UFP Magazine

Jim Galligan

The Gas-or-Diesel Decision Gets Complicated

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Which engine – gasoline or diesel – is best for light-duty vehicles? The age-old answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on annual mileage, fuel economy, purchase price, expected lifespan, fuel costs, maintenance and more; a whole assortment of considerations specific to the fleet. 

Those considerations still drive the fleet’s decision tree, but recent advancements in the engines, oils, fuels, maintenance support and even onboard performance data have given fleet buyers more means to find the best power choice. 

Take lifespan, for example. Advancements in equipment durability and manufacturing processes combined with higher-quality fuel and oil are pushing out the average lifespans of gasoline engines, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com) and a former utility fleet executive. 

“Ten, even five years ago, fleets would turn in their gasoline-powered truck at about seven years and 70,000 miles,” Survant said. “Now, I wouldn’t consider turning it in under 150,000 miles.”

Fuel economy is another example. The newer non-hybrid gasoline engines with single or dual turbos, less weight and multispeed (6-, 8- and 10-speed) transmissions have narrowed the traditional fuel economy gap with diesels, with some spark-ignition units getting ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Power ratings are up, too. Ford’s 2017 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rates a beefy 470 pound-feet of torque.

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Grace Suizo

Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

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Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv (www.decisiv.com) and Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that's a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

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Fiona Soltes

Strategies to Reduce Fuel Theft and Fuel Card Misuse

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Yes, it could happen: A nefarious individual could approach one of your pieces of equipment parked on the lot and siphon fuel right from the tank.

What is perhaps more likely, though, is loss due to improperly used fuel cards.

“By and large, employees do the right thing,” said Geoff Scalf, director of global energy business development at Telogis (www.telogis.com). “But you will have some employees who will make poor choices.”

Leveraging the proper technology and techniques can help ensure fuel theft is kept to a minimum.

It’s important that employees understand what the proper use of fuel cards means. Aside from using the cards to fill up personal vehicles, Scalf said he often hears of employees who travel in groups and don’t think twice about using one employee’s card to fill up several vehicles at once. There’s nothing fraudulent about that sort of misuse, but it can make for messy paperwork, numbers that don’t add up and misallocation of funds in the future. Another example of misuse: when an employee pulls a trailer with, say, a backhoe loaded onto it, and then uses the card to top off both the truck and backhoe without changing any codes in the system.

Telogis Fleet offers one way to keep closer tabs on misuse, whether or not it was intentional. The Telogis platform includes a module that gives increased visibility into fuel usage.

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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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Sean M. Lyden

When Does it Make Sense to Outsource Maintenance?

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Even if you have a robust in-house repair shop, chances are that you still outsource portions of your maintenance operations – to save money, quickly fill gaps left by technicians who’ve recently retired or tap into specialized expertise to perform critical repairs.

But how do you determine which aspects of your maintenance operations make the most sense to outsource and which ones you should keep in-house?

UFP recently posed this question to Paul Lauria, who has worked with numerous government and utility fleets for more than three decades as president of Mercury Associates Inc. (www.mercury-assoc.com), a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md. He offered these four points to consider.

1. Cost
How much money will outsourcing actually save the organization?

“The only way that you're going to be able to determine if you're saving money is to know the costs of performing outsourceable fleet maintenance and repair activities in-house versus farming them out to a vendor or contractor,” Lauria said. “And that's one thing, in my experience, that a lot of organizations, including utilities, don't have a good handle on. What are the avoidable costs of operating its own garages or of performing a particular type of maintenance or repair activity, for example? If you were to shut down or downsize those garages and shift work to third-party service providers, what costs would go away? That establishes the baseline for determining whether or not you can save money by outsourcing.”

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Takeaways to Expect from Utility Fleet Conference 2017

Utility Fleet Conference 2017 exists to provide a forum that challenges us in the utility fleet industry to change ourselves – to learn, grow and adapt in an environment where so much change is happening so quickly.

