UFP Magazine

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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Grace Suizo

Best Practices for Managing Tire Costs

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Running a successful utility fleet operation requires fleet managers to, among other things, stay on top of any and every aspect of the business that will impact total operating costs.

A fleet’s tire program is one aspect that makes a significant impact. According to Gary Schroeder, director of global truck and bus tire business for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. (http://coopertrucktires.com), tire programs are the second-highest operating cost – behind fuel – for the majority of fleets.

So, what can utility fleets do in an effort to control those expenses?

“Helping fleets understand their total tire operating costs – and the role that tires can play in reducing these costs – is important,” said Dustin Lancy, marketing manager for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com). “Some fleets consider tire price to be the driving factor, but we urge them to look beyond the upfront cost of a tire and instead … optimize the return on their tire investment.”

Focus on What Matters Most
Keeping tire costs in check requires a tire program that includes proper tire selection, timely maintenance and frequent inspections.

Fairfax Water, a utility headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, maintains a selection of tires and tire/wheel assemblies at each of its maintenance facilities, replenishing as needed. Light-duty tires are mounted and balanced in-house, while the tire/wheel assemblies for the fleet’s larger heavy-duty trucks, trailers and equipment are sent out for servicing.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Need for Greater Collaboration Between Fleet and Safety

In April, our team at Utility Fleet Professional magazine launched the first-ever fleet track at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo in Loveland, Colorado. The conference is the industry’s largest safety education event, produced by our sister publication, Incident Prevention magazine.

We covered a wide range of topics, from the imminent safety challenges of automated vehicle technologies, to fleet ergonomics that can reduce worker injury risks, to spec’ing aerial platforms with maximum safety in mind.

But my biggest takeaway from the conference?

It’s that there’s a growing need for fleet and safety professionals to communicate and collaborate with each other on a deeper level – to spec the safest vehicles possible within the real-world budget constraints that fleet departments must navigate.

Think about it. We’ve seen automated driver-assist systems deployed in cars over the past few years. But now we’re starting to see them being introduced in the commercial truck market as well, which could have significant implications for both the fleet and safety departments at utility companies.

For example, the 2018 Ford F-150 features an available Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection system and advanced adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality that uses radars and cameras to maintain a set distance behind a vehicle – and even follow that vehicle down to a complete stop.

This is cool safety technology, but it also makes the truck more expensive. And when fleet managers are given a mandate from senior management to do more with less money, how do they strike that delicate balance between vehicle safety and cost?

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Kate Wade

PSS Rumble Strip Handling Machine

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PSS, an industry-leading manufacturer and marketer of roadway and pedestrian safety systems, has announced the launch of its newest product, the RoadQuake RAPTOR Rumble Strip Handling Machine.

The RAPTOR transports, deploys, realigns and retrieves the RoadQuake 2F Temporary Portable Rumble Strip (TPRS) in work zones, improving operational efficiency and increasing worker safety. The machine mounts to the front of a vehicle for ease of operation and has a capacity of 12 RoadQuake TPRS. The product provides portable positive protection when deploying and retrieving RoadQuake TPRS, and it is ideal for short-duration, short-term and mobile operations.

In January 2018, PSS kicked off the RAP-Tour, a cross-country demonstration of the RAPTOR's ability to improve work zone safety. To see the RAPTOR in action or to request a list of tour dates, contact National Sales Manager Dave McKee at 216-403-0898 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. http://pss-innovations.com

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Kate Wade

Ditch Witch Partners with Vacuworx

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Vacuum lifting technology offers an effective approach to moving materials on tough concrete demolition and construction, road and landscaping projects. Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works Company, has partnered with Tulsa-based Vacuworx to bring the benefits of vacuum lifting technology to an expanded network of underground construction contractors, landscapers, municipalities and utilities.

Vacuum lifting systems are designed to use constant vacuum pressure to handle heavy loads, such as steel road plates and concrete slabs. The proven technology eliminates the need for conventional lifting mechanisms that may damage materials. The Vacuworx systems handle up to 10 times more material than conventional methods in half the man hours, allowing contractors and landscapers to spend less time loading materials and more time focused on the job. 

The Vacuworx PS 1 Portable and SL 2 Subcompact Vacuum Lifting Systems are compatible with the full line of Ditch Witch mini skid steers – the SK600, SK800, SK1050 and SK1550. The PS 1 can lift up to 1,700 pounds and is an ideal solution for lighter and smaller lift loads on compact job sites that require the SK600 unit. The SL 2 weighs just 98 pounds and can lift up to 2,700 pounds. It also is compatible with the full mini skid steer line, but to get the most out of its lifting capabilities, the SL 2 must be used in tandem with the SK1550 unit. www.ditchwitch.comwww.vacuworx.com

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Anne Fortin

Going Green and Lightweight: How Suez North America Saved $20,000

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Suez North America is an environmentally friendly water utilities company, providing water and wastewater services as well as recycling and waste recovery services to almost 8 million people in North America. Known for placing sustainable environmental practices at the forefront of their operations, Suez employs innovative strategies to shrink their environmental footprint. The corporate headquarters for Suez’s North American operations are found in Paramus, New Jersey. In northern New Jersey alone, Suez serves 800,000 people with clean, sustainable water, while preserving the local waterways.

