UFP Magazine

Jim Vaughn, CUSP

The Value of Site-Specific Equipment Plans

Every equipment manager’s budget is impacted by unexpected losses and repairs. If you manage equipment, you know this. You may expect to get 160,000 miles out of that crew truck or 2,000 hours out of a digger derrick before major component replacement, but that’s not going to happen if a line crew drops it off a mountain. I once witnessed the remains of a digger derrick that was lost while being winched up a mountainside for a wilderness construction project. It was unoccupied when the slings attaching it to the D8 crawler dozer failed. At the bottom of the mountain, the winch hook was the only recognizable part. A few years later, I had flashbacks when I heard our construction manager negotiating with our right-of-way clearing manager for the loan of one of their D9s to haul equipment up a mountain. My interest was safety. But in the process of planning for safety, we gained a valuable lesson in equipment preservation. I got involved with pre-planning for mobilization and learned how construction managers planned to perform the project. It was a new line. Right-of-way clearing was being done by another contractor. There were no roads, so access was the challenge. The terrain was very steep at a couple locations.

Prior to the start of the work, I conferred with fleet management. Tow rigging connections are an issue on most equipment. Digger derricks and bucket trucks sometimes come with bumper-mounted factory tow hooks. These bumper hooks are sufficient for getting equipment out of sand if it gets stuck, but they are not necessarily appropriate for a half-mile haul up newly cleared, soft terrain. Fleet asked the truck manufacturer about getting design parameters for the bumper and frame to come up with a modification for towing.

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Sean M. Lyden

CPS Energy Makes a Big Push into Truck Electrification

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In recent years, the pickup truck market has been considered by many in the utility industry as the “holy grail” for fleet electrification.

That’s because pickups comprise the most significant percentage of many utility fleets. So, the more of those trucks you can switch to plug-in electric powertrains – whether all-electric or hybrid – the greater the impact you can make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the challenge with electrifying pickup trucks has been cost, making it difficult for utility fleets to come up with a compelling business case to invest aggressively in the technology.

That is, until recently. As battery prices continue to plummet and the business case becomes more attractive, some utility fleets are taking a more aggressive stance with their fleet electrification efforts.

Take, for example, San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas and electric company.

In April, CPS Energy announced the purchase of 34 plug-in hybrid electric Ford F-150 pickup trucks, which, according to XL (www.xlfleet.com) – a provider of connected vehicle electrification systems for commercial and municipal fleets – represents the largest purchase of plug-in hybrid F-150s by any utility or private company to date and the first in Texas to use the vehicles.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets?

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Whether the job is to dig trenches to lay underground power lines, to drill holes to set poles, or to dig in tight spaces, such as next to buildings or in residential backyards, the objective remains the same: to enable crews to get the most work done in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, in the safest way possible.

That's the goal that has driven the design of new products and upgrades released by heavy-equipment manufacturers in recent months.

So, what’s new in digging machines for 2018? How can they help utility companies and contractors improve worker productivity and safety? Here are six new developments to consider.

CASE Construction Equipment
What’s New: TV370 compact track loader
Website: www.casece.com

CASE Construction Equipment introduced the TV370 compact track loader (CTL) that offers utility contractors a smaller 74-horsepower option in a large-frame vertical CTL with a 3,700-pound operating capacity for earthmoving, load and lift applications, and heavy attachments.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Latest Developments in Drones for the North American Utility Sector

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Although drone sales in the North American utility market will reach only about $850,000 in 2018, that number is expected to grow by more than 20 times – to $25 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves.

That’s the outlook from Michael Hartnack, a research analyst covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide for Navigant Research. (For Navigant’s full market report, visit www.navigantresearch.com/research/drones-and-robotics-for-transmission-and-distribution-operations.)

While those numbers might appear underwhelming, they represent hardware sales only, and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data management, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly larger, Hartnack said.

So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What pieces need to fall into place to accelerate growth? And what are some of the most interesting future possibilities?