Think about it: Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, connected vehicles and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on your fleet – and how you do business. And, as more older fleet workers and technicians prepare for retirement, you have to compete even harder to find workers who are qualified to fill those roles.

The reality is that yesterday’s knowledge, skills and strategies are not enough to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. We must grow.

But what should we learn? And how can we apply that new knowledge to equip ourselves for long-term success?

Start by attending Utility Fleet Conference 2017 (www.utilityfleetconference.com) October 2-4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., and expect to leave with these three important takeaways.

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Kate Wade

Stertil-Koni Smart Control System

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Heavy-duty vehicle lift leader Stertil-Koni has incorporated its advanced, full-color, touch-screen control console – known as the ebright Smart Control System – into the company’s popular ECOLIFT, an ultra-shallow, full-rise, axle-engaging in-ground scissor-lifting system.

In that way, the ongoing operation and monitoring of the lift is made even easier, placing all critical information directly at the fingertips of the person who needs it most – the busy technician on the shop floor.

First deployed on Stertil-Koni wireless mobile column lifts in 2015, and subsequently rolled out to the company’s battery-operated cable mobile column lifts in 2017, the enhanced ebright Smart Control System provides intuitive ease of use with maximum visual information about the entire lifting process.

This ebright Smart Control System will deliver intuitive controls with actual data about the lift in action; tracking of specific operations and information codes; relevant information available at a glance; actual lifting height displayed; and visual display of maximum programmable lifting height. www.stertil-koni.com

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Kate Wade

Greenlee G6 Turbo Puller

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Greenlee Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, has introduced the G6 Turbo puller to improve contractor speed and efficiency. Capable of pulling 6,000 pounds of force, the G6 Turbo model pulls up to 60 percent faster than the competition, according to the company.

The 120-volt AC drive motor can pull 6,000 pounds of maximum force and 4,000 pounds continuously. Dual capstans on the G6 Turbo puller deliver faster pulling speeds across the entire load spectrum of the pull. Control boards monitor the current draw of the G6 Turbo puller motor and protect it from overloading the puller. Built-in spring-loaded pins allow for quick changeovers and easy setup, and eliminate the hassle of loose pieces.

The G6 Turbo puller is equipped with features to reduce downtime and injuries. A footswitch safely controls motor power without the operator placing themselves in front of the rope. The 125-pound G6 Turbo puller is built on a dolly, making it easier to move the unit from worksite to worksite. Handles on the dolly and the boom allow operators to easily and ergonomically adjust for height. A gearbox feature prevents rope and cable tension from pulling back into the conduit when the operator stops pulling. Setup time is faster and easier than other pullers on the market. http://greenlee.com/g6

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Kate Wade

DICA ProStack Cribbing

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Utility crews are often faced with setting outrigger-enabled equipment on sloped or uneven ground. ProStack Cribbing from DICA has been developed with an interlocking design that safely provides additional height under outrigger floats when setting up in uneven ground conditions.

ProStack Cribbing has three basic parts: a base outrigger pad, interlocking cribbing blocks and a high-friction top grip pad. The base ProStack Outrigger Pad is manufactured with a pyramid-shaped surface that interlocks with the cribbing blocks. On top of the base pad, operators stack layers of two 6-inch-by-12-inch-by-24-inch cribbing blocks with the pyramid-shape surface that lock into the base pad. Lastly, a ProStack Grip Pad is placed on top of the stack to protect the pyramid surface on the cribbing blocks and provide a high-friction surface for the outrigger foot.

ProStack is available in three cribbing kit options that include a DR36-2, DR42-2 or DR48-2 base outrigger pad, along with four cribbing blocks and one grip pad. ProStack individual parts also are available for purchase, including Cribbing Wedges, which can be used on sloped surfaces to establish a level foundation under the ProStack Outrigger Pad. http://dicausa.com/products/prostack-plastic-cribbing-blocks/

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Kate Wade

HUBB Fleet Savings Calculator

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HUBB Filters has created a new educational tool to help fleet managers compare their oil change costs and the potential savings they can achieve by switching to the HUBB filter program.

