Christian P. Koop
The fleet manager has long been considered a jack-of-all-trades with a tremendous amount of responsibility.
Traditional responsibilities range from keeping the fleet operational to saving money while keeping overtime in check. Duties may include specifying equipment and purchasing equipment, ensuring units are properly documented, and making sure scheduled preventive maintenance is on track. The fleet manager must always monitor productivity, quality control, and profitability in cases where the fleet is commercial. Cost effectiveness, whether the fleet belongs to a fire department or is an over-the-road (OTR) private operation, is the name of the game. Always searching for ways to maximize the operation and shave costs where possible is paramount. The most important tool to get this monumental task accomplished is a database that is global positioning satellite (GPS) linked that can run real-time reports that show how much fuel the fleet is consuming per unit, technician labor, repeat repairs, parts cost on individual fleet vehicles, and warranty tracking.
Traditionally, fleet managers were always working after the fact because once a vehicle left the shop it became invisible. GPS-linked data systems changed that because they offer real-time data for the fleet manager that can increase uptime. GPS-linked data systems offer great returns on investment because they are the best way to gather information quickly to help make decisions that will save time and money and improve efficiencies.
Manage Costly Items
It has long been known that for most fleets the two costliest items are fuel and tires. It is possible that in certain cases other items can cost more to maintain in a fleet operation. The type of equipment and the way it is used, combined with climate and terrain, could very well contribute to this. For example, severe brake wear could cost more than tires in a fleet of emergency response vehicles (ERVs), particularly if they are near gross vehicle weight (GVW) and operating intercity in a hot climate.
Fuel. When it comes to fuel, you should be asking: How much is it costing? How much are we using? Are there like units using more fuel per mile than others? Is there fuel that is unaccounted for? A good GPS-linked data system that is tied to the fueling system can answer these questions and more. The most accurate systems are wireless systems that will read data right from the unit’s onboard computer, such as mileage and engine hours, and will record the date and time the unit was refueled. Systems that rely on drivers to input mileage are prone to have some erroneous data because invariably mistakes will be made during driver input. Good systems will provide automatic reports on units that are using more fuel than like vehicles. This will allow the fleet manager to bring the unit in to correct the issue if it is related to excessive fuel consumption. Sometimes the problem involves theft; a good GPS-linked data system will quickly point this out. I have seen a number of employees get terminated because of fuel theft; if you do not have a good data system, it will be much more difficult to find these problems quickly.
Tires. Some of the same questions fleet managers ask about fuel can also be asked about tires. When fuel prices went through the roof more than a decade ago, so did the price of tires. Any products tied directly to petroleum went way up. Having a data system that can produce reports indicating cost of tires per vehicle, per axle, tied to mileage for a given time period will provide invaluable information. From these reports, fleet managers can deduce if the tire issues or tire wear is excessive. Excessive tire wear can be a result of poor driving habits, underinflated tires, overinflated tires, failure to rotate the tires on a timely basis, and even manufacturing defects. Having a data system linked to GPS gives the fleet manager the ability to monitor where his units physically are in real time and get reports that will graph rates of acceleration and stopping along with speed, date stamped along with location. Fleet managers can take corrective action with abusive drivers very quickly as opposed to the old systems, which could take many months to figure out the problem. Many times, tire issues can also result in more flat tires or blowouts than normal. Anytime a tire goes down on a commercial unit, it is very costly to the operation—not to mention the impact it can have on an ERV responding to an emergency. Having the ability to run these reports quickly from his desk, the fleet manager can take corrective action sooner than later, saving the operation time and money.
Much has been written about and discussed when it comes to preventive maintenance (PM), particularly when it comes to ERV fleets. The main objective of a good PM program is to maximize equipment availability and to minimize unscheduled repairs, which translates to reductions in equipment life cycle cost.
There are various levels and types of PM, including reactive (breakdown) maintenance, planned or scheduled maintenance, condition-based maintenance, and world-class maintenance. These levels and types are used by industry, depending on the critical nature of the products. For example, world-class maintenance is used by the nuclear industry and is known to reduce maintenance costs by three times over that of reactive PM. Most fleets today are using some type of scheduled maintenance. Those that fall into reactive maintenance will spend a great deal of unnecessary downtime and money on breakdowns.
