UFP Magazine

Fiona Soltes

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Still Packed with Promise

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In the transportation sector, fuel cell technology has long been on the brink of breaking through for a variety of medium- and heavy-duty applications. We’re still not quite there yet, the experts say – but the promise continues.

“Increasingly, the toughest remaining challenges for heavy-duty fuel cell trucks relate to the hydrogen fuel they run on,” said Jon Leonard, senior vice president at Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (www.gladstein.org), a clean transportation and energy consulting company. “Like compressed natural gas vehicles, most fuel cell vehicles run on compressed hydrogen [CH2] that must be carried onboard the vehicle using heavy, expensive, high-pressure tanks. Although this presents tradeoffs on cost, range and other factors, onboard CH2 storage is robust and proven.”

Other challenges include the high cost of the hydrogen fuel and its limited availability due to a paucity of hydrogen fueling stations. “Moreover,” Leonard added, “the limited number of existing hydrogen stations are largely geared for light-duty vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, etc. The only hydrogen stations that can accommodate heavy-duty vehicles are mostly found on transit properties.”

All the same, there is forward movement. Light-duty fuel cell vehicles manufactured and sold by the likes of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are proving their worth – and inspiring the promise of other, heavier-duty applications in the future.

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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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Grace Suizo

Choosing the Right Vehicle Lift for the Job

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

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

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

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

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

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Sean M. Lyden

Respect

In a pre-show call for a fleet industry podcast, the interviewer asked me to talk about UFP and our audience to get insight into the range of topics we might discuss during the episode.

I shared what I’ve learned from speaking with many of you over the past four years. After I finished, the interviewer responded, “That’s amazing how much [utility fleet professionals] are responsible for and how much they must know compared to other types of fleets.”

He nailed it. Exactly.

As a fleet manager in the utility industry, there’s a high level of sophistication you bring to the job that’s not required in many other sectors. That’s because you have so much more on your plate than what you would deal with, say, managing an urban delivery or pharmaceutical sales fleet, where you may have a handful of vehicle types you’re working with – box trucks, pickups, vans and sedans.

But in the utility world, it’s a whole different realm. You’re managing road vehicles, trailers, off-road equipment and all-terrain vehicles. At some utility companies, even aviation assets, like helicopters and drones, are managed by the fleet department.

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Kate Wade

Sherman + Reilly Tool Monitoring Smartphone App

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Emerson has announced the launch of the Sherman + Reilly i-press battery tool monitoring smartphone app.

The new i-press app allows crews to track their Next Generation Sherman + Reilly Battery Tools. Using the simple navigation display, workers can view the battery charge, last service date, last five pressure measurements, tool temperature and number of cycles completed with a connected tool. Users can create a project within the i-press app to save and combine crimping operation data and track tool performance. When the project is complete, an overview report is generated and sent as a PDF.

In addition to the new i-press app, Sherman + Reilly will continue to provide factory service solutions for battery-powered tools from their locations in Rockford, Illinois, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Professional service experts provide preventive maintenance, comprehensive assessments and certified tool testing to quickly get tools back in safe working order.

The new i-press app can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play. www.emerson.com

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Kate Wade

Cooper SEVERE Series MSD Truck and Bus Radial Tire

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Cooper Tire has expanded its Cooper SEVERE Series truck and bus radial (TBR) tire line with the introduction of the new Cooper SEVERE Series Mixed Service Drive or MSD, a premium drive tire for demanding mixed service applications. A deep 32/32nds tire, the Cooper SEVERE Series MSD is designed to handle the toughest off-road conditions, while delivering long, even wear that fleets require on the road.

Triangular tie-bars in the outside shoulder help to promote traction throughout the life of the Cooper SEVERE Series MSD, while also mitigating heel-toe wear. Designed to reduce total cost of ownership, the highly engineered, durable casing includes stone ejectors to ensure multiple retreads beyond the original tread life.

The Cooper SEVERE Series MSD is offered in two sizes – 11R22.5 (LRH) and 11R24.5 (LRH) – which are now available for shipment. www.coopertrucktires.com

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Kate Wade

Ranger Design Max Step

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Ranger Design has launched its newest product: the Max Step. This is a van step that is attached to the frame of the vehicle in the back, in order to give trade workers easy access to cargo space or the roof rack. The Max Step is beneficial for workers who spend most of their day climbing in and out of their vans, as it means less wear and tear on their bodies.

