Article

Winter Strategies to Keep Snow-Removal Equipment Running

September 2005, Government Fleet - Feature

by John Dolce

Each year fleet managers need to budget for winter - this translates to mild budgets for mild winters and large budgets for severe winters. Borrow money from Peter to pay Paul. Fill in deficits, shuffle overages. Another year passes and what did we learn? Where can we look to proactively support more efficiencies next year?Historical information is an asset. Weather trends show us a pattern of storm frequencies and severities. Weather consistencies and inconsistencies show which parts of our interstates, because of topography, get hit the hardest due to winds, temperatures, traffic flow, and road construction.Locally, we remove leaves and debris from storm sewers so water can be diverted, reducing challenges during winter activity. What do our driving public expect and how can technology help us meet their expectations in a cost-effective manner? Icy streets and slush must be addressed because both conditions directly affect safety and mobility. Another factor to consider is snow accumulation. Usually two inches or more require plowing and/or removal.An overview of territory serviced, including climate and a history of trouble spots, provides a starting point for an operating budget forecast of consumables (i.e., fuel, sand, cinders, road chemicals, parts, labor, plow frames and hydraulics, electronics, training, vendor support, tires, chains) capital budget, trucks, plows, mounted equipment, tools, and related information system support).Do You Have the Proper Equipment for the Job?
In snow-belt regions, necessary equipment includes dump trucks, tandem-axle 12-24 yarders with sanders for straight plowing with adjustable 8-10-foot plows for accumulation over two inches. These vehicles usually are strategically placed a few hours prior to snowfall so they are fueled, manned, fully loaded, and ready to go when needed. To increase equipment usage, fleet managers should spec the fleet to accommodate the plow configuration that best fits the application specific environment. The frame and plow assembly can be mounted to other vehicles, providing the fleet with enough company and vendor vehicles to cover an entire territory, which keeps truck and plow utilization close to 85-95 percent per year. We should provide supplementary equipment to handle winter accumulation based on predicted snowfall. For example, 20 extra support vehicles are needed for a six-inch accumulation, and 50 extra support vehicles for a 12-inch accumulation. Depending on local layouts, we should clear medical, fire, and police personnel driveways, hydrants, office buildings, and parking lots. Problems including traffic volume, detours, and power lines should be handled by dispatch to address vehicle and personnel resource adjustment as needed to prevent roadblocks. This is done using smaller trucks to clear trouble areas caused by large plow vehicles. The dispatcher works with town, county, and state road personnel to keep traffic safely moving, reduce and or eliminate accidents, and use the incidents to predict recorded corrective action to prevent accidents.Local road service might also use loaders for dump trucks or heated roll offs for snow removal. It is critical to observe environmental codes for proper snow accumulation disposal.Slush is just as bad as ice because traction is lost as slush fills in tire tread depths reducing the effect of tire traction. Chemical technology provides an opportunity to pre-coat roads to defer accumulation for better surface control. As with many new technologies, a guarded approach is initially desirable.Remote areas might require cinders as layers of snow accumulate and the cinders can be manually collected or vacuumed for reuse at the end of the winter. Cinders cannot be used in storm sewers because they may clog pipelines, but they are safe to use in rural areas.{+PAGEBREAK+} Choose the Right Vendor
Support facilities, such as sheds to store cinders, sand, and additives for distribution through mounted vocational equipment, should be filled prior to winter and a network of vendors set up to resupply bulk distribution points for use as needed, with a targeted zero inventory by the end of the winter season. Interstate strategic and tactical planning is different than local activity but equipment usage should be supplemented by vendor support. In most cases, consumables should be provided to fleet and vendor vehicles, including fuel, tires, and maintenance to ensure reliability control and adequate supplies during high need times. Appropriate billing to vendors noting which ones are more cost effective to ensure future vendor support with the more reliable sources. Snow removal is a business. It is a competition that allows us to choose which vendor is the most efficient. Our core business is personnel safety for taxpayers, road users, and drivers.Practice Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance programs are ongoing based on the 13 annual inspection points reviewed for consumable and structural items, condition, and wear. These points include service and parking brakes, steering, suspension, tires, wheels and rims, windshield wipers, coupling devices, lights, exhaust, fuel, vocational body load safety, and frame. For example, if in August or September a plow dump truck’s service brakes show 30 percent foundation material left in the rear axle, it should be repaired before winter since the bulk of the work is generated from the rear. Repairs include lining replacement and S-cam inspection. If the brakes are at 30 percent in the front axle, they can be left alone since they do less work. However, check the average mileage on the front brake linings of the truck’s particular make and model to validate functionality and estimated usage. Will the brake wear fit safely within the benchmark predictions made for their use? Electric and hydraulic system flow functions must also be inspected for reliable performance.How to meet winter challenges are through properly configured equipment, trained operations and administrative personnel, past history review, and weather service. It is also important to decide whether to outsource or privatize, but keep the mission’s focus in perspective - the safety of people and equipment services during the winter season.

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