We all know someone who is never satisfied with the way things are — who’s always tinkering, always pushing the envelope, always looking for ways to do things better. Those changes both big and small that help them operate more efficiently or more safely, to offer better customer service or keep drivers happier, and so on.
That’s the spirit we look for in our annual search for HDT’s Truck Fleet Innovators. Our editors are on the lookout for these fleet executives as we meet and talk to fleets throughout the year, and we also comb through nominations from the industry. Some are honored for a specific initiative, while others are honored for their general leadership in innovation.
The 2020 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators, profiled below, are:
- Danny Lilley, vice president of fleet systems and technology, Werner Enterprises, Omaha, Nebraska
- Doug Lloyd, director of maintenance, Averitt Express, Cookeville, Tennessee
- Roy Markham, vice president of operations and transportation, Ben E. Keith Foods, Fort Worth, Texas
- Mike Palmer, vice president of fleet services, Estes Express Lines, Richmond, Virginia
- Darrel Wilson, CEO, Wilson Logistics, Springfield, Missouri
- Chris Woody, safety manager, M&W Logistics, Nashville, Tennessee
The 2020 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators will receive their awards and participate in a panel discussion at Heavy Duty Trucking Exchange, which has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic from its original May dates to November 16-18, still in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Leading a Digital Transformation
Danny Lilley is leading a digital transformation of Werner Enterprises, one of the largest truckload carriers in the country. The Omaha, Nebraska-based carrier at one time had a unique position as a very early adopter of electronic logbooks. Over the years, however, as the company expanded and diversified into dedicated, intermodal, final mile, logistics, and more, it became clear it was time for a technology update. So Werner hired Lilley in 2018 to fill a new position as vice president of fleet systems and technology.
“One thing that has been really great here is just the acknowledgement and support of executive leadership to embrace technology and to invest in it,” Lilley says. The result is an array of interconnected systems called Werner Edge.
Part of that is a telematics solution called Edge Connect that features tablets in all trucks. “We’re really modernizing the driver experience, taking out cumbersome tasks with a workflow-based solution,” Lilley explains.
With the old system, for instance, a driver might arrive at a shipper and scroll through some 60 options to find the right shipper form. “They spend an incredible amount of time in these menial tasks; there’s a lot of frustration,” Lilley says. “With a workflow solution, [when they arrive at a shipper] they’re prompted with an arrival notice. They accept that, and all the data and information they [used to] have to input, a good deal of that is now automated. It step-by-step walks them through the delivery process.”
The devices aren’t tethered and feature cellular connectivity, so drivers could do laundry, for instance, while accepting a load or communicating with their family. An enhanced messaging system allows drivers to chat with the back office. Eventually the system will allow face-to-face coaching and videoconferencing.
One of the first applications for that will be coaching prompted by Werner’s recently implemented Critical Event Management application. Trucks are outfitted with advanced collision mitigation systems, including forward-facing cameras. Previously, these triggered communications to safety and operations, as well as the driver, leading to duplication and confusion. And about half the alerts were false positives, requiring a “cumbersome” sorting process to determine the true coachable moments.
The new CEM correlates and consolidates events from multiple sources into a single workflow. “We built a cloud-based solution with a much more modern interface and workflow to streamline that process.” The app also uses data from other sources, such as location and weather, and offers talking points to help in coaching. A future rollout will use machine learning to eliminate non-events before they ever hit the reviewer queue.
Another example of the workflow approach is the new Breakdown Management system, which pairs with the driver workflow. Using the Edge Connect device, the driver can get a photo of the problem to include when notifying the back office of a breakdown, where a workflow allows easier management of that breakdown.
“Before, it was literally a 55-step green-screen process,” he says. Now, information such as location, truck and trailer and load identification are all at the breakdown agent’s fingertips. “They’re able to see where the truck is, where the top three or four vendors are closest to that location, then pair that vendor and that driver.”
Under Lilley’s guidance, Werner is taking that same approach across the company – in safety, maintenance, shipments, and drivers. “We’re taking various process that exist, streamlining them, creating a workflow to resolve them, and moving them into our system.
“We all need less frustrations in our lives.”
Sweating the Details in the Shop
When you’re running an operation with some 5,000 tractors and 15,000 trailers, that’s a lot to stay on top of. As director of maintenance and fleet equipment at Tennessee-based Averitt Express, Doug Lloyd has turned to technology and data to keep the fleet running safely and efficiently.