UFP recently spoke with Hartnack to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

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Jim Galligan

Spec’ing the Right Cable Reel Trailer

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Capacity, safety and flexibility top the list of features that manufacturers say should be on a utility’s spec sheet for any new cable reel trailer. But a good spec doesn’t end there. How many reels will be hauled or needed each time? Where will the trailer be used? Will loading be manual or automated? What type of operation is being performed? Is it an underground conductor? Overhead? The list of spec’ing considerations can be a yard long.

“[Spec’ing] reel trailers is one of the hardest things to do just because there are so many variables,” said Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products with Felling Trailers Inc. (www.felling.com). “Reel trailers are very customizable.”

But if there is one piece of advice manufacturers said they give utilities, it is to spec for capacity.

“By far the biggest mistake when specifying a trailer is [under-spec’ing] reel weight,” Rapp said. A reel-carrying assembly rated to haul a 60-inch-wide reel that weighs 6,000 pounds may not be rated to haul a 48-inch-wide reel that weighs the same because the narrower reel puts more weight on the center of the reel bar whereas the wider reel's weight is closer to the carrier.

“So, it's important to know the range of reels sizes that are going to be hauled,” Rapp said.

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Sandy Smith

Pros and Cons of Fuel Card Use

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John Adkisson, transportation manager for Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities, keeps an eye on the fuel consumption of the company’s vehicles through the use of fuel cards.

Each vehicle in the utility’s fleet is assigned one of these cards when the vehicle is put in service, and each employee is assigned a unique driver ID. Assigning fuel cards and driver IDs serves two purposes: “This allows anyone who operates a company vehicle to fuel any vehicle that he or she may be driving with the fuel card,” Adkisson said. “This also allows the fleet department to track fuel consumption down to an individual vehicle.”

Monthly exception reporting provides Adkisson insight into any unusual activity, such as an out-of-state purchase or purchase of a large quantity of fuel. If needed, he can limit driver transactions by number or amount via the fuel card’s website.

An Attractive Solution
It is this type of data, flexibility and control that make fuel cards an attractive solution for today’s utility fleets, often winning out over other options, such as on-site fuel tanks and driver reimbursement.

“Customizable controls and program parameters are among the top benefits of a fuel card, as compared to other options,” said Andy Hall, assistant manager of fuel and GMS products for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com). “Reimbursement programs and general credit cards typically allow drivers to purchase virtually anything they want without restriction, resulting in misuse and abuse.”

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Fiona Soltes

Collaboration is Key When Rightsizing Your Fleet

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For organizations contemplating a fleet rightsizing effort that won’t anger end users, here’s some advice: use solid data, convey information clearly and seek understanding.

“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about communication,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com). Prior to a rightsizing initiative, operators won’t necessarily be saying that the fleet has extraneous equipment, while others in the company may be focused on budget. But when fleet professionals get to know their internal customers and their needs, Guthro said, greater collaboration is possible.

“When you rightsize a fleet, it gives organizations more opportunity to hold on to their most critical resource: their people,” he said. “You have to approach it from, ‘We’re not here to do things to you, but for you, and we want you to be involved.’”

That’s easy enough to say, but it can be challenging to deliver, especially with new management – those who want to make a definitive mark through changes without perhaps fully surveying the landscape or considering long-term impact. This can affect productivity and diminish employee buy-in.

Imagine, for example, a utility fleet that cuts back on lesser-used equipment, believing it will be available as needed from external rental providers.

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Grace Suizo

Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing Maintenance

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Outsourcing preventive maintenance and unscheduled repairs on light-duty units can help utility fleets minimize downtime and focus on the more complex mission-critical and specialized equipment in their operations.

It’s easy to rent a car or pickup truck if a light-duty asset is in the shop or down for a long period of time, explained Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E Fleet Services in Oklahoma. “Bucket trucks, trenchers [and] line trucks are a little more difficult to rent. We have tools and materials on pieces of equipment like that, so we can do maintenance in-house and control the timeline of the work,” he said.  

Keeping services in-house rather than outsourcing them also can help to ensure that safety remains a top priority when working on these assets.

“The utility industry as a whole requires a very high level of safety training, and this education extends to the in-house technicians,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

But if fleets determine they need to outsource some of their work, how do they make the most of it? UFP recently spoke with several industry experts who shared their tips, including mistakes to avoid.

