14 New Ideas For Fleet Improvement

September 2015, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

The Fast Lube option allows customers to drop off their vehicle for simple preventive maintenance and get it back within 45 minutes.
The Fast Lube option allows customers to drop off their vehicle for simple preventive maintenance and get it back within 45 minutes.

1. Improving Customer Service

Provide a 'Fast Lube' Option

  • Plan: The City and County of Denver’s Fleet Advisory Committee members said they wanted a “quick lube” option for simple oil and filter changes, similar to what is provided in the private sector. The Fleet Division set out to provide them this service, said Todd Richardson, director, Fleet Management Division.
  • Execution: In April 2015, the division began offering a Fast Lube service for vehicles weighing 1.5 tons and lighter at two of its facilities. Each month, first line supervisors in charge of the preventive maintenance (PM) program let department managers know via e-mail which vehicles are eligible for a fast lube service — vehicles that only need an inspection; lube, oil, and filter change; and minor repairs. Drivers can make an appointment or just drop in. Each facility has two volunteer technicians who are responsible for fast lube services, with a goal of returning the vehicle within 45 minutes. While their vehicles are serviced, drivers can work at an available computer, walk over to nearby buildings for meetings, or check out one of two available cars. If technicians find a safety deficiency that needs to be fixed immediately and will take longer, the customer can keep the loaner vehicle longer.
  • Challenges: Richardson said at first, customers didn’t think it was possible. After they started seeing other people use the program for about a month, it took off. He also e-mails managers reminding them about the program every few weeks. Another challenge came in finding an area for most commonly used fast-lube parts and making sure they were available. Once these were determined, the program has run smoothly.
  • Results: “The general feedback from the advisory committee is they are very happy. They get their vehicle back quickly, and it doesn’t disrupt their day,” Richardson said. Not only has the no-cost program improved customer service, it has also improved PM. Some drivers who were months behind on their PM brought their vehicles in for a fast lube service. 
  • Advice: “Always look at your operation and look for opportunities that can give you a big return on investment without a lot of expense on your part,” Richardson advised. 

Sarasota County tested five grapple trucks before choosing one to purchase.
Sarasota County tested five grapple trucks before choosing one to purchase.

2. Buying The Right Equipment

Start a 'Try Before You Buy' Program

  • Plan: Sarasota County (Fla.) Fleet Services wanted to increase user department cooperation in purchasing off-road equipment while making sure the vehicles that departments requested would perform well, said Fleet Services Manager Greg Morris and Acquisitions Manager Brianne Hayes.
  • Execution: Fleet implemented a “try before you buy” program modeled after a similar program Morris had used in the Air Force. Hayes works with dealers to secure demo equipment; depending on their availability, the county can keep some units for a day and others for weeks. Technicians check maintainability before it goes to users for testing. For the units that meet expectations, Hayes and Morris review company financials, availability of warranty, training, parts, emissions, structural integrity, and manufacturer customer support. If the asset passes all the reviews including a comparison of the new asset to existing assets, Hayes purchases the asset from a pre-­existing national or local contract. 
  • Challenges: A good evaluation of an asset does take time, Morris said, but since the assets are used for daily operations, the time problem is minimal. Hayes added that getting specialized equipment, such as a Menzi Muck, for a longer period of time, is sometimes a challenge. 
  • Results: The program has been a success for user departments and vendors. Vendors get feedback about the unit, operators can see if the equipment is the right tool, and technicians provide their input as well. 
  • Advice: Hayes cautions fleets to fully read liability waivers before signing a demo contract. “Sometimes the waiver liabilities are very vague,” she said. “Make sure that your county or municipality is not responsible for anything that happens [to the equipment] during that demonstration or use time frame.”

Customers with vehicles in the shop can access a website that allows them to easily see if their vehicle is ready for pick-up.
Customers with vehicles in the shop can access a website that allows them to easily see if their vehicle is ready for pick-up.

