Founded 60 years ago to transport fuel oil in the Midwest, Transport Service Co. (TSC) has grown and diversified into one of the largest tank truck carriers in the United States. Today, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based motor carrier conducts business through a Chemical Division that provides tank truck services to chemical manufacturers, and a Food Grade Division focused on serving manufacturers of bulk liquid food products.
TSC operates throughout North America from a number of company terminals. Chemical Division locations are in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana. Food Division facilities are strategically located through out the Midwest and Southeast in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida.
“We work with our shippers and suppliers to design equipment to meet customer needs,” says Peter Nativo, vice president of maintenance. “TSC differentiates its service offerings from its competitors through the quality of its service, and the fleet is no exception.”
The TSC fleet of 575 tractors consists mainly of newer Volvo VNs as well as some Mack CX models. In operation are day cabs, standard size sleepers and 70-in. sleeper cabs for team operations. Currently, the company owns power units that are on a six-year/600,000-mile replacement cycle.
“This trade cycle lets us take maximum advantage of the manufacturer’s warranty and results in a fleet that is significantly younger than the industry average,” says Nativo. “Our average tractor age is 3.47 years. We also do a complete cost analysis every couple of years to see what works best for us, and we are interested in pre-buying to avoid new technology. For example, we do not intend to purchase any new tractors with 2007 emissions-compliant engines until 2008.”
TSC also owns 1,100 stainless steel liquid bulk trailers from Brenner, Polar and Walker. Chemical Division units are 7,000-gal. models while the Food Division operates 5,000-gal. sanitary vehicles. Trailers in the fleet are nine years old, on average. The projected service life of the trailers is 20 years, although after 15 years of on-road service some trailers begin serving as long-term storage units.
All of TSC’s trailers are single bore stainless steel designs without baffles to ensure that non-compatible chemicals are not mixed and that food grade models can be easily and thoroughly cleaned between loads. Valves also are designed to be quick release to facilitate rapid cleaning, and all welds and protuberances on the trailers are polished to eliminate areas that could trap dirt and result in contamination.
The TSC chemical fleet is equipped with a unique system for off-loading product that was designed in house and is installed by the fleet, Nativo says.
“We do lots of pumping using PTOs and hydraulic stainless steel pumps so we developed our own variable speed pumping control system using hydraulic and pneumatic components,” Nativo says. “With this system a driver can regulate the speed of the pump so products with different viscosities can be unloaded quickly. The system’s controls are located in the sleeper storage compartment for protection from the weather.”
“We also design trailers with a number of lightweight specifications,” Nativo says. “Most of our loads reach 80,000 lbs. because the liquids we transport are heavy. Weight savings transfers to payload, especially with liquids, and shippers are always interested in carrying more per load when it’s feasible.”
A cost-benefit analysis for each component tells Nativo whether the additional investment in lightweight specifications is worthwhile. In some cases, for example, he says paying extra to save weight is cost effective but others factors such as the benefits of standardizing and the vehicle’s projected life cycle in the fleet can outweigh the value of saving a few pounds.
One example Nativo points out involves brake drums. Originally, the fleet specified Motor Wheel Centrifuse brake drums on trailers to save weight, but switched to cast drums. The reason, he explains, was cost over the life of the vehicle.
“At twice the price and considering the need to replace drums at every reline on four wheel ends over 20 years,” he says, “it simply wasn’t cost effective even considering a savings of 10 lbs. per drum.”
On tractors, however, the numbers do add up to savings and the fleet is now spec’ed with a mix of Centrifuse and Meritor X30 lightweight brake drums.
“Considering that brake linings last 300,000 to 400,000 miles, only one set of drums needs to be purchased in the service life of the vehicle in the fleet” he says. “At a savings of 50 lbs. per tractor, including steer axles, the higher cost is easily justified.”
To carry maximum payloads, TSC specifies lightweight Hutchens 9600 Series and Hendrickson HP Intraax trailer suspensions and Jost two-speed landing gear, Nativo says. In addition, trailers and tractors are equipped with ConMet preset aluminum hubs and lightweight brake spiders.
“On tractors we’ve also done quite a few things over the years to reduce weight,” Nativo says. “For example, our specs call for Fontaine 5th wheels, aluminum bell and flywheel housings, aluminum air tanks, Alcoa aluminum wheels, Meritor rear axles with aluminum carriers and a mix of Meritor and Dana lightweight steer axles.