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Sean M. Lyden

Tap into the Power of Stories to Expand Your Influence

For a fleet manager, stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes – they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, change employee behavior and garner senior management’s support.

But what exactly is storytelling in a utility fleet environment? How do you tell a good story, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a great communicator?

In an interview I conducted with Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the best-selling book “Lead with a Story,” Smith said that storytelling is “a way of getting your message across without making your audience feel defensive, so they will be more open to what you have to say.”

How do stories make the audience more open to your message?

“A story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, they’re just listening to the story,” Smith said. “It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”

The idea is that you can use stories to influence people without wagging your finger at them or telling them what to do. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.

So, what does storytelling look like when you’re managing people in a utility fleet environment?

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Kate Wade

Re-Engineered Utility Pole Trailers from Felling

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No matter the industry, operator safety and ease of use and maintenance are key when a company is looking to acquire new equipment. Felling’s newly designed utility pole trailers are fully engineered and documented products that offer operators many years of trouble-free service.

The trailers are available in three lengths: 20 feet retracted to 30 feet extended; 24 feet retracted to 40 feet extended; and 29 feet retracted to 46 feet extended. Payload capacities from 7,980 pounds up to 36,600 pounds are available, and electric brakes are standard. Trailers can be equipped with air brakes if needed.

Equipped with a 2-inch cold-rolled steel, positive locking adjustment pin and designed with a notched flange welded on the pin, the flange notches must pass through two tabs welded 90 degrees from each other, assuring a positive locked position. The 2-inch positive locking adjustment pin is attached to the trailer with a chain to prevent loss. www.felling.com

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Kate Wade

HUBB Filters’ Reusable Sustainable Oil Filter

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HUBB Filters is the only reusable sustainable oil filter available in the automotive aftermarket for Class 1 to 6 fleets that want to make a positive impact on the environment and their bottom line. HUBB-equipped fleets eliminate used oil filters going into landfills, and they enjoy increased oil drain intervals and decreased labor costs. The HUBB Swap Filter Exchange Program is a new program that enables a fleet to realize all the benefits of the HUBB reusable sustainable oil filter without the upfront investment. The HUBB solution is backed by the industry’s first 100,000-mile or 5,000-hour guarantee. www.hubbfilters.com

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Kate Wade

MAHLE ShopPRO 10-Ton Wheel Lift

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MAHLE Service Solutions has introduced the ShopPRO CWL-10, an innovative, air-operated, midrise 10-ton commercial wheel lift that provides a shop with unsurpassed flexibility and quick access to major components on all types of vehicles. The wheel lift system takes all the guesswork out of safely lifting any vehicle, while the positive pinning system provides safe and clear access under one end of the vehicle.

The CWL-10 is ideally suited for shops with low ceiling heights and features a built-in vehicle support stand that allows complete open access under the vehicle. The 100 percent air-operated system provides years of maintenance- and worry-free lifting.

The portable design eliminates the need for a dedicated bay. The maximum lifting height of 24 inches is perfect for major component removal. It also increases shop productivity because there is no wasted time removing aerodynamics from vehicles.

The CWL-10 has a wide, spring-loaded base to provide users with a stable platform to allow for the secure lifting of a wide array of vehicles. The unit comes with small wheel adapters. A dual trigger control valve allows for the synchronized raising and lowering of a vehicle. www.servicesolutions.mahle.com

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Kate Wade

DPL Telematics Launches AssetView Tracking System

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DPL Telematics, a leading provider of advanced asset monitoring and telemetry technologies, recently announced the release of the AssetView Tracking System. AssetView is an advanced solution for wireless monitoring and remote tracking of any powered or unpowered asset to improve logistics, manage inventory and curb theft. The small, portable GPS unit is completely self-contained and may be hidden on any asset, installing in seconds.

AssetView allows managers to remotely monitor any asset accurately from a robust, internet-based software package and mobile app. The unit is the first telematics product of its kind to feature the following: no external wiring or antenna; internal battery power; long battery life; wireless, two-way communication; little to no sky view required; IP67-rated and UV-stabilized design; compact and completely portable; dual GPS and GLONASS positioning; global cellular coverage; and month-to-month agreement.

