Minimizing Operating Downtime

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

Along with its terminal in Tulsa, Melton Truck Lines operates terminals in Dallas, El Paso and Laredo, TX; Birmingham, AL; and Youngstown, OH. While each has a vehicle maintenance operation, the largest is at the Tulsa terminal - 12 bays and 15 technicians, followed by the Laredo shop with 8 bays and also 15 technicians. The maintenance department, overseen by Robinson since he joined the company in October 2001, is made up of 50 people.

Laredo is has the biggest maintenance operation because 25 percent of the company's business is in and out of Mexico. The rigs stop there to be inspected before crossing the border. Both Tulsa and Laredo have a dedicated drive-through inspection building.

Melton Truck Lines uses the vehicle manufacturer's PM guidelines as a foundation for its maintenance procedures but adds additional steps developed over time specific to its operation. "We constantly track our maintenance work and costs, regularly review everything and then adjust as necessary," says Robinson.

Another way the company works to minimize unscheduled downtime is through its technicians. "We have good technicians that really stay on top of our equipment by looking for the small problems. When they find something, or see a trend developing, they deal with it and bring it to our attention. That helps us prevent the little things from developing into big problems. We want things fixed in the shop, not have a breakdown on the road."

Robinson has been in involved in vehicle maintenance since graduating from Oklahoma State University with a degree in diesel and heavy equipment mechanics in 1977. He says that "when I see a big problem develop, I use my contacts and networking to learn if other fleets have had the same or similar issues. It's good to compare and share information."

For those occasions when there is a breakdown, Melton Truck Lines has a Road Service Department. It has contracts with service providers nationwide and helps manage the breakdowns to get trucks up and running as rapidly as possible. This department is staffed by four people and operates around the clock.

To bolster its efforts to catch problems before they cause an on-road issue, about six months ago, Melton Truck Lines began a pre-trip inspection contest for drivers. The idea, says Robinson, is to help drivers improve their inspection skills and make them aware of safety issues. A rig is set up with 10 or 12 "defects" and drivers are challenged to find them.

Good pre-trip inspections are going to take on even greater importance with the implementation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new major proactive safety program - Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, he notes. The program makes drivers more accountable for the condition of their vehicles.

Robinson says the company's stringent driver employment standards and driver training and safety programs also help the fleet keep maintenance costs under control. "We operate good quality trucks with first-rate professional drivers that care about the equipment. That results in fewer repairs and breakdowns."

Another focus has been squeezing more miles out of every gallon fuel. "That's a lot more difficult for a flatbed fleet and than a van operation," he remarks.

In the endeavor to lower fuel costs, Melton Truck Lines established a Fuel Conservation Department to focus on fuel conservation through new technologies, techniques and education. Plus, it joined the U.S. EPA's SmartWay Transport Partnership - a program that encourages freight transportation companies to be more fuel-efficient and to run cleaner for the environment.

From these moves, the company altered its tractors specs, switching from Caterpillar diesel engines with a 13-speed overdrive transmission to a 430-horsepower Cummins diesel with a 10-speed direct drive Eaton Fuller transmission. "This has made a big difference in optimizing fuel mileage," Robinson says.

It also switched to wide-base tires on its tractors. "We haven't seen a huge mpg difference, but it saves us weight, and as a flatbed operation we're real conscious about weight. And we're getting good tire life." The fleet is considering using wide-base tires for its trailers as well.

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