“On some tractors as well we’ve reduced the size of the fuel tanks,” he says. “Originally, every tractor in the TSC fleet was fitted with two 100-gal. tanks. However, in some local operations, and on day cabs in particular, we didn’t need to carry that much fuel so we cut back and saved about 270 lbs. per vehicle.”
For lightweight specs and other opportunities to enhance efficiency, productivity and safety, TSC works closely with suppliers to evaluate new technologies.
For example, the fleet has ordered 100 tractors with Roll Stability Control systems from Bendix and is also conducting an ongoing evaluation of Haldex TSC trailer stability systems.
Underway as well is a test of Power Links, a blind spot vision system that utilizes a camera mounted on the right hand fender and a cab mounted screen that are activated by the turn signal.
“We’ve been testing 50 of the systems and will probably buy 50 to 100 next year,” Nativo says. “Our data indicated that the biggest percentage of accidents we experience are related to lane changing, so this should help address that problem.”
A supplier’s willingness to support the TSC fleet and its maintenance operation is a major factor in specification decisions.
“For any new technology, service training has to keep up and parts have to be readily available,” Nativo says. “That’s one reason we’ve standardized the fleet. Currently as well, all of our parts are supplied through Volvo Fleet Force, MackCharge and Truck Pro. In addition, we purchase all of our tires through Ameriquest. This program has been a phenomenal money saver for us. Through Ameriquest we buy new Michelin and Bridgestone tires and Bandag retreads at a significant savings.”
At its nine full-service maintenance facilities, TSC employs 26 technicians who perform all maintenance and repairs except major engine and component work covered by extended warranties. Each shop has a lead technician who oversees daily operations and works with the terminal manager to address equipment problems and ensure that routine PM is handled. In addition, northern and southern regional maintenance managers work with the facilities and provide pre-employment testing, training and certification programs, among other things.
Training for technicians is something Nativo calls essential to a successful maintenance program and a valuable supplier partnership.
“We utilize our suppliers for training,” he says. “In 2005, for example, Volvo, Mack, Haldex, Stemco, Alcoa and T.F. Hudgins all provided training for our technicians. The willingness to meet our training needs is an important part of our supplier relationships. A highly trained staff is important to TSC for reducing costs and for lowering turnover rates, especially considering the shortage of qualified technicians in the industry.
“It’s not only important to keep technicians up to date,” Nativo says, “but we need to reward them for their efforts as well. For that reason, we’ve instituted a four-level certification program for our technicians, which provides them with opportunities to earn higher wages. Since we introduced the program, we’ve had less turnover and fewer concerns about finding and hiring new recruits.”
Helping manage TSC’s entire maintenance operation is a computerized system that tracks parts and labor costs, and schedules preventive maintenance in conjunction with the company’s dispatch solution. Weekly reports from the software are used to indicate to each terminal those vehicles that are due for service. Also available are PM compliance reports that show average compliance with PM schedules above 92 percent fleet wide.
TSC also has a program to transfer all paper files to an Internet-based search system.
“We must have 100,000 pieces of paper in file cabinets, many more pages of specifications and our own operating practices and procedures manuals for maintenance and tires,” Nativo says. “We purchased a scanner that can handle 999 sheets at a time and are about 60 percent finished with the scanning process.
“Subsequently, a search engine is being put in place that will enable everyone in the company to quickly and easily find, view, forward or print any document in our system,” he says. “In the future, PM forms will be scanned as they come in, and we’re also going to make repair bulletins and new service procedures from suppliers available online.”
To support all of this and other TSC equipment and maintenance programs, Nativo relies heavily on Southern Regional maintenance manager Mike Hause and Northern Regional maintenance manager Kelly Parker.
The operation also is guided by the efforts of Julia Sexauer, corporate maintenance secretary, and Linda Borowiak, administrative assistant.
An active member of the National Tank Truck Carriers Conference and the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Assns., Nativo says participation in industry associations is important to TSC’s success.
“Participating is important because it provides insight into new ideas and technologies, as well as helps us understand new regulations that will impact the fleet,” he says. “It’s also important to share ideas and give back to the industry, especially when it comes to finding more efficient and safer operating practices.”