A panel of fleet executives representing five vocations, 63,000 power units and 130,000 trailers shared their thoughts on what they need from heavy-duty aftermarket parts and service providers at the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue event in Las Vegas.
Stu MacKay, president of market-research firm MacKay & Co., moderated the discussion. He first asked the fleets to talk about their most significant maintenance challenge. Hands down, the answer was aftertreatment devices-- especially finding the right servicing interval. Lee Long, director of fleet services at Southeastern Freight Lines, said he took a look at the manufacturer’s best practices and then adapted them based on his real-world experience.
For Gloria Piller, director of parts procurement for Swift, DPF maintenance is not an issue because in Swift’s operations ash buildup is not severe. However, she said that the complexity of the electronics has resulted in her turning to dealers more frequently. In fact, dealer technicians work on site in Swift shops.
Roy Svehla, senior manager of fleet maintenance for waste-disposal firm Republic Services, said he has extended oil change intervals over 300% and switched to a semi-synthetic 10W-30 oil. “This helps fuel economy and the environment, but also helps with shop capacity since we are performing fewer PMs.” He added that he is “always looking for ways to push maintenance further,” but acknowledged that it is “a delicate balance.”
Tom Moore, senior vice president of the National Private Truck Council, said NPTC-member fleets are moving to more of a predictive maintenance model and are using data to better manage the buy-sell cycle. He added that there is a trend among private fleets to outsource maintenance, with 40% of NPTC members outsourcing the majority of their service work on top of the 40% of the members who lease their trucks and have maintenance as part of their leasing contract.
Training was a significant concern for the fleets on the panel. Dwayne Haug, principal owner, Dwayne O. Haug Consulting, LLC, said fleets are concerned with “how they are going to keep their technicians up to speed on new technologies” and he wondered what suppliers are going to do to help them with that issue. “We do not need salespeople calling on us, we need technical advisors to help us make it easier for drivers.”
Svehla said he wants suppliers to provide quality parts with good availability and good technical information. “Shop capacity is the most precious commodity. Parts should be the easy part of the repair equation.” He added that Republic has “weeded out all ‘white box parts’ from its inventory.”
He also addressed the technician shortage as “something we have been talking about for 40 years.” Svehla polled his technicians to find out what they wanted and found that more training, a better career path, and recognition topped the list ahead of pay.
Long has been recruiting technicians from the military, partnering with secondary schools and providing on-the-job training. Southeastern Freight has done what it can to “whittle down the third shift,” he said.
Piller said Swift is working with high school students to encourage them to choose technical schools after they graduate.
Talk then turned to outsourced service. The fleets were asked what factors influenced their choice of outsourced service providers. Haug said the location of the facility was an important selection criterion along with “what they can do for us and our drivers.”
For Dan Samford, executive advisor of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals, “mobile service is mandatory for construction sites.”
Long said that 87% of Southeastern’s service work is performed in house, but the fleet uses outside service providers for breakdowns.
The panel ended its discussion by talking about parts beginning with a look at the importance of brand in the parts purchasing decision. Piller said that Swift takes advantage of extended warranties “so [service providers] have to replace like with like.” She added, “We stick with quality branded parts and we verify the quality of those parts through testing."
Moore said NPTC members are looking for “consistency and reliability” from the parts they purchase and added “relationships are important.”
The panel members were asked about their stance on buying direct. Piller said, “I buy direct every chance I get. It helps cut costs.”
Southeastern uses a bid process for parts procurement and Long said he looks at who can deliver the best performance given the fleet’s footprint. He added that he evaluates parts sources every month.
Samford said that he has negotiated national account deals with manufacturers that include price and returnability. However, he added, “It is not necessarily about the price. It is about the availability. Price becomes a little less important depending on other factors.”
Haug explained that it is much easier to buy direct when you are talking about consumables, but added that you still need a distribution channel. Moore said that NPTC members are “concentrating their buying with fewer and fewer suppliers” and added that availability is the biggest factor in their supplier selection.