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UFP Magazine

Sandy Smith

Top Trends to Watch in Commercial Truck Tires

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As director of strategic alliances for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), Kerry Wenthin often hears concerns about tire performance.

Ask him what he’s hoping to see in terms of innovation, and it comes down to value. “Longer-lasting and cost-conscious products for the high mileage and demanding usage patterns in the light-truck service and delivery segment will always be welcome,” Wenthin said.

He gives credit to tire manufacturers, who he says have “done a great job launching new products and product line extensions to fill gaps and provide additional offerings in high-demand sizes and at various price points.”

But there is always room for improvement, and manufacturers like Bridgestone Americas (www.bridgestoneamericas.com) and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com) continue to innovate. UFP recently spoke with representatives from both companies, who shared emerging trends that they suggest fleet professionals keep an eye on.

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Sandy Smith

Will Your Fleet Need to Rightsize in a Post-Pandemic World?

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When the pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, the impact on utility fleets was swift. Even though utility work continued as an essential service, fleets had to adapt. Social distancing meant crews could no longer pile into one vehicle safely. Many light-duty vehicles were parked as some employees switched to home bases.

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) was not immune to these changes. “As much as we could, we took the vehicles that were not being utilized as much because their owner or assignee had started to telecommute, and we assigned them to crews so they didn’t have to have multiples in the vehicle often,” said Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for the publicly owned utility that covers at least part of 86 Nebraska counties. This shift was in addition to regular vehicle cleanings, deep cleaning whenever a vehicle was serviced and sending cleaning equipment stockpiles throughout the state for use.

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Sandy Smith

The State of UTV Electrification

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There is at least one obvious reason for an electric utility to move toward adopting electric-powered vehicles into its fleet.

“We’re using our own product,” said Paul Jefferson, senior fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas and Electric, which serves more than 858,000 customers across 30,000 square miles in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Another reason for the move? “[The vehicles] are lower maintenance,” Jefferson said. “You don’t have to change the oil and do other types of maintenance as with gas engines.”

His fleet includes 101 UTVs, 58 of which are powered by electricity; the remainder are due to be replaced by electric UTVs in the coming years.

OG&E had long wanted to move to electric UTVs, Jefferson said, but it took a while for the industry to catch up. “Four years ago, we started adding electric UTV carts. Prior to that, you could buy a golf cart, but there weren’t really robust UTV options out there.”

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Sandy Smith

Integrating OEM Telematics into Your Fleet

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Jessica Lauer, fleet analyst for Detroit-based DTE Energy, is responsible for overseeing metrics for the company’s 3,700 Class 1-8 vehicles. That’s not always easy to do, particularly with some of DTE’s Class 5-8 vehicles. Problems have occurred after telematics devices were installed on the assets but before they were driven by the business units.

“It may be weeks before I can see [a vehicle],” Lauer said. “I may have missed an ignition event, so I have to wait until the business unit drives the vehicle to see if the device is reporting correctly. It just causes issues.”

She doesn’t have the same challenge, however, with Class 1-4 vehicles these days. Lauer said that’s because she uses the Ford Telematics system, which comes built into a Ford vehicle when it’s delivered.

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Sandy Smith

Do Tire Chains Make Sense for Your Utility Fleet Vehicles?

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It wasn’t so long ago that, when the calendar began its march toward winter, fleets dug out tire chains and issued them to each vehicle. When inclement weather eventually arrived, it was up to the operator to install the chains.

In recent years, however, things have changed, both in terms of options for traction devices and improvements in tires themselves. That has Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, rethinking his approach to the utility’s on-road fleet of 320 assets.

“Let’s say we experience a blizzard,” Collins said during a recent interview with UFP. “[Tire chains] work well for what they’re doing. But around here, like a lot of the mid-Atlantic, heavy snowfall lasts around 24 to 36 hours. You want to use your chains. But then, you’re using a chain on the semi-clear road, which causes damage to the roadway, wears out the chain itself and is an uncomfortable ride.”

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Sandy Smith

New Developments in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets

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Utility work occurs rain or shine, day or night, and whether we’re in the midst of a pandemic or not. Often, that work takes place on rugged terrain and in other challenging environments. All-terrain vehicles provide solutions to safely move utility crews, tools and equipment in and out of these environments, and ATV manufacturers continue to introduce new and improved products to meet the needs of utility fleets. Here’s a roundup of six products that have been introduced so far in 2020.

