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Spec’ing a Detachable Gooseneck Trailer

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Minnkota Power Cooperative, an electric generation and transmission cooperative headquartered in Grand Forks, North Dakota, recently replaced its antiquated mechanical detachable gooseneck semitrailer with a new unit.

The old trailer, used approximately 10 times a year for the past 20 years, was replaced by a new model from Felling Trailers (www.felling.com). UFP recently spoke with Keith Millette, fleet supervisor for Minnkota Power Cooperative, and Laurie Engle, sales representative for Felling Trailers, who shared how they worked together on the spec’ing process.

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Fleet 2030: The Top Trends Utility Fleets Should Watch This Decade

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What do utility fleet managers need to keep an eye on over the next decade? What emerging trends will have the greatest impact on fleet operations? And what do fleet professionals need to have on their radar so they don’t fall behind the curve or get blindsided?

UFP recently spoke with George Survant, a former longtime fleet manager who currently serves as a consultant for Fleet Mace Consulting, and Charlie Guthro, vice president of business intelligence and analytics for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com), to get their answers to these questions and insight on what the future has in store for utility fleets.

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Spec’ing the Right Truck-Mounted Air Compressor for the Job

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Today’s utility fleet managers have numerous options to choose from when it comes to truck-mounted air compressors. But how do you go about spec’ing the right one for the job?

One of the biggest mistakes that utility fleets make is using bid specs from previous years, according to Dean Gary, national sales representative for VMAC (www.vmacair.com), which designs and manufactures mobile air compressors and multipower systems.

Ralph Kokot, CEO of mobile power solutions provider Vanair Manufacturing (https://vanair.com), agreed. “Don't assume what you put on your truck last time is what you should put on this time,” he said. “Before you start working on a bid specification for your fleet, reach out to the experts for guidance. Advancements are happening every day that increase ROI and productivity for your fleet.”

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Technologies to Improve Aerial Safety

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Operating aerial equipment can pose risks if care is not taken to identify and mitigate hazards. UFP recently spoke with industry professionals to learn more about technologies currently available to enhance safety during aerial equipment use.

Reduce Operator Falls
It was customer feedback that contributed to Terex Utilities (www.terex.com/utilities) developing the Positive Attachment Lanyard (PAL) device, which serves as an added reminder to users to properly utilize fall protection. The warning system is designed as an operator aid to reduce the chance of an operator elevating the bucket without a safety harness lanyard attached.

“Most of the time when a worker fails to attach the lanyard, it’s an honest mistake,” said Joe Caywood, director of marketing for Terex Utilities. “The worker was concentrating on the job and just forgot. We hope that linemen will consider the PAL device as a friendly reminder in the platform. It’s there to promote their following of safe work practices.”

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Utility Fleet Best Practices for Idle Reduction

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some utility fleets have discovered that their idling has increased. So – perhaps now more than ever – it’s imperative for fleets to identify instances where idling can be controlled and act on them. UFP recently spoke with three fleet industry professionals who shared tips on how to do just that.

Get Staff on the Same Page
According to Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, the greatest idle mitigation is achieved through operators intentionally turning off their engines when possible.

“The best practice is to have a well-trained workforce that understands state and local statutes regarding idling, company expectations, and the difference between necessary and unnecessary idling,” he explained.

That may require some coaching. Several years ago, Collins asked the local Clean Cities coalition to provide idle reduction training for all his field staff. As a result, the fleet experienced almost 10% less fuel consumption the following quarter.

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Selecting the Right Fuel Card Program for Your Fleet

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With fuel being one of the greatest expenses for any fleet organization, a fuel card program can be a helpful and efficient way to keep track of spending, usually at little or no cost to fleets. Recently, Utility Fleet Professional spoke with two fuel card experts who shared tips for what to look for in such a program.

While a number of organizations house on-site fuel stations and can easily track fuel spend and consumption that way, there are still instances when drivers are unable to make it back to the garage site to fill up. For example, drivers who are dispatched for emergency or weather-related work may have to fill up at an outside retailer or truck stop instead (i.e., an area where fuel activities can no longer be monitored).

Using a fuel card program can supplement these operations to give clients flexibility and appropriate oversight of fuel use, according to Steve Jastrow, vice president of consulting and analytics for Element (www.elementfleet.com).

“If fleets don’t have a managed program today, the fuel card is a great solution,” he said. “Fraud prevention, oversight of usage, productivity and the data to report/benchmark can all deliver savings.”

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Selecting the Right Advanced Driver Assistance Systems for Your Fleet

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From automatic braking and lane-keeping assist to adaptive cruise control, backup cameras and parking sensors, there are quite a few advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to choose from today. So, how do you decide which ones are best for your fleet vehicles? UFP recently spoke with Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, to find out which systems have proved most helpful to his fleet over the past decade.

