Knowledge is Power

April 1, 2008
There’s a difference between operating a fleet of material handling equipment and managing it. Managing a fleet means having the right information and then acting on it. Here’s how one company does it.

On average, only 20% of the total cost of a lift truck can be attributed to the purchase price, while 80% is operating cost, said John Russian, manager of fleet marketing at Hyster Co., at the company’s FleetSmart seminar, Feb. 15 in Chicago. Hyster created the event as a way to educate material handling equipment users about proper fleet management practices.

Fleet management is all about controlling that vital 80%. And, it’s becoming even more important as more companies continue to try to reign in variable operating costs.

Managing a fleet of material handling equipment is a complex undertaking. A manufacturer or distributor may operate hundreds of lift trucks throughout a national network. That’s why many companies look to lift truck manufacturers and equipment dealers for ways to control their fleet costs.

Although there are a myriad of ways to manage a fleet of powered vehicles, it all starts with information. You can’t control what you don’t know.

That’s where the latest fleet management technology comes in.

Data for Decisions
Aztec Galvanizing Services (Fort Worth, Texas) provides hot-dip galvanizing services for corrosion protection on a range of steel products, from ornamental fencing to trailers.

Cole Morgan, corporate manufacturing engineer at Aztec Galvanizing Services, is in charge of ordering lift trucks for each of the company’s 14 plants nationwide. Every plant operates a fleet of four to six lift trucks.

Before January 2008, when a plant manager needed to replace a lift truck, a request was sent to Morgan, but there was no hard data to back up Morgan’s buying decision. That process was sufficient at first, but Aztec Galvanizing Services’ fleet began to grow.

“Our fleet got so big that we needed some kind of management system to keep track,” says Morgan. He needed a way to ‘see’ which lift trucks needed to be replaced, remotely, from his headquarters office in Fort Worth so that he could justify new purchases. He also wanted to control lift truck repair costs by ensuring that the proper preventive maintenance (PM) practices were conducted.

Morgan selected a Web-based fleet management system from BE-Fleet, a division of equipment distributor Briggs Equipment (Dallas). The centralized fleet management program was developed in 2002 to provide fleet management and material handling consulting services for manufacturers and distributors.

Mark Cragle, regional manager of fleet services for BE-Fleet, says the program is Web based, not Web enabled. It’s an important distinction, he says, because customers don’t have to involve their information technology departments or download software to use the service.

Morgan provided BE-Fleet with the makes and models of the lift trucks in his company’s fleet, along with their serial numbers. “That is the bare-bones data we need,” says Cragle. “Then, they get a user ID and password and have access to the system.”

Of course, the more data customers provide to BEFleet, the better, Cragle says. “They
can choose to provide us with hour-meter readings, capacities, whether they own or lease the equipment, whether they are gas or electric and more,” he says. “We populate the database with that information. The more data they have, the more knowledge they will get, and knowledge is power. Information helps to make future decisions.”

The BE-Fleet program offers three access levels. A manager of a specific plant can log in to view data for only those specific trucks under his immediate control. “The service provider also has a log in to the Web site, so the customer does not have to input the maintenance data,” adds Cragle. “And, the customer can choose between consolidated or direct invoicing.”

Morgan logs in as a “corporate user,” and as a result, can view fleet data for all locations, individually or collectively.

Birds-Eye View
The ability to analyze breakdown and repair data and track PM procedures was most important for Aztec Galvanizing Services. Morgan initially tested the BE-Fleet system in two plants for about six months. In January 2008, he deployed it throughout the entire company.

When Morgan logs into the system, he can instantly view maintenance and repair data for the lift trucks in all 14 plants. “I can tell if different plants are having issues with the same parts,” he says. And, that visibility allows him to make corporate-wide decisions about the company’s fleet. “Now, I can see where our problem machines are and justify them being replaced,” says Morgan.

Using BE-Fleet has meant that the company can be proactive, rather than reactive. “Before, we just fixed them when they broke,” he says. “When you have access to all of that information in one place, you start to see trends.”

One trend Morgan noticed recently was that different plants were having similar problems with air filters in lift trucks. After noticing the trend, he was able to take steps to solve the problem. “Our plants are dusty, and that turned out to be the problem,” says Morgan. “So, we switched to a different air filter that sucks up less dust.” That simple change led to fewer breakdowns, according to Morgan.

When lift trucks do need repairs, “customers log into the Web site, select the truck that is broken down and request service. Then, an email is automatically sent to the service provider,” Cragle says. The e-mail dispatch identifies the unit needing repair as well as the problem and urgency of the call. In addition, customers are notified immediately when the service provider acknowledges the call.

Cragle says that customers can access data by fleet or unit to see allocation of their maintenance dollars. “They can see what percentage of their maintenance costs go to electrical, tires, brakes and more,” says Cragle. “They can then us

BE-Fleet customers can view graphs detailing the allocation of their maintenance dollars across a fleet.

e that information to make decisions.”

BE-Fleet has recently added charts, reports and graphs to aid in those decisions. At a glance, customers can see their invoice history, cost per hour of any unit in the fleet, downtime reports showing total number of repair incidences and frequency, utilization reports that indicate total hour usage against a customer-established benchmark and operational maintenance schedules.

Meaningful Extras
BE-Fleet consultants also meet periodically with customers. “If there is a high rate of lift truck abuse, we try to find out why,” says Cragle. “Maybe it’s the layout of the facility. Maybe they need to educate one of their operators.”

The company also has developed relationships with several major wireless fleet tracking providers, so the company can track the movement of individual trucks throughout a fleet network.

In addition, BE-Fleet recently added an electronic operator checklist function. “We introduced daily operator checklists at the request of our customers,” Cragle says. “Operators can either log in to the system and input the data themselves, or all operators can turn in their daily checklists, and someone else records the data. That history is kept indefinitely.” That way, if OSHA comes calling, a detailed, electronic history of all daily operator checklists is readily available.

“Things are going to break,” Morgan acknowledges. “But, now, we can attach a cost to it. I can see costs associated with parts, downtime and labor, so I can see where our problem machines are and then justify replacements.”

Morgan’s birds-eye view also allows him to monitor PMs for every lift truck in the fleet. PM alerts for each truck are automatically routed to one of BE-Fleet’s 300 nationwide service providers at a customer-specified time interval, according to Cragle. For Morgan, that interval is three months.

“I can make sure they [the service providers] do the PMs for each lift truck every three months,” he says. “We move a lot of material, every day,” says Morgan. “If we are down just one lift, we are in trouble.”

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