One of the first things Lloyd did to improve shop operations at the primarily less-than-truckload carrier was using TMT maintenance management software from TMW (now Trimble.) Instead of shuffling paper repair orders, “now everything is assigned to a mechanic, everything is in real time,” he explains. “It’s good for the mechanics, the flow of work is very good, they’re very productive.”
This and a similar detail-driven approach to parts rooms has helped drive more consistency among the 35 shops and nearly 250 mechanics. “We have real-time data and can tell if a certain technician needs training or if certain shops need different tools or training, because they can’t perform as well as other shops,” Lloyd says.
It also has allowed him to increase the amount of work done in the company’s own shops vs. outsourcing. “We are putting a lot more brick and mortar up,” he says. “We’re not adding a lot of locations, but we are upgrading to more bays. We’re doing a pretty good job training our mechanics, and you’re saving a third of the cost or more if you’re doing it in house. Right now, about 82% of our maintenance cost is internal; the other 18% is mostly road breakdowns.”
And as for those breakdowns, he says, Averitt has two of its own wreckers and will tow a truck back for repair in-house if that’s more cost-effective than an outside vendor repair.
Telematics has also helped reduce those towing costs. Certain fault codes that are “repair-now” problems – the ones that would likely lead to a breakdown if not addressed – are now resolved before that expensive tow or roadside repair is needed. Averitt can send notices to drivers when the diesel particulate filter needs a manual regeneration cycle and instructions on how to do it. Over-the-air updates for truck engines are done by technicians without having to plug in a laptop every time there’s an upgrade.
Beyond the shops, Lloyd says, Averitt is also very focused on safety. The latest advanced driver assistance systems in the fleet include the Bendix system on Averitt’s Volvo trucks and the new Detroit Assurance 5.0 on Freightliners. The company also is testing the new Intellipark system from Bendix and uses forward-facing SmartDrive cameras.
He likes the DVR capability on the recorders, which allows the company to go back and find video of events that weren’t enough to set off a critical-event reporting incident, such as another driver backing into a truck at a truck stop, or a car coming over into the same lane as the truck and hitting the trailer skirt.
“Now we’ve got a video showing we were in the lane the whole time,” he says. “I think when [drivers] found out it was going to help them instead of harm them, they accepted” the technology. In fact, his team pulled into Averitt’s Charleston LTL facility at 8 p.m. to do a camera-system install, he says, and “once drivers found out we were there, they started to bring the trucks over to us.”
Leading-Edge, Not Bleeding-Edge
Roy Markham’s innovativeness doesn’t revolve around adopting cutting-edge technology, but rather around paying attention to the people who work for him and adopting ideas that can make their work easier, safer, and more productive.
He started his career at Texas-based food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith 30 years ago as an order selector, pulling cases, getting them onto pallets and onto trucks so they could be delivered to customers. Today he’s vice president of operations and transportation. In between he’s worked in just about every part of the company, including driving, operations, maintenance, and safety for the food side of the company, which has 877 power units and nearly 1,100 trailers across its eight divisions.
That experience helps him work with employees at the company’s various facilities to identify innovative ideas.
For instance, with his experience delivering groceries as a route driver, he realized that a ramp device created by a fleet maintenance manager in Amarillo had great potential. Previously, drivers had to make multiple trips up and down the steps at the trailer’s side doors carrying boxes from the refrigerated and frozen compartments. That’s fine for a few cases, but if there are 15 or 20, now drivers can move the rear ramp, used to deliver dry goods out of the back of the trailer, over to the side door. It can be hooked up parallel or perpendicular to the trailer depending on the unloading situation.
“He built some of these, but they were made out of steel and quite heavy,” Markham says. So he worked with Safe Fleet, which offers everything from ramps to backup cameras, to develop a lighter-weight aluminum version. “Every trailer we buy now has that type of a system.”
In the shop, the company has implemented air conditioning in its newer facilities, as well as shop lifts which, unlike drive-over pits, free up the wheels to be worked on. A Vidmar tire carousel motorized vertical storage solution holds more tires in less space and lets techs easily find the tires they need. Again, this was an idea that came from the shop people, not from management, Markham says.
“It’s very dense storage space, out of the way, more vertical than horizontal. It helps them keep control of their inventory and makes it easier on the technician to retrieve tires.”
Ben E. Keith warehouses are also a prime spot for innovation. “We handle everything from food items to equipment supplies that you would find in a restaurant in the kitchen, all the way up to walk-in freezers and coolers,” he says – some 25,000 different items. The company uses a homegrown warehouse management system, with barcode scans used throughout the entire process through receiving to delivery, for high accuracy.
