Staying proactive with vendors is not always fruitful when it comes to dealing with parts shortages and maintaining an efficient fleet maintenance operation.
“But it’s better to stay ahead of the game than wait,” said Morgan Jackson, fleet division manager for the city of Sioux Falls, S.D. Communication with customers in the various city departments is key in the area of maintenance, said Jackson, whose duties include overseeing five maintenance shops.
Those include a main shop and separate shops for police, fire, landfill, and parks vehicles. “A lot of times no one knows or no one understands, and they want something fixed right away, we have to wait until we know the product’s coming in, and ... it’s us making phone calls, us being proactive, making sure we’re calling ahead and basically staying proactive with them, making sure that we’re getting what we need for our equipment,” said Jackson, who oversees about 2,100 vehicles and pieces of equipment for the city.
Kevin Devery agrees on the importance of communication in keeping an efficient fleet maintenance program. Transparency is a word that Devery likes to use to describe communication with his customers. Let customers see everything, said Devery, who oversees about 500 vehicles and pieces of equipment as fleet superintendent for the city of Goodyear, Ariz. public works department.
His organization uses web-based software and allows customer departments to see everything that is in the software system and relates to their equipment. For Devery and Jackson, strong communication with customers and vendors leads to efficiency throughout their fleet maintenance operations.
For Goodyear, Ariz., Communication Brings Confidence
The Goodyear customer departments can see information such as work orders, costs, notes, past jobs that the maintenance department has done, and job codes, and they can run reports.
“What this does is it creates confidence within us because they know that we’re not doing anything we shouldn’t be doing, which we wouldn’t, but now they’ve got a whole other level of honesty that they feel from us,” Devery said.
When customers see everything a fleet maintenance department is doing, that means less tendency of the staff to let things slip by. It also helps reduce the amount of administrative time that the maintenance department must spend trying to explain things to the customer. Some customers call every few hours to get updates, or they ask to run reports, and that takes time. The department is happy to help with that, Devery said.
“But a lot of times they can find the information on their own, which actually alleviates a little bit of the workload on us, right? So be transparent,” he said.
If the maintenance department personnel knows the customer will be able to see the job notes, staff members make sure to be more thorough.
“We get better information from our techs, too, because they’re going to make sure that they’ve filled in everything they need to, so that no questions are going to be asked,” Devery said. “If more people have eyes on it, all the better for us.”
Devery said the move toward fleet maintenance efficiency comes as he has seen fewer staff members come through the ranks of the maintenance department. He is now seeing more maintenance department leaders who have recently earned their college degrees, and many have never worked on cars.
“But they’re coming in to run it like a business,” he said. “You’re seeing much more attention to process, to finance, to running the numbers, looking at the metrics, and following the data, in a much bigger way than you used to see in the past.”
That focus on data is leading to what Devery sees as the next top fleet maintenance trend to increase efficiency: predictive maintenance, which is different than preventive. But he foresees the rise of predictive maintenance because of what he describes as the onslaught of artificial intelligence, computing power and the ability to scrub huge amounts of data to predict how or when parts are going to break, “and then looking at that and planning for it rather than just finding preventive maintenance.”
Devery attended an event that highlighted the intelligence behind predictive maintenance, with techs knowing that a vehicle has a part that breaks regularly at about 48,000 miles, for example, so they replace that part ahead of time at about 45,000 miles.
“That’s an amazing concept to be able to predict when things are actually going to break, because we all know the largest expense is when that thing actually does break, it’s going to wipe out other components possibly,” Devery said. “Downtimes can be greater, the cost of the repair is going to be more, so predictive maintenance is going to be a game changer.”
Technology’s Role in Maintenance Management
If you ask Jackson of Sioux Falls how he keeps his maintenance department running efficiently, the AssetWorks software program is high on his list. “It doesn’t manage our fleet for us, but it definitely assists us in ensuring that we stay on top of our preventive maintenance programs and those cycles,” he said. “It’s turned out to be very fruitful for us, because as anyone knows, you’re always working to keep your repair numbers down, and by doing that you’ve got to keep your PM cycles solid as well.”
The Sioux Falls maintenance department also uses the software program for vehicle replacement.
