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Reining in Rising Maintenance Costs

The less-than-truckload fleet’s 537 technicians also are assigned one hour of training per week, Newby said, adding that Old Dominion is the only LTL carrier with an ASE certification training program.

“If a technician follows through with the training and shows commitment and tests, he’s automatically promoted,” Newby said.

Adding more computing and diagnostic capability in the shop helps, but the industrywide shortage of technicians remains.

While finding technicians is a challenge, getting new technicians up to speed and maintaining technical skills is just as critical, said Steve Lynch, vice president of equipment purchasing and shop operations with Swift Transportation, which is based in Phoenix. “We’re spending a ton of money and time training people.”

Swift, which ranks No. 6 on the for-hire TT100, requires its 1,300 technicians to take one hour of training weekly, whether it’s for the latest update or a refresher on a previous topic, Lynch said.

But the need for tech-savvy technicians can only grow, he said.

“Because of the complexity of today’s diagnostics, eventually we’re going to need something like a maintenance engineer. We’re going to have one group to troubleshoot trucks and another group to repair them,” Lynch said, saying he thinks they’ll have to start by 2019 in order to be ready by 2021 with the new emissions regulations.

Another step fleets can take to get a handle on maintenance costs is to eliminate wasted motions and activities in the shop. Process mapping — identifying the number of steps and motions a technician takes to complete a task — can highlight those inefficiencies.

Swift instituted its program in 2008 and it helped the company plan shop activity better and respond immediately to any equipment change.

“We can adjust quickly to any new equipment,” Lynch said. “In two hours we can have a bulletin out to every facility.”

Old Dominion looked for “blatant inefficiencies” when it reviewed its shop processes, Newby said. The fleet added four-post lifts in all of its shops and moved more parts shelving into the shop so the techs were not spending as much time running back and forth to the parts counter.

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By Jim Galligan
Contributing Writer

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