Most manufacturers provide information on when to change engine oil and filters, general inspection, and service based on time and mileage for the chassis, drivetrain, brakes, and other important components that will require inspection and service. These are only recommendations, and to finely tune a good PM program for your operation may, in some cases, necessitate exceeding the manufacturer’s recommendations. This is where a good data system will be invaluable.
For example, let’s look at water pump failures. For many fleets, when a water pump fails it causes a breakdown, and the unit will need to be towed. Having the ability to run reports on when water pumps were being changed and why will help fleet managers determine the best course of action. If the water pumps were failing out of warranty and in the 80,000- to 100,000-mileage range, it will probably be cost-effective to change the pumps before 80,000 miles to prevent a breakdown. This is sometimes referred to as predictive maintenance. Part of the manager’s job in this case is to also verify that pump failure was not caused by another component. A good failure analysis will determine this.
If the water pump’s bearings were failing, it could be that there was too much belt tension. If the pump seals were the cause of failure, it could be the result of not changing coolant frequently enough. Pump failure could also be the result of a defect that does not rear its ugly head until the warranty expires. Finding and correcting the cause behind the pump failure are the solutions; simply changing the water pump won’t solve the problem. A good data system can help the manager solve these problems faster than any other method.
Technician productivity is one of the most important components of a successful fleet shop operation. If technicians are not productive, the shop can easily become backlogged, and a shortage of fleet vehicles can be very detrimental to the operation. As this area is vital to the success of any operation, an adequate data system will easily provide the fleet manager with the ability to run reports on technician productivity on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even longer basis if needed. The amount of time technicians take from start to finish on their jobs is compared to labor time guides such as those from Motor and other publications that provide this information.
Parts inventory and management are equally as important as technician productivity to the success of the operation.
In some data systems, estimated labor times could be input beforehand and system reports could indicate automatically whether the technicians were able to meet the standards or not. Statistically, when the labor standards for the job were provided on the work order when given, the technician’s labor times improved by 10 percent as compared to when the standards were not printed on the work orders. Most commercial vehicles have labor time standards available in publications such as Motor; however, this is not so for ERVs because most ERVs are custom made and most manufacturers do not provide labor time estimates. However, a fleet manager with a modern data system can run reports on the jobs the shop does and produce his own labor time standards. With in-house labor standards on record, the fleet manager has information that will help to monitor technician productivity and efficiency and will indicate when corrective action is necessary.
Parts inventory and management are equally as important as technician productivity to the success of the operation. Keep in mind that the purpose of inventory is to improve the level of service; reduce downtime; and, in the case of a commercial fleet, increase gross profits. A modern data system can be used to keep track of the entire inventory, cost, usage, and warranty. This includes deducting parts quantities from inventory as they are charged out to specific work orders. The data system is programmed with information such as minimum and maximum levels of parts based on usage and the critical nature of some parts. These minimum and maximum levels can be raised or lowered as needed based on reports from the system. The idea is to keep parts levels as low as possible and still keep technicians supplied with parts when needed. This keeps parts overhead as low as possible and yet allows parts to be available when needed and not have units down waiting on parts. A basic rule of thumb states that the carrying cost of inventory is roughly about 34 percent of the total inventory, and big-ticket items may represent only 15 percent of inventory volume but account for 70 percent of the total value of the inventory. A modern data system will keep the fleet manager well informed about inventory cost and usage so he can make decisions to improve the operation.
The modern fleet manager is charged with keeping the fleet operation running efficiently and keeping costs down. A modern data system that is GPS linked will be more costly; however, it is the only tool in the arsenal that can produce real-time reports to monitor vehicle availability, repeat repairs, technician productivity, and inventory levels and usage right from his desk and save money. Savings will come from better accountability of fuel usage, driver fuel theft deterrence, and reduced operator errors, and the results will be decreasing fleet costs and increasing vehicle life.
CHRISTIAN P. KOOP retired as the fleet manager for the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Department after 35 years with Miami-Dade County and four years in the military. He has been involved in the repair and maintenance of autos, military track and wheeled vehicles, heavy equipment, and emergency response vehicles for the past 40 years. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. He has an associate degree from Central Texas College and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Barry University and has taken course work in basic and digital electronics. He is an ASE-certified master auto/medium/heavy truck technician and master EVT apparatus and ambulance technician. He is a member of the board of directors of EVTCC and FAEVT and a technical committee member for NFPA 1071, Standard for the Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications.