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As many of you know, automated manual transmissions (AMTs) have been in big trucks since the 1980s. I’m sure many of you were unlucky to test this technology years ago during its initial test phase, and are aware of all the problems they ran into. Over the last several years, these companies have learned from their mistakes and have almost perfected the AMTs in class 8 trucks. In 2014, Transport America tested over 50 trucks equipped with the AMT. We saw improvements in MPG, reliability, and most of all, Driver comfort. Due to the success experienced, we decided to invest in 2015 by specing all our sleeper trucks with the AMT.
The AMTs have many advantages, and due to the improved design, have only one disadvantage:
- Upfront cost
Here are some of the advantages:
• Safety: Less Driver fatigue at the end of the day.
• Safety: Safer to drive. No way to miss a gear when going downhill. You have more control.
• Safety: HILL START AID. When stopped on grades of 6% or more, the vehicle is prevented from rolling backward on uphill grades or forward on a downhill grade.
• Driver Friendly: Easy to operate for Drivers of all skill levels.
• Driver Friendly: This is the latest and greatest transmission and is nothing like previous models; they
are much more reliable.
• Driver Friendly: Smoother gear shifts than previous models.
• Driver Friendly/Technical Enhancement: Skip Shift. To increase shifting efficiency, the electronic power train controls automatically skip unnecessary gears. This helps increase acceleration and builds momentum to cruising speed quickly and smoothly—No jerking like previous models.
• Technical Enhancement: Better MPG, at least .2 MPG better than a 10-speed manual.
40% of all Freightliners we ordered in the United States in 2015 will come with an automatic transmission.
Check out a Driver testimonial:
James B – “It’s so much less stressful to drive now that I don’t have gears to mash when I’m stuck in traffic. The truck pulls great up hills, and it’s easier to stay focused on the road now that I’m not worrying about what gear I need to be in, or when I need to shift. I struggled with fuel economy in a 10 speed, but now I’m in the top 10 of my division getting over 8 MPG!! I drove automatics several years ago, and disliked them. However, with the new technology out now, I’ll never go back to a manual transmission. Although this is a huge change to the 10 speed manual that most of us are used to, the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. After you get used to it, you will be surprised how much energy you spent shifting all those gears. Most of the advantages revolve directly around the Driver; give it a try!”
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Tire Program Design
By Steve Zerphey, General Manager of Consulting Services, Master Fleet
Managing a fleet’s tire program can represent a significant challenge. On one side of the equation - it is the highest cost item in the shop. On the flip side of the equation - it is an item that most mechanics would prefer not to have to deal with. To effectively manage the costs associated with tires, informed decisions must be carried out on a consistent basis. This decision-making process can be enhanced by having a well defined tire program.
Tire Programs for fleets need to address a number of different areas:
- Tire Specification by axle position – New and Recap
- Tire life cycle –
- Which axle position should be considered for run-outs
- Which axle should a tire be re-capped for
- How long will the casing remain in the fleet
- Tire inflation checks
- Pull Standards – At PM and during non-PM visits to the shop
- Reasons for Removal – Definitions and Management
- Tire repair Criteria
- Scrap Tire audits – Frequency and Reporting
Your tire supplier should be viewed as a critical partner in this endeavor, but the fleet maintenance leadership team needs to take the lead on establishing, reporting and managing the tire program. Too often, we see fleets abdicate these responsibilities to their tire suppliers.
We always promote the use of data in all decisions and, based on the sizeable expense that tires represent, this is of paramount importance as you look to effectively manage this cost item. To generate the data you’ll need, create a list of tire metrics and a corresponding reporting process.
The list of metrics should include:
- Overall monthly tire expense
- % of tires replaced in-house
- Average miles for steer, drive and trailer tires
- Tire Pressure Checks (TPC’s) – How many and where
- Scrap Tire audit results
What metrics do you use to measure your effectiveness?
In what ways do you interact with your tire supplier to manage these costs?
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Gaining Efficiency through effectively managing Direct Time by Steve Zerphey, Consultant, Master Fleet
For purposes of this article, we are defining Direct Time as: the hours that are expended working directly on the fleet’s equipment, (or “wrench-turning” time). While it is impossible to have 100% direct due to paid breaks, shop cleaning, meetings, etc., it is possible to keep it in the mid-80 percent range.
