Cover Story: The Tire Guys

When the rubber hits the road at Keen Transport, it really hits the road.


Keen Transport, Inc. picks up new construction and mining equipment from factories and ports around the country and delivers it to end users. When a 250,000 pound piece of construction equipment rolls off the assembly line in Peoria, the Keen rig that picks it up for delivery could easily have 13 axles and 52 tires. That’s a lot of rubber hitting the you-know-what.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Keen Transport’s maintenance director, Lloyd Hair, pays a lot of attention to his tires. And, even with seven shops around the country, he pays attention to every detail, no matter how small.

“The first thing you’ve got to do for your tires is make sure the air pressure is correct,” he says. “It’s the first step, and it’s a simple thing. Everybody looks for complicated things, but you just need to make sure it’s inflated to the proper pressure.”

LOAD TABLES

But Hair doesn’t let his technicians go just by the numbers on the sides of the tires. He consults with online load tables for each of his three tire vendors—Bridgestone, Continental and Michelin—and calculates the proper pressures for his fleet’s loads, then incorporates those guidelines in his tire PMs.

“Every trailer goes through a Keen yard (for PM) every 90 days,” Hair explains. “Every truck comes through based on mileage or time, but every third PM has to be done at a Keen facility.

“At the PM we gauge every tire,” he says. “Now the industry says gauge every tire every day, every week, but I just don’t think anyone does that—it’s just not going to happen. So, we have the drivers thumping the tires and looking for problems during their pre-check.

“And we do a yard check every day, where the facility maintenance guy will walk around and look for all the problems,” he says. “Whatever the problem is, we try to find it at the facility. So, even though we have the drivers doing their pre-trips, we also need that extra set of eyes looking at it, because if it’s a $30 or $40 repair in your yard, it’s $150 or $200 out on the road.”

There’s another reason to spend two hours and $30 fixing a tire problem on the lot: Keen Transport hauls permit loads, so their trucks can only run during daylight hours. If a truck is sidelined with a flat and the driver can’t get the load delivered by sundown, Hair has got a serious problem.

“You don’t control any costs on your rig. No one does,” he says. “So we try to find anything we can in the yard.”

PRESSURE SENSITIVE

There’s a certain irony in the fact that one of the biggest expenses in any fleet’s maintenance budget is safeguarded by one of the cheapest tools in the garage: the lowly tire gauge.

Hair doesn’t like that one bit, so he insists that his technicians have top-of-the-line gauges that are calibrated on a regular schedule.

“Tires are your second biggest cost, but a lot of fleet guys get cheap,” he says. “I don’t know why, but I see this happen too often: they say, ‘That’s the mechanic’s tool. I’m not buying that. That’s not my expense.’

“So, they make the mechanic buy the gauge,” he goes on. “Now, the mechanic gets on the tool truck an he looks at the tire gauge—that’s not an exciting tool like a socket wrench, and it’s something he’s been told he has to buy. They probably have them from $4 to $20; now which do you think he’s going to buy? Your second highest cost, and you’re going to put it in the hands of a $4 gauge? That’s not a good business decision. In my opinion, gauges are something the company should buy.”

There’s another problem with making technicians buy their own gauges, according to Hair: when the gauge is broken, the technician is slow to shell out money on a replacement. His solution is to buy quality gauges that can be recalibrated from Myers Tire, his favorite vendor, and replace them for his technicians at the first sign of trouble.

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