You can avoid fifty percent of your maintenance headaches by spec'ing properly and then following the manufacturers recommended maintenance practices," says Mike Grace, director, fleet management with South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in West Palm Beach, Florida. SFWMD is a regional agency of the state of Florida whose responsibilities include managing and protecting water resources of the region, which covers 16 counties with five water management districts.
THE 3 T's
The 3 T's—Technicians, Tools, and Training—are all necessary components to a successful shop. So, how do utility fleet managers acquire the 3 T's to best serve their operations?
Grace offers that training is the wildcard. His 32 technicians are ASE certified and take advantage of training from companies such as DELCO for electrical systems. "Unless you have some huge budget for training," he says, "you have to seek what's available and be resourceful."
He is secretary of FLAGFA (Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators), an organization that has as its mission to help both large and small fleets strive for excellence in fleet management.
"We meet twice a year in Daytona Beach," says Grace. "We seek out training with hydraulic, electric, and other instructors and we pay about 75 percent of the training. The technician's employer pays the remaining 25 percent. A small city or small counties often cannot afford the cost to send technicians to training, but if we sponsor a guy, we can bring the prices down for that employer."
He adds, "We'll purchase tools that we do a lot of repairs with. For example, in Palm Beach, we bought an on-the-vehicle brake lathe because almost everything we have is 4WD. We took a five-hour job down to less than two hours."
SRP depends on part suppliers, dealerships and manufacturers to provide training on vehicles purchased from an OEM, but they also use independent training associations.
"We have an established, state-approved four-year apprenticeship program and we add apprentices to the program when we forecast a technician to retire," says Ybarra. "We also hire technicians from outside the company. We look for technicians with aerial and construction equipment experience and train them in areas they lack experience in.
"TRUCKS AND BOATS
Grace oversees a mixed fleet of 1,000 units including sedans, SUVs, bulldozers, bucket trucks, derricks—as well as 44 airboats—that bring up some interesting maintenance issues. He says 13 of the airboats have aircraft engines and 31 have Chevrolet 350 engines. These craft see constant engine loading and vibration from the propeller, and therefore receive short oil changes and thorough inspections for fatigue cracks in the hull and rigging loose fittings and bolts.
The more common vehicles in his fleet are the 225 pickups and 145 SUVs that are mostly GMC K2500's and GM Blazer/Jimmy SUV's. All are 4X4 and most have winches.
"Public works personnel use our pickups," Grace says, "and the scientists and construction workers who are revitalizing the Florida Everglades, use SUVs."
He explains that with eight facilities, they get very little in the day-to-day maintenance. "Most shops' bread and butter is changing oil," says Grace. "Our day runs from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and half of our vehicles are not domiciled where the shop is. We have vendors come on site and change oil after hours rather than take the time of one of our people to bring vehicles in to have the oil changed or for some other easy service item."
Grace adds, "We're about 50 percent outsource. We don't do paint and body, transmissions, glass, or upholstery."
He is optimistic about new technology. "We've ordered some Ford Escape hybrids and they're under warranty. We have three Toyota Prius vehicles on the property and six more ordered. It's the right thing to do. We've got a long warranty with these units and we haven't bought many of the extended warranties. I have confidence in Detroit and Japan and I know they're going to make it work. It's only going to get better."