Gerry Mead, center, former senior VP of maintenance for U.S. Xpress and now with Phillips Industries, and Ernie Sibbick, right, maintenance supervisor at Keith Hall & Sons Transport, discuss the parts and service needs of today's fleets. Photo courtesy Today's Trucking

Gerry Mead, center, former senior VP of maintenance for U.S. Xpress and now with Phillips Industries, and Ernie Sibbick, right, maintenance supervisor at Keith Hall & Sons Transport, discuss the parts and service needs of today's fleets. Photo courtesy Today's Trucking

LAS VEGAS – Data from MacKay & Co. consistently shows that fleets say they want to outsource more of their maintenance and repair, but continue to do much of it in-house as they try to find service providers that can meet their needs.

Outsourcing was the first issue discussed by a panel of fleet executives at the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Las Vegas, held right before Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week.

Gerry Mead, former senior vice president of maintenance at U.S. Xpress and current executive director of innovation at Phillips Industries, said when he was with U.S. Xpress, his philosophy was “no one loves your fleet like you do.” When the fleet went outside for maintenance, it used dedicated shops that had to meet certain qualifications. To help with utilization, U.S. Xpress scheduled all needed PM services at the same time and tried to schedule PM service on drivers’ home time.

To help manage the technician shortage, the Tennessee-based fleet worked with schools and the armed forces and has also developed mentorship and in-house certification programs. It also invested in training for management. “Most people quit because of bad management,” Mead said, “so we focused on management so they know how to lead.”

Advanced Disposal does all the maintenance and repair on its fleets in-house, except for major overhauls, at its 90 shops in 16 states. Brian Beaudrie, vice president of corporate maintenance, acknowledged that retaining and training technicians is an issue. Advanced Disposal's solution is to create a team environment in its operation based on the philosophy that “it’s easy to quit a job but hard to quit a team.” Part of the effort of creating a team means techs provide input on service-related issues. 

Ernie Sibbick, maintenance supervisor at Keith Hall & Sons Transport LTD, said all maintenance for his fleet is handled in-house except for rebuilding. “We operate expensive trailers, which we keep for a long and rebuild them when we can,” he said.

Chris Trajkovski, vice president of transportation for C&S Wholesale Grocers, said his fleet handles 70% of its maintenance and repair in-house, but said there is no one right model. He suggests fleets determine their own scale for maintenance and repair by looking at the labor environment, real estate and infrastructure.

Managing Truck Technicians

Trajkovski has had to get creative with its shop scheduling, because for his operation, “It makes no sense to have techs in for the first shift, because that is the time the trucks leave for their routes.” He has also taken technicians who are in their twilight of their careers and moved them into the fleet service center, which handles breakdown services. “We use their expertise to troubleshoot without having to dispatch a service vendor.” C&S also cross-trains technicians in the shop with the technicians who maintain the refrigeration and robotics in its warehouses.

The fleet panel was also asked how they determine what to spec, and more specifically if they thought the industry was at a tipping point when it comes to air disc brakes.

Trajkovski said C&S has been all air disc since 2016, and Beaudrie expects Advanced Disposal to have moved the whole fleet to disc brakes by the end of this year. Mead said for safety reasons and to meet reduced stopping distance requirements, air disc brakes are the right choice.

“It is tough to put an ROI on avoiding an accident, but avoiding even one accident pays for the investment in ADBs," Mead said. "They also are easier to maintain, quicker to replace and easier to understand.”

Choosing Heavy-Duty Replacement Parts

The fleet managers also weighed in on what are the most important features they look for when choosing replacement parts. Beaudrie said he looks at value and quality, but “safety is our number one factor. We cannot gamble on inferior parts. Name brand is important when it comes to replacement parts.”

For Mead it comes down to relationships. “When you have a relationship, you know the parts will be there. Replacement parts are a piece of the equipment buying discussion. It is about both price and availability. You also have to consider resale value.” Mead said if he had to rank the factors, it would be relationship, availability, quality, and price.

Beaudrie reminded the audience that, “there are two parties to every transaction, and it is critical to building a strong relationship to make sure both parties are doing what they need to do.”

Pros and Cons of Being on the Leading Edge

Finally the fleet managers talked about where they are on the adoption curve for new technology.  Mead said U.S. Xpress likes to “lead from the front. You never know when a big game-changer will come on the market. Sometimes we go all in and sometimes we don’t. We are on the cutting edge, but not the bleeding edge.”

Beaudrie said Advanced Disposal takes the opposite approach. “We take a back seat approach and wait to see if the technology will succeed or fail.”

Trajkovski said, “Your vendors and suppliers need to know your operations and your appetite for risk, then they will be a funnel for the new technologies. I have seen some successes with fleets being on the leading edge, but I have also seen some epic failure. You have to understand how to balance risk.”