle malfunction, maintenance problem, or load securement issue must be addressed proactively to prevent crashes,” the agency stated.

Fleets should also “educate drivers about how to properly conduct pre- and post-trip inspections, record vehicle defects on DVIRs, and ensure that any defects which would hinder safe operation of the vehicle are repaired prior to operating the vehicle,” according to the FMCSA. In addition, fleets should train drivers on how to properly load commercial vehicles to prevent shifting of loads, spilling or dropping cargo, and overloading. Drivers’ questions about their role in maintenance efforts to boost safety should be answered, or “direct them to the information they need, including FMCSA’s websites.”

Consider this 360-degree view of safety, courtesy of a statistic from the Harvard Business Review: “Improving employee engagement is not simply about improving productivity … Specifically, high-turnover organizations report 25% lower turnover, and low-turnover organizations report 65% lower turnover. Engagement also improves quality of work and health … higher scoring business units report 48% fewer safety incidents.”

In short, engage your drivers with your maintenance and equipment experts as you train them and track, report and advance their safety performance – on the road and at the job site.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Con Edison: Fleet Safety Performance is a Collaborative Effort

A “close call” in late 2020 set things in motion to address a slip-and-fall hazard shortly after New York City’s energy provider, Con Edison, replaced 10 steel trailers with aluminum trailers.

“An employee was trying to secure a load on a very windy day. But the aluminum surface was wet and slick,” Richard Stewart, ConEd’s environmental, health and safety (EHS) manager, recalled. “When this incident was brought to our attention, we had to find a solution.”

In many types of organizations, you’ll see a lot of finger-pointing, blame-shifting and throwing people under the proverbial bus when things go wrong. But the utility industry has become known as a sector that promotes a collaborative culture, especially when solving problems that impact worker safety.

And ConEd’s experience provides a valuable behind-the-scenes view of what a collaborative culture looks like when confronting fleet safety challenges.

Why did ConEd switch from steel to aluminum trailers? What caused the increased slip-and-fall risk with the new aluminum units? How did the fleet, EHS and other departments work together to find a solution?

UFP spoke with Stewart and ConEd’s chief automotive engineer, Fortunato Gulino, to learn more about their story. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: What factors led ConEd to change from steel to aluminum trailers?

Fortunato Gulino: At ConEd, we have four pillars to product design, whether a vehicle or trailer. The pillars represent the automotive engineering group, the garage operations maintaining the assets, the safety group and the operator. All four of us get together in a committee meeting to collaborate, whether it’s about a new product, a redesign of an existing product, or just confirming that the old product and specification are acceptable.

In this case, the steel trailers were causing problems – rotting and corrosion to the point where we had to condemn some of our trailers. So, our initial thinking as a group was that aluminum trailers would be the best solution for the corrosion issues.

But the aluminum presented a tradeoff? 

Gulino: Yes. The tradeoff was the actual decking. The aluminum deck didn’t have the same anti-slip performance as the hardwood decking on the steel trailer. We learned about the issue shortly after the operators started using the new trailers.

What was the starting point for addressing the issue? 

Richard Stewart: We started with administrative measures to mitigate the initial concern. Things like: “Don’t do any cargo load securement in the rain or on a windy day. And let’s move the trailer to inside the distribution bay.”

But then another safety concern arose. We transport pad-mounted transformers on our trailers. And sufficient friction – in addition to proper strapping – is critical to prevent losing loads. Naturally, the last thing you want is to lose a load, like a pad-mounted transformer, on a busy New York street.

With all the safety concerns presented, we needed to do something to improve the anti-slip performance of these new trailers.

What did you do?

Stewart: We had already been engaged with a company called Form-A-Tread (https://form-a-tread.com) on other projects to address slip-and-fall concerns at our warehouses and other facilities at ConEd.

We’ve applied their anti-slip solution to various decline and incline ramp areas throughout the company. And it has proven to be robust in preventing these types of hazards. So, we approached that company to see what solution they could create for our aluminum trailers.

What was the process for developing the requirements for the anti-slip trailer solution?

Stewart: Some of the company’s anti-slip products are rigid, and others are flexible. We needed the flexibility to compensate for the bowing of the load on the trailers. And we needed a product that could handle the robust nature of what Con Edison does to trailers. We don’t transport one universal load. We transport everything on our trailers. So, we had to ensure it could stand up to rigorous use and maintain flexibility.

[The vendor] asked for the specs, which we got from Fortunato’s automotive engineering group. They wanted to know the trailer dimensions, material, weight, load and so forth. And they did the calculations on their end to determine what it would take to properly coat our trailers with a solution that would hold up for us with the bending and flexing and the various weather changes.

Once we had a solution we thought could work, we approached Fortunato’s automotive group and asked them if we would be permitted to proceed with it. That’s the first thing we must ask: “Will you permit us to do it if we can?”

Earlier, you mentioned that the anti-slip solution is a coating on the trailer. What type of coating is it? 

Stewart: It’s a two-part epoxy that’s very fast curing for the initial set, and then it requires an overnight cure – about eight hours.

Does the manufacturer install the coating, or is ConEd equipped to do it in-house?

Stewart: They did train us how to do it. However, with the high-profile nature of the project, we wanted to ensure that we got it right.

What advice do you both have for how fleet and safety can collaborate more effectively with each other and across other departments to improve overall safety performance? 

Gulino: The first thing is to develop strong relationships and have good communication between the departments.

The second thing is understanding that many things don’t go as planned. You try one thing thinking it’s going to fix a problem, only to find that it has caused another problem to appear. So just be prepared for any aftereffects from any solution.

Stewart: We’re a very safety-focused and collaborative company where we’re meeting consistently for discussions on safety. We think it’s essential to involve all the stakeholders and get everybody’s opinions to ensure we’ve covered all our bases.

The State of EV Wireless Charging

As utilities adopt electric vehicles for their fleets, they face a fundamental question: wired or wireless charging? The decision could have long-term effects on the success of EV adoption. Electric utilities will be consulting with their customers on the same question.

While EV plug-in charging stations are familiar sights thanks to Tesla, wireless charging is less well known. But it’s getting ready for its time in the spotlight.

Wireless charging simplifies EV operations. Just park over a charging pad and then drive on – no plugging or unplugging is required. Wireless or inductive charging uses a charging pad embedded in the pavement to create a magnetic field to a receiving charging plate installed on the underside of the vehicle.

Since 2019, Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) in Southern California has used a wireless inductive charging system from WAVE (https://waveipt.com) for its battery-electric fleet, the largest in the U.S. Transit lines are an ideal situation for wireless charging; the lines have predictable routes and stopping points, so the buses can be recharged throughout their duty cycle. AVTA buses charge about 10 to 15 minutes per stop on their daily 290 miles.

Rethinking Duty Cycles
Pilot projects like the AVTA example have led to insights that will help utilities understand the strategy and benefits behind wireless charging.

Planning a wireless charging network requires thinking about where the vehicles may stop during their duty cycle. If the vehicles can charge incrementally during the shift, they don’t have to be taken out of service to recharge, and they can carry smaller batteries to cover the required range.

“You can change the mentality of how to use wireless versus other kinds of charging where it becomes part of the duty cycle and is almost like a perpetual operation,” said Aaron Gillmore, CEO of WAVE.

In a test of wired and wireless charging in a 200-truck parcel delivery fleet, charging provider WiTricity (https://witricity.com) found that wireless charging could save up to 50% on the total cost of operations. Much of the difference was due to “opportunity charging,” where the vehicles were charged while stopped for operational reasons. Spreading out the charging demand flattened peak loads for significantly lower electric expenses.

Wireless chargers could be installed at substations or frequent work sites. A vehicle can recharge while parked, eliminating the need to plug in. Even if a vehicle stops on a charger for 10 minutes, wireless charging works automatically, so the full 10 minutes is spent charging. The operator doesn’t have to get out of the vehicle, plug in a charging cable or perhaps use an RFID card to authorize the charge.

The utility fleet could plan charging hubs or nodes throughout the service area where vehicles could stop for a quick charge and then keep running throughout the duty cycle. Fleet managers will know how many miles a truck will operate and where it’s likely to travel, so a truck could be routed over wireless charging pads. One option is a charging island, like a fueling island, where vehicles get serviced and charge simultaneously.

“The concept is that you can get quick charges throughout the day on a high-powered charger and are always able to operate,” Gillmore said. “It opens the door to thinking about the economics of it differently.”

Planning for a Plugless Future
Wireless charging simplifies the charging network because there doesn’t have to be a charging dispenser for every vehicle. Even for electric utilities, supplying large amounts of power to their depots can be an expensive and time-consuming infrastructure project. Electric utility customers electrifying their fleets will face similar issues.

“You end up with fewer chargers serving many more trucks every day,” Gillmore said.

Wireless charging could help manage battery life. EV batteries like to operate in the middle of the charging range; charging to 100% frequently can degrade the battery life just as much as letting the charge drop to near zero. Wireless charging is built on the concept of incremental charging to keep the battery level relatively flat or charge neutral. The vehicle can recharge the energy consumed since the previous charge in a brief stop.

Wireless charging reduces charging infrastructure requirements and can improve efficiency and safety as operators don’t have to leave the truck to plug anything in. WiTricity estimated operators spend 12 to 15 minutes per day using plug-in charging systems. Because the wireless system uses magnetism rather than electric current, there’s no chance of shocks or short circuits. The magnetic field utilized for power transfer is not affected by water, snow, mud or other environmental factors.

Which Comes First?
As light-duty electric trucks come to market from Ford, Rivian and others, medium-duty trucks are under development by several manufacturers. Specialized vehicles may take more time to come to market. Due to the complexity of utility vehicles with chassis configured for upfitting, it takes another level of engineering to integrate battery packs along with buckets and outriggers.

Wireless charging could influence EV designs of the future. If vehicles can be charged during their daily duty cycles by wireless chargers in commonly traveled locations, their batteries can be smaller. In comparison, a truck charged by wire at the utility depot must carry a battery with enough capacity for the shift. A smaller battery design means less weight for longer range and a lower acquisition cost.

To some extent, it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. Gillmore noted that wireless charging for fleet vehicles would be widely available when more fleet EVs are capable of using it.

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.

Top Trends in Utility Fleet Maintenance

Inflation is impacting all areas of the utility fleet industry, with a profound impact on maintenance and operating expenses, according to Amanda Kazemba, senior consulting analyst, business intelligence and analytics, for Holman (www.holman.com).

“Overall, the cost to repair a vehicle is up approximately 20% as compared to 2020, and fleet operators should expect to see an additional 5 to 10% in 2023 as well – and potentially beyond,” she said.

Factor in the increased costs of raw materials, an ongoing labor shortage, repair facilities struggling with their own parts and labor shortages, the general lack of new vehicle inventory, and vehicles remaining in service longer than originally anticipated, and you have the perfect storm, she noted.

While costs are likely to increase as supply constraints continue through 2023, Steve Jastrow, vice president of consulting and analytics for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), said there is an opportunity for fleets to overhaul traditional practices to become more dynamic and implement more effective and efficient fleet management.

In recent interviews with UFP, Jastrow and Kazemba also offered the following insights on trends utility fleets can expect to see in the next year to two years.

Maintenance: More Important Than Ever
Utility fleets will want to stay close to their finance and operations teams, as costs will likely stay elevated and there may be an increase in vehicle unavailability, Jastrow advised.

“With the entire automotive supply chain severely disrupted and new vehicles still in short supply – a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future – taking care of the fleet vehicles you do have is more important than ever,” Kazemba said.

Keeping vehicles longer is also resulting in more frequent and costly repairs.

“Lead times will drive decisions on whether companies will want to replace vehicles or have maintenance work done to keep vehicles moving,” Jastrow said.

Impacts from the chip shortage and overall material shortages both domestic and abroad are leaving some replacement parts in short supply. The best action to avoid these impacts is to keep fleet vehicles maintained to avoid unexpected failures, he noted.

With that in mind, fleet operators must remain agile and adjust their maintenance strategy – and budget forecast – to account for this additional utilization during the costliest portion of a vehicle’s life cycle, Kazemba said.

“Reexamine your preventive maintenance strategy to better align with the reality that vehicles will be logging more miles, incurring additional wear and stretching their life cycle well beyond their original forecast,” she advised.

Using Data to Guide Decisions
According to Jastrow, fleets are going to become more dependent on data-driven decisions.

“Connected vehicles are here, and the insights can drive safety, fuel economy and maintenance improvements,” he said.

Leveraging maintenance data and analytics tools can help you better understand your fleet’s performance to identify trends and key performance indicators.

“This enhanced insight allows you to evolve your maintenance strategy from a traditional ‘break and fix’ model to a more proactive ‘predict and prevent’ methodology that further minimizes operating costs and downtime, allowing you to keep vehicles on the road longer,” Kazemba explained.

Shifting to Sustainability and Electrification
Shifting to greener operations is another trend that will continue in the coming years.

“Alternative fuel is now a focus in almost every conversation with fleet professionals as companies move to sustainable fleet practices and efforts to reduce their CO2 footprint,” Jastrow said.

He noted that sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. have reached a tipping point observed in other countries, indicating mass adoption is underway. “With corporate sustainability driving businesses to electrify their fleets, a pilot-first approach can inform longer-term decisions and enable a proper electrification scale.”

Larger EVs continue to come to market, providing more opportunities for fleets utilizing light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Confirmed through both OEM predictions and fleet data analysis, the cost to maintain EVs can be as much as 40% lower than their ICE counterparts, Jastrow continued.

However, the transition from ICE vehicles to EVs may take longer than fleets are thinking, so it is important that they begin exploring fleet electrification by mapping out their transition plans and setting up EV pilot projects. Hybrids can be a good steppingstone to EVs, Jastrow said.

In addition to EVs and hybrids, he noted that autonomous vehicle and fuel-cell electric vehicle growth is expected in the truck space.

“While a significantly higher cost to purchase, autonomous vehicles have lower fuel and maintenance costs. Fuel-cell electric vehicle (hydrogen vehicle) rebates and fuel credits are offered by states for infrastructure to support renewable hydrogen. However, keep in mind there is a shortage of fueling locations,” he noted.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

10-Point Checklist for Spec’ing Strobe Lights for Utility Fleet Applications

Most vehicles in a utility fleet have strobe lights to protect workers and the public from a collision with a stationary vehicle. But with numerous strobe options to consider, how do you evaluate what will work best for your fleet?

UFP spoke with Nebraska Public Power District’s fleet superintendent, Rob Barbur, and fleet supervisor, TK Rayburn Jr., to get their advice. They shared these 10 points.

1. Configuration

How do you determine the optimal configuration for installing strobe lights?

It depends on the vehicle type. NPPD, for example, specs different strobe packages for pickups, SUVs, medium-duty trucks, aerial devices, digger derricks, crane trucks and off-road equipment. The primary difference in the packages is where the strobes are mounted on the vehicle.

“On a light-duty pickup, for instance, we mount four strobes on the back rack behind the cab and two strobes in the factory grille,” Barbur said. “But those same locations would not be available with a digger derrick or an aerial device. So, we may have to put the strobes in a poly box or mount them into the truck’s structure, like in the tailshelf.”

2. Vehicle

How do you decide which vehicles get strobes?

“It depends on their usage,” Rayburn said. “Almost everything we have will get strobes unless used for an office application or as a people hauler. But even in those applications, we would consider putting strobes on it if the vehicle might be used during emergencies.”

3. Environment

In what type of environment will the vehicles and equipment be used?

“If the vehicle operates in a brushy area with many tree branches and things of that nature, you should consider how you will guard the strobes, or they’ll get broken. You can purchase brush guards with strobes from the manufacturer,” Rayburn said.

4. Intensity

Strobes come in three classes. So, what’s the difference between the classes?

The difference is based on the strobes’ brightness and intensity. “Class 1 is primarily reserved for emergency and some utility vehicles. Class 2 is primarily for utility-type vehicles. And then Class 3 is more for, perhaps, a state truck picking up trash on the side of the road,” Barbur said.

5. Pattern

You can select the flash pattern you want on most strobes. But what pattern should you choose?

Barbur said that NPPD runs a random flash pattern. “One of the reasons for that is that it breaks up the monotony of a triple flash or quad flash. The unexpected flash keeps people alert to avoid a collision.”

6. Color

What are the considerations for selecting the strobe color?

“We run all amber lights,” Barbur said. “Your reds, blues and whites are reserved for emergency vehicles. But you will want to check your local statute for what you can run.”

7. Visibility

Are the lights visible from all sides of the vehicle?

“Visibility is critical,” Rayburn said. “The purpose of strobe lights is to protect the end user and the public. So, if you can’t see them, they’re not doing their job.”

But ensure the light is not where the operator will be blinded by it at night. “This is why we also have blackouts on the top of the rack-mounted strobes above the cab on our aerials – to protect the operator in the bucket,” Rayburn said.

What is a “blackout”?

“It’s a cover that goes over the strobe so the light does not shine up when the aerial device is in operation. The light only flashes out,” he said.

8. Size

Will the light fit where you want it?

“There are times we’d like to have that 6-inch oval light, but there’s not enough real estate on the truck to mount it. So, we have to adjust a little bit and go with a 4-inch round light,” Barbur said.

9. Availability

What components are available, especially when there’s still a semiconductor supply shortage?