The tracking system combines multiple technologies to maximize battery life while operating and remaining active in extremely low power modes. In addition, AssetView’s proprietary Adaptive Tracking technology increases its reporting frequency when movement is detected and automatically reduces it when stationary. This intelligence delivers long battery life while actively alerting on curfew violation, movement or geofence breach, as well as allowing the user to switch to recovery mode over the air. www.dpltelematics.com/assetview

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Enforcement of Vehicle Weight and Load Securement Rules

In the past few months, I have received comments and inquiries from all over the U.S. regarding what appears to be stepped-up enforcement of both load securement and vehicle weight. It’s not unusual that these topics garner attention from the U.S. Department of Transportation when it comes to carriers, but this recent uptick seems to be directed at smaller commercial vehicles as well as bucket trucks and digger derricks. There have not been any changes of note in the rules for vehicle weight and load securement; however, it appears that some latitude taken by utilities, if not given by the DOT, has caught the attention of those responsible for enforcement of the rules.

In the last couple of years, state enforcement agencies have used local media to inform local commercial businesses – that are not carriers – that they would be stopped if they did not appear to comply with loading and marking standards for their class of vehicles. In Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado, my colleagues and I began to hear of roadside stops involving lawn maintenance companies and small construction concerns that pulled trailers with loaders, backhoes and super lawn machines. That soon extended to power company trucks, especially those loaded with large wire reels. I even heard of one instance in which state enforcement set up scales in a shopping center parking lot on a well-known route out of a power company service center. Within 40 minutes they cited 22 vehicles for being overweight. You would think drivers would have warned others, but the DOT waved them into the parking area before they started weighing and inspecting the vehicles, so no one knew what to expect. It shouldn’t have been – but it was – a big surprise for that utility’s fleet management to learn what kinds of loads lineworkers were putting on those trailers.

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Sean M. Lyden

5 Smart Ways to Use Telematics to Drive Fleet Safety

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What does a litigator want to know after a commercial vehicle crash?

Here’s how Jeff Burns, an attorney with the Kansas City, Missouri-based law firm Dollar, Burns & Becker LC, put it in his presentation to fleet managers at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March: “How did the company try to prevent this crash?”

After all, the plaintiff’s attorney is looking for a defendant that offers the highest potential settlement award – and a company is a much more lucrative target than the individual driver who may be at fault in an incident.

One of the things Burns said that companies could do to demonstrate a commitment to preventing incidents is to deploy vehicle tracking technology, like telematics, and make sure it's being used in ways that support safer driving and equipment operation practices throughout the organization.

So, how can utility fleet leaders use telematics to drive greater safety – and reduce risk exposure for their employers?

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Sean M. Lyden

Pioneering a Utility Drone Program

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In 2015, Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) became the first utility to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for operational use of unmanned aircraft systems – also referred to as UAS or drones – under certain conditions for line inspection and emergency response applications.

So, three years and 250 flights later, how has it been going? Where does ComEd’s program stand today? What types of applications are they using drones for? And what are some of the lessons the utility has learned?

UFP recently spoke with Brian Cramer, UAS program manager at ComEd, to get the behind-the-scenes story of a utility company pioneering new drone technology that could have enormous implications for worker safety and operational efficiencies throughout the industry.

UFP: How are you currently using drones?

Brian Cramer: If there's a problem that crews haven't been able to identify using normal means – whether it's ground patrols, helicopters and so forth – we'll use drones to provide imaging for inspections to find out what's happening. That’s because the drone can get closer to the problem area, and we can see it from every angle, including from above.

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Sean M. Lyden

What Will It Take for Autonomous Vehicles to be Ready for Prime Time?

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When it comes to fully autonomous vehicles becoming commercially available, industry consensus is that it’s not a question of if but when. And that time frame appears to be within the next two to three years.

For example, industry research firm Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com) expects that highly automated light-duty vehicles will begin to be introduced in 2020, with steady growth anticipated starting in 2025.