Hydratrek
What’s New: Smaller CM66 model
Website: https://hydratrek.com

Hydratrek has been experimenting with going smaller for the last five years, according to Craig B. Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing for the amphibious ATV manufacturer. “We’ve built at least three prototype versions to find the right combination of power, torque, comfort, stability and reliability in this model. This has resulted in the new CM66 model that features a gasoline engine, seating for four persons and a smaller chassis.”

The CM66 is made in the USA and features many of the same characteristics that customers expect from Hydratrek, Simonton said, including aluminum construction, a hydrostatic drive, a rubber track option and an available water propulsion system.

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Sandy Smith

Mistakes to Avoid When Spec’ing Cable Reel Trailers

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With his crew focused on downtown Austin, Texas, and several substations, size was an important consideration for Bobby Dahl, network construction supervisor for community-owned Austin Energy, when selecting a new cable reel trailer.

The new trailer upgraded outdated equipment, making work safer and more efficient. “We used to pull cable out with a one-ton truck and sit there and roll it up,” Dahl said. “During the daytime, that’s inferior. But we have a lot of cable failures at night, and that made it a safety concern.”

He settled on a self-propelled hub drive cable reel puller from Dejana (https://dejana.com) and has a second one on order. It has multiple benefits, Dahl said, including strong pulling torque and an ability to navigate tight alleyways.

“We didn’t have to have a bigger footprint to do the job,” Dahl said, which can mean less traffic control needed on the job site because fewer intersections are blocked.

That maneuverability – and all the benefits it has brought – also was among the top considerations for Dahl when spec’ing a new cable reel trailer.

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Sandy Smith

Spec’ing ATUVs for Optimal Performance and Safety

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Cooperative Energy, which generates and transmits energy to 11 member systems in Mississippi, recently doubled its line crews to four. It’s no surprise, then, that they’ve “had to have more equipment,” according to Wayne Owens, the company’s fleet maintenance supervisor.

Serving 55 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, Cooperative Energy crews must deal with hills, hollows and swampland, which means that it’s crucial to have an all-terrain utility vehicle (ATUV) that’s right for the diverse terrain.

“You’ve got to have a machine that will be adequate to get where you need to get,” Owens said. “The specs have to start with the terrain.”

Scott Merrill, vice president at tracked vehicle manufacturer PowerBully (www.powerbully.com), agreed that the application drives a lot of spec decisions for ATUVs, which can include wheeled, tracked and amphibious vehicles. “Fording depth is important, too,” he said. “If [the user has] to go through 3- or 4-foot streams and rivers, we make sure that the machine is set up for the ground clearance and the fording depth to get in and out of those situations.”

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Sandy Smith

Spec’ing Service Van Interiors with Safety in Mind

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When it comes to spec’ing service vans, utility fleet managers must consider several factors, including budget, vehicle performance, efficiency, and operator safety and comfort.

Take Alabama Power’s vans, for instance. About half of the 80 units that the company – a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co. – has on the road are outfitted for general maintenance tasks. The other half are “highly specialized” for meter testing, according to Cody Caver, an engineer in the utility’s fleet services group.

For that group of specialized vans in particular, Caver noted that “the cargo area … becomes a mobile workplace, so the interior must be kept at a reasonable working temperature.” In addition, the cargo area includes fixed windows, rather than panels, so the employee can be aware of their surroundings outside of the vehicle while working.

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Sandy Smith

The Impact of Electrification on Fleet Maintenance Operations

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CPS Energy, which serves approximately 820,000 electric customers and more than 345,000 gas customers in the San Antonio area, wanted to help convince its utility customers to explore electric and hybrid vehicles. But rather than roll out a marketing campaign touting the benefits of EVs, the company opted to roll out its own trucks.

Today, CPS Energy has 44 hybrid plug-in Ford F-150s and 15 hybrid Ford F-250s among its fleet of 2,000 vehicles. It also has plans to deploy 14 fully electric sedans. While the sedans will come from the OEM, the Ford F-150s and F-250s were upfitted by XL (www.xlfleet.com). XL offers two versions: a standard hybrid, which is available on several OEM platforms, including Ford, Chevrolet, GM and Isuzu; and a plug-in hybrid, currently available only for Ford F-150s and F-250s.

