His official title is Maintenance Fleet Manager but around the shop at Venezia Bulk Transport Inc., Jason Mathias is known as MacGyver. The nickname is a highly complimentary reflection of his extensive knowledge and his knack for meeting unique challenges. His supervisor, Asst. Director of Maintenance JP Venezia, calls him “the backbone at Venezia for all trailer maintenance.”
Due to the nature of the highly specialized bulk hauling operation at Venezia, managing the trailer shop at the carrier’s Limerick, Penn., headquarters and providing support for all 14 company maintenance and repair facilities requires that Mathias have those skills and abilities. The family-owned and operated company is made up of three divisions—liquid, dry bulk and specialty—that haul various commodities across the U.S. and Canada with 600 tractors and more than 1,400 trailers.
“My job is to keep all the trailers running in the seasons that they are needed and to keep them functioning productively and efficiently to meet our customers’ varied needs,” Mathias says. “A key part of that is having open lines of communication with our operations personnel, drivers, shops and mechanics, and with suppliers.”
The communications channels that Mathias employs regularly across Venezia link him to the operations staff by phone and email, and to drivers via on-board communications systems. He is also in the loop with operations and a designated breakdown coordinator who fields calls from drivers about tractor and trailer issues and facilitates repairs before the equipment arrives at a terminal.
“Our shops communicate extensively through email, phone and teleconferences that are held once a week with all personnel,” Mathias also relates. “That’s a big help for effectively managing 60 mechanics at 14 shops in eight states that are operating from 10 to 16 hours a day to meet the needs of our operations and our customers.”
Mathias also works with a corporate department at Venezia whose purpose is employee recruiting, including finding new mechanics. “They offer a sign-on bonus and several other programs that are available and being planned for all employees, including one for reimbursing mechanics for boots that helps encourage prospects to look at what we have to offer,” Mathias says.
“Our business is so diverse that it’s necessary to look closely at each recruit to identify skills they may have that will fit our operation,” Mathias adds. “That’s especially essential considering all the different things that Venezia does.
“My goal is to try to help bring new mechanics into Venezia and train them as needed,” Mathias says. “Over the years, I’ve learned to keep an open mind and be patient with managing people, and that’s especially important when we’re hiring new mechanics. In the tank industry and in our fleet, it goes a long way toward managing the shop to operate effectively.”
Mathias oversees trailer preventive maintenance at Venezia to ensure service is completed based on predetermined time and mileage intervals. He also manages company and federal inspection programs. For example, there are propane trailers that require annual inspections within a six-month period so that they are ready for the winter season, along with a mandated five-year inspection. The fleet’s liquid bulk trailers also require annual testing.
“When our propane season is running at its peak, we’re gearing up for our summer season of cement and asphalt hauling,” Mathias explains further. “At the same time, there are campaigns to be completed on groups of trailers. For instance, we have a new program for installing sensors in tires and tracking air pressure to help reduce costs and prevent blowouts.”
Based on the age of the equipment and the products they haul, trailer campaigns can also include frame refurbishment, suspension overhauls and full frame and barrel painting. For Mathias, that means overseeing the building or fabricating of vessels in Venezia’s main shop and ensuring the facility is equipped correctly. Included are welders, torches, plasma cutters and other tools to facilitate fabrication work.
“We also have an iron worker, which is a machine that sheers, cuts and bends metal along with punching holes in steel or aluminum,” he says. “With unique equipment, it can be challenging to make repairs without impacting a customer’s business, so those types of tools improve our productivity when we are doing refurbishing or fabrication jobs.”
Other technologies that Mathias and Venezia’s mechanics use daily include tools for diagnosing faults with electronics on trailers, such as ABS and roll stability control systems. “For shop and information management we use Trimble Transportation’s TMT Fleet Maintenance software to schedule work for mechanics,” Mathias relates.
“The fleet maintenance management system also tracks each piece of equipment’s service history, its repair orders, and parts inventories and re-ordering,” he continues. “The software is also the source of information for our communication with other departments and for providing drivers with repair updates, and it enables a close relationship with all of our parts suppliers.”
Enabling close relationships
“We spend a fair amount of time cultivating relationships with suppliers to stay up on new products and to take advantage of training programs they offer for mechanics,” Mathias says. “We encourage suppliers to allow us to test their products and we try to help improve them with our feedback.”
As part of his role at Venezia, Mathias is involved in the specification and purchasing of new equipment for the fleet. “The foundation for our equipment is in the specifications we give our vendors,” he says. “Beyond meeting customer hauling requirements, Venezia is focused on providing equipment that is safe and fuel efficient, and that meets the comfort needs of our drivers.”
In terms of tractors, Venezia works mainly with Mack, Peterbilt and International, while Polar, Tremcar, Heil and Mississippi Tank supply its highly diverse trailer fleet. Tankers in the operation include single and multi-compartment stainless steel and aluminum models, propane tanks, asphalt units—including some with burners to heat product—and specialized units for rail-to-truck transfer of commodities. The company’s largest division operates about 800 dry bulk trailers for hauling a wide variety of commodities.
Following nine years in building maintenance, as a yard jockey and maintaining tires and brakes on equipment at a cold storage facility, Mathias joined Venezia 21 years ago as a trailer mechanic and fabricator. He has held his current position for the past 15 years.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to grow professionally with Venezia, from the time when the company had only a few hundred dry bulk, liquid and van trailers, to the size of its operation today,” Mathias says. “We believe our clean and safe equipment and our state-of-the-art maintenance operation are the strongest in the industry and I’m very proud to be a part of that.”