“Right now, the decision between Class 1 and Class 2 strobes is really based on availability,” Barbur said. “If we can get the Class 1’s, we will get it. It’s generally what we do. But you take what you can get right now.”

10. Vendor

What should you look for in a strobe vendor?

“Find a vendor that deals with a strobe manufacturer that has been around for at least five to 10 years,” Barbur said. “If you’ve been to any trade shows, you’ll see many manufacturers, but you’ll rarely see the same ones twice. So, I would stick with a reputable manufacturer and distributor that’s been in the business and been around.”

Could Vehicle-to-Grid Technology Help Smooth the Transition to All-Electric?

All major automakers have gone all-in on an all-electric future. But can the U.S.’s aging grid handle the upcoming surge in demand for charging? And what about resiliency during power outages when you have less access to fossil-fueled generators?

Industry experts point to vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology as a potential solution to help address these concerns and smooth the transition to electrification.

By enabling electric vehicles with V2G capabilities, fleet managers can work with local utilities on demand response and position their EV fleets as a potential backup power source during outages.

Consider these stats:

  • One V2G-enabled Nissan LEAF can provide enough power for two days’ worth of household electricity, according to a recent report by the Electrification Coalition and SAFE (formerly Securing America’s Future Energy).
  • One electric school bus can store enough energy to power the equivalent of five operating rooms for more than eight hours, and a single operating room for 43 hours, according to that same report.
  • V2G could provide $1 billion in annual grid benefits in California alone if the state reaches its goal of 5 million EVs by 2030 and half of the EVs are V2G enabled, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

What exactly is V2G? The California Joint Agencies Vehicle-Grid Integration Working Group defines V2G as two-way, bidirectional charging and discharging between EVs and the grid. Associated terms include vehicle-to-home (V2H) and vehicle-to-building (V2B), where the EV battery provides power directly to the property. In those cases, the power is “islanded” and not discharged back to the grid.

For simplicity and clarity, this article will use V2G as a catchall term to include V2H and V2B. And we’ll use V2G and “bidirectional charging” interchangeably.

So, what needs to change in EVs and charging stations to make them V2G-enabled? How could V2G improve resiliency in storm response situations? And what will drive mainstream adoption?

UFP recently spoke with Ladeene Freimuth, senior advisor, Grid Security Project at SAFE (https://secureenergy.org), and Katherine Stainken, vice president of policy at the Electrification Coalition (www.electrificationcoalition.org). We talked about the current state of V2G technology and what the future holds. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: What makes bidirectional charging happen? Does it initiate from the EV itself, or does it depend on the charger?

Katherine Stainken: It depends on where the power conversion and the smart functions occur, which can either be on the vehicle itself, built into the charging station or split between both.

UFP: What do you think will be more common? Will OEMs build more inverters for V2G? Or do you think the charging providers will take on more responsibility?

Stainken: We’ll likely see both happening, at least for now. That’s because it depends on the vehicle and battery size, particularly for the mobile power use case. For example, electric trucks with large batteries, like the Ford F-150 Lightning, offer the option of built-in bidirectional charging, perfect for use as a mobile power unit. But sedans would likely need the power conversion and smart functions built into the charging stations because the batteries on those vehicles are smaller, meaning you would rotate through those vehicles providing power more quickly, so it’s more cost effective to have the bidirectionality functions in the charging stations versus the added cost to each vehicle.

UFP: Is there a minimum charging level – such as Level 2 or Level 3 fast charging – for V2G?

Ladeene Freimuth: Bidirectional charging typically uses direct current charging or converts AC to DC for charging. An inverter also is required.

UFP: How would you envision V2G improving resiliency in storm response situations for utility fleets?

Stainken: Electric school buses have huge batteries that can provide significant backup power. Or it could be an electric concrete mixer or any big truck with large batteries. You could also generate power with a large fleet of electric sedans – say, a municipal fleet of 50 to 100 vehicles just sitting in the parking lot at the facility. You could set up a bank of V2G chargers on-site to send power back to the grid or direct to a building.

UFP: What do you think will drive mainstream adoption of V2G?

Freimuth: Greater awareness of the value and benefits that V2G can create will help. On the policy front, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act also should help drive adoption of electric vehicles and V2G. For instance, several programs in the BIL are intended to facilitate the wider and faster adoption of V2G, from the National EV Charging Initiative aimed at expanding charging infrastructure across major highway corridors and in underserved communities, including V2G, to Energy Department grid modernization or smart grid investment grants for which V2G technologies are eligible. The Inflation Reduction Act includes a tax credit for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, known as the Section 30C tax credit, which explicitly makes bidirectional charging equipment eligible for this credit. The IRA also contains credits for light-duty electric vehicles and for medium- and heavy-duty EVs.

Stainken: If California reaches its goal of 5 million EVs by 2030, and half of the EVs are V2G enabled, that could generate a potential $1 billion annual grid benefit. That’s significant money. And as more studies show these economic benefits, that will help drive more and more of the market towards V2G.

Also, in California, a comprehensive working group concluded that there were about 320 different use cases for bidirectional charging. So, it’s up to the state, the utilities commission and other stakeholders to prioritize which use cases to focus on.

We’re shifting towards 100% clean energy. But wind power is intermittent. And solar has peak times. So how do you store that energy for when you need it? Electric vehicles with V2G technology could serve as battery storage.

And there are different business models to consider that could drive adoption. For example, you could imagine that the electric school bus provider would get paid for supplying power back to the grid.

UFP: To clarify, you’re saying that V2G technology could create a potential revenue stream for EV owners who supply power back to the grid?

Freimuth: Yes, it is conceivable – depending on the vehicle ownership model and other factors – that V2G could create a potential revenue stream for the grid services provided by a vehicle.

UFP: I imagine a lack of universal technical standards for bidirectional charging hardware and software would hinder widespread adoption. How far away are we from having a uniform set of standards?

Freimuth: Efforts are under way to establish uniform technical standards so that there are not different sets of technical standards across the states.

 

Effective Strategies for Keeping Your Top Technicians

Just how bad is the current technician shortage? According to a 2021 report from the TechForce Foundation, there are five open automotive and diesel jobs for each new technician completing a post-secondary program. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that each year from now until 2030, the deficit in the number of diesel and automotive technicians will grow by more than 28,000. Even if you manage to hire a technician, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence says 41% of technicians who recently graduated from a training program will leave the industry within two years.

Professional Development
In the past, money was likely the main – and sometimes only – motivator that kept people at a job. And while utility fleets need to make sure their wages, benefits and incentive programs are on par with the market, being the highest payer is no longer a guarantee that you will retain your technicians, according to Nebraska Public Power District’s Matt Gilliland.

He explained that one key strategy for technician retention is “the professional development of the technicians to equip the individuals with the skills and experiences needed for upward mobility or more responsibility.” This includes things like offering certifications and training and even focusing on soft skills.

According to Randstad, a staffing agency, 86% of employees leave their jobs because of a lack of career development. Experts expect this situation to worsen because younger workers have higher expectations surrounding career development than their predecessors. When talking about career development and career paths, it is important that you not think of them as the same as the traditional notion of “climbing the company ladder.” A career path could consist of some lateral moves that will allow the employee to gain new skills.

Part of any career path is ongoing training. Gilliland said NPPD pays for all required training, both new and recurring. Other fleets are offering incentives to their technicians who complete training programs.

Quality of Life
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people view work, and work-life balance has become more important. Unlike some other jobs, however, fleet technicians cannot do their work from home; they need to be in the shop to perform maintenance and repairs. But there are still things utility fleets can do to enhance the quality of life for their technicians.

Some of it is as basic as making sure their workspace is clean and safe. Also make sure that technicians have the latest tools and equipment they need to complete their tasks efficiently. Today’s younger workers expect to use technology as part of their jobs, so invest in technology tools that allow them to diagnose problems. Additionally, when it comes to tools, some fleets are eschewing the tradition that had technicians paying for their own; instead, they are now offering tool allowances or are outright paying for technician tools.

To address the quality-of-life issue, Gilliland said NPPD recently performed a full analysis of work orders, workdays and so forth. The company included its technicians in the analysis process. “A change to a four-day, 10-hour-per-day week resulted,” he said. “The customers, supervisors and the technicians are much happier, [and there was] no drop in service [levels].”

Communication is Key
Technician retention requires communication with those techs on an ongoing basis and including them in decisions that affect them. “We make sure our technicians have a voice in everything ranging from repair decisions to business unit operations,” Gilliland said.

About the Author: Denise L. Rondini is president of Rondini Communications, a company specializing in researching and writing for a variety of industries, including trucking, industrial pumps, manufacturing, technology and supply chain. Her clients include suppliers, leasing companies, publications, dealers, distributors and nonprofits.

5 Fleet Technology Trends to Watch for 2023

Electrification is the most significant fleet technology trend right now. Most major automakers and heavy-equipment manufacturers have made substantial investments to shift their entire product portfolios from internal combustion engines to electric within the next 10 to 15 years.

But what are some emerging technology trends that aren’t making headlines but could significantly impact your fleet operations?

I recently spoke with Shannon Keck and Lindsay Wood, product managers with fleet management services provider Wheels Donlen, to get their outlook. They pointed to these five trends to watch.

1. Mobile Payments
The physical fuel card is going digital. So, watch for more fueling and charging stations to upgrade their point-of-sale systems to accept smartphone-enabled mobile payments.

Why? Besides offering more convenience for drivers, mobile payments eliminate fraud from skimming devices, which thieves attach to a pump’s credit card reader to steal account information.

“The fraud risk is very high when putting any plastic piece in a card reader. So, going mobile makes that process more secure because you bypass the reader,” Wood said. “Mobile payment also adds an extra layer of security because it uses biometrics for the driver to access the payment app on their phone.”

When will mobile payments at public fueling and charging stations become mainstream for fleets?

“We’re likely about five years out from universal acceptance since mobile payment availability is brand-driven and merchant-driven,” Wood said. “The big oil brands are close to 100% across the board with mobile payments because they’re larger and can afford the investment. But there are thousands of smaller franchises and mom-and-pop stations out there that may decide not to invest in that technology. They may think the upgrade costs far outweigh the fraud risk. So, it’s a matter of [the smaller stations’] decision to make that investment or not.”

2. Driver Tracking
Look for an increasing shift in telematics from asset-only tracking to asset-and-driver tracking.

This capability is significant for utility fleets with many pool vehicles. After all, when drivers share vehicles, how do you track who was operating which vehicles and when?

“Many companies are using pool management software, key fobs or barcodes to identify the driver of the vehicle,” Keck said. “If you don’t know who the driver is in that vehicle, at what time, you’re going to see a bunch of events associated with an individual vehicle, but not be able to identify who was driving it.”

Is connecting the driver with the asset a new development?

“The technology itself is not new. But how it’s being used continues to evolve,” Keck said. “In the early days, telematics was more about tracking the asset and understanding the utilization of that asset. But we’re starting to see more integration for capturing more data on the individual drivers of those vehicles. This way, fleets can gain a much better understanding of driver behavior.”

3. Digital Plates
Updating large numbers of tags is getting much easier. At least that’s the promise of digital license plates.

“The big advantage of digital plates is having real-time registration data in front of you,” Wood said. “When you think about it, the vehicle is legal for 11 months out of the year. But it’s that little window of time around the tag’s expiration where you can get concerned. Did I renew them on time? You can update digital tags on the vehicle remotely and in real time. This way, you don’t have to wait for the updated registration cards to be mailed and placed in the appropriate vehicles.”

Reviver (https://reviver.com), a digital plate manufacturer and service provider, said that digital license plates are legal for sale to consumers and fleets in Arizona, California and Michigan. They’re also legal in Texas but only for commercial fleet vehicles.

According to Reviver, its system allows fleets to batch registration renewals in a single transaction. And its digital tags offer integrated telematics with real-time location monitoring, geofencing with alerts, and trip and mileage tracking. The company also said the plates can withstand high-impact collisions and exposure to temperatures between 40 degrees below zero and 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Keyless Entry
Watch for an increasing shift to keyless entry systems.

Why? “You’re not losing keys. You don’t have to manage the fleet pool program manually. And you’re able to associate the correct trips to the correct drivers,” Keck said.

How would the technology work?

“Rather than actively managing the keys through an office manager or key box hardware, you would use your mobile device with a code to access the vehicle. This can reduce the administrative support and cost needed to provide the drivers with access to the vehicle,” Keck said.

5. Video Telematics
As camera prices continue to fall, look for the rise of telematics and cameras being integrated within a single platform.

“Certain third-party telematics providers are doing this today. And we’re also seeing OEMs looking into how they can use the cameras already on the vehicle to start being able to integrate that information into their connected vehicle offering,” Keck said.

Is the Future of Tires Airless?

Like a lot of technology, airless tires have been two to three years away for the past 15 years. Since 1999, the major tire manufacturers have been developing tires that aren’t inflated with air. At least one of those tires, the Michelin Tweel, has been on the market for some off-road and construction equipment applications.

Ultimately, the goal of an airless tire is to remove the possibility of a flat tire. The common solution right now is a tire-wheel assembly that uses flexible spokes made of rubber and reinforced polyester resin to carry the load of the vehicle to the hub. The outer ring is capped with a rubber tread that can be replaced. The whole tire can be recycled at the end of its life. The airless tire replaces the traditional pneumatic tire and wheel assembly and can be bolted onto existing hubs.

So far, the main difficulty has been engineering a tire that can bear the load of a commercial vehicle and provide grip and durability at highway speeds. That’s why the first commercial offerings were for low-speed, off-road uses.

Michelin has brought its Tweel to market in 10- to 24-inch sizes for commercial lawn mowers, light construction equipment like skid steers, and other off-highway equipment. The tread on the Tweel will last up to three times as long as a pneumatic tire and can be retreaded multiple times.

The U.S. Army tested the Tweel on light tactical all-terrain vehicles during an encampment in the Amazon rainforest. The Army’s engineers valued puncture survivability because the airless tires can keep going for potentially hundreds of miles when compromised. Additionally, units wouldn’t have to carry spare tires, lightening the equipment load.

Michelin has also announced a program with General Motors to offer the Uptis, an updated Tweel design, on GM passenger vehicles in 2024. The air-free tires are being tested on electric vehicles like the MINI and Chevrolet Bolt.

“The vehicles and fleets of tomorrow – whether autonomous, all-electric, shared service or other applications – will demand near-zero maintenance from the tire to maximize their operating capabilities,” said Eric Vinesse, Michelin’s executive vice president, research and development, at the announcement of the GM partnership.

Future Plans
Bridgestone expects to commercialize its advanced air-free concept tire for commercial trucking within the next five years, according to Jon Kimpel, vice president of extended mobility solutions. The company is testing prototypes over hundreds of thousands of miles with specific customers to validate the engineering design and endurance of the concept.

“While air-free tires for passenger vehicles will come to the market eventually, we see more immediate value in bringing this solution to commercial fleets seeking better uptime, sustainability and driver safety,” he said.

The utility and vocational fleet environments are particularly demanding, Kimpel noted. “Any application that has high tire consumption from demanding road conditions and higher operating costs due to punctures and low tire pressure could benefit greatly from the enhanced durability and retreadability of air-free tires,” he said.

Goodyear has tested its airless tires on a Tesla Model 3, with positive results. And there’s a pilot test of the airless tires on driverless grocery delivery robots.

Pros and Cons
Manufacturers expect air-free tires to last longer than conventional tires inflated with high-pressure air. There won’t be a need to repair flat tires or monitor a tire with a slow leak. The airless tires are designed to be retreadable, helping to make them a more sustainable tire solution. Longer service life and the recyclable properties add to the sustainability benefits compared to rubber tires.

However, air-free tires will likely cost more and be heavier than standard tires. The tradeoffs may be worth it for fleets that measure total cost of ownership; there are significant savings to be had from less maintenance and downtime plus the ability to retread repeatedly.

The regulatory barriers may be as challenging as the engineering hurdles. For example, current regulations require manufacturers to note the recommended air pressure on the tire sidewall. With airless tires, that’s a moot point. Commercial launch of highway-capable airless tires may have to wait until the regulatory environment catches up with the technology.

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.

Crafting a Telematics RFP

Due to the significant financial investment, fleet managers sometimes make the mistake of basing a telematics purchasing decision on cost alone, according to Steven Berube, senior business development manager for Geotab (www.geotab.com).

“While choosing a low-cost provider may seem like an ideal choice at the time, fleet managers risk paying thousands in hidden costs associated with hardware failures or additional upgrades,” he said. “Hardware failures can result in costs associated with loss of vehicle visibility, installation fees for a replacement device and vehicle downtime. Overall, fleet managers should choose a reliable and relevant provider who helps meet their fleet goals today and in the future.”

Amin Amini, a director at Verizon Connect (www.verizonconnect.com), added, “If you’re not able to determine your return on investment in the first couple of months after the software has been installed, then something is definitely amiss, and you should discuss this with the provider you choose.”

Both Berube and Amini recently shared tips with UFP for putting together a well-thought-out telematics request for proposal (RFP) that can help reduce the stress and costs associated with switching or installing telematics devices.

Take Time to Plan
How long does it take to complete a telematics RFP? Berube encouraged fleet professionals to allow for nine to 12 months.

“The RFP must reflect the different inputs, ideas and concerns of the organization’s employees. One must consider how long it will take to realistically install new hardware or activate existing hardware if there is an OEM opportunity,” he explained.