Identify Areas for Improvement
Fairfax Water has been utilizing ADAS since 2010. The utility currently operates a total of 434 units, 320 of which are on-road vehicles ranging from Class 1 to Class 8. Approximately 40% are equipped with some sort of ADAS; parking assist and backup cameras are the bare minimum, according to Collins.

The first tip he shared about spec’ing ADAS is to identify what you’re really trying to improve. “In our case, we really wanted to improve on a particular hazard, which was backing,” Collins explained.

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Points to Consider When Transitioning to a Fleet Management Information System

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Using a fleet management information system (FMIS) can help utility fleet managers keep records and generate reports regarding the effective and efficient operation, maintenance, repair and replacement of their fleet assets. UFP recently spoke with two utility fleet managers who shared their experiences of transitioning to an FMIS and what other fleets might expect from the process.

Identify the Necessary Features
Since 2012, Washington Gas – a natural gas service provider headquartered in the District of Columbia – has been utilizing an FMIS for cradle-to-grave oversight of its fleet of more than 1,150 units.

Doing so has provided a “30,000-foot view of the fleet,” according to Michele Davis, fleet manager at the utility.

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What’s New in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets?

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Today, a wide range of options are available to help utilities get work done in hard-to-reach areas where conventional and even four-wheel-drive vehicles cannot go. Following are five new developments in the all-terrain vehicle space that can help utility companies get their crews and equipment across various terrains safely while also boosting productivity. 

ARGO
What’s New: 2020 updates to Frontier, Aurora and Xplorer lines
Website: https://argoxtv.com

ARGO has expanded its lineup to include six all-new Xtreme Terrain Vehicle (XTV) models, new 950- and 850-Series engines, and more innovative improvements. They’re joined by five all-terrain vehicles boasting improved suspensions, more features and added colors.

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What to Know When Spec’ing Service Vehicles for Utility Applications

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When it comes to spec’ing vehicles, the absence of an effective, proactive strategy often results in a significant number of units being purchased from dealer stock, rather than ordered from the factory. That drives up acquisition costs, delays delivery and hampers efficiency, according to Ted Davis, vice president of North American supply chain for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

“Additionally, without a proactive approach to spec development, you may not be able to acquire units with the ideal upfitting in a timely manner, which may result in a wide range of operational challenges for your frontline employees,” he said.

So, what are the basics you need to know when spec’ing service vehicles – such as vans – for your fleet? Industry experts recently shared some tips to ensure both an efficient and quality specification process.

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Is Now the Time to Rightsize Your Fleet?

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The task of cutting fleet costs while remaining productive and providing quality service to customers can be challenging. Over time, rightsizing has become a go-to strategy to accomplish just such a task. To gain greater insight on the topic, UFP recently spoke with three fleet professionals about their take on rightsizing and the strategies that have worked for their organizations.

Dan Remmert, senior manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois, said that rightsizing usually is driven by a need to reduce costs, but it’s important that fleet managers know exactly what they’re trying to achieve before they begin.

“Having the right number of vehicles or equipment is one aspect,” he said. “A second main driver is having the right type or size of vehicles. Before you start on a rightsizing effort, understand what you are trying to fix.”

A fleet also will want to consider what their business will look like in both the short and long term, advised Ed Powell, assistant manager of business intelligence and analytics for fleet management provider ARI (www.arifleet.com). For example, will more units be needed, or will shifts in your operating dynamic present opportunities to streamline your fleet?

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Grace Suizo

Operating a More Efficient Parts Management Program

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Making sure your shop is well-stocked to handle any issues that come your fleet’s way is a smart plan, but it also can be costly and inefficient if you overdo it and end up with bloated inventory. UFP recently spoke with two fleet professionals who shared some best practices about how to operate a more balanced and efficient parts management program.

The best starting point is to monitor what moves and then find a sensible minimum, according to Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia.

“Maintain an inventory of items that move quickly and be sure that your suppliers are able to provide quick sourcing of less frequently used items,” he advised, noting that mission-critical parts are important to have in-house.

For Fairfax Water, consumables – including fluids, filters, brakes and tires – are the most important. The majority of other items can be sourced quickly, Collins explained.

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What to Consider When Spec’ing Onboard Scales

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Operating an overloaded truck is categorized as a misdemeanor in most U.S. states. Aside from putting the safety of the operator and the public at risk, overloading also can increase fines and lead to premature vehicle wear and tear.

Fortunately, the availability of today’s onboard scale technology can help utility fleet managers ensure trucks operate at a safe weight.

So, what exactly should fleet managers consider when spec’ing onboard scales? Utility Fleet Professional connected with industry professionals who shared insight into selecting the right applications for your fleet.

Benefits of Technology
Nebraska Public Power District has been using onboard scale systems for more than 10 years and currently has approximately 20 scale systems in use between tractor-trailer units and dump trucks.

NPPD’s primary reason for installing the scale systems was to verify loaded axle weights to ensure they were compliant with DOT bridge laws.

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Choosing the Right Vehicle Lift for the Job

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Prior to purchasing a new vehicle lift, a fleet manager must understand exactly what is needed for their shop.

