UFP Magazine

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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Sandy Smith

What’s Your Fleet’s Plan to Prepare for Winter Weather?

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In some parts of the country, the leaves are already changing color and there’s a nip in the air. Fall is here and winter is not far behind, which means time is slipping away for utility fleet managers to winterize their fleet assets before truly cold weather sets in.

Forgive Tom Jansen, superintendent of fleet maintenance for Minnesota Power, for being nonchalant about the impending weather. Despite the harsh winter conditions in Minnesota – home of four of the country’s 15 coldest cities, according to USA Today Jansen’s fleet is prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at it. Cold? Bring it. Ice? Ready. Winter Storm Colbert, which The Weather Channel announced would be the third named storm of the coming season? He laughs.

For Jansen’s 600-unit fleet – which includes Class 3-8, off-road and mobile assets – winterizing isn’t contained to a few months of the year. “While there are activities performed just prior to winter to help the fleet stay operating effectively, we’ve found success with focusing on a good year-round preventive maintenance program, purchasing practices and operator training,” he said.

That means using oils and lubricants that are effective throughout the year, installing solar battery chargers on all new trailers and off-road equipment, and ensuring that equipment purchased has block heaters and battery disconnects. The result: a reduced winter preparation workload.

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Sandy Smith

Renting vs. Buying Heavy Equipment

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It’s a common occurrence for utilities and contractors: A piece of heavy equipment is needed, but it’s not immediately available in the fleet, so the project manager rents what’s required. But that may not always be the right strategy – especially when the rental is done outside the fleet manager’s purview.

“I have seen cases where equipment was rented for lengths up to 27 months and turned back in to the rental store,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. “When this happens, you lose any rental credit and the equipment.”

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (http://mercury-assoc.com/), has seen it too. “One of the problems we see, particularly in utility companies, is they allow business units to rent equipment to fill a temporary need,” he said. “Two years later, the rental unit is still in the fleet and no one has been paying attention. It would have been cheaper to purchase and then dispose of it.”

Granted, haggling over a purchase or evaluating the merits of rental versus ownership may not make sense when thousands of customers are without service. So, while there likely are no hard and fast rules that utilities can develop to address this issue, following some broad principles can help.

“It makes financial sense to own your equipment,” Fitzpatrick said. He tries to purchase any rental equipment at a reduced price when the rental ends, or when money has become available. “Where a buyout is not an option, focus on the interest rate and controlling costs in the short term.”

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Sandy Smith

How Easy is it to Hack a Utility Fleet Vehicle?

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hackers may be able to access a vehicle’s systems via a phone or tablet connected to the vehicle by USB or Bluetooth. The vehicle’s diagnostic port is another access point.

But a vehicle’s biggest vulnerability may be behind the wheel. According to a November 2016 blog post published by Promon (see https://promon.co/blog/tesla-cars-can-be-stolen-by-hacking-the-app/), a Norwegian firm that specializes in app hardening, the company’s researchers demonstrated just how easy it is to trick a Tesla driver into giving a hacker access to the car’s systems. Tesla, like many vehicle manufacturers, offers a remote app that allows the driver to unlock the vehicle. During the experiment, Promon employees:
• Created a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
• Developed an ad for Tesla drivers that offered a free hamburger at a local restaurant if the driver downloaded a particular app.
• Used the app to gain access to the Tesla driver’s username and password.
• Located the car and used the Tesla app – and the previously captured username and password – to access the vehicle.
• Drove away in the Tesla.

Get Ahead of the Curve
When UFP spoke with Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District, he indicated that cybersecurity in vehicles was not historically a fleet management “care about,” but change is definitely on the horizon.

“The connectivity of our fleet is very limited,” he said, before noting that NPPD uses telematics and GPS intelligence, and that the fleet contains a limited number of new vehicles with Bluetooth capabilities. All of those are potential entry points for hackers and cyberattacks. In 2016, 3.6 million vehicles were recalled to fix cybersecurity issues; that figure is double the number recalled in 2015, according to the NHTSA, and this comes before vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity has really taken off.

“Technology grows and advances so fast that a lot of utilities and fleets are going to find themselves behind the curve,” Gilliland said. “I think it’s going to be a significant concern and will maybe catch a lot of us unaware.”

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Sandy Smith

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

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Sandy Smith

3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

A backhoe is not likely to be the asset most often purchased for a utility company’s fleet. For example, Duke Energy – which has more than 15,000 fleet assets – “may only purchase three or four a year,” said Chris Jolly, Duke’s director of regional operations for Carolinas West.

That means a purchaser may not be as familiar with the required specs for a backhoe as he or she may be with, say, the specs for a standard pickup truck used by the utility.

But it is just as important to get the specs right, said Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes at CASE Construction Equipment. “Buyers really do need to understand their entire fleet and how a backhoe plays into it. By under-specifying a machine, you may actually be creating more work and cost for yourself in the future by having to bring in/rent/transport additional equipment to do the job.”

So, when spec’ing the next backhoe for your fleet, keep these three points in mind.

1. Know what you need.
At Duke Energy, an acquisition team works closely with crews in the field, despite having a corporate agreement with one manufacturer for a standard backhoe, according to Jolly. Even with that standard equipment, there are options.

“Listen to your customers and work closely with the manufacturer. They’ve got the history of what the product can do,” Jolly said.

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Sandy Smith

Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

A 70-inch snowfall in Buffalo, N.Y. A polar vortex. An ice storm in the South. The last few winters certainly have been memorable, and this coming season looks to be more of the same. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov) is forecasting below-normal temperatures for much of the U.S., with some locations experiencing more precipitation than average.

While this may be good news for skiers and those who like to build snowmen, it can wreak havoc for utility fleets – those pressed to keep services operating no matter the weather.

“When you’re in our business, the power has to be on 24/7,” said Michael Donahue, manager of transportation and construction equipment for Omaha Public Power District (www.oppd.com). “The crews and vehicles and equipment have to be ready to respond for normal maintenance and when there is an emergency.”

Given that the average high temperature in Omaha, Neb., hovers around the freezing mark during the winter months, winterizing the utility’s fleet is a given. Historically, the OPPD fleet maintained its 1,000 licensed vehicles and 300 pieces of construction equipment by issuing preventive maintenance orders each September 1. “But what that did was put 1,000 PMs due on our list,” Donahue explained. Now the fleet garage incorporates winterization into the normal maintenance schedule. “It eases up on the guys in the shop and the crews, too,” he said.

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