Operations

13 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

September 2014, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

This compilation of “bright ideas” focuses on single, simple ideas aimed to reduce costs, improve operations, improve customer service, and more. Fleet professionals explain how they executed their plan, the challenges they faced, and the results they’ve seen or expect to achieve.

1. Improving Productivity

Motivate Technicians Through Inter-Garage Competition

Plan: The County of San Diego, Calif., fleet wanted to increase its 34 technicians’ direct labor hours. After implementing a process to track direct labor hours, fleet management established a friendly competition program among its eight garages in order to motivate technicians. The goal was to improve productivity and increase preventive maintenance (PM) service.

Execution: Fleet staff created two different awards, the Garage of the Quarter and the Garage of the Year, John Manring fleet coordinator, explained. The quarterly award (which includes a group lunch and an award the group keeps for that quarter) is given to the garage achieving the highest percentage of productivity.  The annual award is based on productivity, PM completion, and safety compliance. The garage earning this achievement receives a wrench trophy during an all-hands meeting for the Department of General Services. The perpetual trophy has the winning group’s name on it and gets passed along each year to the next winning team.

San Diego County's fleet garage awards get passed from facility to facility. 
San Diego County's fleet garage awards get passed from facility to facility.

Challenges: Fleet staff faced challenges in designing a program that was fair for the different locations and the varied staff size. Staffing ranges from one-technician locations to seven-technician locations. To address this, groups are divided by team leaders rather than sites, so that various one-man shops can form one team if they have the same lead. Additionally, productivity is averaged per technician rather than per site to account for different-sized groups.

Results: The fleet has seen an increase in overall productivity by almost 18% from inception of the program to date, about four years. Fiscal year 2013-14 overall productivity average was 81%, which includes all paid benefit hours. The program is still changing through suggestions from those competing, which includes a new addition to measure the percentage of time a group performs jobs faster than the standard time.

Advice: To get buy in for the program, engage staff all the way to the floor level, send weekly result updates, and provide weekly encouragement, Manring said. When they have a stake in the game, they become more involved, and by sharing the numbers with staff, they understand the budget process much more.


2. Greening the Facility

Use Wet Vacuum Cleaners to Clean Up Spills

Technicians use a wet vacuum cleaner to clean up spills quicker and in a more enviornmentally friendly way. Photo courtesy of EWEB
Technicians use a wet vacuum cleaner to clean up spills quicker and in a more enviornmentally friendly way. Photo courtesy of EWEB

Plan:  Every year, thousands of pounds of floor dry and absorbent pads are used to clean up oil and coolant spills only to end up in the landfill, said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet services supervisor, Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) in Oregon. To make the shop more environmentally friendly, the fleet set out to find wet material vacuum cleaners to clean up spills.

Execution: Staff researched the available options online and purchased an air-powered wet material vacuum cleaner from Grainger’s to clean up spills. The 55-gallon tank vacuum cleaners clean floors immediately and when the tanks are full, staff members dump the liquids into appropriate containers for disposal or recycling. EWEB now has three vacuum cleaners so technicians don’t have to clean the barrel out each time they pick up a different liquid. One is used for oil, one for coolant, and one for general sludge.

Challenges: Lentsch reports no challenges with this project. Technicians like the product, and use has been simplified since the three separate vacuum cleaners have been marked for different spills.

Results: The main result is environmental, Lentsch said. Absorbent pads and floor dry are prevented from entering the landfill. It’s faster to use, since technicians had to wait a while when using floor dry, and there are no trip hazards or tracking such as when someone steps on floor dry. The materials picked up by the vacuums are disposed in the fleet’s used oil and coolant tank, and sludge is sent through the truck wash recycler for zero waste.

Advice: “Start with one [vacuum cleaner] and give it a try to see how efficiencies work on it. Depending on your shop size and how many mechanics you have, you may find it might be best to have a couple throughout your shop in different locations,” Lentsch said.

Fleet staff inspects specfications line by line before putting vehicles in service. Photo courtesy of Sonoma County
Fleet staff inspects specfications line by line before putting vehicles in service. Photo courtesy of Sonoma County

3. Ensuring Accurate Procurement

Perform Post-Delivery Bid Specification Verifications

Plan: After various incidents of new vehicles and equipment not exactly matching specifications, Sonoma County Fleet Operations in California began a post-delivery bid verification inspection process. Inaccurate bid responses by vendors cost staff time, affect grant compliance, and delay the unit from being placed in service, according to Fleet Manager David Worthington.

Execution: Now, a heavy equipment mechanic performs the verification inspection for heavy- and medium-duty units, while the motor pool attendant performs inspections on cars, light-­duty trucks, and vans. Both have access to bid specification documents, and verify each spec, line by line. Inspection results are discussed with their supervisors and any issues with the fleet manager.

Challenges: “One challenge has been in convincing vendors to take the time to go through each specification line by line prior to delivery,” Worthington said. “Many vendors do a great job in making sure that they are accurate in their bid responses, but not all are as organized or detail orientated.”

Results: The inspection process has been a success in preventing vehicles and equipment that don’t meet bid specifications ending up in service. Some of the vendor errors this process has captured over the last four years include incorrect delivery of UTVs belonging to another buyer; hybrid sedans of the wrong model-year; incorrect trailer GVWR ratings; a non-functioning in-cell camera system in a prisoner transport bus; and keys that did not include programmable fobs. Catching these errors before putting these units in service has saved considerable staff time and expense, Worthington said.

Advice: “Choose a couple of recently delivered vehicles or pieces of equipment and check if they meet all your bid specifications. You may find that they do, or that you have a challenge that you were not aware of before,” Worthington said. “It’s less costly (and time-consuming) to discover a problem early on than to discover it later.”