3. Improving Customer Service

Provide a Real-Time Vehicle Status Board

  • Plan: A large volume of phone calls that fleet service writers at the City of Tulsa, Okla., received were from customers wanting to know if their vehicles were ready. Customers on the night shift were unable to reach fleet staff because the shop was closed. Fleet management wanted to develop a real-time electronic status board that could be accessed 24/7 through the internet to improve customer communication while decreasing call volume, said Michael Wallace, maintenance manager, Equipment Management Division.
  • Execution: Fleet started by using a Google Docs-based system at its light vehicle garage, where the largest volume of work comes from the Tulsa Police Department. The PD placed a link to the document on its internal page, which allowed police officers on overnight shifts to check the status of their car during their working hours. During business hours, the board provided a color-coded visual of how many vehicles were ready, eliminating the need for officers to call the shop. 
  • Challenges: The service writer had to manually input the information from the fleet system into the document, and it only served one of the maintenance shops. Fleet needed to get the system to integrate with its AssetWorks M5 system to eliminate duplication of effort and expand the project to other shops. Through persistence and follow-up in working with the IT department, as well as strong support from the department director, the division was able to push the project through. 
  • Results: Equipment Management now has a service status board that automatically pulls information from M5 as work orders are written and as work statuses are changed. It updates every five minutes. The division has continued to receive positive feedback about this communication tool, Wallace said.
  • Advice: “If you can overcome the technology issues of getting an automated service board system in place, you gain a very effective customer communication tool,” Wallace said.

The City of Houston now has fewer fuel-site related problems after implementing a new fuel system maintenance program.
The City of Houston now has fewer fuel-site related problems after implementing a new fuel system maintenance program.

4. Lowering Fuel System Downtime & Cost

Improve Fuel System Preventative Maintenance 

  • Plan: Operators repeatedly reported problems with the City of Houston’s 68 fuel sites, noting that fuel was pumping slowly. When they put in a work order, a technician would change the filters on the fuel system. This would happen several times before the tanks were cleaned and fuel polished, which slowed down city operations, said Thomas Hollier, fuel manager. He set out to change the reactive fuel site maintenance program into a proactive one.
  • Execution: Fleet management implemented a new preventive maintenance (PM) program for the fuel system. A technician checks fuel tanks for water once per week. The technician samples the fuel and changes and dates the filters twice per year, and if the sample is even slightly dirty, the tanks will be cleaned and fuel polished. Additionally, any time an operator suspects a problem with the fuel or has problems with vehicle performance, a technician checks the fuel, changes filters, and sends the fuel out to a lab for testing.
  • Challenges: Hollier said the biggest challenge was catching up on tank cleanings for all 68 locations. It took staff a full year to implement this change. It also took a while before technicians and inspectors got into the mindset of being proactive. 
  • Results: In fiscal year 2014, Fleet Management had 30 tanks cleaned for $69,000. In fiscal-year 2015, this was reduced to six tank cleanings, costing about $15,000. By treating the fuel before it becomes a problem and reducing problems with dirty fuel, “operators can do the job they are paid [to] do instead of waiting for fuel,” Hollier explained.
  • Advice: “Be persistent,” Hollier advised. “At first people aren’t used to doing it a certain way, and you have to be committed to making it work.”

Technicians worked on a toolbox placement that would allow access to the spare tire and other equipment.
Technicians worked on a toolbox placement that would allow access to the spare tire and other equipment.

5. Reducing Vehicle Upfit Cost

Install Affordable Toolboxes In Police Vehicles

  • Plan: When transitioning from Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor sedans to the Ford Police Interceptor Utility models, Sonoma County (Calif.) Fleet Operations had the opportunity to install lockable toolboxes in the rear cargo area. Purpose-­built boxes could cost between $800 and $1,500, and Fleet Operations wanted to find a solution that would meet a $500 per vehicle budget, said David Worthington, fleet manager.
  • Execution: Fleet team members measured the rear cargo area of the utility vehicle to determine what space they had to work with after the installation of radio, light-bar controller, auxiliary battery, and fire extinguisher equipment. They found that Sears offered a range of toolboxes that met the dimension constraints and fell under the budget. The toolboxes chosen are of high enough quality that they will last through several replacement cycles of vehicles. Periodic sales at Sears reduce the price of each box from $475 to $275, and staff can pick them up at a nearby store rather than pay shipping costs. 
  • Challenges: Technicians had to find a way to fit the toolbox in the cargo area while still providing access to the spare tire and additional equipment to be installed behind it. They installed spacers underneath the toolbox to raise it enough to allow access to the tire while still being far enough forward of the rear partition to provide room for equipment to be installed behind the toolbox, Worthington said.
  • Results: The toolboxes have held up well with no needed repairs and have met the need for lockable storage at a relatively low cost. The placement of the toolbox also protects radio and light bar controller equipment from impact, Worthington said.
  • Advice: “My advice to other fleet professionals is to think ‘outside of the box’ for solutions to challenges and not quickly accept that nothing exists that meets your needs within a limited budget,” Worthington said.