Then there’s Waymo (https://waymo.com) – formerly the Google self-driving car project – pushing the pace, saying that it will roll out fully self-driving taxi rides to the public by the end of this year, with a plan to operate 1 million self-driving miles by 2020.

And at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March, Ed Peper, vice president of fleet at GM (www.gm.com), said that the automaker expects to launch fully self-driving vehicles "safely and at scale” in ridesharing applications in 2019.

But fatal crashes in recent weeks – involving an Uber vehicle in fully autonomous mode and a Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged – also have caused many in the industry and government to pump the brakes on vehicle testing, creating some uncertainty around when robots will actually rule the roads.

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Jim Galligan

Going Where Wheeled Vehicles Can’t

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Whether they’re used in hauling materials up steep hills, when accessing remote locations to perform inspections and construction, or for ferrying emergency crews and materials through marshes and over creeks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) play a small yet vital role in many utility fleets.

“As [distribution systems] continue to grow, it’s more important for utilities to be able to get into areas where wheeled vehicles can no longer access,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully (www.powerbully.com). “There is a greater need for a lot of ground pressure tracked vehicles to carry attachments into a remote place.”

In addition to PowerBully, several other ATV suppliers have recently introduced new products and product upgrades to the market. Keep reading for more details.

Hydratrek Redesigns D2488B 
Amphibious vehicles typically are used for inspections and supply service through wetlands, but they’ve also seen more recent use in flooded areas after natural disasters, according to Craig Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing with Hydratrek (https://hydratrek.com). “They’re used for moving people and material up and down right-of-ways, and utilities tell us it’s the most versatile unit they have,” he said.

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Sandy Smith

How to Avoid Big Data Overload

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Telematics data offers the modern utility fleet vast opportunities to gain insight about their operation and take action. But the sheer number of those opportunities can be overwhelming, and deciding what data to study – plus how to make it meaningful – can be a struggle, like attempting to sip water from a firehose.

Beth Daiber, CPA, fleet administration supervisor for Ameren Illinois Company, has found that for her organization, it helps to both track and share data that ties into corporate initiatives. “There are a lot of things that I could supply data on, and analysis that I do behind the scenes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure that I’m not overwhelmed with all the information that I could collect.”

Ameren focuses its telematics data on idling and speed for its 3,500-unit fleet. The company’s plan from day one was to focus on one or two initiatives first and build from there, Daiber said. Monitoring both idling and speed tie in with corporate initiatives and support the project’s ROI.

Even with such a narrow focus, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to reporting results to leadership. So, rather than simply track vehicle idling, for instance, Daiber provides reports that show idling as a percentage of operating time. “It seems to be a better reflection of how the assets are being used compared to total hours,” she said.  

Additional charts compare idling hours based on class of the asset. A top 20 list of the most-idled vehicles helps the operations team know where to focus its efforts. According to Daiber, “That has made a big impact.”

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Fiona Soltes

Flat Fees for Fleet Asset Flexibility?

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As drivers and fleet professionals explore the possibilities and realities of vehicle subscription models, they’re in good company. Fleet management organizations also are kicking the tires of the concept – including how it might eventually apply to utility fleets.

Under the subscription model, subscribers have access to vehicles on demand, often with insurance and maintenance included, and can switch out vehicle models, too.

Eric Schell, product manager for driver tools at Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), and Jayme Schnedeker, Element’s director of fleet products, said they are in discovery phase with the idea and looking to Element’s experience with car sharing for cues.

“For companies like us, as well as for manufacturers, the question is, where do we fit into all of this?” Schnedeker said. “How can we provide services for our core customers that make financial sense for them?” The subscription model provides flexibility in areas where there hasn’t traditionally been any, he added, and with individual consumers increasingly using services such as Uber and Lyft, those expectations of convenience are being transferred to work life.

Traditional fleet pools and micro car-sharing markets give fleets a taste of multiple drivers using one vehicle fractionally, Schell said. Even so, he believes, adoption of the subscription model in a broader sense would require “a fairly significant cultural change of how our customers are looking to do business today.”

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