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March 6, 2019 1:00 PM, EST

Opinion: The Maintenance Shop’s Role in Fleet Optimization

Making the best use of your fleet should include considering the role of the maintenance shop. No company wants to continually rely on always having spare trucks available should a unit go down. That makes an efficient shop a vital component of your fleet’s overall performance.

Fleet Optimization

Evangelist

Many fleets only optimize certain areas — such as their assets or routes — but it’s important to remember that once you’ve optimized these areas, you’ve forced out most, if not all, of the excess equipment. This means there are few, if any, spare trucks available as you rotate trucks in for service, running repairs, warranty campaigns or have a problem with one (or more) based on age or miles, etc.

In other words, every vehicle has to be ready to go when it is needed.

This is particularly true for any specialized equipment, as that equipment can be more difficult to rent than a vehicle that is used for general delivery.

The bottom line is that trucks need to be in top operating condition and ready to roll each day. To make this happen, you need skilled truck technicians. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a severe technician shortage that is expected to worsen as more people are aging out of the workforce than are entering. Compounding the issue, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for diesel service technicians to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024. Trucks are made better today but these new units are substantially more complicated to repair with all of the electronics and sensors further exacerbating the difficulty in finding good, qualified technicians.

In addition to the challenges of recruiting and keeping great technicians, it’s nearly impossible to find some who want to work the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. This is a situation where a little shop optimization can help.

Look at the hours of operation for your maintenance shop, and analyze how much work and the kinds of work each shift handles throughout the day. Look at how often repairs are delayed because of an inability to get parts — primarily those late night-early morning hours. Is the maintenance team fully aware of the time of day that parts must be ordered to get them to the shop the same or next day? Has a parts utilization study been done to stress-test your current inventory levels?

Another area to look at when optimizing your shop is the time required for your trucks to be loaded and when they ultimately “clear the yard.” In other words, what time do they need to start their routes or begin moving freight? Also, look at the time they return to base at the end of the day. All of these factors become critical as you match the available manpower to the assets to be serviced.

One fleet optimization solution is to have your first shift start an hour earlier so that instead of the technician’s workday starting at, say, 6 a.m., it begins at 5 a.m. You also could consider adding a shift that overlaps first shift and second shift. Another option is to “go heavy” on the second shift so you have more technicians working that shift, increasing the chances of productivity during this prime time frame.

The basic question is this: what changes do I have to make in my shop to make sure every truck is ready to go when needed? Throw out your notions of the way shop loading has always occurred, and apply the same techniques you use to optimize your vehicles and your routing to your maintenance and shop operations.

Given the current technician shortage, which is predicted to only get worse, we need to find ways to fit our shop hours into the needs and wants of our technicians while also keeping in mind the needs of fleets. It will take some work, but with creative thinking, trucking companies can satisfy both the needs of their fleet and those of their technicians.

Stretching the first and second shift and focusing on the time the assets are available to the shop manpower are key steps, and strict adherence to a quality PM program and a quality pre- and post-inspection can take some of the pressure off the shop by finding potential problems early. Equipment uptime is a total team effort.

Transervice Logistics Inc. provides transportation services including logistics, dedicated contract carriage, fleet leasing, contract maintenance, and material handling equipment leasing and maintenance.