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Under the direction of George Survant, a highly effective fleet services operation is helping ensure success at Florida Power & Light Co.

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Under the direction of George Survant, a highly effective fleet services operation is helping ensure success at Florida Power & Light Co.

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From his office in Juno Beach, Fla., George Survant, Florida Power & Light (FPL) Co.’s director of fleet services, oversees an organization that provides on- and off-highway equipment and vehicles as well as maintenance services for FPL group’s distribution and transmission segment, Utility Business Unit Power Systems. FPL is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing providers of electricity-related services and the largest investor-owned Florida electric utility. The 79-year-old power company has a growing presence in 26 states.

“Our fleet of 3,600 units consists of vehicles and equipment that help FPL service more than 4.2 million customers,” Survant says. “The largest portion of the fleet includes medium-duty bucket trucks and digger derricks. In the operation as well are light trucks, trailers, passenger cars and a variety of specialty equipment, such as cranes, pressure washers and line stringing units.

“Not included in our fleet numbers are vehicles we lease and rent to meet specific job requirements or if a project has a finite life span,” he says. “For example, we will rent when we need an aerial unit that has a greater reach than our typical vehicle or more than 100 ft. These needs are addressed by looking at future projects and the duration of existing projects.”

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FPL will decide whether to own, lease or rent a unit when a vehicle’s use profile changes.

“In some cases,” he says, “we might sell a unit that we own and only lease or rent one when we need the particular characteristics of that type of unit. The ultimate decision point is a mix of utilization and cost.”

Critical element

“To effectively manage expenses, standardization is one of the critical elements that must be controlled,” he says. “Standardization affects our ability to maintain equipment effectively through improved training and repetition for mechanics, allows us to establish effective parts and support infrastructures and maximize procurement efforts through economies of scale, as well as impacts the safety of operators by ensuring that every truck operates in exactly the same way.”

FPL also employs a purchase and replacement strategy that emphasizes specifying trucks that can be maintained with a focus on low-maintenance and high reliability for a targeted number of years.

“We then sell the unit prior to the end of that time while a good economic return remains,” he says. “We do have other reasons for retiring units, like changes in technology and the suitability of the unit for changing customer requirements, but the bulk of the fleet is replaced on a tightly managed financial model.”

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At FPL, specifications are developed by a committee of linemen and management representatives from the utility’s work methods, safety and fleet services departments. The bulk of equipment purchases are made using multi-year contracts, which Survant says complement the standardization program.

“This strategy also lays the foundation for solutions-based partnerships with our OEM suppliers,” Survant relates. “We believe it is critical to our success to partner closely and effectively with all of our suppliers. For equipment manufacturers, we need to be able to communicate about what we learn from the equipment in the field to allow them to improve designs and adapt to industry changes. For our material suppliers, we partner to remove the complications and faults in delivery and supply systems that only increase costs for all parties.”

Relationships

FPL’s belief in the value of supplier relationships also extends to its maintenance operation. The utility’s fleet services department operates 15 shop facilities and has 28 mobile technicians in place throughout Florida. The internal work force of 150 is comprised of a mix of 80 percent FPL employees and 20 percent contract employees.

“We prefer to hire experienced technicians, typically with a minimum of five years of medium-duty truck experience,” Survant reports, “but we also have a strong bias for training. Our technicians can also earn raises based primarily on their demonstrated skill on tasks relevant to FPL’s fleet and completed ASE certifications.

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“We tend to focus our internal resources on diagnostic tasks and more technically demanding tasks that are performed often enough for FPL to develop a competitive edge over outsourced alternatives,” Survant continues. “As a result, about one-third of our maintenance and repair activities are outsourced, and our internal staff completes the remaining two-thirds.”

The decision to outsource at FPL is driven by five key elements, according to Survant. Included are whether the fleet can compete on price and if there is a quantifiable quality difference that overcomes any price advantages. Other factors include whether there are viable alternatives in the immediate vicinity and if it is a function in which FPL must retain expertise.

“Last but not least,” he adds, “we determine if we should make an investment in technical training, tooling or both that will provide an opportunity to make a leap forward in effectiveness, drive costs down and raise equipment reliability to a degree that the investment is a solid business decision.”

FPL’s fleet services department uses a management information and decision making tool called Fleet Focus software from Maximus. The system includes wireless access in all garages where technicians have assigned laptops that contain diagnostic tools along with a means of ordering parts directly.

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“The software benefits our equipment and maintenance programs in a number of ways,” Survant says. “For example, we track individual and team performance in detail with monthly performance ratings, which are distributed to the entire department. We also use a failure analysis process for identifying and correcting problems that decrease equipment reliability and increase operating costs. Additionally, we have a section that focuses on early detection and analysis of trend data from the equipment to provide an early warning of systemic problems. The failure and trend analyses are used to add to the maintenance routines that are developed with a heavy reliance on our alliance partners.”

Dividends

FPL’s partnerships with suppliers are paying dividends in terms of product selection, costs and support. For example, the fleet is generating savings by using a national account strategy for tires, which represents its top vehicle maintenance cost.

