While John Christner Trucking faces the same maintenance challenges as all other temperature-controlled trucking operations, it has some unique ones. "We're an all lease operator fleet and this presents a whole different set of problems than the average driver fleet," says Dickson.
The company buys the tractors and leases them to the operator with the intention that they will buy them. All trailers are company owned.
"One of our main challenges is making sure the lease operators adhere to our PM schedules. We've developed these over time specifically for our operation."
As part of the business arrangement with John Christner Trucking, lease contractors agree to abide by the company's PM schedule. They aren't required to use the company's shop for repairs and maintenance services, however. Lease contractors may use any shop approved by the fleet.
"All trucks must go through our company shop every 90 days for a no-charge inspection, primarily to make certain the equipment would pass a U.S. DOT roadside inspection," Dickson explains. "This helps us make sure our operators are complying with our PM programs.
"It just one of the many things we do to support them and help them be successful and profitable. Their success determines our success."
For repairs and problems on the road, operators contact John Christner Trucking's Road Assist group to direct them to authorized service providers and then follow up on the repairs.
The fleet operates its own wrecker which operates nationwide. "It has gotten more use over the past year or so as service providers have shown their true colors with ridiculously excessive estimates on repairs," says Dickson. "They don't care about the trucker, just their bottom line."
Dickson says retaining technicians hasn't been a problem. However, recruiting technicians gets a little more difficult every year. When looking for a technician, the fleet seeks specific qualifications and experience that will help determine a good fit.
The fleet's technicians have numerous certifications and training is continual. For technicians who come on board, especially those with little experience, there is a mentoring program to help them develop.
The fleet works with votech schools as a way to find technicians, but Dickson stresses: "These schools need to get real about their education. My big issue with them is that they teach the fundamentals of diesel mechanics but nothing on U.S. DOT regulations relating to truck maintenance.
"They will teach a student how to work on an old Cummins PT pump that we haven't seen in years, but not what brake travel is and what it should be."
Dickson attributes the continuing success of the maintenance operation at John Christner Trucking to a number of key elements. Chief among these: thoroughly assessing and re-examining the fleet's needs and related maintenance practices; looking for and evaluating products, services and process that can improve both vehicle and shop efficiencies and productivity while lowering costs; having good information and data upon which to base decisions; and striving for continuous improvement.
Along with that, Dickson says, "we have good people in the right positions." No easy task for the maintenance department of 73 people that he oversees.
"My part on the team is to throw out ideas and be instrumental in helping others see a better way of doing something. I'm always encouraging suggestions and recommendations.
"I'm bigger on leadership than management," he goes on. "I subscribe to what General Patton said: 'Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.'"
All of these factors work together to achieve ever-increasing levels of operational performance, concludes Dickson. "That leads to elevated driver and customer satisfaction, and that leads to continued company growth and profitability.
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