Who should be involved in the RFP process? Include your fleet manager, IT team, operations lead, finance lead and any other people on your team who are closest to your fleet operations, Amini recommended.

He also suggested determining the fleet’s top two to three priorities.

“It’s important not to try and solve every issue or go too broad in your requirements,” Amini said. “Whether you’re focused on improving driver safety, saving money on fuel, or better serving your own end customers and improving efficiency, decide what those are before you start your RFP draft, and build your requirements and key performance indicators for the provider around those metrics and success measures.”

Once a primary plan is developed, Berube advised involving the organization’s legal, IT and security departments.

“The legal team should be engaged as early as possible as this will make the later stages of the RFP more seamless for all parties involved,” he said. “IT and security also play a pivotal role in the RFP process as they work to ensure that the data provided by the telematics provider can be integrated into other internal and external platforms, and the security of these platforms is properly vetted.”

Three Focus Areas
Security, the longevity of the product and the provider’s ability to support new technologies are three focus areas that utility fleet professionals should include in their telematics RFPs, according to Berube.

Security
“With valuable data on the line, utility professionals should prioritize acquiring a telematics solution with a comprehensive security mechanism and process that meets the highest level of security standards,” he said.

The RFP should have a dedicated section that covers cybersecurity standards, testing, data security and database management.

Berube also noted that it’s important to understand the security of the hardware provided, including who manufactures it, who can distribute firmware updates, and the level of security used to encrypt data in the device before and during cellular transmissions.

Longevity
What is the expected longevity of the company and its products? What different types of hardware are needed to support your specific fleet and equipment? For example, can the telematics provider support the adoption of different fleet models and sizes? Understanding this can help ensure the selection of a provider that meets the fleet’s needs both today and in the future, Berube said.

Support
Utility fleet professionals should also have a good grasp of the telematics provider’s dedication to innovation and understanding long-term and future trends in the connected vehicle market, he continued.

For example, does the company support OEM telematics? How committed is the telematics company to supporting new vehicle types, such as electric vehicles? The fleet professional should consider the long-term role the telematics provider will play in supporting the fleet’s current and future needs.

According to Amini, fleet management software almost always requires a customized approach.

“We have in-depth conversations with customers to understand their individual needs and goals. The size of the fleet, the number of drivers, and key areas of focus and opportunity are essential elements to fielding a successful search for a fleet management software provider,” he said.

“For example, the customer might be looking to track productivity, increase driver safety, reduce fuel costs and have a better understanding of when maintenance is required,” Amini continued. “Or they might be looking to focus on only one of those areas. Having these conversations at the beginning of the RFP process will help each provider determine the best solutions and response for the specific needs of the customer.”

Fleet management software should also be scalable to meet your needs, simple to deploy, and provide dashboards and easy-to-decipher reports that give you key insights into what’s happening with your fleet from day one, Amini said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

What’s New in All-Terrain Utility Vehicles

All-terrain utility vehicles (ATUVs) enable utility crews to get work done in hard-to-reach areas where four-wheel-drive pickups and other vehicles cannot go. Some ATUV models haul people and heavy equipment across rugged and hilly terrain, while others offer amphibious capabilities to cross deep waters in flooded lowlands.

So, what’s new in the ATUV market to move your crews and equipment across any terrain, at any time, with maximum safety and productivity? Here are six developments to watch.

PowerBully
What’s New: 9-series rubber track carriers
Website: www.powerbully.com

PowerBully will introduce its new 9-series rubber track carriers to the North American market in March at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas. The 9-series includes two models: the 9C chassis for utility aerials and digger derricks (for distribution applications) and the 9D with a dump body.

Both the C and D models can haul up to 18,000 pounds on rough and steep terrain, with gradeability of up to 60% and a maximum travel speed of about 9 mph. Each model also offers telematics with remote diagnostics. That way, if the machine issues a trouble code in the field, PowerBully can assess the issue remotely and walk the operator through the next steps for getting it repaired as quickly as possible.

ARGO
What’s New: Centaur XT amphibious vehicle
Website: https://argoxtv.com

ARGO’s new Centaur XT navigates open water and harsh terrain with configurations for carrying four, six or eight people.

Powered by a Doosan D18 diesel engine, the Centaur XT uses a hydraulic skid-steering system for maneuvering around – and over – huge boulders, steep ridges, fallen trees and deep ravines. The 71-inch tubeless ultra-low-pressure tires are self-inflating and adjustable for optimal traction in snow, water, sand and mud, and on hard surfaces.

Polaris
What’s New: Updated Pro XD lineup
Website: https://commercial.polaris.com

Polaris Commercial, a division of Polaris Inc., has introduced its latest Pro XD lineup with new features to improve vehicle uptime, durability and safety.

The Pro XD Mid-Size model is available in two- to four-person configurations with a gas motor, 1,000-pound payload capacity, 500-pound box capacity and an adjustable top speed up to 40 mph.

The Full-Size model also offers two- to four-person configurations but with a choice of a gas or diesel motor. The total payload capacity is 1,900 pounds with the ability to haul up to 1,250 pounds in the box. The Full-Size model’s top speed is adjustable up to 40 mph for the gas model and 26 mph for the diesel.

Both models offer the optional new extended-life brake pads that can last up to two times longer than the standard pads. Dash-mounted USB ports are now standard on all Pro XD models for charging mobile devices on the job site. And a new battery-charging port makes it easier to plug in a trickle charger to keep the vehicle’s starting battery charged when sitting idle for a significant period or season.

Mattracks
What’s New: 9090-RR telehandler rubber track conversion system
Website: https://mattracks.co

The new Mattracks 9090-RR telehandler rubber track conversion system improves a vehicle’s stability and traction when hauling heavy equipment, such as aerial equipment, on harsh terrain. Each track corner offers over 1,500 square inches of ground contact and is rated to handle 12,500-pound static loads. The recommended maximum speed for the 9090-RR is 15 mph.

Terramac
What’s New: RT7U compact utility crawler carrier with a Versalift VST-7500 aerial lift
Website: https://terramac.com

The all-new Terramac RT7U with the Versalift VST-7500 aerial lift offers a working height of 80 feet and 47 feet of horizontal reach. The RT7U compact carrier’s thick steel frame supports many large attachments. And the compact size means the machine doesn’t require a special transport permit for height or width when hauling it to a job site.

UTV International
What’s New: Kodiak K6 crawler carrier
Website: www.utvint.com

UTV International has unveiled its new Kodiak K6 crawler carrier powered by a Tier 4-compliant 134-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine.

“The most important part of the overhaul was making sure operators could get more track on the ground, regardless of terrain,” said Erik Paldy, technical sales engineer at UTV International. “It features steel bogey wheels with twin rocker arms, something not seen on similar tracked vehicles. This setup makes for a suspension with much better ground contact because the track can better contour to its terrain, thus lowering ground pressure and increasing accessibility to work sites.”

The Kodiak K6 is available with optional hot and cold weather packages; a backup camera; a two-way front plow; electric or hydraulic winches; an open or closed cab; and one- and two-person configurations.

Best Practices for Preventive Maintenance

No matter how you slice it, preventive maintenance is about paying now or paying more later. The real driver of vehicle cost efficiency, as well as safety impacts and even fuel economy, is leveraging PM inspections to deliver the biggest bang for your buck down the road.

Getting there requires applying best practices to track, schedule and complete PM inspections. Last but not least, gaining insights from the resulting data – to improve PM compliance, driver and technician performance, and fleet specs – can be its own rich reward.

By adhering to PM best practices, utility fleets can expect to gain improved vehicle reliability and reduced breakdowns for greater utilization; increased driver safety and job satisfaction; fewer violations, fines and liability risk; and higher resale values.

“For us, best practices for preventive maintenance are pretty simple. All completing and tracking of PM inspections is through our fleet management software,” said Jeff Schneider, manager of transportation for Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities. LG&E serves 333,000 natural gas and 429,000 electric customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties. KU serves 566,000 electric customers in 77 Kentucky counties and five counties in Virginia.

Scheduling Requests
“We haven’t quite mastered end-user scheduling through the software, but that’s next on our bucket list,” Schneider continued. “Our fleet software does trigger the upcoming need for a PM, and it lands on a ‘PM soon due’ report, which is run weekly. The shop supervisors open a multi-asset work order and each vehicle due is added to that PM work order list. The emailing and calling then begin for the scheduling. This is done at each garage throughout our service territory.

“Currently,” he explained, “the garage supervisors send the initial scheduling email to each department’s group leader. Generally, there are several PMs due for each department. If there’s no response, we follow up with a call to ensure contact has been made. If that doesn’t do the trick, the process is escalated up to the manager of the department by someone from transportation management.”

Schneider pointed out that this contact process “has been hampered by the change in work practices due to COVID. We’re seeing a lot of our vehicles reporting to the job from home. That makes the process of getting the vehicle to the shop/operational center a little more challenging.”

In terms of metrics used to trigger scheduled maintenance inspections at LG&E and KU, “it really depends on what class of vehicle and its operational use. We currently use time and miles on our light-duty vehicles, and time, miles and hours for our heavy-duty fleet. And we continue to redefine our triggers to match current manufacturer specifications,” Schneider said.

Reactionary vs. Preventive
If vehicles are only coming into the shop when they need something looked at or fixed, that’s not preventive maintenance. It’s reactionary maintenance, contends J.J. Keller (www.jjkeller.com), a leading provider of regulation-compliance products and services.

The problem with reactionary maintenance programs is that they are based on failure; you find out something has failed and then you fix it. Keller said this type of maintenance program is destined to lead where you don’t want to go: “to downtime and the resulting costs of idle equipment.”

The key distinction is that a PM program gets vehicles in for inspection and maintenance on a schedule and “repairs any items that are at, or even approaching, an established cutoff point. This allows you to make repairs on your schedule, prevent violations and accidents, and keep the vehicles rolling,” Keller pointed out.

In terms of why to pursue best practices for PM, consider Keller’s holistic view: “Preventive maintenance is also an attitude, a commitment. It means being constantly on the lookout for things that might go wrong. It means getting the best, most cost-effective equipment for the truck and then taking care of it.”

The result is saving money. “No one can argue with the bottom line,” Keller stated. “As PM takes hold, the standard of excellence for a maintenance shop changes from getting the fastest repairs to getting the fewest repairs.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

 

The First All-Electric Bucket Truck Hits the Road

Terex Utilities’ Joe Caywood digs into the details behind the company’s groundbreaking announcement.

In June, Terex Utilities introduced the first ever all-electric bucket truck at the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The truck combines Navistar’s International eMV electric chassis (33,000-pound GVWR) with the Terex Optima 55-foot aerial device and the HyPower SmartPTO system by Viatec.

Terex designed the truck for electric distribution line work in urban applications. It offers a 135-mile driving range and the ability to operate the bucket for a full workday on a single charge.

So, what’s the backstory? How was Terex able to bring this truck to market two years ahead of industry forecasts? How many EVs does the company plan to deliver this year? And what should fleet managers consider when ordering an electric bucket truck?

UFP spoke with Joe Caywood, director of marketing at Terex Utilities, to dig into some of the details. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: In Terex’s press announcement, you said this truck launch is two years ahead of industry projections. What made the shorter timeline possible?

Joe Caywood: We’ve had EVs on our product development roadmap for a while. But we were having to wait until the technology became available.

That changed last year when the pieces started to come together. That’s when we could get line of sight into what it would take to build the truck. And one critical piece was Navistar launching the International eMV electric truck chassis.

Once we saw that the chassis was available, the project gained momentum. We started working with Navistar and Viatec [for the boom power source] late last year. And that put us on the path to go to market with this truck much sooner than expected.

What do you forecast for deliveries this year?

Initial orders are in process with deliveries this year. We’re working with our customers to fine-tune our forecast for next year, but we project a significant increase in 2023 deliveries as utility companies implement aggressive electric fleet sustainability goals.

Let’s talk about spec’ing the initial units. Are the specs standard across the board?

For now, we’re focused on building the 55-foot distribution material-handling aerial device. One of the challenges with these trucks is the extra weight [from the batteries]. You don’t have as much available chassis payload to play with. So, we’re building the trucks with aluminum bodies and controlling the configuration.

Navistar is making enhancements to the chassis that will give us more payload to work with. So, as we go into next year, we’ll start to get some [payload] relief with a bigger, 14,000-pound front axle.

Another improvement we’re working on is single-point charging. The initial trucks have two charging ports – one each for the chassis and the electric boom.

When do you expect single-port charging to be available?

Around the second quarter of next year.

What is the backup power to lower the boom if the ePTO battery runs low?

Visual indicators alert the operator before the battery power gets too low. But we’ve gone about this in a couple of ways to reduce the likelihood of that happening.

First, we’ve increased the battery’s kilowatt rating. Take, for example, a 55-foot aerial device like we have on the EV. When we put it on a diesel chassis as a hybrid ePTO truck, we’ll go with a 14.4- or a 21-kilowatt system. But on all the EVs, we’re going with a 28.8-kilowatt system to power the boom. So, we’re oversizing the battery to give more capacity to ensure the operator can get through a day.

But say, for whatever reason, the operator uses all that energy. The EV chassis has a 12-volt battery like you would see in conventional diesel vehicles. We hook up our auxiliary let-down to the 12-volt system like you would any other aerial device. This way, if you were ever stuck in the air, you could use that auxiliary let-down to lower and stow the boom.

What is the typical charge time for the chassis and the boom?

For the chassis, Navistar recommends a 30- to 60- to 120-kilowatt Level 3 charger. So, the charge time will vary. With a 120-kilowatt charger, it would take about two hours for a full charge. The 60-kilowatt charger would be about a three-and-a-half-hour charge. And if you use the 30, you’d be approaching six or seven hours.

The SmartPTO system uses a Level 2 charger and takes about four hours.

So – depending on the charger – the chassis, plus the Viatec system, can recharge in about a two- to four-hour range.

What factors should fleet managers consider when ordering a truck like this?

There ends up being about three meetings. The first meeting is to discuss and explain what this truck is, the operation of it, the model and the weights. This is to give customers a good understanding of the vehicle.

The second meeting is a deep dive on the chassis. Navistar joins us to go through all the detail of range, recharging, and local service and support. We also do a deep dive on the SmartPTO.

And then the third meeting is an important meeting. It’s about infrastructure and garage recharging. We start talking about, “How should I set up my garages?” What’s the recommended size of the charger to use for the chassis? And based on that, what are the recharge times? We walk them through the charging and infrastructure required to support these trucks.

On what types of routes do utility fleets plan to use the electric bucket truck?

Customers are selecting the EVs for known routes in cities and not in rural areas. The other big thing we hear a lot of feedback on is, “We can’t take these [EVs] on storm response.” And we’re saying, “You’re exactly right. These are not storm response trucks at this time.”

But we reviewed our customers’ telematics data. And we had to look hard for any urban application with this class truck that traveled more than 90 miles.

So, that gave us confidence that a 135-mile range could work in many utility applications.

Flexibility and Safety Drive Utility Choices in Aerial Devices

When it comes to aerial devices, utilities heavily weigh ergonomics and the ability to accomplish the job when choosing equipment for their fleets. This, and options that provide the most flexible positioning of personnel, has influenced recent trends in equipment boom types and accessories for aerial devices.

Opting for Overcenter
Overcenter aerial devices are typically selected for the range of upper boom articulation they provide. This supports distribution work practices that take place on both sides of the pole. Overcenter aerial devices have a greater range of motion, better side reach – up to 5 feet more in some cases – and lower access to the ground in the overcenter position.

One example of an application where this is beneficial is when the lineworker needs to be able to reach the lines on the field side of the poles while remaining set up on the roadway. They can lay the boom out flat and swing under the lines, then raise the upper boom to reach the work. If the lineworker can get into the right position to do their work, not only is the job easier, but the worker can accomplish the tasks assigned without multiple setups as long as each task can be accomplished safely.

Reducing ergonomic risk when in the overcenter ground mount position allows the operator to lower the bucket close to or even onto the ground. Consider all the tools, including phase lifters, crimpers, hydraulic drills or chainsaws, and components that go into the bucket with personnel or that are installed on the material-handling jib. It is easier for the ground worker to hand off materials with the platform at the ground rather than lifting items over their shoulder or in the stowed position. Better ground access also makes it easier to clean out debris in the platform and aids personnel rescue.

Stacked Boom Sections
Overall height is almost always one of the first questions customers ask about a model because of the need to access tight areas, such as highway overpasses or through garage doors. In the past, the side-by-side boom configuration was the only option that offered low travel height. However, with the introduction of Terex’s Optima Series, the stacked boom configuration has become more widely accepted by utility customers. This configuration delivers low travel height plus other benefits.

The stacked boom configuration weighs less, on average, than side-by-side booms. This increases available chassis options as well as truck bed and storage space. Utilities often prefer to have more capacity for stocking the truck with supplies when serving a large geographic area with crews stationed a long distance from their warehouse centers.

Key Options
Two other pieces of optional equipment that are frequently selected by utilities – hydraulic extended jibs and 24-inch platform lifters – further support the goal of increasing versatility.