“It’s allowed me to look at the maintenance on the vehicle right away at my fingertips,” Jackson said. “Three or four clicks of a button ... and I can tell you the history on the vehicle within a few minutes. Not even a few minutes. Quicker than that.”
Sweeper Maintenance Efficiency
In the past, Sioux Falls sweeper operators would fuel and clean their sweepers at night. The maintenance department looked for ways to get more sweeping miles covered each day, since some South Dakota winters last six months. The department’s goal is to sweep the entire city three times each winter.
After an eight- to 10-hour shift, the tired sweeper operators still had to fuel and clean the sweepers. To ease that burden, the department hired a part-time staff of six to work at night. At the end of the sweeper’s shift, the operator provides a briefing on any problems with the sweeper. The cleaning staff then fuels and cleans the sweepers and makes sure they’re ready to go for the next day.
“We gained 2.2 curb miles per day using that program,” Jackson said.
More on Communication, Maintenance
Jackson said communicating with other fleets in his area and nationally has been one of his “biggest success stories.”
He talks to those fleet representatives to learn from their wins and mistakes. That helped the Sioux Falls department as it looked to purchase its first electric vehicle last fall. The department contacted three municipal fleets in Minnesota for guidance on maintenance and other issues before buying the vehicle.
“Before we made the purchase, we knew what we were getting into, so this is a great thing and I'm a firm believer in learning from others before you spend taxpayer money on something [when] you’re not sure what you’re buying,” Jackson said.
The department gathered that information and purchased a Nissan Leaf last fall for use by its city’s health department. Other than some mileage issues during winter, the vehicle has done well.
For Peak Efficiency, Invest in People, Training, Data
Devery from Goodyear, Ariz. advises government fleets to boost maintenance efficiency by looking at their maintenance departments “from a business mind.”
Top areas of importance for Devery include overall availability of the fleet, PM efficiency, and PM compliance rate. His department achieved 100% PM compliance last year, meaning no vehicles were due for a PM.
“You want to look at tech efficiency, how well they’re doing their times, scheduled work versus unscheduled work, [and] how many repeat repairs you're getting,” Devery said. “Your parts availability rate is usually important. It doesn't matter if you have the best techs in the world. If you don’t have parts to fix the equipment, it’s not going to get fixed, right? So it’s going to increase your downtime.”
Idling percentages can help fleets keep fuel costs down, he said. Work order turnaround time is another metric to follow.
“So looking at those metrics, until you measure, you really can’t know where you are, and you can’t improve until you actually identify those numbers,” Devery said.
Another efficiency tip from Devery: Invest in your people. Provide training, which he said might “hurt a little bit at first.”
“But the return on investment in getting your people trained and having them understand more about the operation and more about the systems that they're working on, they will be more efficient and they will have better ideas ... to find improvements in your operation,” Devery said. “So training is by far and away one of the best things you can do. It shows that you appreciate them if you’re investing in them, they feel like they’re ... being valued, they get more training, they understand more, give you ideas, you follow through with those ideas, they see that they are valued, they become a valued part of the organization, and that’s what most people want.”
He expanded on how important the people investment is to the efficiency of an organization, saying that the best leaders develop personal relationships with their staff. They understand staff members’ personal challenges.
“When you have those personal relationships, people trust you and they’ll feel like ‘I can be honest, be myself with this person, my boss or my supervisor or even my coworkers,’ and they’re going to be more willing to help each other out when things get tough, so investing in your people is huge,” he said.
Understanding your customers is another efficiency tip from Devery. Sometimes the shop just isn’t big enough to take care of all the equipment at the same time, so the maintenance department must prioritize. Understanding your customers and their operations and knowing where you can prioritize is helpful, he said.
The maintenance team’s job is to balance the workload coming in, and it’s helpful if the team knows, for example that one of the customers has three vehicles in the shop but that one of those vehicles belongs to someone who has been has been off for two weeks on family medical leave.
Then another customer might come in with a specialized truck that needs a repair done by the end of the day.
“You can put priority on that, so when you understand your customers, what they need, and then they understand you, and you have a better working relationship, it just helps,” Devery said.
He is proud of the work that his department performs efficiently.
“We have a great relationship with our customers, with a heavy emphasis on transparency ... as well as scheduling as much of our workload as we can. Because all the work that we can get scheduled beforehand allows our customers the ability to work around not having their vehicle.”