Bruce Ottogalli, transportation manager, oversees Suez’s fleet in New Jersey and New York. As the company’s only transportation manager, he is responsible for maintaining, servicing and updating the fleet’s work trucks – an integral part of Suez’s operations.

“As a sustainable company, the biggest thing for us is to have a limited environmental footprint with the vehicles, curb our carbon footprint and go green,” Ottogalli said. “We’re limited in our area as we can’t use propane or natural gas, because the suburban areas we serve don’t have that kind of fuel to fill our trucks.” Because the fleet’s vehicles must be powered by diesel or gas, Ottogalli has had to find other ways to follow the company’s green mandate.

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Kate Wade

Steel Enclosed Van Body from Reading Truck

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Reading Truck Body, an industry leader in work truck body solutions, has unveiled its newest steel enclosed van body, the RVSL Steelhawk. Built to meet the overwhelming demand for a steel enclosed body solution that will fit the Ford Transit Cutaway, the RVSL Steelhawk introduces the newest generation of re-engineered Ready Van SL (RVSL) bodies. It weighs up to 700 pounds less than the current RVSL models without compromising functionality or durability, and it has the capability to withstand up to 4,000 pounds of load-carrying capacity.

Reading puts each truck body through rigorous testing to ensure it can stand up to the demands of its customers’ work. The RVSL Steelhawk provides a high-strength enclosed body built with A60 galvannealed steel construction for optimal corrosion-resistance, as well as a rugged diamond-plate steel floor for better grip and slip resistance.

RVSL Steelhawk features an impressive list of standard features and options that include A60 galvannealed steel construction for long-lasting performance; galvanized shelves and easily accessible compartments and panels; durable, slip-resistant diamond-plate steel floor; Latch-Matic keyless entry system; lockable rear access conduit doors; smooth operating steel cab access door; tall clearance solid rear doors with available visibility package windows; LED cargo area dome lights with switch and grab handle; LED combination stop, tail, turn and reverse lights with weather-tight connectors; Masterack cargo shelf packages and options available to organize storage; and class-leading warranty coverage – six-year structural and three-year coating. www.readingbody.com

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Kate Wade

Utility One Source Rebranded as Custom Truck One Source

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Utility One Source recently announced a major rebranding effort, changing the company’s name to Custom Truck One Source. The rebrand unifies all company platforms under the Custom Truck One Source name.

Known for customization across a wide range of industries and a vast array of products, Custom Truck One Source is positioned as a true one-stop shop for its customers. Company officials say the new name sends a clearer message about what the company does. 

Load King, a trailer and equipment manufacturing subsidiary, will continue to operate under its well-known name, while including Custom Truck One Source in its logo and communications.

The transition to the new name became official April 1. www.customtruck.com

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Kate Wade

Palfinger PAL Pro 20

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Omaha Standard Palfinger released their newest mechanics body, the PAL Pro 20, at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March.

Accommodating service cranes up to 20,000 foot-pounds of lifting capacity, the reinforced PAL Pro 20 mechanics body is designed to maximize field performance in both on- and off-road applications. All compartment tops and raised compartments are reinforced with internal gussets, which prevents cracking and allows for mounting of welders, compressors and toolboxes.

Every PAL Pro 20 body comes standard with two-piece steel doors featuring internal C-channel stiffeners, automotive adhesive bonding and 316 marine-grade stainless steel hinges. The PAL Pro 20 also features a full-length channel drip rail to divert water away from the compartment openings, and three-point compression latches for improved security and sealing. To maximize storage and payload, aluminum shelving and rollout drawers are available with four longitudinal dividers and padded floors.

The PAL Pro 20 is offered in 9-foot and 11-foot standard configurations, with over 30 bumper and outrigger combinations. For a complete package, PAL Pro 20 is available with Palfinger’s PSC 3216, PSC 4016 and PSC 4025 service crane models and Palfinger’s PRC 45V rotary screw compressor. www.palfinger.com

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Kate Wade

Bigfoot Slide Pad

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The Slide Pad – a new item from Bigfoot Construction Equipment – is built for rear-lot carts, backyard machines and small manlifts. The back stop bar is removable; you then place the outrigger pad on the machine’s boot/float/shoe and reinstall the back stop bar. This allows the outrigger pad to stay on the equipment for multiple setups at one job location. This is not intended for road transportation. www.outriggerpads.com

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Preventing Future Driving Incidents

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Fleet management economics are not just about predictive scheduling, inspection and maintenance. Yes, you can predict and control operating costs by keeping and analyzing records. But one thing you can’t do is predict accidents, other than predicting you will have one at some point. However, accidents – especially expensive ones – don’t have to be an unpredictable liability. In fact, most accidents don’t have to happen at all, although sometimes we as managers enable them.

