Fleet Management

The 2016 Truck Fleet Innovators

Meet some of trucking’s best and brightest leaders.

March 2016, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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At one of the country’s largest and most innovative fleets, Gerry Mead turns the power of data to everything from optimizing PM intervals to testing new technology.
At one of the country’s largest and most innovative fleets, Gerry Mead turns the power of data to everything from optimizing PM intervals to testing new technology.

Charged up about innovation

Gerry Mead has seen a lot of changes since he started his career as a diesel mechanic in the U.S. Marine Corps. 35-plus years ago, but he continues to not only embrace but drive innovation in the area of equipment spec’ing and maintenance.

The first senior VP of maintenance in the history of U.S. Xpress, Mead oversees maintenance and spec’ing for one of the largest privately held trucking companies in the country, with more than 7,000 trucks and 19,000 trailers. He points out that part of the company’s mission is to be innovative. In fact, company founders Max Fuller and the late Pat Quinn were previous HDT Truck Fleet Innovators.

“Today, maintenance management is a lot more dynamic,” he says, noting that all the electronics and data tools at his fingertips allow him to “do predictive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance that will set you apart from your peers.”

Gerald “Gerry” Mead Senior VP of Maintenance U.S. Xpress Inc. Chattanooga, Tenn.
Gerald “Gerry” Mead Senior VP of Maintenance U.S. Xpress Inc. Chattanooga, Tenn.

Data is allowing Mead to redesign the preventive maintenance process for today’s vehicles to improve uptime. His team is using Six Sigma practices to reduce waste. Data reporting is allowing them to track downtime not just in days, but in hours.

“Today maintenance guys have to be just as thoughtful of revenue” as anyone else in the company, he says. “We’re not in the maintenance business, we’re in the freight hauling business, and we have to be very aware of what’s going on with driver as well as revenue. We have to walk that line like a tightrope walker.”

Data is also helping to drive a different way of managing. A corporate-wide initiative is following the Covey leadership program, “40 Disciplines of Execution,” which Mead describes in a nutshell as a way to focus on the most important items first.

“There is involvement from all levels, from the senior management all the way to the truck cleaner,” he says. “And that’s what makes it successful. You come up with your corporate goals, decide what goals from your department feed into that, all the way down to what a technician does that feeds into those goals.”

The result is what Mead calls a fact-based management style. “We’re using that data to show us where the issues are, then acting on those issues. It’s just like keeping score. If people know what the score is, most people want to play to win. It’s the same way with 40x; it shows you if you’re winning or losing and how to adjust to win the battle. Maybe it’s the Marine in me, we know we want to win the war, but to win the war we have to win battles, and we’re choosing the battles and fighting those to win – and the data’s helped us do that.”

One example, he says, is looking at trucks that have been repaired and are ready to go, and how many hours they’ve been ready but unseated.

“There’s somewhat of a disconnect in most organizations,” Mead says. “You may have let someone know it’s ready, but it takes time to go pick that up.”

Some of the other metrics being measured are how long it takes to process a new truck, and whether assets as well as driver time on the road are being maximized. In the shop, they’re tracking things like out of service percentage, warranty dollar collected per week, slow moving parts, the number of PMs completed each week, and the number of parts that fail in between those preventive maintenance inspections.

“That’s crucial for us, because we’re looking for a PM to PM type of maintenance practice, and anything in between there, we judge ourselves hard to find out what caused the failure.”

U.S. Xpress, a 30-year-old truckload carrier, is continuing its history of innovation with the help of Gerry Mead’s attention to detail.
U.S. Xpress, a 30-year-old truckload carrier, is continuing its history of innovation with the help of Gerry Mead’s attention to detail.

Maintenance, Mead says, “is pretty easy. It all starts with a PM. Anything outside the PM you need to look at.” A bad practice that needs to be corrected or a parts spec that needs to be changed is easily correctible, “but first you have to know the cause. It’s about asking ‘Why’ until you get the answer. That’s the key — don’t stop at the simplest answer. Find out what the root cause is.”

Mead is also a believer in trying new things — but testing them first for effectiveness and durability. Right now, he’s excited about a test he has going on using solar power to help power a truck’s “hotel loads” — the various small electric appliances that a driver uses in the truck for comfort and entertainment during his rest period. U.S. Xpress installed solar panels on the cab roof of three units, testing both 200-watt and 300-watt versions, and is analyzing battery charging and usage, and how much energy is coming from the alternator vs. the solar panel. Not only does it charge the batteries, Mead explains, but it also provides a slight fuel gain from the alternator not running — as well as saving wear and tear on the alternator. “There’s a whole white paper out there on alternators and fuel savings,” he notes.

“We are harnessing a free energy source and utilizing it to charge batteries to help with some of this hotel load and help carry these electric auxiliary power units well through the driver sleep cycle. There are a lot of other things going on with solar, too, like liftgate charging. I think in the Class 8 environment there’s some untapped potential.”

Mead says he’s looking forward to what’s coming with some of the other things the fleet has in development that he couldn’t talk about.

“It’s a constant evolution process, and we’re just looking for the errors out there that we can make adjustments to,” Mead says. “Ultimately we want zero downtime.” While he admits that in the real world that’s not achievable, striving for it helps the company get closer to perfection.

Comments

  1. 1. Jack Underwood [ March 16, 2016 @ 08:35AM ]

    Deborah and David,
    Thank you for sharing your research on these industry leaders in innovation. More forward thinking by key people in the world of trucking will continue to move the industry and thus the U.S. economy forward. Keep up the great work!
    Regards,
    Jack Underwood

  2. 2. William [ August 23, 2017 @ 07:06AM ]

    Gerry cut the maintenance department in half and quadrupled the driver call time. Great job!

 

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