The importance of suppliers to FPL became very apparent in August and September 1992, Survant says, amid the devastation left by Hurricane Andrew. Facing obliterated poles, wires and transformers, repair crews gathered at staging areas and fanned out to restore electricity to households and businesses in five counties. In Dade County, where the storm was at its worst, the winds shook loose road signs from their mounting posts, leaving behind a steel nub sticking three inches out of the ground.

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“You wouldn’t notice one of these stubs until you ran over it and punched a hole in your tire,” he recalls. “We lost a lot of tires that way.”

With so many FPL trucks from all over the state concentrated and being serviced in a small area, it was a challenge finding exact replacements for punctured tires.

“We had 1,000 trucks in one place, and it seemed, at times, like every one had its own mix of tires,” Survant says. “We turned to Goodyear for assistance. First, we wanted a tire that would get equipment to the pole without getting stuck. Second, we wanted to get the most life out of the tire for the cost.”

Goodyear’s recommendation focused on all-position tires – the G149 RSA for two-wheel-drive vehicles in on-the-road service, and the G287 MSA for four-wheel-drive trucks. In addition, transmission line trucks that spent most of their time off-road were equipped with Goodyear G244 MSD drive tires.

Today, the fleet’s medium-duty trucks are standard on three original tires and two tread designs in the Next-Tread Goodyear retread program. FPL is also adopting Goodyear tires with DuraSeal sealant technology.

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To make sure FPL tires receive the attention they need, the fleet uses 15 different Goodyear service locations. Service contracts with local dealers ensure that tires are inspected every 90 days, and that information about tread depths and other conditions are collected and analyzed using the manufacturer’s G TRACS software.

FPL also relies on suppliers to manage its fuel program effectively.

“Over the last two years, we’ve increased our internal fuel-storage capacity, and we also depend on a series of delivery services to provide after-hours fueling for a portion of our fleet that is parked on company property,” Survant says. “We also use a fuel-card service that integrates with our internal storage control equipment, which allows us to electronically load fuel transactions into our management information system.”

Team effort

In every aspect of managing the FPL fleet, Survant notes, he relies heavily on a superior management team.

“Every person is a key contributor who enables this group of individuals to function,” he says. “While it’s impossible to name everyone and their responsibilities, it’s hard not to mention Glenn Martin, who sets maintenance policy for FPL, organizes and conducts internal training programs and manages fleet safety efforts, the quality inspection team and the aftermarket engineering and technical analysis groups. In addition, Jim Cooper, Carlos Suastegui and John Stack have responsibility for customer satisfaction and the execution of maintenance and safety policy at the 15 shops spread across the FPL service territory in Florida.”

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Other key management team members that Survant names include Claude Masters, who manages procurement and distribution of fuels and the acquisition and disposition of fleet assets. Behind him is a team of equipment engineers, led by Mike Paulson, that designs and coordinates with suppliers. In addition, he adds, Carlos Suastegui leads a team that includes Steve Baker, who manages IM support activities, along with John McLaughlin, who oversees analytical statistical quality analysis efforts, and Alan Middleton, who handles financial processes.

“The FPL fleet services management team is especially adept at addressing issues about equipment and maintenance internally and with our network of suppliers,” Survant says. “The fleet products we buy are also integral parts of our safety strategy, and we must also manage several different classes of regulations that have compliance requirements.

“Even fleets like FPL that are very standardized have a large number of specialized units in service,” Survant adds. “Each of these types of specialty units must have its own repair and maintenance plans, including the infrastructure to support the plan with parts sources and the expertise to maintain the equipment. At FPL, we have more than 200 classes of equipment in our active fleet, and this requires a strategy to support each of them.”

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That approach, backed by a highly effective team of equipment and maintenance professionals, is clearly paying dividends at FPL’s fleet services department. In turn, the utility is not only able to grow but can support its customers effectively, as well. FE

Getting involved

A veteran of fleet management, George Survant joined FPL as director of fleet services in July 1999. Previously, he served for 22 years at GTE in a variety of positions across the country. In addition, his background includes a three-year stint as an outsourced fleet manager for Ryder at San Diego Gas & Electric and four years as the vice president of operations for Diversified Inspections, a provider of safety inspection and certification services for cranes and aerial equipment in Nevada and California.

Survant, however, doesn’t only apply his expertise to FPL; he also is actively involved in a number of industry efforts and associations. Currently, he serves as chairperson of the Sunshine State Chapter of NAFA (National Association of Fleet Administrators), is an advisor to National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) and serves on the board of directors of Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC). He is also the vice chair of FPL’s PAC.

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Interest in the benefits of alternative-fuel vehicles has also led Survant to serve on the Technical Advisory Committee of CalStart-WestStart and as chairperson of its Utility Working Group. In addition, he is an advisor to the Biodiesel Board.

“At FPL, we have been using biodiesel for six years, which we get from a Florida supplier,” Survant says. “Currently, FPL is also supporting the H-TUF (CalStart-WestStart) effort to develop and implement production of medium-duty diesel hybrid trucks by buying three of the new trucks. This industry effort is introducing trucks for service in utilities nationwide.

“Industry groups have influence and impact the fleet manager’s role,” Survant concludes. “By serving, I can bring information and technology that will help FPL retain its edge of excellence, both from a technical perspective and by being exposed to the best talent and thinking our industry has to offer. Additionally, in a broader context, participation gives me the opportunity to build support for changes in the industry that are important to FPL and the industry in general.”

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