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Marten Transport’s equipment and maintenance programs  are helping the carrier improve its supply chain services for customers

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Marten Transport’s equipment and maintenance programs  are helping thecarrier improve its supply chain services for customers

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For David Meyer, it’s all about finding better ways to dothings. “We are fully committed to continuous improvement,” says the directorof maintenance at Marten Transport Ltd. “Our equipment, our programs and ourpersonnel are all part of providing the best service the industry has tooffer.”

Marten Transport is a well-known irregular route, truckloadcarrier of time- and temperature-sensitive cargo throughout the lower 48states, Mexico and Canada. The company, which also provides dedicated carriersolutions and has regional fleet operations, operates eight terminals,including one at its headquarters location in Mondovi, Wisc. and others inForest Park, Ga., Indianapolis, Ontario, Calif., Richmond, Va., Irving andLaredo, Texas and Wilsonville, Ore.

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The Marten fleet consists of 2,509 tractors and 4,306refrigerated trailers. Among the company’s newest power units are 2010Freightliner Cascadia and Peterbilt 387 models. Also in the fleet areFreightliner Columbias and Kenworth T660s.

The bulk of Marten’s trailers are Utility 3000R models whilethe balance are Great Dane and Wabash units. Thermo King is the company’spredominant refrigeration unit supplier while a sizable number of its reefersare equipped with Carrier models.

“Our equipment is constantly updated,” Meyer says. “Thetrade cycle for our tractors is 3.5 years or 450,000 miles. Trailers andrefrigeration units are replaced every six years.”

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Marten purchases a mix of makes and models depending on thedeals that manufacturers are able to offer when he’s buying new equipment,Meyer notes. In addition, he points out that the mix of equipment increasesdriver satisfaction, which helps with retention, and allows them to monitorperformance of different models and measure efficiency and effectiveness.

“Fuel efficiency is a big factor for us,” Meyer continues.“Our latest tractors are not only the most fuel efficient that OEMs offer, butwe are now implementing a program to measure and map real-time data from engineelectronics so our operations and maintenance departments can be proactive whenan issue arises. That program will allow us to compare different sets ofspecifications, identify problems with equipment that might be hampering fueleconomy and supply fleet managers with information about irregular orinefficient driving habits that they can address. Understanding an engine’spower curve and relating to drivers how progressive shifting can increase fueleconomy will improve our bottom line.”

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Marten’s fleet MPG has been rising steadily, Meyer reports,due to the use of the latest technologies the industry has to offer, includingEPA SmartWay specifications. In particular, he points to a switch to fuelefficient tires, supplied by Michelin and Bridgestone, which he says will befully validated by a testing and measurement program that will enable thecompany to correlate MPG gains to tire specifications.

“We are also testing other variables,” Meyer adds. “While welisten to the percentage gains suppliers say we can expect from a certainproduct, we need to see the gains within our operation because every fleet hasits own dynamics, which can cause a correlation gap.”

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An industry veteran, Meyer joined Marten in 1998 and spentmore than 10 years in operations. Four months ago he took on his current role.“My mission is to apply my background, including having worked closely withinformation systems, to streamline processes and generate cost savings throughgreater efficiency,” he relates. “Our goal is to provide a systems approach tomaintenance by setting up applications with the proper logic to provide valueback into our network and measure by exception reporting our key performanceindicators. That will ensure we are not only working smarter but thatproductivity continues to increase across our system.

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“We have always taken great pride in providing the bestservice to our customers and part of that service is maintaining our equipmentto provide operations with the support they need to execute our premiumservice,” Meyer continues. “Inherent objectives have caused a gap betweenoperations and maintenance. It is our goal to close that gap. Bringing asystems and applications approach to an already solid and experiencedmaintenance staff will assure that we remain an industry leader.”

With all of its equipment maintained at eight strategicallylocated company shops by a staff numbering 193 technicians and supervisors,managing capacity is also a high priority for Meyer. “We found that we couldeasily have too many trucks needing work in one location,” he says, “so we’reworking with operations to do a better job of filling but not overwhelming eachfacility. Historically, operations and maintenance scheduling were notcohesive. Now, getting the company’s two biggest departments on the same pageis leading to cost benefits and improvements in productivity and utilization.”

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Other programs are being established at Marten’s maintenancedepartment as well. At its main location in Wisconsin, for example, a newtrailer shop will soon open adjacent to the 10-bay tractor facility opened lastyear. Additionally, two months ago, centralized purchasing programs were put inplace for all shop locations and inspection lanes have been set up to providethe critical feedback needed to assure proper visibility into the status ofequipment. Meyer also points out that service trucks are now in use in areaswhere there are “high volume spot trailer locations” to ensure that vehicles,refrigeration units and tires are inspected more effectively. 

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Marten is also currently outfitting all of its trailers withGE VeriWise cellular based GPS tracking systems. “The systems will help ustrack refrigeration unit engine hours and GPS-based mileage to improveoperations and maintenance scheduling,” Meyer reports. “With real-timeinformation on reefer unit operation we will be able to lower maintenancecosts.

“These systems will also enable us to better manage reeferfuel consumption and reduce run time to save fuel,” Meyer says. “We can alsouse them to assure cargo quality and integrity by measuring precooling timesalong with temperature discrepancies en route.”

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A main goal of adopting the VeriWise solution, Meyer adds,is to provide the intelligence needed to find and address inefficiencies withinthe cold chain environment to increase utilization for our customers andMarten’s network. For example, BOD (Begin of Drive) and EOD (End of Drive) timestamps can be generated for each customer facility using the number of reeferengine hours within a given landmark. The number of engine hours utilized perload will be used to create an efficiency score and a report will be developedto provide customers with information needed to make their networks moreefficient and productive.

The adoption of the GE VeriWise systems is just the latestexample of how Marten Transport is working to measure its performance, reducecosts and enhance its efficiency. “By working with customers, supplier partnersand within our own organization to develop and implement effective equipment,maintenance and operations programs,” Meyer states, “we will continue to besuccessful.”

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The late Roger Marten founded Marten Transport in 1946at the age of 17, delivering milk and other dairy products in the Modena, Wisc.area. In 1956, Marten purchased his first tractor-trailer combination and beganhauling petroleum. During the 1960s he began to develop his interstate carrierbusiness. Today, Marten Transport is a publicly traded company that employsmore than 2,600 people. During the past six decades, it has experiencedconsistent growth, posting annual revenue in 2008 of $607 million. 

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