Material-handling jibs give the operator the flexibility to lift loads to the work zone. Top-mounted jibs offer the option of hydraulic articulation and extension. One trend among utilities is to select the type that allows extension under load. Roller assemblies above and below the jib allow this type of jib to extend and retract when loaded, if it is loaded within the rating.

The other type, the simplified/compact jib, provides infinite positioning through 120 degrees of articulation and a load radius of 0 to 65 inches. Hydraulic extension and repositioning are possible, but not while the jib is under load.

Finally, the addition of a 24-inch platform lifter enables the bucket to be extended independently from the boom. The device effectively adds 2 feet of working height to the unit without having to reposition the boom. Increased access to the work area potentially reduces the kind of twisting and straining that can cause ergonomic injuries.

Each utility may have different work conditions depending on the services they provide and their service area. Often, a utility’s safety department or standards committee plays an integral role in the specification of equipment. Understanding the unique factors that affect the work their employees do is central to evaluating and reducing risks to accomplish the tasks the crews are assigned. The environment and the tools used are a few of those influencing factors.

The selection of the equipment is best handled when the utility works together with their Terex account manager to evaluate the equipment and options available that best match the actual work to be accomplished, typical work site conditions and goals of the organization. Overcenter units provide greater range of motion and setup options, which is why they are popular with utilities. With the wide range of machines and options available, a fresh look at available equipment may pay dividends to the users.

About the Authors: Osvaldo Jimenez is a strategic account manager at Terex Utilities focused on investor-owned utilities. He has worked for the company for nearly eight years in sales, with previous experience in fleet operations and management in construction and tree-trimming services.

Ryan Kloos is a territory sales manager for Terex Utilities. He has been with the company for more than 16 years, working in customer design and sales application roles.

Image courtesy of Terex.

Think Like a Thief to Stop Catalytic Converter Theft

Two factors have contributed to the surge in catalytic converter thefts: the value of the materials in catalytic converters and the increased opportunity for thefts to occur.

The costs of three precious metals – platinum, palladium and rhodium – found inside catalytic converters have skyrocketed. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), on January 4, 2019, rhodium was valued at $2,300 per ounce. On April 25, 2022, that value had risen to $16,500 per ounce.

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing an increase in thefts,” said Robert Passmore, department vice president of personal lines at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

And according to Mike Joner, supervisor of fleet management services for Holman Inc., “Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, an increased number of fleet vehicles sat idle or were left unattended for extended periods as business volume waned. These idle, unattended units offered an easy target for catalytic converter thieves.”

David Glawe, president and CEO of the NICB, added, “As the value of the precious metals contained in the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices.” Given that the prices of these precious metals seem to be on the rise and the fact that some palladium comes from Russia, potentially limiting supplies, it is likely that thefts will continue.

Costly Repairs
It takes thieves only a few minutes and some basic tools to remove a catalytic converter, and they can quickly hit multiple vehicles in one parking lot without being detected.

Once a theft occurs, the fleet has no choice but to get the vehicle repaired. Repairs are costly, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 to get a vehicle fixed, plus expenses due to downtime at work, according to the NICB. Costs vary based on the type of catalytic converter, and some vehicles – especially those with high ground clearance – are more likely to be targeted because they provide easier access to the catalytic converter.

Following a theft, the vehicle must be taken out of service if for no other reason than it will be extremely loud without the converter. Not only that, but it is illegal to operate the vehicle with an open exhaust system. There could also be expenses beyond the cost of the catalytic converter itself. “You may have to repair or replace items such as brake lines, wiring harnesses, fuel lines, et cetera as well,” Joner explained.

Protecting Your Assets
The good news is that there are steps utility fleets can take to lessen the chance they will be victims of catalytic converter theft.

“If you are trying to protect your vehicles, you have to think like a thief,” Passmore suggested.

So, evaluate where you are parking your vehicles at night. Is the lot secure? Is it well-lit? Is it tough to get into? Does it have a fence around it? Are there cameras monitoring it?

In addition to securing the parking area, there are some devices available that make it more difficult for a thief to get to the catalytic converter, but those devices are not available for all vehicles. There are three common types of devices: a steel shield that goes over the converter, rebar cages, and stainless-steel cables that are welded from the converter to the vehicle’s frame. The purpose of these devices is to increase the time it takes for the thief to remove the catalytic converter. Theft protection devices include the CatStrap (www.catstrap.net) and the CatClamp (https://catclamp.com). If none of these products is suitable, the fleet can take its vehicles to a muffler shop and have rebar cages installed.

It is likely that catalytic converter theft will continue to be a problem, so fleet managers must do everything they can to make their assets less attractive to thieves.

About the Author: Denise L. Rondini is president of Rondini Communications, a company specializing in researching and writing for a variety of industries, including trucking, industrial pumps, manufacturing, technology and supply chain. Her clients include suppliers, leasing companies, publications, dealers, distributors and nonprofits.

Optimizing Your Shop Schedule

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.

Monitoring Data
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.

Latest Developments in All-Electric Utility Construction Machines

There’s a lot of media coverage around the rollout of new electric vehicle models. But there’s one EV category not grabbing headlines – yet it’s still critical to achieving a utility fleet’s sustainability goals: utility construction equipment.

All-electric machines eliminate emissions and allow crews to operate in noise-sensitive areas and outside of standard work hours. They offer operators a safer work environment with no exposure to diesel fumes.

So, what’s the latest in EV machines? Consider these new developments in three equipment categories – compact excavators, compact loaders and backhoes – that could help accelerate your fleet’s electrification efforts.

 

Compact Excavators

Volvo Construction Equipment
Model: EC18

Image courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

Overview: Volvo Construction Equipment announced in May that North American customers could begin reserving the 1.8-ton EC18 Electric compact excavator. The EC18 brings the Volvo CE electric lineup to five machines.

The EC18’s variable undercarriage retracts to fewer than 39 inches and expands to 53 inches. And the right frame corner, swing post and cylinder stay within the tracks’ width. This design reduces the risk of machine damage when working in confined spaces and alongside obstacles.

Fleet managers can track the machine’s real-time performance with Volvo’s Electric Machine Management Application. It provides remote status on battery level, charging, location and other important indicators.

Operating Time: Up to five hours.

Charging Time: The integrated onboard charger charges from zero to 100% in fewer than six hours. The company said that an optional off-board fast charger can charge up to 80% in under one hour.

Status: Reservations open. Deliveries begin in 2023.

 

CASE Construction Equipment
Model: CX15 EV

Image courtesy of CASE Construction Equipment

Overview: CASE Construction Equipment unveiled the CX15 EV electric mini excavator at the CNH Industrial Capital Markets Day event in February in Miami Beach, Florida.

The CX15 EV is a 2,900-pound mini excavator powered by a 16-kW electric motor. It features retractable tracks that shrink the machine’s width to about 31 inches for going through doors and working in tight spaces.

Operating Time: Up to eight hours.

Charging Time: CASE has not published the charging time for the machine’s 110/220-volt onboard charger. But the company said an external rapid charger can charge the machine within 90 minutes.

Status: Deliveries begin in 2023.

 

Bobcat Co.
Model: E32e

Image courtesy of Bobcat Co.

Overview: In May, Bobcat Co. unveiled its latest electric compact excavator: the E32e.

The 3.9-ton battery-powered excavator has a bucket digging force of 7,284 pound-feet and a drawbar pull of 7,815 pound-feet. It generates 5 psi of ground pressure and has a travel speed of up to 2.6 mph.

The E32e’s hydraulic pump has a flow capacity of 24.4 gallons per minute. Auxiliary flow is 16.8 gallons per minute at 2,987 psi. And the machine’s boom swing is 75 degrees left and 55 degrees right.

The E32e joins a growing lineup of Bobcat electric machines, including the E10e, its first electric compact excavator, announced in 2019, and its electric compact track loader, the T7X, unveiled earlier this year.

Bobcat plans to start delivering the E32e in July to Sunbelt Rentals locations where they will be available for rent.

Operating Time: Up to four hours of continuous operation. The company said the machine could work a full eight-hour day with intermittent use.

Charging Time: It takes eight hours to charge fully with a 240-volt outlet. The company has not published the charging time using an off-board fast charger.

Status: Deliveries begin July 2022.

 

JCB North America
Model: 19C-1E

Image courtesy of JCB North America

Overview: The JCB 19C-1E is the first machine in the new JCB E-TECH product lineup. JCB brought it to market in 2019, designing it for urban job sites, noise-sensitive environments and enclosed spaces.

The 19C-1E operates at just 86 decibels, quieter than some household appliances and significantly quieter than comparable diesel machines, allowing the operator to communicate easily with others on the work site, the company said.

To preserve battery charge, auto-idle reduces the engine speed when the machine is idle for a set time.

Operating Time: Up to five hours.

Charging Time: The 19C-1E offers three charging options: 110-volt, 10.5 hours charge time; 230-volt, five hours; and 415-volt, fewer than 2.5 hours.

Status: Production began in 2019.

 

Compact Loaders

Volvo Construction Equipment
Model: L20 Electric

Image courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

Overview: Volvo Construction Equipment introduced the L20 Electric compact loader in May.

The 9,921-pound machine features a 1.8-ton payload, a parallel-type linkage (Z-bar linkage optional) and a maximum dump height of 8 feet 2 inches. Volvo said the L20’s electric components reduce machine maintenance by 30%.

Additional features include an automatic park brake with hill-hold functionality and a range of customizable work modes. Rigid planetary axles with 100% differential locks increase traction and reduce tire wear, with an articulating-oscillating joint to enhance off-road capability and stability.

Operating Time: Up to six hours.

Charging Time: The onboard charger charges from zero to 100% in under six hours. The optional off-board fast charger can fully charge the L20 Electric in under two hours.

Status: Reservations open. Deliveries begin in 2023.

 

Bobcat Co.
Model: T7X

Image courtesy of Bobcat Co.

Overview: In January, the Bobcat T7X all-electric compact track loader debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The machine received two 2022 CES Innovation Awards in the “Vehicle Intelligence & Transportation” and “Smart Cities” categories.

Bobcat replaced the traditional hydraulic system with an electric drive system consisting of electric cylinders and electric drive motors. This means the machine operates on almost no fluids. In fact, the T7X uses less than 1 gallon of coolant compared to 57 gallons of fluid in its diesel-hydraulic equivalent model, the company said.

Bobcat will make the initial group of T7X electric compact track loaders available through Sunbelt Rentals later this year.

According to the Engineering News-Record, the initial T7X machines cost nearly three times that of a traditional model – at more than $200,000 each. But Joel Honeyman, Bobcat’s vice president of global innovation, said the price is likely to drop as the company expands its production of electric machines.

Operating Time: Up to four hours.

Charging Time: The charging time using the onboard charger is about 10 hours. The company has not published charging time using a fast charger.

Status: Deliveries begin July 2022.

 

Backhoes

CASE Construction Equipment
Model: 580 EV

Image courtesy of CASE Construction Equipment

Overview: CASE Construction Equipment unveiled “Project Zeus” – the all-electric CASE 580 EV backhoe loader – in 2020. It’s equipped with a 90-kWh lithium-ion battery to support an eight-hour workday in most applications.

The battery powers the drivetrain and hydraulic motors separately. This configuration generates hydraulic breakout forces equal to diesel-powered machines during simultaneous loader and drivetrain operation.

CASE estimates that the 580 EV can save fleets as much as 90% in annual vehicle service and maintenance costs. This number factors in eliminating diesel, engine oil and diesel exhaust fluid. It also accounts for the reduction in regular preventive and long-term engine maintenance – and the associated labor rates and time savings.

Operating Time: Up to eight hours.

Charging Time: It takes about eight hours to charge using a 220-volt connection. The company has not published charging time using a fast charger.

Status: Deliveries began in 2020.

 

John Deere
Model: 310 X-Tier E-Power Backhoe

Image courtesy of John Deere

Overview: John Deere introduced the 310 X-Tier E-Power electric excavator in 2021. The company said the machine will match the performance of its diesel-powered counterpart, the 310L backhoe loader.

The E-Power concept is still in its early stages with few details disclosed to date. Last year, the company announced a partnership with National Grid, a Northeast U.S. electric and natural gas utility, to test the machine.

Operating Time: Up to 10 hours.

Charging Time: The company has not announced charging times.

Status: Phase 2 testing begins this year.

Navigating the Surge in Fuel Costs

High fuel prices have made it increasingly difficult for fleet operations to keep costs low – especially utility fleets, whose essential services require daily travel to job sites.

According to Dan Remmert, senior manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois, “Not only are fuel prices at record highs, but pretty much everything else it takes to maintain a fleet is affected by higher cost.”

Oklahoma Gas & Electric, which operates a total of 2,240 assets – 55% gasoline and 45% diesel – is facing similar challenges. The utility has a 65% utilization rate, and its vehicles are collectively driven 14.5 million miles a year. According to Paul Jefferson, senior manager of fleet services for OG&E, fuel budget forecasting has been one of the biggest challenges resulting from fuel cost increases.

So, is it even possible to maintain efficiency and cost-effectiveness during these challenging times? Remmert and Jefferson recently shared with UFP how they are handling the current conditions.

Cut Back Where You Can
At Ameren Illinois, a vehicle’s fuel charges are allocated to the operations group that the vehicle is assigned to. Since Q1, the fleet services group has communicated to operations the challenges they are facing and where they are estimating the impact will be at year-end.

“We send email and weekly updates to senior leadership. We also meet with them to share best practices on how to manage costs,” Remmert said.

He noted that the fleet is currently focused on idle reduction and eliminating excess equipment. “Both can lower fuel spend, but it does take an organization-wide effort. The culture in many fleets to idle is strong. In many cases, the truck is more than transportation – it is the office and lunchroom. That is where technology can help with HVAC systems that can operate without idling.”

Remmert continued, “If you explain why and offer some flexibility on cab comfort, you can achieve savings. We have been adding the optional cab climate with our ePTO aerial. This is a parallel HVAC system that can run on electric or some other alternative power source to heat and cool the cab without idling. We are piloting several other systems that will do the same on our non-aerial units.”

In addition, the fleet has a renewed focus on idling goals, including a new and improved idling dashboard to provide even better access to valuable data. Operations personnel are currently being trained to utilize the data.

OG&E has also been promoting the reduction of excessive engine idling plus improving driver behaviors. Jefferson said the business unit managers use telematics and report monthly on the scorecards.

Ameren Illinois is re-evaluating fleet usage after the pandemic. To maintain safety during the pandemic, many fleets enforced limits of one individual per truck, which increased the number of vehicles in use as well as the amount of fuel consumption. The utility also allowed more people to report from home to avoid contact. Now that the pandemic is winding down, the company said it needs to evaluate their options once again to make sure they are optimizing their fleet resources.

Fuel Up On-Site
OG&E hedged diesel fuel through the end of the year at $3.50 and has asked operators to fuel internally as much as possible. Corporate emails are sent out to encourage fueling on-site.

“We purchase fuel from the rack and dispense from our on-site tanks. The cost of fuel is cheaper than retail: 10 to 30 cents [per gallon] less expensive depending on load size and location,” according to Jefferson.

Additionally, OG&E developed a dashboard for fuel reporting to help promote internal fueling. The dashboard features internal and external fueling data by business unit. Separating the business units allows supervisors to see data for just their group.

Ameren Illinois also offers some on-site fueling in addition to retail. “Our in-house model is slightly cheaper, but our service area is large and only 25% of our operating centers still have on-site fuel,” Remmert said.

Other Alternatives
Other ways Ameren Illinois has been trying to minimize fuel expenses include going greener, although this does come with challenges.

“Most investor-owned utilities have ambitious goals for electrification. However, the industry is lagging in developing work trucks with the duty cycle needed in our industry. We have several half-ton pickups on order in the coming years. Supply chain challenges with most OEMs have delayed deliveries a little,” Remmert said.

And while some fleets were moving away from diesel engines in many light- and medium-duty vehicles due to the increased cost of ownership, today’s higher gasoline costs are eating into that savings.

“The gas engines still seem to be a value, but mpg is lower,” Remmert said.

Another strategy that has helped during this time is increasing scrutiny of fuel purchases through increased monitoring and management. Ameren’s fuel card provider allows for transaction limits and spend limits at the card level, as well as a rigorous fraud detection ability.

“We really haven’t limited where we purchase yet, but we are looking at things like higher-level discounts on preferred providers,” Remmert noted.

OG&E is testing an artificial intelligence program, which is basically a bulk fuel-buying robot.

“It’s too early to tell the results,” Jefferson said. “If it works, we will try it in the future. We just started testing it against our normal buyer to see if it performs better.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

All About GPS Tracking for Fleet Trailers

GPS-based electronic tracking systems first made inroads with over-the-road truck fleets to keep tabs on freight trailers as they’re hauled great distances and parked in far-off lots after cargo is offloaded.

But every application for this dynamic technology differs where trailers are concerned, which is why utility fleet professionals should dig into how available systems match up to their specific operations.

Steven Berube, senior business development manager, off-road vocational, for Geotab (www.geotab.com), said there are several reasons for electric utilities to consider deploying GPS technology on their trailers. “The first is to help solve a common but expensive accident. There are cases where a trailer will be left at a site and sometimes forgotten. With GPS technology, managers can quickly track down the location of their trailers and save time and money they otherwise would have spent manually tracking them down.

