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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets?

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When the job is to dig trenches, drill holes or dig in tight spaces, how can utility crews get more work done in less time at lower cost?

That's the question many heavy-equipment manufacturers ask themselves as they design and develop new digging machines and accessories.

So, what new products have emerged within the past six to nine months to help utility companies and contractors improve worker productivity and cut operational costs? Here are seven new developments to keep your eye on.

JCB
What’s New: 19C-1E Fully Electric Mini Excavator
Website: www.jcb.com   

As JCB’s first fully electric mini excavator, the 19C-1E is suited for construction and excavation applications in enclosed or urban job sites, or noise- and emissions-sensitive environments, such as hospitals and schools. The machine offers comparable power to JCB’s diesel 19C excavator, while producing zero exhaust emissions and one-fifth the noise.

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Sean M. Lyden

6 All-Electric Pickups in the Pipeline

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For utility fleets committed to electrification, the holy grail is to electrify pickup trucks.

That’s because pickups represent the largest vehicle segment for most fleets in the industry. So, if you can electrify a wide range of pickup applications, you’ll make a huge dent in your company’s sustainability efforts.

The challenge is that high battery costs and low range between charges have historically made the idea of all-electric pickups seem impractical for widespread fleet use. And there are no products commercially available for fleets to choose from.

But that could be changing soon. Here’s an overview of six electric pickups currently in development that are expected to launch in the next one to two years.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Verizon Communications

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In February, as the novel coronavirus spread overseas and cases began to trickle into the U.S., Verizon Communications, as a company, started grappling with how the pandemic might impact its operations.

“Before the media and most people were talking about what you should do, we’re thinking, ‘How would we operate? How do we keep our people safe?’” said Herb Pruitt, director of fleet operations for Verizon Communications.

UFP recently spoke with Pruitt to learn about the adjustments Verizon’s Fleet Operations team of over 400 employees, mostly mechanics, has made to ensure worker safety while maintaining a large fleet of about 29,000 vehicles during a pandemic. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

You Ask, We Answer: Your Research Team for Navigating These Uncharted Waters

One of the challenges of providing you with content that offers timely and interesting insights is that so much is changing so quickly in the world and in our industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed utility fleets to re-evaluate how they operate, spec vehicles and manage their shops.

For example, in cases where vehicles are no longer centrally garaged because they’re being driven home, how do you ensure that all PMs get done on time? (In this month’s “Shop Talk,” we spoke with Herb Pruitt at Verizon Communications, who offers lessons learned and best practices on this topic.)

When crews hand off vehicles to garage staff for maintenance and repairs, what should be the process to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus? What PPE should be worn and when? What types of disinfectants should be used?

And what will be the impact on vehicle and equipment manufacturers regarding their production and delivery timelines over the next 12 to 18 months? In what ways will you need to adjust to ensure all business units and their crews have the equipment they need when they need it?

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Sean M. Lyden

New Developments to Watch in Telematics

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The fleet telematics industry has come a long way since 2000, when Geotab’s (www.geotab.com) executive vice president of sales and marketing, Colin Sutherland, joined the Ontario, Canada-based telematics company.

“Back then, [telematics] was all about collecting data on board the vehicle itself and, in many cases, having to manually transfer that data to a computing environment using [thumb drives],” Sutherland said.

But with today's telematics, vehicles can automatically transmit real-time location and operational data to the cloud at a significantly lower cost. And as wireless technology has gotten faster and cheaper, telematics capabilities have expanded considerably to include onboard cameras, workforce management systems and machine learning to generate more comprehensive and useful reports.

So, what’s on the horizon? What new developments in telematics should you keep your eye on in the next 12 months?

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Sean M. Lyden

Flattening the Curve? The State of Transportation Electrification During a Pandemic

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A perfect storm of geopolitical forces flooding the world’s oil supply and COVID-19 causing global governments to temporarily shut down their economies has precipitated a steep drop in gasoline and diesel prices in recent weeks.

So, what does this mean for the electric vehicle market?

After all, conventional wisdom says that cheap gas will put the brakes on the demand for alternative fuels, including electricity.

But Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy, a public power utility and a department of The City of Austin, Texas, believes that demand for electrified transportation likely will continue to grow despite oil prices at historic lows.

Why? Popham points to four trends.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Developing Your Continuity of Operations Plan in a COVID-19 World

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If you were to lose one-third of your workforce in the fleet department at any given time due to COVID-19, what would your continuity of operations plan look like? What adjustments would you make?

Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water, which serves nearly 2 million customers in Northern Virginia, began posing these "wargaming" questions with his team in early March when it became clear that the pandemic presented a significant health risk to employees, especially the shop technicians who needed to be on-site to help keep the fleet running.

So, what changes have Collins and his team made as part of the water utility’s continuity of operations plan to ensure employee safety while maintaining high service levels for customers?

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Sean M. Lyden

Becoming a Steady, Highly Effective Leader in Uncertain Times

In his “Meditations” nearly 2,000 years ago, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius gave us a powerful picture of what it looks like to be a leader during a crisis. He wrote, “To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”

As a fleet leader, you’re grappling with the effects of a global pandemic crashing over you and your organization. How do you stay calm and be that rock of stability and confidence so that you can effectively lead your team through the rough seas of these uncertain times?

Over the years in my career as a professional writer, business owner and leader, I’ve encountered more crises than I’d care to admit. But it’s because of those challenges that I’ve been able to develop a mental framework that helps me keep my head together – to think clearly and lead effectively in the face of uncertainty.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2020?

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The industry’s leading body manufacturers and upfitters in the truck and van sector are developing new products that equip your crews to get more work done in less time and with less strain.

Some companies are incorporating lighter-weight materials in their product designs so that you can increase a truck’s payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle. Others are adding more versatile tool storage options to enhance accessibility and improve ergonomics – to offer a safer work environment for your crews.

So, who are these truck and van equipment providers and what are some of the products and design enhancements they’ve brought to market recently to help you achieve your fleet objectives? Here are eight new developments to watch.

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Mariela Perez

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In 2016, when Mariela Perez and her husband visited the exhibits while attending a national fleet managers conference, very few equipment vendors knew who she was: the head of the fleet department at Duke Energy, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S.

So, you can imagine the awkward surprise for many of those exhibitors.

“My husband also works at Duke, as the general manager of distribution in Florida,” Perez said. “And since many of the attendees bring their spouses, and I wasn’t wearing a Duke shirt, [the vendors] assumed my husband was the fleet manager.”

Sales reps would look past Perez and approach her husband: “What can we do to earn your business?”

“My husband would say, ‘Talk to her,’ pointing to me,” Perez said. “‘Why would we want to talk to your spouse?’ He’s like, ‘Well, because she’s the general manager of the Duke Energy fleet.’”

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Sean M. Lyden

Leadership Strategies: Creating the Connections that Produce High-Performing Teams

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If you’re like many utility fleet leaders right now, you’re bracing for a significant brain drain in your organization as experienced technicians and other key people in the fleet department get ready to retire in the next few years, with fewer younger workers in the pipeline to take their place.

So, how can you get a leg up when competing for top talent to eventually replace your veteran workers? And how can you create a culture that makes the fleet department – and the company as a whole – a more attractive place for employees to work, learn and grow?

Become a Connector manager.

That’s the big idea from the book “The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent – and Others Don’t,” based on a study of about 10,000 managers and employees by the research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

UFP recently spoke with Sari Wilde, the book’s co-author and managing vice president at Gartner, where she advises executives at hundreds of Fortune 500 companies on their leadership and talent management practices.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Creating Consistency for Dielectric Inspections Across a Global Enterprise

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As a utility fleet professional, you’re well-versed in ANSI’s requirement for annual dielectric inspections on aerial equipment to verify the nonconductivity of electricity through the boom. These inspections help you and your team identify and fix potential issues before they can cause injury or downtime.

But if you have bucket trucks, digger derricks and other aerial equipment spread across several locations and regions, how do you ensure those critical inspections are getting done on time, according to the right standards and at the best possible price?

That’s the challenge John Adkisson confronted in April 2019 when he became the director of fleet services at Asplundh Tree Expert LLC, the Willow Grove, Pennsylvania-based company that provides vegetation management and utility infrastructure services to utilities and municipalities throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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Sean M. Lyden

Building – and Maintaining – a Strong Professional Network

A common trait I’ve seen in interviewing numerous successful fleet professionals over the years is that they’ve all learned how to cultivate a strong network.

Relationship-building is a critical skill for professional success because you never know when you’ll need to call on someone to help you get out of a jam, make an important connection for you, or expedite delivery of equipment or gear.

And the stronger and bigger your network, the more valuable you’ll become in your career.

But how can you keep in touch with people more efficiently and effectively, without consuming too much of your time or inconveniencing the other person?

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Michele Davis

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Michele Davis has loved cars for as long as she can remember.

So, when her father bought her a 1968 Chevy Camaro for her 16th birthday, “I lost my mind,” she recalled. “I didn't expect anything like that. I mean, I just wanted a car to drive to school, go to work, see all my friends. But my dad said, ‘Well, I know how much you love cars, and I know you'll appreciate this more than your younger sister will when she turns 16.’”

Today, Davis still owns that Camaro. And she has become a successful leader in a career that taps into her lifelong passion for all things automotive. She’s the fleet manager at Washington Gas, a natural gas service provider headquartered in the District of Columbia, where she manages about 1,200 fleet assets and 30 employees.

But it took a long and winding road for Davis to discover that she could build a career around her favorite pastime.

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Sean M. Lyden

Driverless Vehicles are Closer Than They Appear

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You know the label on a vehicle’s sideview mirror that reads, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”?

Perhaps something similar could be said about autonomous vehicles (AVs): They’re closer than we expect.

Now, most industry experts agree that full SAE Level 5 driverless vehicles – which can drive themselves anywhere, at any speed, under any conditions – are more than a decade away. So, from a robots-ruling-the-road perspective, AVs appear to be far out.

But when you look at just one step down on the SAE scale, to Level 4, where vehicles can operate without a human driver but within particular limitations – such as geofenced areas, weather conditions and speed – those AVs are much closer to making an impact. In fact, Level-4-capable vehicles are already starting to operate on public roads in a growing number of U.S. cities.

Take, for example, the Beep (www.go-beep.com) autonomous shuttle program that launched with two vehicles in September in Lake Nona, Florida, a fast-growing master-planned community in southeast Orlando.

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Purchasing Automotive Lifts for Your Garage

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When operating heavy lifting equipment, like forklifts and cranes, there should be no one underneath the lifted load.

But there is one exception to that rule: automotive lifts.

“The automotive lift industry is the only one where operators are encouraged to go underneath a lifted load,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (www.autolift.org), a trade association of North American-based lift manufacturers that promotes the safe design, construction, installation, service, inspection and use of automotive lifts.

"For every other type of lifting equipment out there, the message is clear: 'Don't do it. Don't get under that load.' But in the automotive lift industry, the message is, 'Go forth and perform your job with 10,000 to 50,000 pounds above you,'" O’Gorman said. "That's why choosing the proper lift is so important – so that operators can feel comfortable in performing their jobs under such capacities."

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Sean M. Lyden

Never Split the Difference

Negotiation is a significant part of your job as a fleet professional. You have to negotiate new supplier contracts, the fleet budget with senior management and job offers with top talent.

So, if you haven’t read “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It” by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, I recommend it.

I first listened to the book on Audible and got so much out of it that I bought the hard copy for a deeper dive. Here are my three biggest takeaways.

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Sean M. Lyden

Fairfax Water: Overhauling Crew Truck Specs to Improve Safety and Productivity

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In his classic bestseller, “Thriving on Chaos,” management expert Tom Peters put it best when he wrote, “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.”

Perhaps the same could be said about excellent fleets, where you never ultimately arrive at a destination called “excellence.” Instead, you remain on a journey of continuous improvement, making changes along the way to produce better results for your customers and the company.

This philosophy of constant improvement is what has driven Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, and his team to make significant changes with their new generation of crew trucks – to increase storage capacity, improve safety, boost productivity and reduce operational costs.

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Sean M. Lyden

Recruiting for Fleet in a Tight Labor Market

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Ask utility fleet professionals about their biggest challenge, and many will say that it’s recruiting – and keeping – good, young mechanics.

That's because you have to compete with OEMs, local truck centers and other types of fleets for access to a shrinking pool of highly skilled mechanics.

So, how do you gain an edge in attracting top talent in a tight labor market?

Tell the best story.

That’s the advice from Paul Smith (http://leadwithastory.com), the bestselling author of several books on business storytelling, including his latest, “The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.” The 10th story deals specifically with recruiting.

UFP recently caught up with Smith to get his take on how fleet managers can use stories to attract the best technicians. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

What are Your Stories? Share Them.

A couple of months ago, Dale Collins, the fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, emailed me about four new crew trucks he had ordered. He and his team were proud of the final product – and of the nearly three-year process they went through to get the spec right.

Collins thought there might be a story to tell to UFP readers, but he wasn’t sure what that story would be or look like. He reached out to me anyway. And I’m glad he did.

That’s because I’m always on the hunt for real-world fleet stories that can inform, educate and inspire you to do more, be more and achieve more in your career.

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