However, many shops attempt to manage it by setting a direct percent goal and publishing it to the workforce. Often times the goal will be achieved, but only through creative recording of labor hours on the part of the workforce. In other words, mechanics can assign more of their downtime to specific repairs on equipment in order to achieve any direct time goal. But, with that approach, the shop is not going to realize increased productive time, only an increase in repair costs as more labor hours get assigned to the repairs.
The most effective way to manage direct time is to analyze activities associated with indirect hours and identifying ways to reduce these activities. If your software systems allows, run reports to capture the number of hours associated with the different indirect activity codes. Determine whether those activities are consistent with your expectations and understanding of the needs within the shop. For instance, if the report indicates that there are 20 hours of meeting time hours monthly for the 20 mechanics in your shop, but you only have 30 minute monthly staff meetings, then you’ll need to explore what activities occur that cause the mechanics to use that indirect code. Sometimes it’s a coding issue, other times it’s a problem with associates “hiding” time under a specific code.
Once you have an understanding of the number of hours and types of activities included in your indirect time, you can go about the task of managing out indirect activities that are not needed in your shop. Using this approach will help to ensure you realize real gains from a productivity standpoint.
Do you have direct percent reporting?
What percent of direct time do you feel is appropriate?
Have you found other, effective ways to manage it?
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Open or Closed – “How do I operate my Parts Room”? by Steve Zerphey, Master Fleet
Many shop leaders struggle with this decision: Should I allow my mechanics free access to the entire parts rooms and rely on them to charge out their parts, or should I staff parts personnel to provide counter service to the mechanics and ensure a higher likelihood that the part will be charged out?
Shop leaders want to adequately control the accuracy of the inventory and gain efficiency by keeping mechanic’s time associated with locating parts to a minimum. This leads them to decide to operate a closed parts room. However, for this to be cost effective and efficient, the cost of labor for the parts personnel needs to out-weigh the lost productivity and cost of an inaccurate inventory. Most of the time, the gain simply does not outweigh the added cost.
Therefore, shop leaders need to find ways to drive inventory accuracy while keeping the parts room open. Removing barriers and making a more seamless process for getting parts charged out can help with these efforts. By locating a computer or, better yet, a bar code scanner at the entrance to the parts room you can increase the likelihood that the parts will get charged out. Frequent auditing of repair orders to check if the mechanics properly charged out parts can also assist with this effort.
We always recommend that shops place high usage parts as close to the work as possible. For example, we recommend that all the parts associated with a PM Service be stocked near the PM bay. And, whether your parts room is open or closed, there has to be a reliance on mechanics to get these parts charged out. So, the choice is yours. But the decision must involve a comparison between added cost for parts personnel and the potential costs of missing parts on repair orders.
Which way have you leaned in deciding to have your parts room opened or closed?
Have you found other benefits from either approach that aren’t covered in this article?
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Dry Runs – Are you paying for breakdown vendors to provide roadside service and when they show up the truck is gone? by Steve Zerphey, Consultant, Master Fleet
The cost associated with these “dry runs” is waste, and completely unnecessary. Once a call is made to a vendor, and they dispatch a piece of equipment to service your vehicle, you are going to incur charges from them whether they locate your driver or not. It’s understandable that a driver would prefer to move their equipment off the side of the road if he/she is able to temporarily make a repair or discover a way to get the equipment moving. If this occurs, and the breakdown staff is not informed, the company will incur a fee for a dry run. One of the biggest problems with this situation is that typically neither the driver nor operations ends up with visibility to the invoice. Often times these are processed through the maintenance department without their involvement.
Preventing the cost of dry runs is only a matter of education. Your drivers need to understand that the company incurs costs for roadside service regardless of whether work is performed or not. They need to provide the breakdown personnel with any changes to their status after the original call is made. Status changes could include:
· They were able to safely move off the roadway
· They discovered the problem and made a permanent or temporary fix
· Their method of communication has changed – satellite communication versus cell phone, for example if their cell phone battery needs charged
Communication is the key – informing them of your expectations should changes occur, and expecting them to inform you of their whereabouts throughout the breakdown event can be vital. Having a system that allows for sharing information with operations about these occurrences can also help your company manage the problem.
Have you ever calculated your annual costs associated with dry runs?
Have you discovered a way to reduce the number of occurrences?
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