“The second reason is that GPS technology can help reduce the risk of lost or stolen goods and trailers,” Berube continued. “By leveraging GPS technology, fleet managers can quickly locate and follow their assets. For instance, if a trailer is stolen, GPS tracking can help locate the trailer for quick retrieval.”

Trailer Rightsizing
Another reason to deploy GPS technology, he said, is to figure out how many trailers the fleet truly needs. “Many fleets don’t realize that they are buying more trailers than they need. Using a GPS system, managers can better understand their trailer utilization, which allows them to make better-informed purchasing decisions.

“Lastly,” Berube pointed out, “a GPS system can help keep vehicles on the road and reduce maintenance costs. Fleets often use the mileage information from the tire gauge and the tractor to determine when a vehicle requires maintenance; a GPS system can provide a more accurate account of the trailer’s mileage.”

He added that if fleets want to “take it a step further,” integrating GPS with a telematics system can yield more detailed insights into the vehicle’s condition to better inform a comprehensive predictive maintenance program.

Tapping Data
“Modern asset and GPS tracking solutions help to increase operational efficiency and improve productivity and customer service while focusing on driver safety,” according to Erin Cave, director of product management for Verizon Connect (www.verizonconnect.com). She said that by implementing GPS tracking, fleet managers can “stay informed about a range of asset-related conditions, from temperature changes and door openings to vibrations or movement.

“Ideally,” Cave continued, “utilities want to have their assets and vehicles on one comprehensive fleet and asset management software platform. We work with customers to determine exactly what hardware and software configuration will work best for their schedules, teams, size of their fleet and other specifications.” She also noted, “You can still track assets even when they’re outside of the cellular network 4G/5G LTE range by choosing GPRS cellular network data.”

Cave pointed out there is “a range of different GPS vehicle trackers available, and they can collect different types of data. Some are powered by the vehicle itself while others use a battery. Some devices can easily be plugged into the vehicle, while others need professional installation under the dashboard.” She said that along with battery power, trackers can be run using 12V DC, 24V DC, 48V AC, 110V AC or 220V AC power.

Power Points
“Power units can be adjusted to whatever you want drawing from the trailer’s power supply, and non-powered trailers can have battery-powered units installed in a very inconspicuous location,” according to Mike Kollat, director of sales for HoloTrak (www.holotrak.com).

He said battery-powered devices are “extremely configurable” to conserve life. “Configurations are easily modified to ‘check in’ at adjustable intervals. The battery life of these types of trackers can last anywhere from one to 12 years. When you think of the life of a trailer, it can be on the road one day and then sitting in a yard for a few months. It can potentially go idle for years. But with battery-operated trackers, you will still have the visibility to the trailer when you need it.”

Kollat also recommended keeping in mind how the device is set up to report battery health back to the network. “If a trailer is checking back once a day for location purposes only, it should last over 10 years. If the GPS tracker is configured to monitor movement-based events, then battery life will drop to around three years. So, there are variables that play a role in battery life, and each tracker can be customized. Not all batteries will last the same amount of time. Also, ambient temperature plays a role in battery life as well.”

Pricing
What’ll it cost? Verizon Connect’s Cave said that “the price will vary depending on the specific needs of the customer and will be based on the number of units, services needed, and if the customer will self-install or opt for professional installation.”

Geotab’s Berube said its’s difficult to “narrow in on a rough price as it is very wide-ranging. Prices would be dependent on what a fleet is looking to get out of its GPS unit. Comprehensive units that supply detailed insights might be more expensive than basic units, but in most cases, the cost savings of deploying a more comprehensive system, such as telematics, outweigh the initial cost.”

“Current costs for trailer trackers range from $75 for your basic tracker and up to $300 for more advanced trackers equipped with additional sensors,” HoloTrak’s Kollat advised. “We offer flexible month-to-month plans along with annual subscriptions. Adding additional auxiliary sensors and cameras will increase the equipment and subscription cost.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Damage Control

Tracking collision damage limits vehicle downtime and repair costs.

The larger the fleet, the more complex the repair process and the higher the cost to fix body and frame damage. No one aims to bang up a bucket truck or other fleet equipment, but it does happen.

Once damage occurs and is properly reported, the repair process can begin. Obviously, significant cosmetic damage or damage that interferes with driving the vehicle or using it as a work platform must be dealt with as soon as possible. And while some fleets may back-burner minor dings and scrapes, others have policies that mandate no repair delays to keep on-road equipment looking tiptop.

Either way, the damage must be fixed at some point. But in the meantime, how do you track damage? That may include distinguishing between old and new damage. Which is which and were all incidents reported? On top of that, what do you do about drivers who don’t report damage?


To help answer those questions and smooth the repair process, here’s a look at best practices and tips gleaned from industry experts about how to stay on top of damage control.

Best Practices
Claims management has a significant impact on vehicle downtime, according to Trevose, Pennsylvania-based CEI (https://ceinetwork.com). The provider of accident management and fleet driver safety services stated that ensuring a solid workflow “from first notice of loss, vehicle estimate, appraisal, repair, and return to service has a significant impact on vehicle downtime” as well as driver productivity.

Another best practice to consider is training drivers to take photos of damage as soon as it’s spotted. Drivers should be instructed to take photos of all the damaged area(s) and the vehicle’s license plate, vehicle identification number and odometer reading.

According to Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, any damage to an NPPD asset “is reported via our safety reporting and management system.” NPPD is a publicly owned utility and political subdivision of the State of Nebraska. Its service territory includes all or parts of 84 of the state’s 93 counties.

“We then log the damage report in our fleet data management system,” Gilliland continued. “Because some damage is not repaired, it is critical to sort out new from old damage. With each report, we can cross-reference previous reports and/or the fleet database.”

NPPD creates a workflow for the securement of the repair cost estimate, the decision to repair or not repair, and the repair process itself. In addition, the fleet’s external vendors assess and report damage as part of preventive maintenance.

Gilliland noted that drivers not reporting damage has not been an issue for the utility. “That’s due to the overall safety culture within NPPD,” he said. “We take and store photos of each new asset/build. We ask for pictures of damages in the reporting system. And we outsource most of our maintenance, so our inspection process requires vendors to report conditions, and we record those photos taken when assets are reassigned.”

Culture Counts
It’s helpful to create a culture that encourages drivers to take photos of damage, according to the HD Repair Forum (https://hdrepairforum.com). The organization brings the heavy-duty collision repair industry together for education and collaboration.

Some large fleets have their own repair facilities, others repair light damage and outsource larger damage, while still others outsource all repairs to a trusted facility. If you have a fleet that outsources repair work, the HD Repair Forum recommends reaching some sort of regular agreement with a trusted repair shop. “We even know of fleets that have their new vehicles shipped directly to their trusted shop for a quick inspection, to complete possible upgrades, and to log that truck in the system. That way, any future repairs add to the history of the truck.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.


The Power of Body Repair
Holding off on body repairs will take its toll. In downtime, yes, but also in terms of safety concerns, higher costs, vehicle value and company image.

That’s per a blog post by Baltimore Freightliner-Western Star (www.baltimorefreightliner.com). Summarized below is the truck dealer’s take on why to stay on top of body/frame damage.

Good looks. Your fleet represents your operation out on the road. Body repair can keep your vehicles looking professional, which helps reflect a positive image for your company.

Safety matters. Ignoring larger body/frame damage can create a safety risk. A damaged frame may prevent a truck from hauling loads and could cause a serious accident. Damaged bumpers are often ignored, yet they can create more safety risks. Handle any safety concerns as soon as possible.

Top dollar. Eventually you may decide to sell some vehicles, whether to make room for new ones or to liquidate some assets. With those sales, ensure you’ll get your money’s worth by taking care of necessary body repairs so that your vehicles are in tiptop condition.

Time hurts. Putting off body repairs risks damage worsening over time, which can drive up repair costs. For example, a minor scratch can make a vehicle more susceptible to rust. It would be quick and easy to fix that right away. As rust grows, it becomes expensive and tricky to fix.

Will Hydrogen Electrify the Future of Heavy-Duty Trucks?

An industry executive says that hydrogen fuel-cell trucks – and the fueling infrastructure to support them – will become more practical and affordable in the not-so-distant future.

Most discussions around fleet electrification today focus on battery-electric vehicles. And for good reason. More EV models are becoming available, costs are getting closer in line with conventional vehicles, and charging infrastructure continues to expand.

But when it comes to electrifying the Class 8 truck segment, battery power remains impractical and insufficient to meet the performance and range requirements for most heavy-duty truck applications.


That’s where hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles come in. They’re also electric vehicles but offer longer-range capabilities for Class 8 trucks – in some cases, over 500 miles – at a significantly lower weight and with a much shorter “refueling” time than their battery-powered counterparts.

Yet the knock against fuel-cell trucks has been the exorbitant cost of both the vehicles and the fueling infrastructure to support them.

That’s changing, however, said Craig Knight, CEO at Hyzon Motors (www.hyzonmotors.com), a startup headquartered near Rochester, New York, that installs hydrogen fuel-cell systems and electric propulsion in existing truck brands.

The company delivered 87 trucks globally in 2021 and announced during the fourth-quarter earnings call that it expects to deliver 300 to 400 units by the end of this year. And it launched a pilot program in California in March, with Hyzon-equipped Freightliner Cascadias.

UFP recently spoke with Knight to get his outlook on the fuel-cell vehicle market. He pointed to the following five advantages he believes will position hydrogen fuel cells as the prominent power source in heavy-duty truck electrification in the not-so-distant future.

1. Lighter weight.

According to Knight, a fully fueled hydrogen-powered truck with about 500 miles of range is anywhere from 400 kilograms (881 pounds) to 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) heavier than a comparable conventional diesel truck. That’s a small percentage loss of cargo capacity for an 80,000-pound heavy-duty chassis.

But the weight of batteries required to achieve a similar range? That’s where the numbers get big.

“With the current state-of-the-art battery technology, you’re talking about an extra 5, 6 or even 7 metric tons,” Knight said.

That translates to about 11,000 to 15,000 pounds – a substantial jump.

“When the truck’s tare weight goes up by that much, every movement the truck makes is a lot less efficient. The fact of the matter is that if you’re going toward heavy vehicles, batteries are very inefficient because you’re carrying around all this extra weight,” Knight said.

2. Faster “fueling.”

It can take at least an hour or more to fully fast-charge today’s light-duty electric vehicles.

Now, imagine how much more time would be required to fully charge the much larger batteries in Class 8 trucks. Even if the charge time was only an hour, that’s still expensive downtime for a commercial truck that only makes money when the wheels are rolling.

What about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles?

Knight said that the refueling time for hydrogen is similar to comparable diesel trucks.

3. Smaller infrastructure footprint.

Hydrogen refueling stations can support significantly more trucks per day than charging stations, Knight said.

He provided this frame of reference: “One piece of hydrogen infrastructure can make 50 or 100 trucks work every day, whereas one piece of electric truck infrastructure can make maybe half a dozen or 10 trucks work in a day – if you’re really lucky and plan very well. The electric vehicle infrastructure that’s out there is good for cars and a small battery. But it doesn’t work for 35 or 40 metric tons of combined vehicle mass.”

4. Greener “fuel” production.

Knight said that Hyzon is focused on producing hydrogen fuel from renewable sources – such as waste, renewable gases, solar and wind – in the local areas of the fleets the company serves.

This approach ensures the fuel’s sustainability, aligns hydrogen production capacity with local demand and drives down the high costs of transporting hydrogen.

5. Longer battery life.

The recyclability of electric vehicle battery packs remains a challenge. But fuel cells can help with that.

“A fuel-cell vehicle uses a lot less battery power,” Knight said. “And whether the truck is driving or sitting, the fuel cell preserves, protects and charges the battery. So, if you switched everything from battery electric to fuel-cell electric, we’d likely see a reduction in the number of batteries needed by eight to 10 times. That’s significant, and especially so as the supply constraints on rare earth minerals [such as nickel, cobalt and lithium used in batteries] continue to tighten.”

Outlook
Knight envisions a future where hydrogen could become more than a niche fuel for electrifying the heavy-duty truck segment.

“We have this view in our business plan that, in the next three to four years, we’ll bring to market, for example, Class 3 type vehicles,” Knight said. “Right now, Class 8 drives the availability of hydrogen because it’s such a compelling use case. But that investment could bring hydrogen at scale to areas that have a lot of trucks, a lot of logistics activities, a lot of warehouses, a lot of fresh food deliveries, et cetera. And what does that do? That provides access to adjacent markets – like the lighter-class vehicles – that weren’t the low-hanging fruits for hydrogen on round one.”

The State of Electric Vehicle Order-to-Delivery Times

Despite manufacturers’ reassurances, vehicle delivery delays are expected.

In February, Ford began deliveries of its E-Transit EV van to fleet customers, one of the earliest of the highly anticipated commercial-grade battery-powered vehicles to have its orders fulfilled. It’s a bright spot in the electric vehicle market as fleet managers keep an eye on shifting EV delivery dates.

Some delays are out of the manufacturers’ control as the supply chain, including semiconductor manufacturers, struggles with its own set of challenges.


“The EV segment is in a similar situation to the rest of the industry, with the ongoing microchip shortage continuing to limit vehicle production and supply,” said Emily Graham, director of sustainability at Holman (www.holman.com). “That being said, as electric vehicles continue to become increasingly popular with both consumers and vocational fleet operators, many manufacturers are prioritizing the limited allocation of microchips available to the production of EV units.”

As Ford began deliveries of the E-Transit in February, the first 2,000 of the hotly anticipated Lightning Pro version of the F-150 rolled off the assembly line in late April, with a full rollout coming later this year.

“I don’t have a specific date available, but we’re still putting it out there as spring 2022, which we announced last May,” said Mark Poll, Ford Pro Charging manager.

To some extent, fleet orders compete with consumer demand for vehicles in short supply. Chevrolet has well over 140,000 reservations for the 2024 Silverado, including the WT (Work Truck) model. Deliveries are scheduled to start in spring 2023. In comparison, the standard Silverado sold more than half a million units in 2021.

GMC’s electric Hummer pickup and SUV, with more than 60,000 consumer reservations, won’t see deliveries before 2024.

Rivian has delayed deliveries of its R1T pickup until September, and the R1S SUV won’t see the light of day until sometime this fall.

The much-hyped Tesla truck does not seem to be gaining traction among fleet operators, and its delivery date is shrouded in mystery at this point. It’s still possible to place a reservation on the Tesla website, with no hint of a production schedule.

Medium-duty EVs are also on the way, but most are in pilot-project stages and not ready for wide-open order books.

Delays are Expected
Despite manufacturers’ reassurances, vehicle delivery delays are expected. Ford has stockpiled thousands of all types of vehicles awaiting semiconductors. Still, company representatives are publicly standing by the spring delivery time frame, but the definition of spring could be stretched by a few months. In online industry forums, fleet managers are talking about delivery dates in November 2022.

Nevertheless, commercial and governmental fleets are ordering EVs to add to their vehicle mix.

In February, officials in Round Rock, Texas, ordered 10 Ford Lightnings as part of the scheduled fleet replacement process. City officials said they expect delivery in six to 12 months. In the meantime, the city will complete the first phase of its charging infrastructure installation at municipal locations around the city.

In British Columbia, Canada, the city of Richmond ordered four Lightning EV trucks and three F-150 hybrid trucks. The city expects to take delivery of the Lightning trucks in the second quarter of 2022.

A number of police departments have adopted Tesla Model 3 and Model Y into their fleets, including New York City, Boulder, Colorado, and Spokane, Washington.

Duke Energy is going all in on EVs, pledging to convert 100% of its nearly 4,000 light-duty vehicles to electric and 50% of its approximately 6,000 medium-duty, heavy-duty and off-road vehicles to EVs, plug-in hybrids or other zero-carbon alternatives by 2030.

No Time to Waste
Even as fleet managers await deliveries, there’s no time to waste in developing a charging infrastructure plan. Ford and GM are offering turnkey and custom solutions that include charging systems and fleet analytics tools.

Software can boost battery performance through smart charging, pre-conditioning and remote monitoring. Companies will be able to track energy use and reimburse employees for home charging. Fleet telematics can help maximize vehicle efficiency and uptime. With 150-kW fast charging, the standard range Ford Lightning can recharge from 15% to 80% charge in 44 minutes, about the time of a typical lunch break, Poll said.

GM has tapped eTransEnergy, a Duke Energy company, to help GM fleet customers integrate EVs using the GM Ultium Charge 360 service. Through eTransEnergy, fleet operators can take advantage of infrastructure planning, smart charging technology, on-site solar energy generation, battery backup options and other aspects of EV fleet management.

The Ford Pro Charging system offers a similar program, including infrastructure assistance to help integrate charging hardware into fleet depots alongside charge management software. One new twist is the possibility of installing charging stations at employees’ homes for take-home vehicles.

“Some fleets are buying a few vehicles to try out in different parts of their business, and others are planning larger deployments and aggressive transitions to electric within their fleet,” Poll said.

Even if EV deliveries fall behind schedule, it’s critical to plan for the charging infrastructure to be ready before the vehicles arrive. It can take six to 12 months to go through the process of planning, designing, building and commissioning charging at a commercial facility, especially with large deployments. Electric utilities may also be advising their customers on EV integration at the same time as they are preparing for their own EV fleets.

“We advise fleets they can’t order the vehicles and then start thinking about charging; they need to plan them hand in hand,” Poll said. “And they need to have a plan ready for take-home fleets.”

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.

On the Road to Self-Driving Trucks

The trek to fully autonomous trucks is a journey in stages driven by partnerships – yet the pace of development is quicker than one might expect.

One of the only technological advancements in trucks that sparks as much interest as the rollout of electric vehicles is wondering when fully autonomous trucks will be available.

Your fleet may already be familiar with automated vehicles. At the lowest level of automation (see sidebar), a truck spec’d with adaptive cruise control is a stepping-stone to self-driving. At the high end will be trucks that can be autonomously operated in a limited manner and trucks that are entirely self-driving. Those entirely self-driving vehicles may not even need to have a cab.


Not surprisingly, the development of systems that can fully control trucks – ranging from pickups to Class 8 highway haulers – without human drivers is not a simple task. What is surprising is how far along global truck builders working in partnership with vehicle-automation firms have already come regarding autonomous trucks.

But surpassing engineering challenges is not the only obstacle to self-driving. There is also the need to overcome the public’s concern that self-driving trucks are not safe. That will take consumer education. Then there is the lobbying that will be needed to fund the appropriate infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, such as clear road markings and other, more complex requirements to ensure autonomous driving can take place in all weather conditions.

Still, there is impressive forward movement, thanks to industry suppliers and partners that are willing to invest time and money into this moonshot of a venture. There may be a future shakeout of competitors, but currently the marketplace is bustling with activity, including, in some cases, developers of baseline autonomous technology partnering with more than one traditional truck maker.

Engineers at Work

Here’s a rundown of some of the key truck developments on the self-driving front in the U.S.:

  • Daimler Truck is developing a scalable autonomous platform suited for SAE Level 4 (see sidebar) autonomous driving. The L4 platform is based on the Class 8 Freightliner. The OEM is partnered with autonomous vehicle software developers Torc Robotics and Waymo Via
  • Navistar is partnering with TuSimple, a self-driving tech firm, to co-develop an SAE Level 4 truck, which is targeted for production by 2024. The new Class 8 will be sold by Navistar dealers and operate on the TuSimple Autonomous Freight Network.
  • PACCAR, parent of Kenworth and Peterbilt, is teamed with Aurora Innovation, an autonomous tech company, and FedEx to launch a commercial pilot of autonomous linehaul trucks. The OEM said this is the “first collaboration of its kind between a truck manufacturer, an autonomous technology developer and a logistics provider.”
  • Aurora Innovation is working with platform partners, including PACCAR and Volvo, and with logistics partners like FedEx, UberFreight and U.S. Xpress, to prepare its “premium self-driving product,” dubbed Aurora Horizon.
  • Volvo Autonomous Solutions recently announced that it has reached the “next milestone” in their development of on-highway autonomous trucks in the U.S. A prototype of Volvo Trucks’ long-haul VNL model, integrated with the Aurora Driver system, was revealed in September.

Why and Where?

Arguably, the biggest questions surrounding the advent of driverless trucks are not when and how but why and where. Why are they needed and where will they operate? The answers differ sharply based on how trucks are used.

The most obvious application, and thereby the one being worked up first by heavy-truck makers, is the long-haul Class 8 tractor-trailer running Point A to Point B over interstates or other limited-access highways.

But medium-duty trucks and even pickups and vans that operate over regular routes could be candidates as well. Aside from fully autonomous vehicles with no allowance for an onboard driver, advanced but still partially autonomous trucks could have drivers take over at waypoints where infrastructure for self-driving ends, such as off an interstate ramp. This solution would also apply to large trucks, including Class 8 rigs.

On the other hand, vocational trucks that are more a platform to work from than a mere vehicle might only rise as high as SAE Level 4, meaning a truck would have a system that only drives under specific circumstances.

At this point, the bucket truck fits this example. There would be no need to fully automate the driving of one until robot lineworkers are deployed. And that’s a whole other discussion for another, faraway day.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Degrees of Automation 

Launched in 2014, the SAE Levels of Driving Automation provide a baseline set of terms for different degrees of vehicle automation, as follows:

  • Level 0: No driving automation.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance. A vehicle with a single automated system for driver assistance, such as adaptive cruise control.
  • Level 2: Partial Driving Automation. A vehicle with advanced driver assistance systems that can control both steering and accelerating/decelerating. But a human in the driver’s seat can take control at any time.
  • Level 3: Conditional Driving Automation. A vehicle capable of making informed decisions itself, such as to accelerate, brake or steer, under limited circumstances. The driver must remain ready to take control if the system cannot execute the task.
  • Level 4: High Driving Automation. An autonomous system that only drives the vehicle under specific, limited circumstances.
  • Level 5: Full Driving Automation. Only the autonomous system drives the vehicle, under all conditions.

Source: www.sae.org/blog/sae-j3016-update

ANSI A92.2: 2022 Changes and Training Requirements

Here’s what owners and operators should know about upcoming updates to the standard.

Updates are coming to the ANSI A92.2 standard, titled “American National Standard for Vehicle-Mounted Elevating and Rotating Aerial Devices.” Your most common piece of powered equipment soon will have new or revised requirements for design, manufacturing, testing, training and operation. These new requirements go into effect in August of this year.

First, let’s cover some of the most notable changes, and then we’ll look at some often misunderstood training requirements.


Manufacturers must now consider the structural effects of operating on slopes up to the unit’s maximum allowable slope, not just at 5 degrees. This change follows the industry trend toward units capable of operating beyond the traditional 5-degree limit.

Along with higher unit slope capabilities come changes in stability testing requirements. Units must still be tested on a 5-degree slope in the direction of least stability. However, if the unit has allowable slope limits greater than 5 degrees, it must also be tested on its maximum allowable slope.

Controls for positioning the platform must have an unlocking or enabling device to prevent inadvertent movements.

ANSI has also added a requirement that the platform level must remain within 5 degrees of initial leveling while the boom structure is raised or lowered.

Synthetic rope must have an average breaking strength of at least five times the working load. This addition mirrors the requirement in A10.31, the ANSI standard for digger derricks.

Category C and D units with a conductive, articulating lower boom above rotation must have a chassis insulating system. This refers to the fiberglass section of the lower boom. Although not previously required, most if not all manufacturers have already installed them.

If a unit has upper controls with high electrical resistance, those controls shall be tested periodically at a one- to 12-month interval. This was previously a “should be tested” requirement.

The entity performing periodic electrical tests must document each test and provide a certified report to the owner upon request. ANSI A92.2 now contains a specific listing of reportable test details.

Manufacturers now have the option to provide one set of manuals in an electronic format. They must still provide at least one printed set along with the electronic copies.

Updated Ownership Requirements

Updating ownership records with the manufacturer is very important. This gives the manufacturer current contact information for sending equipment bulletins. Dealers and installers have a newly added responsibility to notify the manufacturer of the name and address of the new owner when a unit changes hands. A further requirement exists for dealers or installers to notify the new owner of their responsibilities under A92.2.

ANSI A92.2 now defines a “service entity” as a person or entity whose business is inspecting, testing, maintaining or repairing aerial devices or mobile units. This is significant because service entities also have requirements under the standard, including the responsibility to properly train maintenance personnel to repair and operate the equipment.

A major structural inspection shall be performed after the first 15 years of service, and every 10 years after that, or as directed by the manufacturer. This is a significant new requirement for owners. The major inspection must include a periodic inspection, level-surface stability testing, and a detailed inspection for structural deformations, broken members and cracked welds. Any damage must be repaired or replaced before returning the unit to service.

There has long been a requirement for operators to use appropriately rated and tested insulating devices when handling energized lines. It is a common misconception that fiberglass jibs are insulating. Unless jibs are rated and tested for the voltages involved, they must be considered conductive. For this reason, A92.2 requires the use of insulating devices – such as link sticks or insulating jib inserts – for this work. These devices provide protection from energizing the boom tip through the jib and winch rope.

In the upcoming revision, this requirement now falls on both the user and the operator. The user is the entity with custodial control of the unit, whether that’s an employer, dealer, installer, lessee, lessor or operator. Adding the user to this responsibility expands accountability beyond the operator for performing live-line conductor-handling tasks safely.

A primary purpose of ANSI A92.2 is to standardize industry safety requirements, so when purchasing any A92.2-compliant device, you have assurance that a basic standard of safety is designed into each unit. This ultimately protects the personal safety of everyone in contact with the unit.

Training Requirements

As manufacturers innovate new features, such as fall protection lanyard detection sensors and advanced boom load monitoring systems, operators need to know how those features work, what protections they may offer, and how to inspect and test them before use. Unfortunately, many operators use new equipment without proper training. Lack of operator familiarity with complex equipment leads to increased risk for everyone on the job site.

Nearly everyone in the utility industry knows that training is important, yet the vast majority of A92.2 equipment owners have no idea where the operator training requirements come from. Fortunately, that’s easy to answer.

First, OSHA. They require employers to properly train employees to recognize and avoid hazards. However, OSHA provides very little detail on what constitutes proper training for A92.2 aerial devices. By interpretation letter (see www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/1992-10-23-0), OSHA explained that they “use the ANSI requirements to help establish what the industry practice is in regard to operator qualifications.” Translation: Employers need to look to ANSI A92.2 for operator training requirements that comply with OSHA’s requirement to train. A92.2 defines operator training requirements and details what training topics to cover when training someone for the first time or when training someone on a new piece of equipment.

ANSI A92.2 lists two main training categories. The first is general training. All operators must receive general training, which includes classroom information about safety topics and hazards related to operating aerial devices. General training also requires an operator to demonstrate hands-on proficiency in actual operation under the direction of a qualified person. Although not specified, general training should be refreshed periodically, and a five-year cycle is consistent with other industry certifications.

Familiarization is the second training category. Operators must be familiarized with any unfamiliar units before operating them. A manufacturer’s in-service demonstration is not operator training. A typical in-service does not satisfy familiarization requirements and certainly does not fulfill the wider general training requirements.

Through proper familiarization, operators learn about the location of the manuals, purpose and function of all controls, safety devices and unit operating characteristics. Of course, this also includes learning about any new features. To complete their familiarization, operators must achieve proficiency through actual operation of the unit.

ANSI A92.2 also directs retraining if an accident or a near-miss occurs, or when a training need is observed. It would be appropriate to follow the general training requirements when retraining an operator since a qualified person must evaluate their proficiency in safe unit operation.

Here’s what owners and operators should know about upcoming updates to the standard. 

Simply put, general training is an “every operator, once” requirement and familiarization is an “every operator, specific units” requirement. OSHA expects to see documentation that both types of training occurred, and they will certainly expect the training program to meet the ANSI standard.

Filling the Training Gap

Many employers already have trainers on staff who handle new-hire and recurring training. As apprentices come in from formal, entry-level training programs, these in-house trainers may focus on teaching essential work methods and other qualification skills, leaving an unintentional gap in their basic operator training program. Assumption or ignorance fills this gap and creates eventual hazards for all involved.

Often, the void in basic operator training programs is only recognized when an accident occurs and the resulting investigation reveals that an untrained operator did not know or follow the manufacturer’s guidance for operating the equipment. There are industry training resources that can help fill the gap. Some manufacturers offer in-person general training and specific-unit online familiarization courses to get operators started on the right training path. Train-the-trainer courses can also assist employers in developing their own qualified person to direct in-house operator training.

Conclusion

Although ANSI A92.2 training requirements are the same industry-wide, each employer must craft a compliant solution that fits their needs. The manufacturer is a good resource to help build the solution since A92.2 requires manufacturers to develop and offer training materials that aid in operating the unit. If you have an Altec unit, you can visit www.altecsentry.com. Whether you’ve got questions about training or the A92.2 standard in general, feel free to contact the Altec Sentry training department to start the discussion.

About the Author: Phil Doud is the Sentry safety program manager for Altec. Reach him at [email protected].

All-Electric Medium-Duty Trucks Coming to SMUD this Summer

The new Class 5 trucks nudge the utility closer to its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District expects to take delivery of five new all-electric medium-duty trucks this summer that will offer an estimated range of 100 to 150 miles.

The vehicles will be built on the Z-19 model – a 19,500-pound-GVWR chassis – by Zeus Electric Chassis Inc. (https://zeuselectricchassis.com), a startup based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

This purchase is part of SMUD’s goal of removing all carbon emissions from its entire power supply and fleet by 2030. As of press time, the utility had electrified 120 vehicles, or about 13% of its fleet of more than 900 units.


UFP recently spoke with Casey Fallon, director of purchasing, warehouse and fleet at SMUD, to give us a behind-the-scenes look into the factors he and his team considered when designing and ordering these vehicles. Here’s an edited version of the highlights from our conversation.

UFP: How did you decide which fleet applications to electrify with the Zeus trucks?

Casey Fallon: We considered any Ford F-550 in our fleet scheduled to be replaced. So, when we were writing the specification, we didn’t make concessions because it’s an electric vehicle. But we had to dial in the vehicle’s daily usage and whether it had a prescribed route and a planned amount of driving instead of it being a response vehicle or a 24-hour vehicle.

So, our spec [for the Zeus trucks] changed very little from our conventional diesel engine trucks with similar usage.

What is the incremental cost you factor into your numbers when you plan your electrification budget?

We spend about $10 million per year on our capital investment for replacements and some new vehicles, not including inflation. If you make the numbers simple over 10 years, that’s $100 million. So, when we initially did this plan over 10 years, we looked at the status quo as $100 million.

Then we looked at all of the different equipment that we would replace. We made our best estimate based on what was available from the market and worked with some of our friends in [research and development] and finance and treasury to come up with numbers for equivalent zero-emissions vehicles over 10 years.

We came up with $200 million. So, over 10 years, we’re looking at two times [the status-quo budget]. But a few things help reduce that number.

Over the 10-year period, we estimate around $20 million to $40 million in offsets from grant funding, and a fuel expense reduction of around $9 million to $10 million. There’s also a maintenance cost reduction of another $4 million.

So, the number we came up with was roughly an increase of $50 million on top of the original $100 million to align our fleet with SMUD’s 2030 zero-carbon plan.

When I presented this plan publicly, I said that this [budget] is based on what we know now. As we refresh our plan year over year, we expect that number to come down as the technology improves, we get additional financial offsets, and we continue to optimize. But this is a conservative estimate over a 10-year period.

How will the maintenance and repairs be handled for the Zeus trucks?

We’re still working that out. We’ll leverage Zeus during the warranty period. But we’re still discussing whether we’ll do maintenance and repairs in-house or through a dealer network after the warranty period. It’s still up in the air. We’d prefer to do the work on everything else in our fleet because we’re a full-service maintenance shop.

When do you expect the vehicles to be delivered?

One of the five trucks will be at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach in May. Then we’ll have a staggered delivery schedule until about the end of July.

We’re kind of relaxed with the schedule because Zeus is a startup, and these trucks are all new. We also have a pretty significant period where we will be doing our own road testing. And we may even work with a third party to do some road testing before we turn them over to operations.

How long will the road testing occur?

We’re thinking 90 days, just to be sure we run the vehicles through their paces and get them out on the road.

We’ll put the trucks in safe conditions and take our time to get to know them. There may be some things to work out regarding the programming of the technology on the vehicle. So, we want to take our time.

What type of training do you plan to provide to the operators?

We’re thinking about training in a couple of ways. One is that we’re thinking about the change management aspect. You’re switching the operator from a gas or diesel vehicle to electric. There’s a need for education to build awareness and familiarization with the new technology.

So, we’re taking a change management approach where we want to get everybody on board to become aware of what’s changing and what the technology is. That’s the big boulder to move initially.

Regarding training, when switching somebody from an internal combustion engine to an electric vehicle, range anxiety will likely be an issue. But we’ve been putting a lot of numbers together to show that, hey, on average, you’re not driving past this vehicle’s maximum range for a day.

The operators have been used to a Ford for the last 10 years, and now you’re putting them into this unknown variable for them. But I don’t think it will be too much of a change for them.

And the operation of the onboard equipment – the liftgates, dump bed and all that – will be very similar to what they’re already familiar with.

What is the backstory behind SMUD’s fleet electrification initiative?

We’re located in the capital city of California. So, we have an incredibly ambitious goal for the entire utility overall – zero emissions by 2030.

When we put our fleet electrification strategy together for our executive team and our new CEO [Paul Lau], we brought it to them and said, “We think we can get 50% of the way by 2030.”

We remember that conversation because there’s a great quote from our CEO. He said to us, “I like your thinking and your strategy, but we’ve got to go big or go home.”

It was time for us to go all-in and align with the 2030 plan.

So, what we had to do from there was challenge our initial assumptions and really figure out how to accelerate and get to that 100% goal by 2030.

We know it’s still a tall order, a very ambitious goal. But we’re going to give it our best shot.

Over the next three to five years, we’ll be focused on what’s available from the market. And then, beyond that, things are not really clear. But we’re banking on the idea that the technology will accelerate rapidly, including hydrogen fuel cells for our heavy-duty vehicles in the later years of the plan.

So, we’re going to do our best and hang on for the ride and see where all this goes.


Fleet Facts: Sacramento Municipal Utility District
Description: The nation’s sixth-largest, community-owned, not-for-profit electric service
Headquarters: Sacramento, California
Service area: 900 square miles
Total accounts served: 644,723
Employees: 2,179
Power from non-carbon-emitting resources: Over 60%
Fleet size: 917 total on-road, off-road and trailer assets
All-electric or hybrid vehicles: About 120 units

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits in 2022?