Made with anti-slip tread plates, the Max Step is built to provide a rugged grip in any type of climate. A sleek line of reflective tape across each step also ensures maximum visibility, day and night. To ensure a long-lasting lifetime, the Max Step is manufactured to TUV standards and protected by an anti-corrosive finish to guard against weathering and early deterioration. With a 300-pound weight capacity, the Max Step is as sturdy as they come.

Currently the Max Step is available for the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster. Easy to install, it can be quickly fastened to any of these vans built without factory steps. https://rangerdesign.com

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Kate Wade

Crossroads Mobile Maintenance Invests in Service Trucks

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Crossroads Mobile Maintenance (CRMM) has been servicing utility fleets for over 50 years. The company employs close to 50 technicians, staffing two service shops located in Michigan and Iowa, as well as 20-plus mobile service trucks dispersed throughout the Midwest.

CRMM recently invested in new mobile service trucks. The company selected the Dodge Ram 5500 crew cab chassis with Eagle Pro I 2250 line body equipped with 3126E cranes. This decision was based on the scope and location of the work being done. CRMM wanted a truck that is four-wheel-drive and has the capability to get where the piece of equipment is, which is in the field the majority of the time. Durability was another important factor in the decision. CRMM chose the STI body because the company believes it is built to withstand the conditions and environments its technicians operate in. In addition, each new line body comes with an air pump that pressurizes the entire body to reduce moisture and prevent water from entering the body. www.cr-mm.com

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Sean M. Lyden

How Technology Can Turn Idle Equipment into Revenue Generators

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If you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re under increasing pressure from senior management to do more with less. So, when you’re looking for creative ways to squeeze as much productivity and value as possible from your fleet assets, what are your options?

One idea is to put your underutilized or spare vehicles to work as revenue generators by lending them to other fleets that could use them. But how?

There’s an app for that.

Truck rental and leasing giant Ryder (https://ryder.com) recently launched COOP – pronounced “koop” – a commercial vehicle-sharing platform that links fleet owners with idle vehicles to trusted businesses in need of rental vehicles. Think of it as Airbnb for fleet assets, where you're able to rent out your excess fleet capacity more efficiently and safely to companies that have been vetted by the platform.

The service came out of its pilot phase at the end of the first quarter this year and is live in Atlanta and its surrounding areas in Georgia. The company said that it’s planning to expand to other states beginning in January 2019 but has not yet announced those locations.

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Kate Wade

LockNClimb Ergonomic Truck Ladder

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Designed for ergonomic, safe MRO service on utility truck engines, this ladder also works on all Class 8 diesel trucks and service trucks used for concrete, waste management and similar activities. 

Benefits include the following: a stable platform for engine maintenance and overhauls; base fits around tires to allow close proximity; provides easy reach to windshield and running lights; can support two people working side by side; OSHA 375-pound rated; patented 6061-grade industrial aluminum base; field tested and designed by mechanics; and made one at a time by craftsmen in the USA. www.locknclimb.com

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Kate Wade

Gasboy Fuel Management System

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Gasboy, the industry leader in commercial and industrial fuel and fleet technologies, has launched Islander PRIME, the next-generation fuel management system for commercial fueling. 

The Islander PRIME is the best-in-class home base fuel management controller, an all-in-one standalone pedestal enabling forecourt automation with flexible fueling authorization capabilities. It features a modern design and an advanced user interface with a high-brightness color LCD payment terminal and a full alphanumeric keypad.

The Islander PRIME is highly modular, with various factory-installed and field-upgradeable options, including card reader, printer, HID reader and support for Gasboy’s Fuel Point PLUS vehicle identification system. It supports up to eight mechanical hoses and 64 electronic hoses, as well as all common communication protocols. 

Designed for quality, the Islander PRIME is capable of withstanding the harsh environments and extreme temperatures found on many commercial and industrial fuel sites. It is also available in stainless steel and ADA-approved versions. www.gasboy.com

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Are Those Tools and Equipment Approved?