“We’re automating our warehouses more and more all the time, not the bleeding-edge products, but the leading edge,” he says. For instance, the Dematic Multishuttle being used in its newest facilities stores, buffers, and sequences products between bulk stock and other functions such as picking and order assembly.
“We just look for the best of the best, and it’s just not all mandated from our office,” Markham explains. “We try things, and if they work and look good, we replicate them through our other divisions. We’re not a top down, it’s going to be this way organization; we really have open communication with people who are doing the job.”
There’s Always a Better Way
Mike Palmer is one of those guys who’s never happy with “good enough.” He’s always looking for ways to do things better in his position as vice president of fleet services for Virginia-based carrier Estes Express Lines.
A recent trip with Palmer around the show floor at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting revealed some of the projects he’s been working on with vendors.
Estes is one of the largest less-than-truckload and truckload transportation companies in the U.S., with a fleet of more than 7,000 tractors and nearly 29,000 trailers.
Palmer had an idea for how to fit more pallets into a 28-foot pup trailer, and worked with Strick Trailers to create the Elevator. This specialized trailer uses the space between the axles with three motorized, aluminum “elevator” platforms that drop the trailer floor segments from the regular floor level down to a level where three pallets can be fit in vertically instead of two – a triple-stack, allowing for six more pallets than a standard pup trailer – a 25% increase.
Palmer says the idea for using that space for cargo was not a new one, and in fact Carolina Freight had something similar that used a trap door – but it involved a lot of manual labor, and you couldn’t drive a forklift over it. This new trailer, which he’ll be testing in a long California run, combines the elevators with Ancra’s AutoDeck system. The electrical system was designed by Purkeys, which included solar panels to allow the elevators to operate without being attached to a tractor.
Another project he’s been working on with Anthony Liftgates addresses a problem drivers were having delivering very large, bulky items such as hot tubs. In theory, liftgate platforms can be made very large, but with the major drawback of losing full access to the rear door.
“If a driver has five liftgate drops, and the rest of the day he’s bumping docks,” traditional railgate models that had to be let down before unloading would be a real problem for drivers. “We had gone away from rails because drivers didn’t like them,” Palmer explains.
Anthony’s solution was the MRT-XL, which features a tri-fold platform that opens up to an 86- by 96-inch load area. It features a hydraulic platform open-close function, with a spring-assisted third section, and it can handle up to 5,500 pounds. The new liftgate can be stowed at bed height or in fully raised position during transit.
Palmer is also working with Ridge Corp. to create an air dam for the top front of the trailer that not only helps save fuel, but also bounces back if hit, protecting the trailer corners from damage.
And he pushed Snider Fleet Solutions to find a better way for Estes to keep on top of tire pressure, temperature and tread depth. The result was the WheelRight system, which measures tire pressure, tread depth, vehicle weight, sidewall damage and tire temperature in a 6-second roll-over, flagging problems before the vehicle leaves the lot. Estes is testing it at two terminals.
Palmer says his ideas come from visiting terminals and talking to drivers and dock workers, observing and listening to find areas where there may be a better way to do things. “I take that back and see if we can come up with a better mousetrap to make it safer, more efficient for the company.”
From Owner-Operator to High-Tech Logistics Company
Darrel Wilson’s trucking story begins like many do, growing up in the industry and buying a truck with the dream of crisscrossing the country behind the wheel. Today, the company he founded is out in front with early adoption and testing of technology such as a cloud-based transportation management system that promises frictionless connections between brokers, carriers, and shippers, as well as automated truck platoons.
Wilson bought his first truck in 1980 – even though he was only 20 years old and had to hire a driver to meet the 21-year-old minimum age for a commercial license in Missouri. By the time he turned 21, he had three trucks. By 1990 he owned 15 trucks and started working with Prime Inc. as part of a model that became Prime’s Power Only Advanced Fleet. The growth continued, both organically and through acquisitions.
“We’ve had some rapid growth and some sizable growth, but our acquisitions have been very strategic,” Wilson explains, with each one giving it a building block for the next one. “We’ve been profitable all the way through, and with each acquisition, we feel like we’ve got a pretty good model to integrate it into our company.”
Today, Springfield, Missouri-based Wilson Logistics, still family-owned with Darrel Wilson at the helm as chairman and CEO, has a fleet of more than 1,000 trucks and offices in Missouri, Washington, Montana and Oregon.