A few years ago, I got a call from the sheriff of a small town in Tennessee. I was working for a contractor at the time, and one of our trucks had been found on its side in the trees off a small two-lane road. The cab was crushed and our driver was deceased, his body trapped in the wreck for several hours. This was not just a matter of having to cut away the cab. The driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, had been thrown below the steering column in the crash. The cab folded in and around him, and the truck was a total loss.

The reason I chose this story to make the following points is due to how the incident played out within the organization. Everyone was devastated by the loss of the driver. That was expected. But after a few weeks, the incident became the focus of accounting, and that’s when the safety department came under scrutiny. That’s because the highway patrol had completed the incident investigation, and they discovered three enabling elements that – had any of them been changed – would have prevented the accident from occurring. The driver would not have died, the truck would not have been totaled and the financial loss would have been avoided.

These three elements won’t be common to all incidents, but I’ve detailed them here to demonstrate to readers that most incidents are avoidable. In addition, I’ve also identified some cultural initiatives that can prevent the enabling of future incidents.  

Element 1: The Route
The truck was a Freightliner twin-axle, 20-ton digger derrick. There were three main routes from the yard to the project site. It was 7:45 a.m., and the driver voiced concerns about traffic. According to his crewmates, he knew a faster route that was rarely used and would bypass the morning traffic. So, what was the value of the time saved? The incident investigation indicated the backroad route could have saved time only if the 35-mph speed limit was exceeded by 30 mph. The other two routes – an interstate and a four-lane highway – had fewer turns, fewer stops and speed limits of 55 to 65 mph. Perhaps more important was the construction of the roadways. In addition to having fewer turns, the two higher-speed highways had shoulders that varied from 26 inches at the narrowest to 96 inches at the widest. The shoulders became the most important issue because the rural road the driver had chosen had no shoulder. In several places, the road dropped off into rocky ruts just inches off the white line. The highway patrol’s analysis of the cause of the incident was that the right front wheel of the digger derrick dropped off the road into a rut, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for Utility Fleets

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As you evaluate the specs for your truck and van fleet this year, where do you see the best opportunities for improvement?

Could you take weight out of a truck to reduce fuel costs or increase legal payload?

Could you upgrade equipment so that crews could get more work done in less time with improved safety?

Or, could you electrify certain vehicles to cut both fuel consumption and your fleet’s carbon footprint?

Here are six new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers that could help you uncover and capitalize on opportunities to improve your fleet specs and performance.

XL Hybrids
What’s New: XLP plug-in hybrid-electric upfit for F-150 SuperCrew; CARB approval
URL: www.xlhybrids.com

XL Hybrids Inc. recently announced that its XLP plug-in hybrid-electric system is now available for the Ford F-150 SuperCrew. The company also announced its newest approval from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which gives California-based organizations assurance that XL-equipped fleets will meet the Golden State's rigorous testing and restrictions for carbon emissions.

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Sean M. Lyden

Utility Fleets to the Rescue in Puerto Rico

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This story hasn't been getting a lot of attention in the national press, but there has been a massive mobilization effort by utilities across the U.S. to send thousands of lineworkers, trucks and pieces of heavy equipment to help restore power to Puerto Rico, where many residents have suffered without electricity since Hurricane Maria pummeled the island last fall.

In December, several electric companies began mobilizing crews at the request of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in a coordinated effort with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, deploying nearly 1,500 additional restoration workers and support personnel to the island as of press time.

One of those utilities is Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), based in Oklahoma City, which is assigned to the Arecibo region on the northwest side of the island, along with Dallas-based Oncor and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

On January 18, about 60 of OG&E’s trademark orange trucks arrived at the port in Ponce, Puerto Rico, taking about two weeks to complete the 1,900-mile trek from Lake Charles, Louisiana. The plan is for OG&E’s first wave of 50 crew members to work for 20 days and then relieve those workers by sending a second wave of 50 to continue work for at least another 20 days.

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Fiona Soltes

What Do AI and Machine Learning Mean for Utility Fleets?

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There are some people who still believe artificial intelligence (AI) is no more than sci-fi wizardry. And there are others who tend to view it with blind optimism, as a kind of be-all, end-all for industries of all types. But somewhere in between, AI has taken its true place as just one piece of a much broader technology transformation.

Both AI and machine learning – a field of computer science that enables computers to think intelligently and even “learn” from historical data without specifically being programmed – eventually will make their way to utility fleets, perhaps through relationships with other industries. David Groarke, managing director of Indigo Advisory Group (www.indigoadvisorygroup.com), a new-energy/utilities consulting firm, ticked off some possibilities. These might involve, for example, electric fleet vehicles automatically being charged during off-peak times. Or, they might include the use of telematics to better predict and adjust driver behaviors. Examples abound in other industries, too, such as supply chain and logistics.

As a result, Groarke and others have said, now is the time for utility fleet professionals to take notes, ask questions, be willing to share data for more accurate and strategic insights – and keep pushing the envelope by exploring what-if applications.

“More information is always better,” said Paul Millington, vice president of technology products for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “As experts who are dedicated to fleet, we make it our job to anticipate what insights our customers would be looking for. I’d say keep asking the questions of your fleet management company and others on whether your objectives could be achieved with machine learning.”

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