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A&R Logistics is staying ahead of the curve

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“We’re growing fast to accommodate the expansion in U.S. manufacturing,” says Scot McQuilkin, vice president of maintenance at A&R Logistics. “However, we need to make sure our growth is smart. We need to meet customers’ requirements and exceed their expectations by staying ahead of the curve without cutting corners, so we’re making substantial strategic investments in equipment, technology and facilities.”

A&R Logistics provides dry bulk transportation, distribution and logistics services to numerous multinational companies in the chemical and plastic industries. With more than 680 company tractors and 1,200 trailers, the company fields one of the largest fleets in the dry bulk transport services market. Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., A&R operates from a network of 23 terminals and 10 warehousing and packaging facilities nationwide.

“Many of our customer contracts are tied to being able to haul specific weights on every load,” McQuilkin says. “We use our ability to haul heavy weights in our negotiations and to support our customers and to meet those standards we must lighten our equipment as much as possible.

“We have always been weight conscious,” McQuilkin continues. “Our goal is to field tandem axle sleepers at less than 19,000 lbs., including fuel, blower equipment and accessories. To do that, we spec aluminum cross members, smaller fuel tanks, aluminum wheels and limit frame length as much as possible.”

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Joining the A&R Logistics fleet beginning after the first of next year will be new Peterbilt Model 567 tractors. The company also operates 2017 model year Freightliner Cascadias, as well as a range of other tractor makes and models. Various trailers in the operation include J&L, Heil, Polar and Tremcar vacuum pneumatic, straight pneumatic and other specialized units.

Balancing needs

“Dry bulk equipment is very unique,” McQuilkin relates, “but while meeting customer needs is paramount, we are also continuously reviewing our specs to ensure we balance operational needs with driver comfort. One of the reasons we are buying Peterbilts next year is that our drivers request them.

“We also spec a 72-in. sleeper and have upgraded to a premium interior to give our drivers a little more luxury,” McQuilkin adds. “It’s very hard to measure ROI on upgrades to attract and retain drivers, as luxury items do not usually give you a good return. However, in today’s world of driver turnover, any advantage you can get is a big deal.”

Safety is also a factor in A&R’s specifications. For example, disc brakes have been standard on both tractors and trailers since 2015, and while McQuilkin says it is hard to see a direct safety benefit from them, such as a drop in incidents, the fleet is receiving very positive feedback from its drivers about the disc brake systems. Additionally, there are lower maintenance costs for having fewer skidding episodes that result in tire replacement.

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“In our world, fuel economy is very elusive due to the amount of space required between the tractor and trailer, and the amount of blower time our equipment spends not actually running up and down the road,” McQuilkin says. “We do govern road speed on our trucks, and our driver training group ensures that all of our drivers understand proper operating speeds and how they affect fuel efficiency.

“We also spec automated manual transmissions, which can provide fuel economy and safety benefits,” McQuilkin adds. “To keep weight down we haven’t specified any additional aerodynamic devices, but we are looking at testing them for their fuel saving potential.”

Justifying new technologies

Overall, McQuilkin points out that in A&R’s operation, justifying new technologies can be a major task, because the units incur a significant amount of operating time loading and unloading product and not spent driving down the road. That, he notes, is why operating and maintenance costs, and breakdown data, are key parts of making new equipment and technology purchases.

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It has also led to a program for refurbishing older tractors, in part to help manage costs and to keep up with growth and the demand for the carrier’s services. “We normally keep a tractor from 12 to 15 years because the majority of our units do not run long distances and spend about 40% of their time sitting and running the blower,” McQuilkin explains.

“When tractors start to have major component failures and overall maintenance costs rise, we look to replace them,” McQuilkin continues. “In many cases, we also refurbish them, including an engine overhaul, repainting of the cab and frame, and a full detailing of the interior. What we’ve also found is that with newer engines it is cost effective to refurbish some of the older power units in our fleet.”

Much of the maintenance cost information that McQuilkin relies on to make those choices comes from the carrier’s TMW’s TMT Fleet Maintenance software. The software is used to manage the activities of the fleet’s 65 technicians, who handle all of the company’s preventive maintenance and repairs.

About 60% of the A&R fleet’s maintenance is handled in-house, and the remainder is outsourced to vendors and dealers. McQuilkin also reports that the majority of the fleet’s trailer parts are supplied by Pneumatic Technology Inc. and that the fleet has partnered with Rush IHC to supply most of its non-OEM tractor parts and miscellaneous shop items.

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“We use outside service providers for breakdowns and some major repairs, such as major component rebuilding or replacement, most accident work and some preventive maintenance when our shops cannot handle the volume,” McQuilkin relates. “We thoroughly review all estimates and invoices to ensure that we’re getting the best repairs for our money, and we also partner with specific vendors to ensure we’re getting the best price and service.

Controlling costs

“We have partnered with Goodyear to create a tire program that has helped us control costs and minimize breakdowns,” McQuilkin says, “Goodyear is our primary supplier for new tires, retreads and tire service needs, including on-road work. We also work with Goodyear to test tires and make sure we’re running the correct models for our application.”

Through its partnership with Goodyear, A&R Logistics is using a variety of the manufacturer’s tires and retreads, and is also using the Goodyear Fleet HQ solution. The online management system provides reports on tire and retread purchases and performance and service activity, and allows the fleet to connect with dealers across the Goodyear national network.

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“With all of our suppliers, we form partnerships that allow us to fully leverage their reporting, analytics and supply chain capabilities,” McQuilkin says. “We find that when both parties have skin in the game and are willing to work toward a common benefit, we can access the best products and services in the industry.”

A&R is also focused on addressing industry challenges. For example, it has stayed ahead of the changes in hours-of-service rules and the upcoming electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, having had an automatic onboard recording device in place since 2012. A&R is now 100% compliant with the ELD mandate.

“Across the board, we are committed to staying far ahead of the curve,” McQuilkin concludes. “We are investing in our infrastructure, equipment technology and people to better serve our customers’ transportation needs and to be the number one dry bulk carrier in the plastics industry.”

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