Adding a cost per mile column clearly shows user departments which underutilized vehicles cost them the most.
Adding a cost per mile column clearly shows user departments which underutilized vehicles cost them the most.

6. Cutting Underutilized Vehicles

Let Customers Know the Cost of Underutilized Equipment

  • Plan: Reassigning or auctioning off underutilized assets can be a point of contention with customer departments that want to keep their vehicles. This is often because they don’t see the full cost of keeping their underutilized equipment.
  • Execution: Richard Battersby, CAFM, CPFP, equipment services manager, City of Oakland, Calif., has a method he’s been using for years to show user departments this exact cost. In addition to the standard metrics he sends periodically, he also formats a secondary underutilized vehicle report table in the far right column that shows cost per mile (CPM). This also lists the average CPM for that vehicle class as a reference point. “Even though underutilized vehicles may have rather small total annual expenses, and departments are willing to spend that to keep the vehicle ‘just in case,’ when you look at the CPM, they shoot through the roof since there are much fewer miles to spread the costs over,” Battersby said.
  • Results: When presented with the data showing extremely high cost per mile expenses and extremely low utilization, the majority of departmental customers turned in the non-specialty equipment for reutilization in order to avoid making it into the month-end fleet utilization report as an executive summary highlighted item, Battersby said.

New push bars and a new upfi tting process for the Chevrolet Tahoe PPVs reduced upfit and repair time.
New push bars and a new upfi tting process for the Chevrolet Tahoe PPVs reduced upfit and repair time.

7. Slashing Technician Workload

Streamline the Uplifting Process

  • Plan: After deciding to replace the Ventura County, Calif., Ford Crown Victoria patrol vehicles with Chevrolet Tahoe PPVs, fleet staff had to determine how to upfit the vehicles in the most efficient way possible. They made changes such as modifying partitions to allow the driver to recline and installing LED instead of halogen spotlights on the sides of the cars. The most noteworthy change is a switch to new push bumpers that save technicians time during the upfitting process, said Kenny Schmidt, automotive system technician.
  • Execution: Fleet staff purchased three Setina push bars to test out. Staff members settled on the one that resulted in less work to install and repair, the Setina PB-450-L4 with LED lights. Schmidt said with the previous push bar, he would take the bumper off, take the headlights out and fit corner strobes in there (negating the warranty), and put the speaker on underneath the bumper. The new method allows him to leave the headlights in and put the speaker on the outside of the push bar and the lights on the push bar.
  • Challenges: Finding all the parts for the new vehicle was a challenge, but the improved efficiency will help the county in the long run, Schmidt said.
  • Results: The new bumper reduces upfit time by about four hours per vehicle. Multiply that by 30 vehicles already in service, 30 more just-delivered vehicles, and 50 to be purchased this year, and the time savings is significant. For repairs and decommissioning vehicles, the time savings to remove the push bar and accessories are an additional two hours since technicians won’t have to take the push bar apart. Fleet Operations is also upfitting vehicles for other agencies to help them reduce costs.
  • Advice: Getting a new vehicle is a good time to re-evaluate your processes, Schmidt said. As for the push bar, “it’s easier to have everything on the outside,” he said.

Adding fire truck air conditioning system service to the preventive maintenance checklist has significantly reduced AC breakdowns.
Adding fire truck air conditioning system service to the preventive maintenance checklist has significantly reduced AC breakdowns.