After coming through the last recession, Wilson explains, watching the failure of other companies, “it became obvious to me there were plenty of opportunities” to make acquisitions and grow in a highly fragmented market. “We feel there’s still room to grow.”
Wilson Logistics has 400 trucks in Prime’s program hauling refrigerated freight all over the U.S., and about 650 trucks in the Pacific Northwest hauling dry freight as well as heavy-haul operations with four-axle trucks serving the beverage and paper industries. Plus there’s an intermodal division, dedicated, and brokerage operations.
“We feel we’re making the evolution from a trucking company to a logistics company,” Wilson says.
As part of that change, it has been testing the cloud-based EKA Omni-TMS to help it meet shipper needs for real-time visibility and integration. “We’re looking to greatly expand our brokerage, and we didn’t feel any of the packages out there did exactly what we wanted,” Wilson explains. “We found EKA is much more than the brokerage package we were after. It’s a digital marketplace,” and that model meshed well with Wilson’s power-only operations. “Our goal is to grow our digital presence in EKA’s private marketplace.” The idea is to bring along smaller fleets and help them grow as Wilson has grown.
“These kind of technology breakthroughs EKA is bringing along will help the smaller to medium sized carriers as a viable option. And it will allow shippers to connect with smaller guys they really couldn’t connect with before.”
Another high-tech pilot program is with a company called Locomation, which is developing what it calls “human-guided autonomous convoying.”
“This is more of an airplane pilot with an autopilot,” Wilson explains; “there’s always a driver in the truck.”
During a three-year pilot program, Locomation will employ its Autonomous Relay Convoy technology on 11 Wilson Logistics segments. ARC allows one driver to pilot a lead truck equipped with technology augmentation while a follower truck operates in tandem through Locomation’s fully autonomous system. This allows the follower driver to log off and rest during this time.
Wilson Logistics’ philosophy is to never get too comfortable. “We’re always going to be pushing forward,” Wilson says.
A Passion for Safety
The word “passion” is overused to describe someone’s enthusiasm for their job, their mission, their hobby. But it’s hard to think of a better one when you talk to Chris Woody, safety manager at M&W Logistics in Nashville, Tennessee.
M&W is a truckload carrier with 143 trucks and long-haul, regional and local operations. Woody started working in payroll. New to the trucking industry, his natural curiosity led him to “stick his nose into everything,” and he soon got involved in the fleet’s safety efforts.
“Safety is 100% where my passion is. In my personal life, and in my faith and how I run my family, my life is dedicated to helping people. It was the first time ever that I had the opportunity to take a job where my duty to my company fit in exactly with what I’m trying to do personally in my life. Every day I get to come here and do my little part to help keep everybody alive and safe.”
The company was an early adopter of in-cab cameras, more than six years ago – both forward-facing and driver-facing. “We really saw the value of cameras, not just the videos we get, but all the data that comes along with that,” Woody says. “It allowed us to quantify safety to some degree and measure it and improve it. It didn’t take very long for cameras to really become the heart of our safety program.”
The data provided by the Lytx fleet management system M&W uses today, in conjunction with the Bendix Wingman Fusion collision mitigation system, is the main component used to determine safety bonuses, supplemented with data from electronic logs, enforcement violations and other sources.
“We’ve created this standard by which we predict that if a driver meets this standard, they are very likely to have prevented a crash,” he explains. “We’re judging against a standard of conduct, and it has worked tremendously well.” Although the approximately $30,000 the company pays out in safety bonuses each quarter is significant, “the intelligent gamble that we’re taking is that is a drop in the bucket compared to what a crash costs.”
When M&W first considered in-cab cameras, the pushback from drivers was so great that it abandoned the idea.
“Then we had an incident where somebody crashed into one of our trucks when a driver was making a wide right turn. We got cited for failure to yield the right of way, and we said, ‘You know what, we’re getting cameras; let the chips fall where they may.’ We were ready for the fallout, and lo and behold, not one person quit. I think we did a good job of presenting them and explaining them. When you do that, you eliminate some of the mystery and fear and misconceptions.”
The cameras soon revealed how often M&W drivers were using cell phones and following at unsafe distances. “Once we began seeing the driving data from our fleet, we realized how much we were missing. It became clear that drivers who we thought were safe were actually just lucky,” he says.
Today, with the video and safety bonus program firmly in place, Woody says, drivers “know they’ve got a company that cares about their safety… they know we’re all working together for the same goal – and the number one goal every day is to come home alive. From the top down, it is very, very clear that safety trumps everything, and we’re not going to give up on that for the sake of a hot load.”