We provide tools and equipment for our crews. Sometimes they are special tools, and sometimes they are generic tools necessary to support routine crew work. Sometimes they are accessories for trucks and equipment, and sometimes they are simply extra tools or equipment to make things easier on the people in the field. The question then is, are these tools approved?

The following is going to aggravate some readers, so let’s start with a reminder: I attempt to clarify and simplify compliance with this series. This is about making compliance easier and sometimes less expensive. So, here is an example.

A few years ago, I approved a transmission construction crew’s replacement of a 5/8-inch wire-rope winchline with a 7/8-inch synthetic winchline. The crew wanted to increase a safety margin for dropping poles down through energized circuits by eliminating the steel winchline from the energized environment. Fleet managers also approved the replacement and sent the new synthetic winchline to the worksite’s mechanic. The fleet mechanic had removed the wire rope from the crane to a wooden reel and was in the process of winding on the synthetic when the client’s safety managers stopped the work. Their company had a strict interpretation of “manufacturer-approved.” They required a like-for-like replacement unless the winchline was OSHA-approved.  The original wire rope was load-rated at 44,000 pounds. The mechanic showed the inspector that the new synthetic was rated higher at 57,000 pounds. It didn’t matter to the client because their rule was no modifications to the winchline without written approval from the manufacturer.

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Sean M. Lyden

Making the Switch to LED Lighting in Utility Fleets

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Lighting via the use of light-emitting diodes – more commonly known as LEDs – has been around for over five decades. But only in recent years has the technology surged in popularity, especially among utility fleets.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than conventional incandescent lighting. That’s a big difference in terms of energy consumption and longevity. But historically, LEDs have been too expensive for fleets to justify making the switch.

That is, until the past five years or so, as the price gap has narrowed significantly, presenting a more compelling business case for fleets to convert to LEDs.

Getting Started
Take PPL Electric Utilities based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for example. The fleet department began to expand its use of LEDs in 2014 for safety reasons.

“Our initial push was the safety factor of the brightness of the LEDs for better visibility when working at night,” said John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL. “And the prices were starting to come down at that time, making LEDs more prevalent. So, we decided to give it a shot and see how it goes. So far, the change to LEDs has been well-received by the operators and the crews.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The Rise of the 4x4 Service Truck

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When it comes to service trucks in utility fleets, which is more popular: two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive?

According to a recent report by Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com), a Minneapolis-based fleet management software and benchmarking company, the clear winner is the 4x4.

But this hasn't always been the case. In fact, in 2012 – just six years ago – the two-wheel-drive led the service truck market by nearly 20 percentage points.

That would appear to make sense. All things being equal, the two-wheel-drive comes with a lower price tag. And conventional wisdom is that operating costs on the 4x2 should be lower as well, because there are fewer components that need to be serviced or repaired.

Yet in a relatively short span, the 4x4 has surged to the lead. Why? What’s driving this change in utility fleets?

UFP spoke with Paul Milner, senior analyst and product developer at Utilimarc, to help us dig into the data.

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Jim Galligan

Compact Cargo Vans Find a Home in Cities

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Since their introduction to the U.S. market, the small size and maneuverability of compact cargo vans (CCV) have made them appealing options for utility and telecom fleets serving customers in congested city environments.

CCVs were popular options in European and Asian cities before rolling into the United States in 2010, when Ford introduced the Transit Connect. Nissan followed with the 2013 model year NV200, and Ram introduced the ProMaster City in the 2015 model year.

These smaller versions of the manufacturers’ full-size vans give fleet operators a low-cost entry vehicle option in select, well-defined applications, such as for technicians and service personnel and light cargo.

Charter Communications, the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., has about 22,000 vans in its fleet, 1,000 of which are CCVs. The company uses them in cities – 600 in New York City alone – for their size and maneuverability, said Michael Cullen, Charter’s director of fleet management.

CCV use is limited because most cable and telecom operations still need the capacity of full-size vans to handle today’s equipment, but that may change as the market shifts away from set-top boxes to smaller technologies, Cullen noted. That would dramatically change how much space cable companies need in their vans and may drive a shift to compact vans.