Designed for ease of use, HUBB’s Fleet Savings Calculator is located at www.hubbfilters.com/fleet_calculator and can be completed in less than a minute. Fleet managers simply plug in how many Class 1-4 or 5-6 vehicles they have in their fleet, along with the number of PMs scheduled per year, per vehicle. An instant cost savings analysis of what HUBB could save a fleet over a four-year period is presented.

Fleet field results collected by HUBB, along with independent oil analysis, demonstrate that HUBB can save a typical 2,000-vehicle fleet $500,000 over a four-year period.

HUBB has an 8-inch spin-on oil filter for Class 2-6 light- and medium-duty diesel engines, and a 3-inch filter for passenger cars or light-duty trucks that use a spin-on filter. www.hubbfilters.com/fleet_calculator

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Tim C. King, author of the book “Fleet Services: Managing to Redefine Success” published by SAE International (http://books.sae.org/r-447/) and former manager of fleet services for what is now NV Energy (www.nvenergy.com), an electric and gas utility in Nevada with over 1 million customers. King also will be a presenter at Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE in Louisville, Ky., a fleet education event that will take place October 2-4 (https://utilityfleetconference.com/).

#1. Aim high.
“Require excellence with everything. Benchmark your service performance on organizations that thrive in the most successful industries – such as high-growth startups – not just other fleets. The goal is to consistently exceed expectations by achieving unexpected win-win results with all your customers.”

#2. Remember that successful fleet management begins by identifying all your customers.
“Customers define your success. So, all customers must be identified. These include your executives/owners and all internal recipients of services, external customers and ancillary customers, such as internal supporting services. This last group also includes external regulatory customers such as local, regional, state and federal regulators.”

#3. Be bold and lead change.
“Recognize you’re going to do things differently. For this level of success, you won’t be able to rely only on typical industry standards as a guide. By gaining a broader knowledge and perspective of customer service, learn to outgrow baggage such as history, culture, paradigms and similar other misperceptions. And realize success depends on process redesign, not just the normally required process improvement.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The State of the Fleet Telematics Market

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A lot has happened in the fleet telematics market the past year that could impact utility fleet operations. Major telecom firms have expanded their footprint in the fleet sector with Verizon’s acquisitions of Telogis and Fleetmatics, while AT&T has established key partnerships to provide branded telematics services such as AT&T Fleet Complete and AT&T Fleet Manager. And more and more telematics providers have inked deals with automakers in recent months.

So, what’s driving these trends? And how might they shape the future of telematics and connected fleets?

UFP spoke with experts from C.J. Driscoll & Associates, GPS Insight, Telogis and Element Fleet Management to get their market outlook.

Telecom Expansion
Why are major telecom firms expanding into the fleet telematics industry? Will this trend continue?

“With landline subscriber bases shrinking and the mobile phone market saturated with declining marginal value, the connected vehicle offers a new market opportunity that allows the telecom companies to capitalize on the need for the vehicle to communicate to the OEM, driver, surrounding infrastructure and other third-party services through cellular networks,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “It also allows them to expand and sell additional products, including in-car applications and infotainment solutions, as this technology becomes mainstream within new vehicles.”

Clark said that telecom expansion into the fleet market will continue for the foreseeable future and “benefit utility fleets through new innovation possibilities, increased pressure on direct OEM connectivity solutions and lower communication costs as part of their service offering over time.”

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Sean M. Lyden

Dominion Virginia Power’s Drone Program Takes Flight

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Unmanned aerial vehicles – also known as UAVs or drones – offer the utility industry the promise of lower costs and improved worker safety with regard to line inspections, storm damage assessments, and other tasks that are traditionally performed using manned helicopters and third-party inspection services.