8. Enhancing Preventive Maintenance 

Add Air Conditioning to the PM Checklist

  • Plan: A few years ago, the City of Houston Fire Department fleet was in disrepair, and air conditioning systems on the majority of trucks weren’t working. Firefighters face 95-degree weather with 95% humidity in the summer. Dressed in full gear and sitting in a hot vehicle, not to mention returning to the hot vehicle during and after fighting a fire, was dangerous, and the AC would repeatedly fail just months after repair. Denny Traylor, deputy assistant director, Fleet Management Department, set out to fix this problem. 
  • Execution: Traylor made sure that broken air conditioning systems were fixed, but he also made AC service a part of the preventive maintenance (PM) program. “By making it a part of the PM checklist, we would be able to look at these systems every 45 days so that components we identified from service would be checked,” he said. The PM checklist services include replacing the AC filter; cleaning the evaporator and condenser cores; and checking condenser fans, AC system pressures, and central air vent temperature.
  • Challenges: The biggest challenge to the change may be in getting technicians to buy into the program, Traylor said. He does so by reinforcing how important the program is and showing them the results — fewer AC breakdowns. 
  • Results: The oldest heavy-duty fire vehicles were purchased in 1999, and effective PM lowers repair costs, which is important when departments don’t have the funding to replace vehicles. By fiscal-year 2015, the number of hours technicians logged working on AC repairs had decreased by more than 39%, from 1,749 hours in 2013 to 1,245 hours in 2014 and finally 1,063 hours in 2015. Following its success, Traylor is implementing air conditioner PM in solid waste trucks, which have the same problem. 
  • Advice: Traylor warned that it may be difficult to explain to operators that air conditioning can only lower vehicle temperature about 20 degrees.

The City of Orlando teamed up with a neighboring agency for technician training.
The City of Orlando teamed up with a neighboring agency for technician training.

9. Boosting Technician Recruitment and Training 

Build Training Into Vehicle Purchases 

  • Plan: The City of Orlando had two technician problems: a small qualified technician pool to hire from and no training budget for its own technicians. Management began seeking ways to overcome these challenges, according to Daryl Greenlee, fleet manager. 
  • Execution: To overcome the lack of dedicated training budget, fleet management began negotiating training into every vehicle and equipment purchase for technical staff. For example, the next purchase of Fire Department rescue trucks will include training for three Emergency Vehicle Technician tracks for ambulances. This includes three levels of certification, with five total exams. This will also be done for fire trucks such as pumpers and tower apparatus as well as automobiles and heavy equipment. To solve the technician recruitment problem, management toured local trade schools to educate students about fleet jobs. The city hired lower-grade technicians and internally trained those technicians to journeymen level, which is helped by the fleet’s new training program.
  • Challenges: Technicians were at first hesitant about all the new training because it seemed overwhelming, but within a year, they had embraced the project and set out to become leaders in their region, Greenlee said. Another challenge was that the project didn’t move fast enough, but once Greenlee explained it to Human Resources and Procurement, it became easier to implement. 
  • Results: Greenlee expects every technician assigned to work on Fire Department equipment to soon be EVT ambulance certified, with other certifications following after. For light-duty vehicles, this process has helped the city fleet become a warranty provider for Chrysler, Ford, and GM. 
  • Advice: Plan ahead, Greenlee advised. “Get buy-in with HR and with training personnel,” he said, referring to the city’s training officer.

Don Feichtinger, senior fleet technician, diagnoses the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system of a bus as part of the county’s new preventive maintenance program.
Don Feichtinger, senior fleet technician, diagnoses the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system of a bus as part of the county’s new preventive maintenance program.

10. Improving Preventive Maintenance

Adjust PM for Engines with SCR Systems

  • Plan: Not long after the introduction of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) engines into the Manatee County, Fla., fleet in 2010, staff began to see SCR fault codes indicating routine maintenance was needed, said Michael Brennan, CEM, fleet services division manager. The division saw it would have to make changes to its preventive maintenance (PM) program to reduce downtime from these systems. 
  • Execution: Fleet worked to identify errors and their exact cause, then see how to fix it and perform PM to that part of the system, said Matt Case, EMS, maintenance superintendent/­senior technician. The SCR maintenance checklist now includes inspection of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank, cap, and lines; scanning for any current or pending trouble codes; replacement of DEF filter; and check of DEF fluid quality.
  • Challenges: Technician awareness of the systems and their maintenance requirements was a big issue early on, Brennan said. There was very little training available in the area on these systems, so most training was hands-on troubleshooting and working with OEM diagnostic software and technician assistance call centers. It took a while to add appropriate inventory to support the increased PM requirements, and fleet had to evaluate the cost into its inventory program and budget. Staff also had to add standard labor codes to its maintenance management system to track maintenance and repair, and all this results in increased PM time. 
  • Results: Scheduled maintenance issues have increased but these efforts have reduced downtime resulting from SCR systems as well as catalyst replacement. Fleet will continue these actions as the county replaces its off-road construction equipment. 
  • Advice: Brennan said it’s important to enlist the knowledge of technicians when adding or changing the PM program.

Fleet management put up banners and signs in strategic locations around the shop to emphasize the importance of the program.
Fleet management put up banners and signs in strategic locations around the shop to emphasize the importance of the program.

11. Ensuring Employee Satisfaction

Enhance Communication Within the Shop

  • Plan: The City of Columbus, Ohio, fleet is open 24 hours a day every day of the year, and fleet management wanted to improve communication between all shifts and staff positions in order to talk about safety, training, testing, general announcements, and fleet vision, said John King, fleet operations manager, and Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator.
  • Execution: In 2013, King started SHOP talks to improve communication — this stands for safety, help, opportunity, and plan. SHOP talks happen daily at the beginning of every shift in an effort to create an environment where individuals feel open to talking to each other and supervisors. One focus is on safety, where employees will discuss a safety topic provided by the safety manager, any accidents or near misses, or safety concerns, King said. Management put up strategically placed banners around the facility, communicated the importance of the program, and visited and participated in some of the meetings, Reagan said.
  • Challenges: One challenge was in gaining buy-in from all personnel on the floor. Reagan emphasized that this was not just a meeting, but an attempt to change the culture within the shop.
  • Results: “I believe we have seen a cultural change and we have better communication than in years past,” King said. Reagan added that the improved communication has led to a safer workforce and decreased downtimes for vehicles in the shop. It also allowed the fleet to perform Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and helped OSHA recordable incidents in the shop drop in severity and expense by 80%. 
  • Advice: “Follow-up is mission critical, and discuss findings from the meetings,” Reagan recommended. “Remember this is a safe place to speak your mind.”

EWEB’s scaffolding device brings the technician up to the work area and allows him to work on a steady surface
EWEB’s scaffolding device brings the technician up to the work area and allows him to work on a steady surface

12. Improving Technician Safety

Purchase Fall Protection Equipment for Technicians

Cantilever ladders have wheels so they can be moved to whatever vehicle needs to being repaired.
Cantilever ladders have wheels so they can be moved to whatever vehicle needs to being repaired.

  • Plan: Fleet management at the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) in Oregon brainstormed ways to improve fall protection for technicians working on trucks. The facility already had harnesses, but finding a safe attachment point for every piece of equipment was difficult. They wanted to find a more effective method, said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet supervisor.
  • Execution: Staff researched cantilever ladders that technicians could work on, with wheels so they could be moved to whatever vehicle was being repaired. They also worked with a local company to design a scaffolding-like platform that technicians could use. The product has wheels, is height-adjustable, fits around vehicle contours, has non-slip material, and has a ladder to the platform. Both these devices bring technicians up to their work areas and allow them to work on a steady surface. EWEB added both the scaffolding device and cantilever ladder to the shop in January.
  • Challenges: Lentsch said the main challenge was in trying to find a configuration that fit the majority of the fleet. These two products have met that need.
  • Results: Lentsch estimates the products reduce the risk of technician falls by 95%. Technicians feel safer, and they believe productivity has improved as a result. “They feel they’re doing a better job because they’re working on something — versus holding on [to the side of the truck] while they’re working. They’re able to work with two hands,” Lentsch said.
  • Advice: Shop safety is an essential part of fleet management. “This is the one thing that could be a life-­changer for any of our technicians, if they just slip and fall off a piece of equipment. As fleet professionals, we need to do everything we can to keep our employees safe,” Lentsch said.

Vehicle information placed on windows gives potential buyers all the information they need about the vehicle at auction time.
Vehicle information placed on windows gives potential buyers all the information they need about the vehicle at auction time.

13. Increasing Vehicle Resale Value

Improve the Prepping Process for Vehicles Going to Auction

  • Plan: While preparing vehicles for auction, Iowa State University Transportation Services staff wrote vehicle information on the windshield with a wax pen, including year, mileage, and some vehicle options. It was not consistent, lacked information, and generally looked unprofessional, said Butch Hansen, shop manager. Transportation Services personnel wanted to change this process.
  • Execution: The shop manager worked closely with technicians and clean-up employees during the training and kick-off of this process. Employees made a photocopy of the original window sticker and placed it in the left rear window of every vehicle being sold with double-sided tape. All manufacturer information is readily accessible on all window stickers including assembly plant, delivering dealer, fuel economy estimates, engine and transmission info, standard equipment and options, and the original retail price for the vehicle and options.
  • Challenges: Transportation Services immediately had 100% staff buy-in as it was a faster and easier process than the one previously used and gave a very professional image of the sale vehicles, Hansen said. Staff members just needed to be consistent with the photocopies and the placement of copies in the vehicles. 
  • Results: The professional look and additional information has increased resale value. Transportation Services saw a 5.6% increase in resale value in the first auction after making this change. Having consistency with placement has also provided positive feedback from both auctioneers and consumers, Hansen said.
  • Advice: “Start making copies and get started — be consistent,” Hansen recommended.

An earlier shift allows technicians to finish preventive maintenance (PM) services before drivers start their shifts in the morning.
An earlier shift allows technicians to finish preventive maintenance (PM) services before drivers start their shifts in the morning.

14. Raising Preventive Maintenance Compliance

Change Technician Hours to Focus on Preventive Maintenance 

  • Plan: Ohio State University fleet management had made various attempts to get drivers to bring their vehicles in for preventive maintenance (PM), but they didn’t stick. Jason Hildebrand, fleet maintenance superintendent, said many vehicles were past due for services, sometimes even a year past due, which led to vehicle failure in some cases. Hildebrand started a new program this June, shifting shop hours to two hours earlier so vehicles would be ready before drivers started their shifts.
  • Execution: Hildebrand talked to technicians to see if they would be open to a schedule change — changing from a 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. shift to a 5 a.m.-1:30 p.m. shift. After getting their consent, he spoke to Human Resources, which approved it. The change affected just the automotive shop; the lawn care shop’s technicians kept their old hours. He e-mails user departments the new PM schedule list and his recommendations for which vehicles should be brought in. Drivers drop the keys in a new night drop box, and the vehicles are ready by the time drivers start their shift the next morning at 7 a.m.
  • Challenges: User departments were concerned about afternoon support coverage, but Hildebrand informed them technicians in the lawn care shop could handle pressing repairs or questions. Another challenge was in getting the information out to end users — they picked up on the new program slowly, but Hildebrand reported that it’s getting better. 
  • Results: Fleet technicians increased PM services from 10 services monthly to 45 monthly since the program started. Hildebrand said PM compliance has increased from 51% at the beginning of the year to 81% in the first two months since program implementation. 
  • Advice: “Sell it to the technicians first,” Hildebrand said. Technicians had approached him for a 10/40 work schedule, but he wasn’t able to provide it. This was another option he proposed, and the two extra hours in the afternoon means they have more time in the day for errands and appointments.


  1. 1. steve Boby [ September 21, 2015 @ 02:43PM ]

    We added "On Board Tire Inflation systems" to Our trucks (all wheel positions) .It saves Us Fuel Maintenance Time and Costs and Huge gains in tire life (20% on drives) while improving safety . it is a step beyond TPMS and Really is Loved by the Shop and Drivers alike . Many people had apprehensions at first but they were Quickly calmed with use and real knowledge of how the systems work .No more kneeling in the dirt to check and air up tires And it allows Airing on the Go in emergency situations where Safety is at Risk . the units have Payed us back in well under a year

  2. 2. Aaron Kriegerson [ November 17, 2015 @ 04:15PM ]

    Thanks for your very informative article about fleet management and jobs. You make a great point about how you should "try before you buy." My dad had his own civil engineering firm growing up and he looked into getting a fleet service. He did a cost analysis and it turns out it wasn't going to be a good fit for his business. Thanks for your post. I'll keep your tips in mind should I ever find myself in the same position. http://www.fcc-inc.com/work-with-us/our-fleet/


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