Despite a lingering pandemic and a supply chain crisis, truck and van upfitters continue to bring new products to market that will help utility fleets cut costs, improve crew safety and productivity, and reduce carbon emissions.

So, what are some notable new products and design enhancements to keep your eye on in 2022? Here are eight developments.

XL Fleet Corp.
What’s New: Hybrid-electric upfit for Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickup trucks
Website: https://xlfleet.com

XL Fleet Corp. now offers a hybrid-electric drive system for Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickup trucks.

This XLH system for Ram represents the fourth OEM platform with which XL Fleet’s electrification systems are compatible. The other OEMs are Ford, General Motors and Isuzu fleet vehicles.

XLH is available for select Ram 2500/3500 models with a 6.4-liter V-8 engine. It features a high-efficiency lithium-ion battery, inverter, and electric traction motor to propel the vehicle forward during acceleration and capture energy through regenerative braking during deceleration.

The system requires no external power or charging infrastructure to operate, and all OEM factory warranties remain intact. It also includes XL Fleet’s standard three-year, 75,000-mile warranty, with available extended warranty options.

Stellar Industries
What’s New: 86 Series telescopic cranes
Website: www.stellarindustries.com

The new 86 Series telescopic cranes have an octagon-shaped boom design (versus the previous hexagon shape) that allows the cranes to maintain strength with a more compact boom tip to create an easier reach in tight work areas.

The 8621 Telescopic Crane offers a maximum horizontal reach of 21 feet and vertical lift of nearly 23 feet from its crane base, with an 8,600-pound lifting capacity. The 8630 Telescopic Crane has a maximum horizontal reach of 30 feet and vertical lift of over 31 feet from its crane base, also with an 8,600-pound lifting capacity.

Terex Utilities
What’s New: General 65 digger derrick for utility transmission applications; Extreme Duty Auger
Website: www.terex.com/utilities

Terex Utilities has introduced a new generation of the General 65 digger derrick for utility transmission applications, along with a new high-productivity auger tool.

The updated General 65 offers increased capacity ranges from 26% at high boom angles with X‐Boost to 80% at lower boom angles specifically below 0 degrees (subject to chassis and unit configuration due to stability). X-Boost adjusts hydraulic pressure to increase load-handling capability and enhance performance for lifting at high boom angles.

The company also recently introduced its Extreme Duty Auger designed for longer wear when used in hard soil mixed with rock and boulders. The auger’s hex hub is available in 2.5-inch, 2-5/8-inch and 3-inch sizes. The 1-inch flighting is solid welded to the stem and extends the full length of the stem to reduce bending.

Ranger Design
What’s New: Redesigned ladder rack product line
Website: https://rangerdesign.com

Ranger Design’s new ladder rack line includes the Max Rack Low-Roof, Cargo Rack, Clamp Rack and Combination Rack.

The Max Rack Low-Roof is a drop-down rack that requires only four hooks for easy installation.

And the Clamp Rack’s inside hooks help guide the ladder for safer and easier loading and unloading. The Clamp Rack’s throttle latch secures the ladder from the outside to avoid rungs, brackets and gussets. Its new design prevents metal-to-metal contact and reduces risk of splintering from fiberglass ladders.

Stellar Industries
What’s New: CDTpro control system with Range Finder technology
Website: www.stellarindustries.com

Stellar’s updated CDTpro control system with Range Finder technology offers a single-handed controller that delivers quick, smooth operation with finite control for precise placements of loads while allowing multiple functions to run simultaneously.

With the Range Finder, the operator can create a lift plan without needing to unstow the crane. It estimates distance and calculates crane capacities wherever the operator holds the control system.

The CDTpro feedback screens include the current load of the crane and distance to maximum capacity. The system also vibrates to alert the operator when they’re approaching maximum load capacity.

Maintainer Corp.
What’s New: Bolt Bins
Website: www.maintainer.com

Maintainer Corp. has expanded its line of service truck accessories to include the new Maintainer Bolt Bins. The Bolt Bins have a housing and shelves made of 0.090-inch aluminum, with bins made of composite material. The units are available in a standard 18.5-inch depth or optional 12.5-inch depth. Each standard-depth bin is rated for 25 pounds and comes with three aluminum removable dividers.

There are eight standard configurations in the introductory Bolt Bins lineup, but custom configurations up to eight bins wide and eight levels high are also available.

Utilimaster
What’s New: Velocity R2
Website: www.utilimaster.com

Utilimaster has expanded its Velocity walk-in van lineup to include the R2, an under-10,000-pound-GVWR van built on the Ram ProMaster chassis.

The Velocity R2 will debut in Indianapolis at the NTEA Work Truck Show this March.

With the Velocity R2, there’s no need to walk outside to open the cargo door. Operators can push a button to open the interior bulkhead door, making it easier and safer to access the cargo area.

The van’s safety systems include a 360-degree camera with clear, wide views for backing up and avoiding potential hazards while driving or parking, and rear and front collision detection systems to protect the driver, pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.

Utilimaster can customize the R2’s interior shelving, cabinets, bins and partitions for utility service applications.

Terex Utilities
What’s New: HyPower SmartPTO for Hi-Ranger aerial devices and Commander digger derricks
Website: www.terex.com/utilities

Terex Utilities has introduced the HyPower SmartPTO for a variety of Hi-Ranger telescopic, overcenter and non-overcenter aerial devices, and Commander and General digger derricks.

The system reduces engine idling to increase fuel savings and reduce noise and air pollution. And it powers the primary unit, auxiliary functions, lights and optional integrated cab A/C using factory vents and controls.

The SmartPTO comes standard with a 14-kWh battery, which Terex said can get most utility crews through a normal workday. An optional 21-kWh battery is available for higher-use applications.

The SmartPTO warns operators to recharge the battery within about 5% of battery life. When the engine is powered, it automatically disengages the ePTO function for specific situations – such as storm restoration – where plug-in recharging is limited.

The State of the All-Electric Pickup Race

The state of the all-electric pickup race has changed considerably in just one year.

Last January, the Ohio-based startup Lordstown Motors was poised to take the inside lane to produce the first-ever all-electric pickup with its Endurance truck.

But then allegations of fraud in the spring and a subsequent Department of Justice investigation hammered the stock and led to the resignations of the CEO and other key leaders. The company is now on life support with dim prospects of ever producing a pickup. 

Meanwhile, Amazon-backed Rivian, another startup, became the first to market in September with its R1T all-electric pickup. And GM launched its Edition 1 model GMC Hummer EV in December.

Ford, which introduced the F-150 Lightning last May, expects to begin producing the electric pickup this spring. Chevrolet announced in January that its Silverado EV would launch next spring.

What about Tesla’s Cybertruck? Some new developments are impacting its target launch timeline.

Toyota recently announced its plan to build an electric pickup but has not offered details yet.

So, here’s a breakdown of the key contenders in the electric pickup race – as it stands today – to help you assess which vehicles might be available for and applicable to your fleet operations in the next few years.

Rivian R1T
Irvine, California-based Rivian was the first automaker out of the gate when its first R1T electric pickup truck, offering a range of about 300 miles, rolled off the assembly line in Normal, Illinois, on September 14, 2021.

The crew cab truck seats five and starts at $67,500, a steep price for most fleet applications. But production capacity is perhaps the company’s biggest barrier to widespread fleet adoption.

Rivian produced 1,050 vehicles in 2021, about 15% below the company’s 1,200-unit target. And according to reporting by Bloomberg, the company halted its production lines for about a week in early January to fix its manufacturing processes to ramp up to 200 units produced weekly, an increase from the current rate of 50.

But the 200 units per week number is about 1/10th of Ford’s production forecast to reach a 150,000-unit annual rate by next year for the F-150 Lightning.

The bottom line: Rivian might have the head start, but will it be able to hold off Ford and GM, which have much larger manufacturing capacities, stronger supply chains and greater economies of scale? 

R1T by the Numbers
Max Range: 314 miles (with a 400-plus-mile-range battery available in 2023)
Max Horsepower/Torque: 835 hp/908 lb.-ft. of torque
0 to 60 mph: 3 secs.
Max Payload: 1,760 lbs.
Max Towing: 11,000 lbs.
Pricing: $67,500 to $73,000 MSRP
Deliveries: Started September 2021

Ford F-150 Lightning
Expected to arrive this spring, the all-electric crew cab F-150 Lightning will be available in four trim levels: Pro (the work truck version with vinyl seats); XLT (mid-level trim with cloth seats); Lariat (up-level trim with leather heated and ventilated seats); and Platinum (high-end premium trim).

One option utility fleets will find interesting: an available onboard scale that uses sensors to estimate payload so that operators can know precisely how much weight they’re hauling. This is important because payload impacts range. And the onboard scale is integrated with Ford’s Intelligent Range system to provide operators an estimated range that’s as accurate as possible.

The Lightning’s starting price of $39,974 is more in line with most fleet budgets, but recent news reports state that some Ford dealers have been capitalizing on the strong demand by marking up the price by tens of thousands of dollars over MSRP.

The bottom line: On paper, Ford looks like a strong contender. The truck should start hitting the roads soon, and the company has a lot of the pieces in place – manufacturing capacity, supply chain and a vast service network – to accelerate to the lead in electric truck production and sales. But with such strong retail demand projected, how much will fleets have to pay? What will be the allocation for the fleet-spec Pro models?

Lightning by the Numbers
Max Range: 300 miles
Max Horsepower/Torque: 563 hp/775 lb.-ft. of torque
0 to 60 mph: 4 secs.
Max Payload: 2,000 lbs.
Max Towing: 10,000 lbs.
Pricing: $39,974 to $52,974 MSRP
Deliveries: This spring

GMC Hummer EV
The GMC Hummer EV pickups began rolling off the assembly line in December.

The first trucks are Edition 1 models priced at $110,295 MSRP and estimated to produce 1,000 horsepower and 11,500 pound-feet of torque.

A couple of notable features include 4-Wheel Steer with Crabwalk and Adaptive Air Suspension with Extract Mode. The 4-Wheel Steer feature allows the rear and front wheels to steer at the same angle at low speeds, enabling diagonal movement for greater maneuverability on rough terrain, while the Adaptive Air Suspension raises the suspension height by 6 inches to handle extreme off-road situations, such as clearing boulders and fording water. 

Lower-price models ($79,995 to $89,995) are targeted for deliveries in 2023 and 2024.

The bottom line: Hummer’s price and performance specs are overkill for most utility fleet applications. However, the truck’s off-road capabilities might make the Hummer EV an interesting pilot vehicle for a fleet looking to electrify part of its all-terrain utility vehicle segment; it could serve as a people-mover in areas that are hard to reach with conventional four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Hummer EV by the Numbers
Max Range: 329 miles
Max Horsepower/Torque: 1,000 hp/11,500 lb.-ft. of torque
0 to 60 mph: 3 secs.
Max Payload: 1,300 lbs.
Max Towing: 7,500 lbs.
Pricing: $79,995 to $110,295 MSRP
Deliveries: Started December 2021 (with Edition 1)

Chevrolet Silverado EV
In January, Chevrolet introduced the 2024 Silverado EV crew cab pickup that’s expected to offer 400 miles in range and produce up to 664 horsepower with 780 pound-feet of torque.

The truck is targeted to launch in spring 2023 as a work truck model with a starting MSRP of $39,900. A fully loaded RST First Edition model will debut with an MSRP of $105,000 in fall 2023.

GM said that customers will have the ability to spec the truck across various price ranges to build a truck that meets their capability and pricing requirements.

The bottom line: Chevy’s Silverado EV is a strong answer to the F-150 Lightning. It’s priced right for fleets while offering 100 more miles of maximum range than the Lightning.

But the truck’s targeted launch date is a year after Ford’s, giving the Lightning a significant head start, especially with prospective fleet customers. So, the critical question is, what is GM’s strategy to catch Ford? 

Silverado EV by the Numbers
Max Range: 400 miles
Max Horsepower/Torque: 664 hp/780 lb.-ft. of torque
0 to 60 mph: 4.5 secs.
Max Payload: 1,300 lbs.
Max Towing: 10,000 lbs.
Pricing: $39,900 to $105,000 MSRP
Deliveries: Spring 2023

Tesla Cybertruck
The Cybertruck was introduced in 2019 with great fanfare by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. At the time, it appeared that Tesla would be the prohibitive favorite in the electric pickup race.

After all, on paper, the Cybertruck looks unbeatable: up to 500 miles of electric range, a maximum payload – 3,500 pounds – that’s nearly double the competition’s, a maximum tow capacity of 14,000 pounds and a base price under $40,000.

Plus, deliveries were slated to begin in late 2021. But that didn’t happen.

In the most recent earnings call in January, Musk confirmed that 2022 wouldn’t be the year for the Cybertruck either. “If we were to introduce new vehicles, our total vehicle output will decrease,” he said. “We will not be introducing new vehicle models this year.”

Musk said that the Cybertruck won’t launch until 2023 at the earliest.

The bottom line: While other models mentioned in this article have either started deliveries or have firm targets in sight, the Cybertruck appears to be in limbo. And that puts it to the back of the pack – for now.

Cybertruck by the Numbers
Max Range: 500 miles
Horsepower/Torque: 800 hp/1,000 lb.-ft. of torque
0 to 60 mph: 2.9 secs.
Max Payload: 3,500 lbs.
Max Towing: 14,000 lbs.
Pricing: $39,900 to $69,900 MSRP
Deliveries: TBD 2023 (initially targeted for late 2021)

Top Trends to Watch in Fleet Technologies

As electric light-duty trucks and vans begin to be delivered to customers, fleet managers are keeping a close eye on emerging technologies that could reshape operations over the next year or two.

Battery-electric vehicles are some of the hottest tech to hit the market, especially for utilities that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. But they’re in short supply, as are gas and diesel vehicles, due to the semiconductor shortages that have hampered vehicle production worldwide.

Another top trend is analyzing the billions of data points from connected vehicles to help guide not only fleet acquisition and rationalization but driver performance as well.

Electric Vehicles
The Rivian R1T is one of the first battery-electric pickups to go from prototype to production, with trucks hitting the streets late last year. The Ford F-150 Lightning is expected to roll off the assembly line this spring. The Tesla Cybertruck launch has been delayed, but don’t count Elon Musk out of the race just yet. And other manufacturers have announced or are already producing hybrid versions of pickups and SUVs to improve gas mileage and reduce environmental impact. Electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks are still a few years away from widespread availability.

Some fleet drivers could take home light-duty vehicles like a plug-in hybrid Prius or an F-150 Lightning pickup, but that could also present a challenge.

According to Jeremy Dewey, manager of EV operations for Holman Enterprises (www.holmanenterprises.com), a fleet management provider based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, “You have to look at the infrastructure for charging – can the employee’s home accommodate the installation of a charging station?”

Dewey also said that overreliance on public charging infrastructure could be a dangerous and costly proposition as drivers may find it challenging to find a working charger where and when they need one.

The chip shortage won’t last forever, and when it eases, manufacturers will ramp up EV production, so it’s a good idea to prepare. Utilities should assess their EV readiness and replacement needs to support the company’s overall sustainability goals, said John Wuich, vice president of strategic consulting services for Donlen (www.donlen.com), a Bannockburn, Illinois-based fleet management company.

“Map out your charging infrastructure before your EVs hit the ground and keep an eye and an ear to federal tax credits and state and local rebates that may be available,” Wuich said.

Data Analytics
With a flood of data from fleet telematics, it’s easy to get caught in analysis paralysis. Fleet managers can track power-takeoff usage, unproductive idle time, route optimization, seat-belt usage and high-risk driving behavior, such as harsh braking and aggressive cornering.

It’s tempting to try to home in on the perfect solution for every problem, but that’s not realistic. Instead, Dewey recommended fleet managers use the data to make quick, actionable decisions.

“If you’re seeking perfection in the data, I would caution you against it; strive for ‘close enough’ and then work on incremental improvements from there,” he said.

Fleets need the right tools and analytics professionals to make the best use of the data they already have and will generate using EVs.

“The fact that most companies seem unable to identify an actual return on telematics investments or seem to use telematics as an asset tracker may be an indication that data is not being used to the full benefit,” Wuich said.

Fleet Utilization
Fleets can track assets to make actionable decisions to repair, replace or redeploy assets where needed. Assets that are overutilized tend to lead to higher maintenance costs. It may make sense to redeploy underutilized assets from elsewhere to reduce operational expenses. Given the rising costs in the used vehicle market, underutilized assets could be liquidated for a high return on value.

Fleets may also have surplus vehicles because their driver population has decreased due to the pandemic and other factors.

“With telematics, maintenance and other data, it’s a quick assessment to decide which vehicles to sell off and capitalize on that given the state of the U.S. vehicle market today,” Dewey said. “Suppose you have vehicles that are no longer necessary to support your business. In that case, there’s an opportunity to liquidate them for top dollar, money that can be reinvested into other areas of your business.”

Sustainability
Fleets are under pressure to commit to carbon emissions reduction and other sustainability measures in the coming years. It will take time to develop a strategy based on real-life data and a plan to adopt electric or alternative fuel vehicles to meet those goals. What once seemed like science fiction with EVs is rapidly becoming a reality.