And the market appears ripe for rapid expansion, as drone technology becomes more advanced and hardware costs continue to plummet. In fact, global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024 – about a 30-fold increase – according to Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com).

But the U.S. market still has regulatory hurdles to overcome before utilities can deploy drones at a level where they can effectively realize the full business benefits of the technology. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, such as having to maintain visual line of sight, have prevented utilities from being able to fly drones over longer distances and inspect large sections of power lines at a time – the holy grail for utility drone programs.

Yet despite these constraints, a growing number of U.S. utility companies, like Dominion Virginia Power, which launched its drone program in 2013, are getting into the drone business and seeing promising results. And there could be huge implications for fleet.

What exactly is involved with starting a utility drone program? How are these programs managed? And what’s the potential impact on fleet? Will drones replace certain types of ground vehicles? Will they eventually become fleet assets?

UFP recently spoke with Steve Eisenrauch, manager of transmission forestry and line services for Dominion Virginia Power and the leader of his department’s drone program, to explore these questions and more.

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Sean M. Lyden

Confronting the Human Dilemma in a Brave New Self-Driving World

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In his speech at the AutoMobili-D Conference in Detroit this past January, John Krafcik, the CEO at Waymo – formerly the Google self-driving car program – cited this compelling statistic: “Each year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world.”

He then put that number in context: “That’s equivalent to a 737 [airliner] falling from the sky every hour of every day all year long.”

Krafcik’s point is clear. Society would never tolerate having a major airline crash every day; so, how can it accept the same number of people dying in automotive crashes? If self-driving systems could prevent the vast majority of fatalities on the road, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for society to adopt that technology?

That’s the argument that Krafcik, several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and most automotive executives have been making in recent months as they present a vision of a “crash-less” society made possible by fully autonomous vehicles. After all, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error. Remove the driver, eliminate human error – right?

But despite bold predictions by industry executives and analysts that fully autonomous vehicles will be available for sale in the U.S. within the next four years, human psychological barriers could put the brakes on societal adoption of this technology.

How?

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Grace Suizo

3 Problems to Avoid When Spec’ing a Cable Reel Trailer

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When it comes to installing cables, pipes and the like, cable reel trailers can help utility and telecom crews boost productivity and efficiency so they can get more done in less time and for a lower cost of operation. That is, of course, assuming that they’ve selected the right equipment for the job.

Considering most cable reel trailers can last at least 10 years – or possibly even up to 20 if properly maintained – careful thought and consideration should be put into spec’ing the right unit prior to purchase. Not doing so could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products for Felling Trailers (www.felling.com), the price of reel trailers varies greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and the options the trailers are equipped with.

For example, a simple single reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000, while a three-reel trailer – set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes – can be $65,000, he explained.

Donnie Bright, business development manager for Sherman + Reilly (www.sherman-reilly.com), had a similar response, noting that cost is influenced by the scope of work desired.

“Cost of ownership is very minimal if the cable reel trailer is sized and used correctly,” he said. “Keep your trailer properly maintained per the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. The life cycle will vary, but if properly maintained and only slightly abused, you should see a minimum 10 to 20 years of service on a quality-built trailer.”

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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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Fiona Soltes

Will Solar Drive the Future of Electrified Trucks?

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Several years ago, when gas prices were higher and an industry need arose to reduce costs and seek alternative solutions, conversations about harnessing the sun intensified. Combined with advances in electric vehicle technology, the possibilities of what manufacturers and fleets could do in this realm began to grow.

Solar power began to be used to extend the range of some electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. And a full-size electric pickup truck using solar to extend its range was introduced at the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

Given the evolution of solar power use in vehicles over the years, where are we today?

As it turns out, on a slightly different course than one may have assumed. Rather than focus on the use of solar to add range to electric vehicles, utility fleets are, for example, adding panels as components of larger energy management systems. Solar power may be used to recharge vehicle starting and auxiliary batteries. It also can supplement battery charging while a vehicle is being driven or while it’s stopped – a valuable feature where legislation may prohibit idling. Additionally, solar power paired with an inverter system converts DC battery power to AC household power to charge cordless tools, laptops, test equipment and other work truck loads that require AC power without draining the battery.