4. Increasing Biofuel Use

Encourage E-85 Fueling

A new, strategically-placed E-85 fueling pump more htan doubled E-85 use. Photo courtesy of City of Scotsdale 
A new, strategically-placed E-85 fueling pump more htan doubled E-85 use. Photo courtesy of City of Scotsdale

Plan: The City of Scottsdale, Ariz., fleet encouraged use of E-85 as part of its fuel diversification plan, according to Mel Galbraith, PCFM, fleet director. It installed an E-85 pump at a new fuel site and began educating city employees about the fuel and monitoring voluntary use among flex-fuel vehicle drivers.

Execution: Staff marked flex-fuel vehicles in its fleet software to be able to track E-85 use. Each department receives an automatically generated monthly report via e-mail that shows all flex-fuel vehicles by department, what percentage of total fuel used is E-85, and where these vehicles were fueled with unleaded gasoline. All city departments can see which others are successfully using the fuel.

Fleet management has also educated drivers and encouraged E-85 use through yellow E-85 tags on the key rings, E-85 decals on the fuel gauge, its newsletter, shared articles, and e-mails.
Staff found many flex-fuel vehicle drivers were fueling unleaded gasoline mid-city, and the fleet’s E-85 fueling station was located at the south end of the city. In June, an unleaded gasoline tank and dispenser were converted to E-85 at the centrally located main fleet facility.

Challenges: The biggest challenge relates to cost/benefit, Galbraith said. Since the price difference between unleaded and E-85 doesn’t generally offset loss in fuel economy, there is a negative return on investment. Additionally, with the constant fluctuation in fuel cost, the actual budgetary impact is difficult to tabulate. The benefits to be recognized are on a larger scale, which are mainly environmental as well as reducing dependence on imported fuel.

Results: Based upon voluntary participation, the program has been successful. In the first four weeks of operation, the new E-85 fueling site increased E-85 use by 2.15 times the prior month’s use. Use has more than tripled in comparison to the same month last year.

Advice: “Talk to others who have diversified their fuel program. There is no one fuel of the future. Diversity is the key,” Galbraith said. The city also uses CNG, B-20, gasoline, hybrids, and plug-in vehicles. “People much prefer choice over mandates. When they know the whys, many will join you in choosing the hows,” he added.

"Serviced by" stickers tie technicians directly to the services they provide customers. Photo courtesy of Town of Jonesborough
"Serviced by" stickers tie technicians directly to the services they provide customers. Photo courtesy of Town of Jonesborough

5. Improving Customer Service

Add a ‘Serviced by’ Sticker to Every Asset Serviced

The Town of Jonesborough, Tenn., fleet began adding “Serviced by” stickers to units that had been serviced by technicians. The goal of the stickers was to “tether the employee who provided the service to the asset in which they performed the work,” said Fleet Manager Gary Lykins.

At first, staff members weren’t very excited about the idea. “The change came when customers started noticing the stickers and saying ‘thank you’ directly to the person who worked on their vehicle,” Lykins said. When this became a recurring event, technicians began going out of their way to make sure everything was done professionally.

The new initiative only required the purchase of a label-maker, which cost $50.
“Don’t be afraid to do small things,” Lykins advised. “Not every management decision is life or death, and it is often the small changes that make a difference.”

6. Decreasing Maintenance Costs

Add a Satellite Repair Facility at Police Headquarters

The satellite repair shop takes up about one and a half parking spaces, and the front is a vinyl door that can be closed. Photo courtesy of City of Abbotsford
The satellite repair shop takes up about one and a half parking spaces, and the front is a vinyl door that can be closed. Photo courtesy of City of Abbotsford

Plan: After conducting a review of the maintenance services for the police fleet, officials at the City of Abbotsford, British Columbia, noted that there were some opportunities for greater efficiency associated with the transportation of police vehicles to and from the Public Works facility to be serviced.

“The time it took to bring vehicles in and then return them (about 30 minutes total) was often longer than the time it took to perform some of the services,” Greg Brooks, manager, Fleet Services, said.
City staff began looking at what it would take to open a repair facility at the police station. However, because of the lack of physical space at the site, staff decided instead to set up a one-man satellite facility in the police parking lot.

Execution: In 2012, the City opened its one-bay facility at police headquarters. The enclosed structure has light, heat, a phone and computer, an oil storage system, a hose reel system, a vehicle lift, and one full-time technician reassigned from the main shop. The technician at the site works on preventive maintenance and minor repairs for light-duty police vehicles. The entire project cost less than 25,000 Canadian dollars ($23,000).

Challenges: To capture used oil to comply with environmental regulations, staff constructed a mobile lube unit on a pick-up truck that carries 40 gallons of new oil and can take up to 40 gallons of used oil. A lube rack inside the tent is connected with the mobile oil unit, which feeds new oil and takes away used oil. The truck goes back to the main shop about once a week for pick-up and drop-off. Another challenge the fleet had to overcome was the installation of a vehicle lift with a concrete pad big enough to support the weight of the lift and vehicle. Engineering staff provided the details, and a special engineered pad was created.

Results: “Our unit price-per-service has definitely gone down because we don’t have added cost of pickup and delivery. For every job our technician does at the satellite facility, we save between 30 and 45 minutes,” Brooks said. “And, with a total of 87 units and each of the patrol and Emergency Response Team vehicles being driven about 46,600 miles per year, the technician has plenty of work, without spending some of it driving back and forth.”

Advice: For fleets looking to open a satellite shop, Brooks said having it pre-constructed in the building of the user department would be best. However, if they choose to go with a newly constructed site, “make sure to comply with the environmental regulations,” he said.

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