“You have to start with a plan today because this is not an evolution, it’s a revolution,” Dewey said. “Identify your goals and determine the incremental steps it will take to achieve those goals over the next three, five, 10 years. Transitioning to EVs and hybrids won’t happen overnight, so it is best to plan for a gradual transition over the course of multiple vehicle life cycles.”

A utility’s ability to meet its goals is dependent on how well its fleet transitions from gas or diesel to EVs.

“The key will be good replacement forecast planning, so setting a goal now gives you a target at which to shoot as you plan your transition,” Wuich said.

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.

*****

Prepare for the EV Transition
Industry experts recommend these steps to plan for your utility fleet’s transition to electric vehicles:

  • Set sustainability goals.
  • Assess current EV readiness.
  • Forecast replacement needs.
  • Understand EV availability.
  • Map availability to needs.
  • Assess total cost of ownership and carbon reduction relative to goals.
  • Map out charging infrastructure.

Upfitting Utility Service Vans with Maximum Safety in Mind

One of the most common mistakes fleet managers make when upfitting service vans is not leveraging their operators’ input on what works well – and what doesn’t – with the vehicles, according to Mark Stumne, director of truck services for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

So, what better way to gain a clearer understanding of their safety needs than to watch them in action? That’s how Adrian Steel (www.adriansteel.com) – which offers cargo management solutions for commercial vehicles – kicks things off, according to Adam Gregory, the company’s sales engineering manager.

“Our process is to first engage the technician and watch him or her do the job,” he said. “Ask them how to make it better. They are experts in how and what they do, and it is important that [fleet managers] take the time to understand how it connects to the bigger picture.”

During the observation process, Gregory continued, “We take notice of all above-the-shoulder reaches and back strains, as well as the number of times the technician gets in and out of the vehicle. Anytime a technician is carrying a product unsafely, we consider this an opportunity to make their job safer.”

The upfitter then takes initiative by making recommendations for improvement – specifically, how the technician can carry that particular product safely and securely going forward. These opportunities for improvement are usually discussed at the beginning of the solution concept presentation.

Ladder racks are among the items to be especially cautious with. “Extension ladders weigh about 75 pounds, so safely loading and unloading the ladder on the ladder rack is a top priority,” said Katie Groves, national fleet sales manager for Adrian Steel.

Safe solutions should also be prioritized for HVAC work that may involve technicians carrying hazardous gases on their vehicles.

Stumne suggested providing operators with a load study to educate them on payload and guide them to safe loading and limitations of the asset.

For utility service vans, he said that typically, a bulkhead is added to most cargo van upfits to protect the driver from objects flying forward in the case of hard braking or an accident.

Set Realistic Time Frames
Lead times for assets to arrive are not static and will change depending on the type of asset, upfitting and transportation, Stumne said.

And according to Groves, the complexity of the upfit and job determines the amount of time needed to develop the right solution. “Discovery to concept to design to upfit installation could take anywhere from six months to two years. If it’s a ‘from the ground up’ design, this might take site visits and technician interviews to first see and understand what is happening in the field. Less complex or updating/adding features can often be done in less time,” she explained.

Uphold Quality Standards
Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to upfitting your service vans and other utility fleet vehicles. Make sure you are using certified professionals and adhering to industry guidelines for maximum safety.

Upfitters must always be aware of federal motor vehicle safety standards and guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To ensure correct installation, Stumne recommended utilizing upfitters who are certified installers of the components being used.

In addition, if the vehicle is an OEM incomplete vehicle (i.e., it has an incomplete vehicle document, or IVD), the upfitter must certify that the completed vehicle meets all federal motor vehicle safety standards and emission regulations, he said.

Groves said that Adrian Steel has gone through Rapid Entire Body Assessment training to better identify safety issues when on the job site with technicians. The assessment evaluates the risk of musculoskeletal disorders associated with specific job tasks.

“This also helps us in the design phase of the process to ensure our installers are safe while installing the upfit,” she noted.

Stay Up to Date
Safety starts with the vehicle and upfit specifications that will provide a safe and productive asset for the role in which it will be used, Stumne said.

And with vehicle and upfitting packages evolving year over year, replacing an asset that has been in operation for many years requires a careful review of the specifications.

“Replacement strategy is key to getting the most of the technology improvements that are available from the vehicle and component manufacturers. The older the asset being replaced, the greater the opportunity,” Stumne advised.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

EV Decision-Making: Telematics to the Rescue

A utility fleet manager who is considering integrating electric vehicles into their operation faces a range of questions, including how telematics data will be tapped when running a mix of trucks powered by either internal combustion engines or electric drivetrains.

In other words, will it be difficult to blend the data streams from these two vehicle types to continue conducting a singular equipment analysis to gain overall fleet cost/performance insights? Or will the information gleaned from the two fleet segments have to be analyzed separately? Further, is analytical software sophisticated enough to present integrated data for the whole fleet as well as separated by power source?

Tracking brake cost and performance is just one example of this conundrum. If brake wear is less on EVs, thanks to regenerative braking, would the fleet have to analyze EV and ICE brake system separately?

In a recent interview with UFP, Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance design and engineering for Penske Truck Leasing (www.pensketruckleasing.com), offered his perspective. A nationwide truck lessor, Penske is a recognized hands-on leader of fleet electrification in the trucking industry.

Hurdles Ahead
“The integration of electric vehicles, like any other new technology, poses hurdles and challenges,” Hough explained. “New technologies require a different approach and methodologies for successful integration. Telematics and data are ever increasingly more crucial to operating a successful and efficient business.”

He said that Penske is “soundly aware” of the importance of operating an efficient business, and so it continues to make advancements in data collection. “We continue to leverage strong relationships with our OEM and telematics partners to improve the quality and accuracy of telematics data.”

Bearing down on how telematics will play out in a fleet containing EVs, Hough said that “measurements and criteria continue to be developed and vetted before they can be successfully blended with traditional ICE-powered vehicles, so the overall pool is not skewed adversely.”

He added that what makes that possible to begin with is that “every vehicle and transponder ID is mapped, and the data repository storing the data identifies the source vehicle clearly,” regardless of power source.

With that issue resolved, fleet managers might also consider tapping telematics data and analytical software to help them make the decision to go electric in the first place, as well as to help sell the idea to upper management and develop a strategic rollout plan.

Telematics Talks
Such was the case at New Brunswick Power Corp., the primary electric utility in the province of New Brunswick, Canada, as well as a supplier of electricity to other provinces and to New England states.

When NB Power sought to build a business case and strategy for the migration of light-duty vehicles to electric power, the scope of the project had to include several municipal governments and a strategic partner, the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The initiative, dubbed Shift Your Ride, evaluated the suitability of light-duty EVs and undertook a fleet review to help the different municipalities determine a business case for integrating EVs into their fleets.

NB Power needed to understand the benefits of potential cost savings on a per-vehicle basis and obtain realistic fleet-wide estimates on fuel consumption and reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Geotab (www.geotab.com), a provider of online fleet management systems and services, including data-driven electric vehicle suitability assessments (EVSAs).

Geotab describes its EVSA as a “blueprint for fleet electrification” as it analyzes a fleet’s unique driving profiles and patterns to identify those vehicles best suited for EV replacement. Recommendations also take into account EV availability in the local market, EV performance in extreme weather and financials related to procuring EVs. The goal is to arrive at a total cost of EV ownership, including the potential cost savings of switching to EVs.

In NB Power’s case, a series of assessments were performed for the utility and its municipal partners across New Brunswick.

Per Geotab, those EVSAs proved critical to the success of the initiative by providing:

  • A detailed account of vehicle usage on a day-to-day basis via remote data collection.
  • The capability of various EV models to service existing driving cycles.
  • The efficiency and operational cost savings of various EV models for the observed duty cycles.
  • The best assignment of available vehicle models to duty cycle requirements.
  • An accounting of the total cost, cost savings and return on investment per vehicle and for the total fleet.
  • A calculation of the total reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

All that critical information was captured by telematics devices that record and transmit vehicle driving behavior to sample vehicle fleet duty cycles accurately. Geotab explained that the collected data was “fed into a patented physics-based electric vehicle modeling software, which made it possible to evaluate the feasibility of electric vehicle adoption based on real-world driving data.”

Big Picture
Through the assessment process, NB Power determined there was potential for a 94% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a fleet-wide savings of over $1 million CAD.

Highlights of the results included the following (*over a vehicle’s typical seven-year service life):

  • 94% of the vehicle duty cycles could be met by the charging time spans of best-matched EVs.
  • 91% of the vehicle range requirements could be met by best-matched EVs.
  • Potential 95% reduction in fuel consumption*.
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 94% (2,123,710 kg of CO2)*.
  • Per vehicle savings estimate of $11,735 CAD*.
  • Potential fleet-wide savings estimate of $1,091,298 CAD*.

It could be said that fleet telematics and EV integration go hand in hand – before, during and long after the integration of EVs into a utility fleet.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Leadership Strategies: 6 Persuasion Principles to Win People Over

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seminal work, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” first published in 1984, is a must-read for anyone in leadership – including fleet professionals – because your career success hinges on your ability to influence, persuade and win people over to your proposals and point of view.

Here’s an overview of Cialdini’s six persuasion principles and how you might apply them in fleet management situations.

1. Reciprocity

Key Quote: “Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It weighs heavily on us and demands to be removed.”

With reciprocity, you create a sense of obligation in the other person to say yes to your request – to reciprocate the favor – because you first gave something to them.

For example, consider the dynamic with senior management when you talk about your budget needs for your department. After all, the fleet is often seen as a “necessary evil” cost center. And management might look at your department as an opportunity to cut costs – and your budget.

So, how can you improve your odds of not only preserving your budget but perhaps also increasing it?

Tap into what Cialdini calls the “rejection-and-retreat” technique of reciprocity in budget negotiations.

It goes something like this: Make a big (but not wholly unreasonable) request – greater than what you actually want. And when it’s rejected, fall back and make a concession for the amount you’re looking for. Cialdini states this approach works more effectively than simply asking for your target number upfront because it puts reciprocity to work on your behalf.

2. Commitment & Consistency

Key Quote: “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and internal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

This persuasion principle aims to get a clear commitment from the other person, where they feel the inner pressure to do what they said they would do.

This is especially important when you assign tasks to employees. The idea is to get them to state their commitment.

One way of doing that is to ask, “Are you able to turn around these PMs by 2 p.m. Wednesday? Is that doable?”

When they agree, they’ve put themselves on record that they’ve made a commitment to that date and time and will work to remain consistent with their word.

And if you can get a commitment in writing, that’s even better. “Yet another reason that written commitments are so effective is that they require more work than verbal ones,” Cialdini said. “And the evidence is clear that the more effort that goes into commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.”

3. Social Proof

Key Quote: “One means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.”

With social proof, you’re showing the other party they’re in good company by agreeing to your request, proposal or idea.

The idea here is to recognize the prevalence of the herd mentality – and tap into it.

“In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct,” Cialdini said.

So, how can you apply social proof in fleet?

Before rolling out a new and potentially controversial initiative (e.g., onboard cameras, telematics or vehicle sharing), collect success stories from other similar fleets. Learn what concerns their stakeholders raised and how they worked through those issues to create a win-win for everyone involved. Then share those stories when you present the case for adopting a similar initiative in your organization.

You can also build social proof by recruiting “employee-ambassadors” who will share their perspectives as champions of the change.

4. Liking

Key Quote: “As a rule, we prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.”

It pays to have people like and respect you, no matter what business you’re in or what role you have.

They’re more likely to listen to you, do you a favor and have your back when you need their support the most.

So, be intentional about building relationships across the company’s various business units and departments. Those alliances will strengthen your influence to garner support to get big things done.

5. Authority

Key Quote: “Because their ‘authority’ positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes great sense to comply with the wishes of properly constituted authors – [even] when it makes no sense at all.”

Cialdini’s principle of authority goes beyond your job title and who reports to you. It’s about being perceived as an authority – an expert in your domain – in the eyes of your peers, direct reports and senior management.

This gives your ideas and proposals more weight when you present them, making them more likely to be accepted.

How do you position and promote yourself as a trusted authority in your domain?

One thing you can do is to start sharing ideas, lessons learned and industry news on professional social media platforms like LinkedIn. This will help raise your profile to your network and the leaders in your company.

And your posts might get the attention of editors like me who are looking for interesting fleet managers to interview for articles in UFP.

6. Scarcity

Key Quote: “People seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.”

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman labels this phenomenon as “losses loom larger than gains.”

In other words, we are more motivated to move away from pain than we are to move toward the possible gain.

So, whenever you’re proposing an idea that will cause a lot of change, your objective is to communicate how the organization has more to lose by sticking with the status quo than trying the new idea.

Smoothing the Technician Transition to EVs

Once a utility opts to add electric vehicles to its fleet, the fleet manager must determine not only which vehicles are best suited to the operation, but also how best to smooth the transition in terms of shop equipment and – most importantly – EV training for technicians.

Even before EVs rolled onto the scene, techs were getting harder to find and keep. Adding EVs means installing new shop equipment and charging infrastructure as well as upgrading technicians’ expertise to service the vehicles. To keep techs on board with these changes, the fleet manager must successfully communicate why EVs are being added and how receiving related service training can only boost their careers.

So, what can fleet managers start doing now to ease the transition to new shop equipment and added tech training? Chris Hough, Penske Truck Leasing’s vice president of maintenance design and engineering, recently offered his perspective. A nationwide truck lessor, Penske (www.pensketruckleasing.com) is a recognized hands-on leader of fleet electrification in the trucking industry.

 New and Foreign
“The key to smoothing the transition of fleet and technicians into electric truck technology is training,” Hough said. “Conceptually, the chassis and application of a commercial vehicle are the same. But the energy source and powertrain technologies are completely new and foreign to a traditional technician.

“Something as simple as refueling is entirely new [to most techs] and requires a different mindset and approach,” he continued. “Delivering training and a level of understanding to technicians and vehicle operators is crucial to driving success and uptime.”

Hough pointed out that “a great advantage of EV technology is its simplicity.” He said that with an electric drive, a vehicle has significantly fewer moving parts and fewer processes occurring – such as combustion, emission and aftertreatment chemistry – as well as fewer wear-and-tear items to maintain and repair.

“Less complexity should help reduce complexity of repairs and ease the life of technicians,” Hough said. At the same time, the need for less tooling and equipment, coupled with advanced logic incorporated into EVs, “should streamline technician training and bring them to a level of proficiency in less time.”

On the other hand, Hough advised that the technology powering EVs “does require a new approach for safety and OSHA requirements in a service facility.” When it comes to integrating EVs, he said, “A fleet operator/manager should begin to consider safety requirements, tooling, PPE and training – and begin to develop plans and procedures before the technology shows up at their doorstep.”

An example of what may be involved to fully train techs to work on EVs is the comprehensive EV technician training and certification program just launched by Kenworth Truck Co. (www.kenworth.com) to prepare Kenworth dealerships to service EVs.

To attain this initial EV certification, dealer techs must successfully complete a seven-course curriculum on service systems, electrical principles, electrical systems (two courses), cab and chassis electronics, electric vehicle systems and advanced electric diagnostics, according to Jim Walenczak, Kenworth’s assistant general manager for sales and marketing. Each course runs from two to four days and consists of both classroom and virtual training.

Testing the Waters
The term “integrating” often comes up when discussing fleet adoption of EVs. That’s because it will be a long time before any private or commercial fleet operator, regardless of vehicle application, will bring EVs into service in big batches. A large part of the reason for that is because existing truck OEMs and emerging EV truck builders are slowly ramping up production. The other key reason is that substantial investments are needed to install EV charging infrastructure and certain shop equipment, and to provide for tech and driver training.

Hence, the market is in test-the-water mode. Utility fleets already bringing in EVs tend to do so in ones, twos or threes. What’s more, these purchases are typically supported by government “green” grants. In return for helping fund EV and/or charging infrastructure purchases, these programs may collect real-world operating data on the fleet’s EVs to share with other potential adopters.

Two Trucks
A perfect example of this is Green Mountain Power’s addition of two electric trucks from Montreal-based manufacturer Lion Electric Co. (https://thelionelectric.com). Colchester, Vermont-based GMP is the largest electricity distributor in Vermont, serving over 70% of the market and nearly 270,000 residential and business customers.

This year, GMP will replace two operations trucks with two of Lion’s all-electric trucks. One will be a fully outfitted bucket truck for line crews and the other a Class 6 medium-duty truck with a stake body for use by electrical maintenance field crews. The two Lions represent a major step toward the goal of electrifying GMP’s field operations fleet.

“Transportation with fossil-fueled vehicles is the top source of carbon emissions in Vermont, and we’re proud to start the process of converting our line truck fleet to clean electric trucks,” said Mari McClure, GMP president and CEO.

The utility received a roughly $915,000 grant through the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement fund managed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Data about the trucks’ use, performance, charging and carbon reduction will be gathered to help the state learn more about the opportunities electric trucks offer in reaching clean energy goals.

Along with providing for the pair of EVs, the grant will also enable the purchase of two bi-directional fast chargers for the trucks. These provide charging convenience, according to GMP, and the chargers’ two-way energy flow means that when the trucks are plugged in and not in use, the utility can tap into the stored energy in their batteries during peak energy use times on the grid. 

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.