“We don’t make equipment decisions without taking financial considerations into account, but we always look first at the safety and driver benefits a technology may offer,” says Russ Elliott, senior vice president of operations for Melton Truck Lines. “ROI is important but it’s not generally our first concern.
“It’s not getting any easier to find drivers, especially in a flatbed operation, which requires a lot of physical labor,” Elliott continues. “In this market, drivers are on the road an average of three weeks at a time.”
That approach has led Melton Truck Lines to adopt several systems on its 1,300 tractors and 2,200-plus trailers that are enhancing safety and making life on the road easier for its drivers, notes Jeff Robinson, the fleet’s senior vice president of maintenance.
“We started a number of years ago with lane departure warning and we’ve added advanced ABS and roll stability systems,” Robinson says. “Our latest specs call for Bendix Wingman Advanced systems with collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control. These investments can be expensive, but there’s no doubt they enhance safety.”
Melton also recently began spec’ing Bendix air disc brakes (ADBs) on tractor steer axles and is strongly considering making the braking systems standard on drive axles as well. “ADB definitely improves stopping distances,“ Robinson says, “and with a trade cycle that just over four years, we may only have to replace the pads once on some higher mileage units.”
Yet another safety specification at Melton is DriveCam by Lytx, forward- and rear-facing camera systems. “We’re very forthcoming if we’re at fault,” Elliott says. “We want to know what really happened if there’s an incident, and we always want to do the right thing, but there have been several instances where our driver was not blame so the DriveCam units have saved us a lot of money.”
Tulsa, Okla.-based Melton Truck Lines is one of the largest international flatbed trucking carriers in North America. The carrier hauls a variety of loads, including construction and building materials, air conditioners, sheet metal, metal coils and large machinery. Through interchange agreements with eight or nine highly reputable flatbed carriers, Melton also does a considerable amount of cross-border business in and out of Mexico. The carrier currently serves over 5,000 shippers and boasts a 98% on-time pick-up and delivery record.
The majority of the Melton tractor fleet is now made up of Kenworth trucks, including new T680 models. Split equally between Great Dane and Utility Trailer, the carrier’s trailers are mostly aluminum combo units. Recently, the company began buying some Mac aluminum step decks as well.
The main factor
Driver convenience was a main factor in one recent equipment decision made by Melton Truck Lines.
“Many of our loads are hauled to job sites and are scheduled in narrow delivery windows,” Elliott explains. “Delays that lead to missed delivery appointments, impact driver pay and can also result in fines and penalties if they hold up work on a job for a customer.
“For many years, our drivers were using transponders to avoid delays at weigh stations,” Elliott continues. “Then, at an industry conference a few years ago we learned that the Drivewyze systems were available on our Omnitracs devices. We activated the complimentary Drivewyze analytics reporting tool to test it out, and learned from Drivewyze that the Omnitracs Weigh Station Bypass system could have offered our drivers more than 10,000 bypasses in one month, an estimated savings of nearly 1,000 hours of drive time. Those results helped convinced us to provide Omnitracs Weigh Station Bypass in the entire fleet.”
More recent results from Drivewyze indicate that Omnitracs Weigh Station Bypass saved Melton drivers 824 hours of drive time in January 2017. The report also showed that through the Drivewyze PreClear system drivers were offered more than 14,000 bypasses that month, a 40% increase compared to results from the first report six months earlier.
“Our decision to activate Omnitracs Weigh Station Bypass was about providing our drivers convenient tools to be as productive and efficient as possible,” Elliott says, “but we also want them to take full advantage of our efforts to improve our safety scores.
“We spend a lot of time and money to train our drivers on proper techniques and procedures but as flatbed haulers, we often feel we’re more likely to be called in for an inspection because of heightened concerns over load securement,” Elliott adds. “We think our bypass rate accurately reflects our improving CSA score because Omnitracs Weigh Station Bypass accesses the same information and screening rules that commercial vehicle enforcement officers use.”
Melton was also an early user of Electronic Logging Devices because it believed that ELDs would make it easier for drivers and ensure compliance with hours-of-service regulations. “We began using an electronic logging solution from Omnitracs ten years ago and we’re glad we made that decision so long ago,” Elliott says. “Carriers that are just converting to ELDs this year will likely have to address some issues.
“We’re 100% behind the ELD initiative,” Elliott adds. “It’s better for planning and operations, it improves productivity as much as possible under the HOS rules, and with 1,300 trucks traveling an average of 100,000 miles annually it enhances safety on the road.”
“The average age of our tractors is one-and-a-half years, and the trailer average is three-and-a-half years,” Robinson relates. “For the past ten years we’ve been converting the entire fleet to 53-footers with spread-axle, air-ride suspensions and the entire fleet should be converted by next year. Those models fit our customers’ flatbed shipping needs and give us the ability to haul 48,000-lb. payloads.
“With a relatively short trade cycle our service operation is focused on preventive maintenance and warranty work,” Robinson continues. “We have shops in Tulsa and in Laredo, Texas where the majority of the work is done, but due to our traffic lanes we also have a group that manages service at Kenworth dealers and major truck stop chains.”
With a large and growing fleet of modern, safe, and well-maintained equipment and stringent driver employment standards and training programs, Elliott notes, Melton Truck Lines is committed to safety. “We wish every carrier operated like we do,” he says. “That way the trucking industry wouldn’t be facing a number of its current challenges.”