XL introduced the F-250 plug-in hybrid earlier this year. According to Eric Foellmer, XL’s marketing director, “That’s really generated a huge amount of interest in the utility community.” The plug-in hybrid makes sense for electric utilities in particular, Foellmer said, because “they have unlimited electricity access and a charging infrastructure.”

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Sandy Smith

Investing in Garage Management Software

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Before the City of Springfield, Illinois, merged all of its fleet operations and implemented garage management software, the utility fleet used to log important information via a low-tech method.

“The utility garage relied on Post-it Notes,” said William McCarty, director of the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Springfield. “There were vehicles that were being missed in maintenance, including a brand-new vehicle that went 50,000 miles without ever being serviced.”

Opting to implement garage management software, then, was a relatively easy decision to make, especially as all five of the city’s fleet garages were brought into one centralized fleet operation. The fleet now has approximately 1,200 units, about one-third of which are utility assets. Utility is the largest aspect of the city’s fleet, McCarty said, and includes water, power generation and power distribution.

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Sandy Smith

Invest in the Right Training for Your Fleet Technicians

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Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), understands the value of investing in training for fleet mechanics.

“There is an old cliché that says, ‘The only thing more expensive than training is not training,’” he said. “Training is one of the most important tools in the technician’s toolbox.”

And it’s even more so these days in an industry that, according to Gilliland, “changes rapidly, and the technology within the industry grows ever more complex. Training is paramount for success.”

To stay on top of changes with OEM specs, NPPD sends its fleet team to training on an ongoing basis. That, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com), is necessary today.

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Sandy Smith

How Utility Fleets Use Telematics for Preventive and Predictive Maintenance

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When utility fleets use telematics as intended, the benefits of the technology can be wide-ranging. Each asset, each mile driven and each minute spent idling generate data and insight that tell a story about the fleet.

And telematics data can be analyzed to determine not only what is currently happening with fleet assets, but also what could happen in the future. That’s why some utility fleets have begun to use the data for both preventive and predictive maintenance. However, where predictive maintenance is concerned, there are some operational hurdles to overcome.

At Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., telematics was implemented in heavy-duty vehicles in 2011 and in all light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2014 when the utility was acquired by Exelon Corp. Now, telematics is available on 1,289 vehicles and about 40 other assets, according to America Lesh, manager of fleet at BG&E.

Every three hours, Verizon provides the mileage, engine hours and GPS coordinates of all enabled BG&E vehicles and equipment. That data is uploaded to BG&E’s fleet management system.

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Sandy Smith

Where are EVs Headed in 2019?

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Even if you closely follow the news, it’s difficult to pin down which direction electric vehicles (EVs) will be heading over the coming year. Production of certain hybrid models is ending, while other OEMs have promised to roll out more all-electric vehicles. Some car enthusiasts have proclaimed 2019 as the “year of the electric.”

Scott Shepard, senior research analyst/energy for market research and advisory company Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com), believes there’s plenty worth watching in the coming year – but not necessarily for fleets. “It looks like most of the conversation is going to be around long-range SUVs coming onto the market,” he said.

Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Hyundai and Kia are among the automakers with a U.S. presence that will be introducing new electric SUVs in 2019. A number of Chinese startup manufacturers also are expecting a big year ahead. “That’s all a big deal,” Shepard said. “These are the first vehicles that are competitive with a Tesla, with similar range characteristics as well as purchase price characteristics.”

For his part, Ted Davis, vice president, North American supply chain for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com), pointed to California OEM Chanje Energy, which is “already taking orders for its Euro-style electric van.” Others, like ROUSH CleanTech, with its all-electric Ford F-650, and Mitsubishi Fuso, with its eCanter, should be taking orders later this year, pending road tests. Shepard pointed to Rivian, the talk of the Los Angeles Auto Show, for its sport pickup truck. “As the first models hit the road, we’ll begin to see how these units perform in real-world scenarios, and hopefully this insight will encourage more fleets to embrace this ever-evolving trend,” Davis said.

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Sandy Smith

Utility Fleet Ergonomics: A Continuing Challenge

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Workplace ergonomics have been on employers’ radar for 20 years, but even now, ergonomic-related injuries remain a costly expense – one that’s growing due to an aging workforce, current worker shortages and inexperienced industry newcomers.

