The 2015 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators

March 2015, - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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Thinking Ahead.
Thinking Ahead.

Innovation lies at the intersection of invention and improvement. It’s the willingness to use a better, novel idea or method — to change the way you do things, rather than just trying to do the same thing better.

For Heavy Duty Trucking’s annual Truck Fleet Innovator awards, we look for fleet executives who represent this notion, who have a track record of leading their industries into new and sometimes uncharted waters.

We aim to highlight a cross-section of the wide variety that is trucking, so this year’s honorees include a large ready-mix fleet, a major expedited carrier, a tank truck carrier and a less-than-truckload fleet. They’ve led the way with innovation in a variety of areas as well, including adoption of natural gas fuel, computer technology, lightweighting, fuel economy, and driver satisfaction.

The winners are chosen by HDT’s editors from nominations submitted by suppliers, fellow fleet executives, associations, drivers and others. They also may nominate themselves, and some are identified by HDT’s editors in the course of their work.

An award presentation will be held during the Mid-America Trucking Show Fleet Forum on March 25 in Louisville, Ky., followed by a panel discussion moderated by HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park. 

Rich DeBoer and Ozinga: Growing green by the numbers

Executive Vice President Rich DeBoer knows a lot about what spins the drums at Ozinga. “I’ve been with them for 39 years,” he says. “I worked as a mechanic for 10 years before that. My employment here was hands-on to begin with. Then, as the fleet grew in size, I moved into more of a management role, eventually taking on responsibility for plants, properties and equipment.”

Ozinga was founded in 1926 by Martin Ozinga Sr. as a coal and coke supplier serving the Chicago area. In the early ‘50s, his sons, Martin Jr., Richard, and Norman, responded to the postwar demand for suburban housing by transitioning to ready-mix concrete production. It grew steadily through the ‘60s and ‘70s and the third generation of family owners took the reins in the ‘80s. By 2003, Ozinga ranked among the leading material-supply companies in the Midwest, and the fourth generation of owners — seven cousins — joined the family business.

The company opened a new state-of-the-art dispatch center and renamed its ready-mix business Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete Inc. in 2009. Two years later, Ozinga took delivery of its first mixer truck fueled entirely by compressed natural gas to reduce its reliance on petroleum consumption and help diminish the company’s carbon footprint.

Rich DeBoer and Ozinga mix up a winning recipe for an alternative fuel. Photo: Ozinga
Rich DeBoer and Ozinga mix up a winning recipe for an alternative fuel. Photo: Ozinga

Ozinga Ready Mix currently runs more than 600 mixer trucks as well as some 200 support vehicles. DeBoer says the “anticipated goal is to have our whole fleet of mixer trucks on CNG by 2020 — as long as the economy and work activity allows that to happen.”

Taking a realistic approach to replacing equipment based on economic and business conditions is a hallmark of how Ozinga manages its fleet for the long haul. “Mindful of the additional diesel emissions standards coming into focus, we pre-purchased a lot of trucks in ’06,” DeBoer recalls. “That let us beat the ‘07 EPA standards and helped keep our fleet updated.

“When it comes to vocational trucks, you never know how new engines are going to act or react in the ready-mix concrete realm,” he continues. “That’s because you’re using that engine not only to drive down the street, but also to mix and produce the finished product you’re delivering. And you’re also applying that technology to an on/off-road vehicle.”

Then came the Great Recession. “When the economy took a dive in 2007, we as well as everyone else purchased nothing for five or six years. There just wasn’t any business activity to warrant updating.”

But he says there was an upside to the downturn: “We had a good bit of time to analyze what type of fuel would make for the best way to move forward. In 2010, there was another host of emissions standards coming out and the engine manufacturers were having a lot of difficulty with those engines, in terms of performance and fuel economy.

“So we looked at the alternatives,” he continues, “and natural gas won out. It looked like a very available fuel, right here in the United States. At that time, a barrel of oil was well over $100 and there was no end in sight to diesel price increases. We thought it would be a good opportunity [to switch], even though there were costs involved to investigate before deciding to put natural gas into service.”

Ozinga did its homework and ordered 16 CNG-fueled mixer trucks in January 2011. “At that time,” DeBoer says, “natural gas power was not something that the vehicle manufacturers had completely gotten their hands around. There were long lead times for the engines, for the fuel systems. Everything had to be forecast and planned out well in advance. So, it took until October of that year for us to take delivery, and it was December before the complete complement of vehicles were in place and operational.

“And it worked,” he continues. “We were very satisfied. The engines performed in our vocational marketplace. Because of our weight classification, we were able to utilize that smaller Cummins [8.9-liter] engine, which typically some of the over-the-road fleets couldn’t utilize.”

Rich DeBoer, executive vice president, Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete. 
Rich DeBoer, executive vice president, Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete.

Ozinga mixers only carry 68,000 pounds, DeBoer says, so “that engine fit very well into the torque and horsepower curve we need. And it provides a weight savings over larger, heavier diesel engines. Plus there’s no DPF and no exhaust filters to maintain — there’s simply a three-way catalytic converter that requires no maintenance.”

Ozinga today is running just over 120 CNG ready-mix trucks, both front- and rear-discharge units. The fleet has also been greening its support vehicles, which now include about 35 natural-gas bifuel pickups, vans and service trucks.

However, the transition hasn’t been just about engines. “We needed fuel,” DeBoer notes. “At the same time we ordered the trucks, we started investigating fueling systems to come up with a good method that made sense for us.

“We decided to build a CNG fueling station on our own premises that had both time-fill and fast-fill equipment,” he continues. “Since then, we’ve added five more dual-capability fueling stations on our properties.” Making the CNG switch even more economical, the Ozinga stations offer fast-fill CNG to other fleets and the general public.

Four years since Ozinga cast its lot with CNG, that decision still distinguishes the fleet as an equipment innovator in the ready-mix market.

“There was a lot of skepticism [within our industry] when our plans were made,” DeBoer points out. “It was a huge change from what everyone was accustomed to. In our own local competitive arena, there really hasn’t been anyone else that’s gone to CNG yet. But from other areas of the country we’ve probably had 15 or 20 ready-mix concrete suppliers come visit our site. Several of them have since made the jump to CNG as well.”

DeBoer is convinced Ozinga made the right move with its innovative transition to CNG right from the start. What’s more, he expects the fleet will keep right on reaping the green.

“Right now, CNG is still a savings over diesel,” he says. “Diesel is close to $3 a gallon, but natural gas hasn’t changed, so we’re still realizing a benefit and will continue to do so. Price stability is predicted, too — the natural gas and petroleum indexes aren’t running together at all. In addition, natural gas is a commodity sourced locally. And they forecast there’s a 200-year supply, even if every vehicle in the country was running on it today. Those numbers are huge.”


  1. 1. Jon [ April 09, 2015 @ 01:54PM ]

    Panther was not purchased by ABF, Panther was purchased by ArcBest.


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