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Jim Galligan

Getting the Most Out of Your Tires

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As a utility fleet manager, you operate perhaps the most diversified vehicle fleet of any business, typically using all weight classes of trucks, from light- to heavy-duty, on the road and off, hauling aerial devices, digger derricks and a slew of other job-specific equipment on good pavement or through fields of debris.

Given these characteristics, getting the best value and performance from your tires may not be rocket science, but it does take planning, smart spec’ing and commitment to a maintenance program, according to tire manufacturers.

A fleet’s first step toward tire value is to determine its goals, said Bill Walmsley, product category manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires (www.michelintruck.com). What do you want in your tires? Durable, trouble-free service and long, even wear? Additional features? Regardless, selecting the best tire for the application is key. Walmsley suggested that fleets start by looking at the same tire size they currently have on their equipment by wheel position and then explore available options in that size to meet the specific conditions under which the equipment will operate. “This might entail specific load-carrying requirements, weather conditions or environmental issues, such as off-road products or tires which operate well in field or snow conditions,” he said.

Calibrating the balance between load and appropriate tire pressure is critical, but it also is easy since every tire manufacturer publishes load and inflation charts for their tires. The only way to make sure the calibrations are correct is to know the loads being carried and use the charts, Walmsley said.

“Tires are designed and optimized to carry a desired load at a specified pressure. Proper pressure for the maximum load being carried is very important. Underinflation and overinflation for the loads being carried will affect tire and casing life and performance,” Walmsley said.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Future of Utility Fleets is Here … Are You Ready?

As a utility fleet professional, you have to wear numerous hats – engineer, purchasing agent, manager, IT person, recruiter, counselor, accountant, salesperson – and are constantly bombarded with “fires” to put out, leaving you with little time to think about your future.

But as you read about and see the rapid change going on in the industry, you’re realizing that you need the time to start thinking about how to adapt. Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, the internet of things, connected vehicles, artificial intelligence and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on how fleets – and fleet professionals – do business, setting the stage for major industry disruption in the next three to five years.

And as more and more older fleet workers and technicians get ready for retirement, there’s a looming shortage of younger workers who are willing and qualified to fill the gap, raising the stakes for utility fleets as they compete for technical talent and expertise.

So, what if there was a three-day boot camp during which you could set aside everything else and focus your energy and attention on learning and thinking about the strategies, tactics and leadership tools that can help you successfully navigate the challenges ahead?

Now there is, and its name is Utility Fleet Conference 2017.

UFC 2017 is an intensive three-day fleet education event from October 2-4, 2017, produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine (www.utilityfleetprofessional.com) and co-located at the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition (www.icuee.com) in Louisville, Ky.

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Kate Wade

Air-Weigh LoadMaxx Trailer Scale

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Air-Weigh has released the next-generation LoadMaxx Trailer Scale. The new scale combines the best of previous LoadMaxx and Quickload trailer scales into one trailer scale with two options: LoadMaxx base model, and LoadMaxx with ComLink.

The updated LoadMaxx scale continues to offer the same great features customers have come to love about previous-generation scales, including an icon-based touch-screen display; built-in LED alarm lights; dual-point calibration and high-precision pressure sensor for weight accuracy; compensation for temperature and altitude change; PIN-protected calibration; and English, Spanish and French language options.

The ComLink option now available for the LoadMaxx trailer scale enables drivers to view steer, drive, trailer, GVW and net payload on an in-cab LoadMaxx tractor display. Tractor/trailer weight information can also be sent to the fleet's management software via the built-in data communication interface. When used with the Bluetooth-compatible LoadMaxx Tractor Scale, weight data is also available on any smartphone or tablet through Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx App. www.air-weigh.com

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