“As the age composition of the workforce changes, that does affect industry,” said Eric Bauman, principal technical leader and program manager for the Occupational Health and Safety Program at the Electric Power Research Institute (www.epri.com). “Now that early Baby Boomers have retired and the middle Boomers are retiring, the industry has been hiring new workers who tend to be less experienced. We’ve seen an increase in injuries in this younger age group.”

The primary causes of employee accidents haven’t changed much in the past two decades. “It’s the slips, the falls, the trips,” said Mark Stumne, director of truck and upfit at Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

Bauman agreed. “Sprains and strains showed up in the first year or two in our industry injury database as the largest single category of injuries,” he said. “It’s continued since 1999. Sprains and strains are something we can do something about, and this industry has supported ergonomic research since then.”

Despite the seeming intractability of these types of injuries, there are myriad products available in today’s marketplace designed to help alleviate them. Where is a fleet to start?

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Sandy Smith

The Latest Developments in Idle-Reduction Technologies

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Idling work trucks can be an annoyance to those who have to listen to them, damaging to the environment and, increasingly, they are unnecessary and undesirable in the field.

For one thing, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles will be in place relatively soon, impacting work trucks beginning with the 2021 model year.

But fleets don’t even need to wait that long to address the issues that idling vehicles present. Already, a number of new anti-idling technologies are ensuring that workers can do their jobs without their vehicle’s engine running.

While anti-idling technologies have been around for a while, the last year has brought several advances that are providing better results at a lower cost. Perhaps the greatest technology that could lead to successful adoption in the field is one that powers heating and cooling.

“That’s a neat next step,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of CALSTART (www.calstart.org), the nation’s leading clean transportation technology organization. “That has been a limitation. If you’re in a hot or cold climate, shutting down the engine is good. But you’re getting into a cold or hot cab. Who wants to do that? To be able to say, ‘You’ll not lose the ability to stay comfortable while doing your job’ will help people be willing to comply.”

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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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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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Sandy Smith

Should Your Utility Fleet Consider Using Biodiesel?

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Sustainability is a goal for many utility fleets, but there may not be enough money in the budget – or full stakeholder support – to do all it takes to meet that goal, including overhauling infrastructure, adding new vehicles to the fleet and training staff.

That’s where biodiesel can come into play.

“Biodiesel can be burned in any vehicle, and you don’t have to make infrastructure changes,” said Patti Earley, fleet fueling operations specialist for Florida Power & Light Co. “The fuel tanks don’t need modifications. The fuel equipment isn’t different. It’s very easy. And with biodiesel, you can burn B20 one day and use ultralow sulfur diesel the next without any problems.”

Biodiesel – a fuel made from feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats – typically is named based on the percentage of biodiesel found in a particular blend. B20, for instance, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; it also is the most common blend. Florida Power & Light has used biodiesel since 1999, up to B35. The utility runs all of its diesel equipment on biodiesel and has logged more than 150 million miles.

Proving just how seamless the conversion is, Earley noted that crews from other utilities who have helped out in storm recovery efforts have used biodiesel from Florida Power & Light and “weren’t aware” they were doing so.

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Sandy Smith

The Driver Safety Challenge in an Era of Advanced Driver-Assist Systems

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When he’s off the clock, John Doyle, senior health and safety adviser at Florida Power & Light, drives a Ford Explorer as his personal vehicle. The SUV is equipped with a backup camera that audibly alerts him when he gets too close to an object.

When Doyle sometimes drives his wife’s car – which has a backup camera but no audible alerts – he still finds himself “waiting for the backup camera to tell me to slow down.”

Doyle’s experience provides a good example of an issue utility fleet drivers across the country are facing these days. They may have all sorts of tools and options on their personal vehicles that aren’t available on their work vehicles, which can potentially lead to a habit of relying on the tools and options – even when they’re not there. 

“People are gravitating towards using the technology to support the way they drive,” said Art Liggio, president and CEO of driver training company Driving Dynamics (www.drivingdynamics.com). “We see people come into our training programs who are looking at the backup camera monitor instead of the mirrors. If the monitor hesitates, they freeze. They don’t know what to do.”

Recent statistics back up the idea that the wealth of technology and safety features in today’s newer vehicles isn’t lowering accident rates. In 2016, 37,461 people died on U.S. highways, while 2015 saw the biggest jump in accident deaths in 50 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov).

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