According to Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts (https://mohawklifts.com), fleet managers “need to do their homework in order to make an educated decision.”

So, what are some of the most important items to consider? UFP recently spoke to vehicle lift experts to find out.

Identify Your Needs
Maintenance is among the top factors fleet managers should think about before they buy, advised Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift (www.rotarylift.com).

“The best lifts will require minimal maintenance while offering years of safe, reliable service,” he said. “One of the first questions a fleet manager should ask themselves is, what vehicle maintenance am I going to perform, and will this lift help me do that faster, better and easier than I do it today?”

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Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

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Winter is just around the corner, and it often brings with it less-than-ideal operating conditions for utility fleets in many parts of the U.S. and Canada.

UFP recently spoke with two industry professionals who shared some best practices for keeping operations up and running while facing harsh weather conditions including snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

Start Preparing Early
For many utility fleets, the biggest challenge during the winter season is keeping vehicles and equipment in peak operating condition to avoid unforeseen downtime when those units are needed most. Heavy use during emergent situations often results in unscheduled repairs and breakdowns – or worse yet, accidents, according to Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

Michigan-based DTE Energy, which operates a fleet of more than 5,000 assets ranging from automobiles and SUVs to bucket trucks and construction equipment, experienced its snowiest month in January 2014, with 39 inches of snow. During that same winter, Southeast Michigan experienced 77 straight days with at least 1 inch of snow on the ground.

“Because of the snow, ice and colder temperatures, our challenges include an increased number of no-starts, de-icing windshields, door locks icing, increased towing and service calls, and increased response time due to icy and snowy roads,” said Mike Homan, DTE’s director of fleet.

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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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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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Strategies for Addressing the Looming Technician Shortage

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With more baby boomers heading into retirement, industries that have benefited from these individuals’ decades of experience and expertise — including the utility fleet sector — are now left to hire and retain new talent.

That won’t be easy, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation (www.techforcefoundation.org), whose mission is to champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians. “There has been a critical shortage of qualified technicians for at least 20 years, so as the rest of the baby boomers retire within the next 10 years, things can only worsen. A report that we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry – auto, diesel and collision – needs more than 137,000 new-entrant technicians.”

But it’s not just the retirements that will make matters worse, Maher said. “There simply are not enough young people seeking a technician career by any means – formal or informal education and training – to fill the void. Our school systems in this country have either reduced or eliminated vocational training in favor of a four-year degree. In effect, they have abandoned working with your hands as a viable career path, which is absurd not only because of the tech shortage, but also because a tech career offers a solid, middle-class lifestyle.”

So, what can utility fleets do to address this problem – and what should they opt not to do?

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3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

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One benefit of implementing a telematics solution is that it can help create a safer environment for utility fleet employees. How? UFP recently reached out to several industry experts, who provided three of the most valuable ways telematics data is currently being used to strengthen fleet safety.  

1. Telematics solutions can be used to monitor driving behavior and coach drivers.
Each day, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the safety of their drivers as well as the public. Analyzing telematics data can help reveal driving trends and behaviors – such as speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard turns and unauthorized usage – that may be contrary to a company’s safety policies. 

“The data available through telematics is much more than maintenance and fuel transactions; it can track or predict behaviors that impact fleet costs,” said Spero A. Skarlatos, CTP, senior consultant, truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), provide real-time and post-incident coaching for drivers on ways they can improve. Feedback can come in the form of text messages to the driver that tell them to slow down, or a buzzer that goes off to coach drivers in the cab in real time. In addition, according to Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight’s marketing director, the company also supplies “actionable data for managers to coach their drivers after the fact to help educate drivers on how to improve behavior behind the wheel.”

Telematics-based driver coaching also leverages gamification, informing drivers of how they compare to their peers in terms of safe driving behavior and related areas, such as deployment of onboard scales integrated into telematics systems to make sure vehicles are not loaded beyond their weight rating, according to Geoff Scalf, director of global oil and gas business development for Telogis (www.telogis.com).

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Using Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

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In the U.S., roughly 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are consumed each year by idling engines on medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to Argonne National Laboratory (www.anl.gov). So, improving fuel economy – and thus lowering fuel expenses – without sacrificing performance is a must for utility fleets that often have to idle assets during working hours. 

UFP recently reached out to industry experts to gain some deeper insight about this issue and discover possible idling solutions for utility fleet operations.

A Changing Landscape
For a long time, technology selections for medium-duty trucks were very limited, according to George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com).

But that’s changing. And while many fleets take a driver-behavior-based approach to idle reduction, one advantage of an equipment-based solution is that the change typically is good for the life of the equipment, said Survant, who also spent more than 25 years as a telecom fleet manager.

“We, as fleet operators, are becoming more sophisticated in our acceptance of new technology and sensitive to the need for better solutions,” he said. “Consequently, the market is producing more viable solutions that are made for an increasing number of applications.”

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