“I suspect, over the long haul, you may see cable companies move to that vehicle, but we’re probably a few years from that,” Cullen said.

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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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Fiona Soltes

The Search is On for Quality Technicians

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Dale Collins, CAFM, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia, faces an increasingly disturbing and familiar scenario in the next handful of years: Five of the eight people working in his two repair facilities will retire.

The good news is that his organization is “pretty attuned” to the so-called Silver Tsunami of aging baby boomers; a quarter of the organization will retire within the same time frame.

“So, we’ve been challenged to create some kind of succession plan,” Collins said, “to figure out the best way to approach this, so we can capture and transfer our institutional knowledge and technical expertise. Then have a good recruitment plan and hire top-notch technicians.”

Ask anyone in literally any industry today, and the story is the same: There simply aren’t enough willing and able workers to handle the roles currently filled by the older set. It’s particularly tough in skilled labor; there can be misconceptions about salaries, opportunities and advancement possibilities. There also can be lack of awareness about the need to attract and train students long before they graduate high school. Due to the dearth of candidates, companies are having to take on employees at ground level – and bump up salaries and benefits.

“There’s been a complete shift,” said Lucas A. White, interim associate dean at Madison Area Technical College School of Applied Science, Engineering & Technology. “Organizations are desperate and can’t be as selective now. The industry has had to increase wages, knowing that they aren’t going to find somebody for $10 to $12 an hour. The students know they can get that in fast food, without a skill.”

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Grace Suizo

Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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Sean M. Lyden

Tesla’s Turmoil and the Future of Electrified Transportation

It has been a tumultuous 2018 for electric carmaker Tesla and its embattled CEO, Elon Musk.

Earlier this year, a handful of crashes involving Tesla vehicles increased scrutiny of the safety of their semi-autonomous Autopilot systems. Then there have been the ongoing manufacturing challenges causing lengthy and expensive delays in building the Model 3 – the mass-market electric car that Musk has banked Tesla’s future on. And Musk’s high-profile Twitter feuds with journalists, analysts and short-sellers have caused many in the industry to question his fitness to effectively lead a publicly traded company.

But whatever storm clouds may be hovering over the company today, Tesla has already made its mark, pushing the automotive industry toward what will likely be an all-electric future – no matter what happens to the company itself.

Think about it: Traditional automakers have been building electric vehicles for years, but Tesla has made EVs desirable. With the introduction of the Model S sedan in 2012, Tesla showed that EVs could be sleek, spacious and fast. And with hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the lower-priced Model 3, Tesla demonstrated that it’s possible to create mass-market demand for EVs at a time of relatively low and stable fuel prices.

The major automakers are following suit with plans to introduce several new all-electric models in the next two to three years.

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Kate Wade

Ditch Witch Heavy-Duty Trencher

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Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works Company, has introduced its largest trencher to date, the HT275, to boost productivity and versatility on a broad range of trenching jobs. The unit was designed to increase year-over-year return on investment on water, sewer, gas, power and underdrain installations, pipeline distribution and other heavy-duty trenching tasks.

The HT275 provides operators exceptional efficiency on installations up to 10 feet deep and 26 inches wide. A fully utilized Cummins 275-horsepower T4 engine provides the power to tackle a variety of job site environments and digging conditions. And a hydrostatic trencher-chain drive with an infinitely variable displacement motor allows operators to easily match chain speeds to soil conditions.

The HT275 boosts job site performance with four hydraulic quick-disconnect blocks that reduce the time it takes to change attachments from days to hours. The design allows operators to change rear attachments in the field without the use of heavy lifting equipment. And, for better performance on uneven terrains, the machine has a patent-pending suspension that mounts to the center of each track frame. This innovative design feature provides the unique ability to float each track independently, which takes stress off the main frame.

Equipped with a power sliding cab and featuring external cameras, the HT275 offers industry-leading visibility of the job site. Operators also benefit from unparalleled comfort and control due to an air-ride suspension seat with 270-degree rotation, ergonomic joystick controls and dual 7-inch displays. www.ditchwitch.com/trenchers/track/ht275

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