We’ve all heard that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. At the Erb Group of Companies, Canada’s largest privately owned refrigerated transport company, that old saying takes on a new meaning.
“There’s no second chance when hauling perishable freight,” says Jim Pinder, corporate fleet director. “Thousands of customers rely on us for on-time delivery of temperature-controlled and time-sensitive food all over the U.S. and Canada. We cannot be delayed because of an equipment breakdown.”
Now in its 60th year in business, Erb Group has grown from a one-truck operation into a diversified trucking business with 655 power units, 160 straight trucks, 25 terminal tractors and 1,200 refrigerated trailers. The various entities of the New Hamburg, Ontario-based company include the original Erb Transport Limited, a less-than-truckload and truckload transportation and distribution operation with terminals in six Ontario cities, two in Quebec and one in Manitoba.
In addition, Erb International Inc. is a truckload operation covering 48 U.S. states and Erb Transport Inc. is a Pennsylvania-based regional truckload carrier serving the mid-Atlantic region. The company also includes Erb Dedicated Services, which provides emergency and expedited courier service.
Focusing on performance
“Uptime is paramount,” Pinder says, “especially when success means a growing customer base that has put capacity constraints on our fleet. It’s a good problem to have, but it also means foc using closely on the performance and reliability of our fleet.”
There are several ways Erb Group does that, Pinder relates, including using TMT Fleet Maintenance software for tracking costs and warranty issues within equipment groups. “We rely heavily on driver feedback as well,” he says, “as they are the eyes and ears of our company every day.
“Erb Group is also a member of a benchmarking industry group of similar size temperature-controlled fleets who meet periodically to review equipment performance, operational best practices and safety issues,” Pinder adds. “We want to be sure of the direction we‘re taking in key areas.
“We are conservative with our change process and controlled when introducing new specifications, normally in small numbers for evaluation over time in real-world applications,” Pinder notes. “Our fear is moving in the direction of a new technology or product that consumes major resources, and then in a short time is discarded by the industry so there’s no value in the investment.”
Core specifications and flexibility
Equipment specifications at Erb Group feature a core set of items but allow for flexibility to meet customer- and application-driven requirements and to take advantage of technological opportunities. For example, Great Dane is the company’s primary trailer provider but there is a nearly even split between Thermo King and Carrier refrigeration units. There are also some units with tridem axles and a growing trend in the fleet has been toward dual temperature refrigeration units.
Today, more than 90% of the Erb Group power fleet consists of Internationals. Included are LT Series tractors in three core specification sets, including long haul units with 73-in. sleepers, regional haul units with 56-in. sleepers and day cabs.
International MV Series straight truck specifications at Erb Group allow for various body lengths, lift gates and tandem axles. There is also a group of straight trucks with sleepers and custom body dimensions for dedicated runs.
“The International LT with an A26 engine is the lightest package we’ve purchased,” Pinder relates. “That allows us to haul more payload, which means additional revenue per load. More importantly, the fuel efficiency of the A26 engine has reduced our operating costs. In fact, many of our drivers can get over 10 miles per gallon.”
Fuel efficiency and safety
Key personnel at the Erb Group review fuel economy data on the fleet monthly to identify variations within operational groups or equipment specifications, Pinder notes. “We’ve been changing our specs over the last ten years to improve fuel efficiency,” he adds. “For example, fuel economy on trailers is improved with side fairings, and we put tails on several hundred units.
“Our trailers are also equipped with Hendrickson Tiremaax Pro tire pressure control systems, Bridgestone low rolling resistance tires, and lift gate equipped units have solar panels for charging battery packs,” Pinder adds. “In addition, reefer activity is monitored with Orbcomm telematics, allowing operations to control settings remotely.
“Tractor specifications include automated manual transmissions and downsped engines and rear axle gearing to help maximize fuel economy,” Pinder continues. “That takes RPM out of the equation without sacrificing drivability. We’re also getting fuel savings from stationary fifth wheels because we can control tractor to trailer spacing. Additionally, there are savings from International MaxxPower battery-powered APUs that provide heat and air conditioning in our long haul sleepers, as well as Webasto heaters in smaller bunks, without idling engines.
For safety, Pinder says that Erb Group specs Bendix Wingman Advanced collision mitigation systems, Lytx dash cameras, heated mirrors and even quality wiper blades. There are also visual and audible seat belt warning systems as well as an auto neutral function and audible warning for parking brake application when a driver exits the cab. “Vehicle speed is restricted to 62 MPH in cruise control, and drivers are scored continuously through an Omnitracs performance monitoring system,” he adds.
Providing equipment support
“Within the Erb Group of Companies we have ten terminal locations where we service and repair equipment,” Pinder says. “Within our facilities, staff numbers vary depending on the volume of equipment domiciled at each location and the Erb traffic they support. We have one- and two-person operations in some places, and in our largest facility there are 47 employees on three shifts.
“The majority of our maintenance shops are in Ontario where there is a provincial apprenticeship program for commercial vehicle technicians,” Pinder continues. “We are very active in the program and employ several apprentices who are being trained to be our certified technicians of the future. Erb technicians are also encouraged to complete ongoing OEM training to enhance their skill level.
“We operate all over North America and as we are transporting food, which we pick up and deliver in some very remote locations, we require support in all of those areas as well,” Pinder adds. “To facilitate that we have long-term relationships with towing operators and independent repair facilities, and we use national programs through major OEMs. For example, with International Fleet Charge we are a priority customer at all International dealerships, have credit available, clear warranty identification, stable parts pricing and one source for invoicing any road service and repairs.”
Across the Erb Group, Pinder relates, there is open and continual communication between sales, operations and maintenance departments to ensure that the correct equipment is ready and available to take care of customer needs.