Minimizing Operating Downtime

Melton Truck Lines keeps its rigs rolling through a combination of technologies, techniques and scrutiny.

One of the nation's leading flatbed trucking companies, Melton Truck Lines offers full North American coverage, including through-trailer service to and from Mexico, a pioneering move it began in 1980. With a fleet of 800 tractors and 1,300 air-ride trailers, it has earned a reputation for consistent, on-time transportation service by proactively improving its fleet management and maintenance practices.

One of the fleet's most recent challenges has been extending out the trade cycles on its tractors, predominately T600 and T660 Kenworths - all company owned and operated. It used to sell or trade its tractors after 36 or 42 months. But with the decline in the trucking industry and the nation's economy, the Tulsa, OK-headquartered company is holding onto its equipment longer.

Melton Truck Lines buys new tractors and gets them with an extended warranty for 500,000 miles. However, it trades them after about 300,000 to 350,000 miles in order to reduce maintenance and repair costs and get a higher resale value, says Jeff Robinson, senior vice president of maintenance. All that is changing as the company lengthens equipment life cycles. That, in turn, is causing a change in the company's maintenance practices, with a shift to predictive maintenance.

"We're looking at what our most common breakdowns and repairs are to see what we need to do to preempt these things and get the trucks to live longer," he explains. "Do we need to put a clutch in, redo the air conditioning system - that type of thing. Basically, we want to figure out how to make a truck trouble free for six years or 600,000 miles."

The average age of the trailers, mostly Utility models with some Great Danes, is now 3.5 years. The trade cycle was 7 years but that lengthened to 10 years, says Robinson. "With proper maintenance a 10-year old flatbed trailer works, and as important, looks good to our customers."

Melton Truck Lines was founded in Crossett, AR, in 1954 by Bert and Gladys Melton to haul lumber and roofing materials in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. It has plenty of historical truck operation and maintenance data which is used to continually revamp the company's maintenance strategy, procedures and processes.

For many years now, it has been using maintenance management software from Innovative Maintenance Systems to help track and manage fleet inventory, preventive maintenance, repairs, fuel, parts and more. One of the nice features of the software, says Robinson, is that it keeps track of maintenance activities and can generate preventive maintenance and repair histories. Having historical information helps with analyzing costs, monitoring trends and watching the effectiveness of the overall maintenance operation.

"We're always keeping an eye on maintenance trends, looking for any spikes - for example, an increase in tire wear. When we spot one, we dig down to find out what's going on and then come up with a fix."

Any vehicle repair that "is big, major and time-consuming" is done by truck and engine dealers, Robinson says. "The job of our technicians is to get all the trucks that come through our terminals inspected, maintained and back out on the road as quickly as possible. If I tie a tech up on a job that's two days long, say, that's four or five trucks each day that can't be inspected.

"Our technicians can do it all," he notes. He prefers technicians with broad skills rather than specialties because "it makes them more flexible in what they can do, and that helps increase shop productivity." So does tracking and benchmarking technician and shop productivity, which he began about three years ago. "This helps determine how efficient our shops are operating and if there are any issues or problems." The information is also helpful when the company does the annual review of each technician.

The productivity results for all shops are posted quarterly. "Our technicians like to be challenged, and by doing this we create some friendly competition between the shops to see who can be the best."

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