Fleet facilities are designed to last decades, and good facility maintenance can help the building last even longer. But, as vehicles and technologies change, and as fleets grow, public agencies find they need new or upgraded facilities that will meet the requirements of their operations.
New facilities are multi-million dollar investments and they’ve changed to become larger, cleaner, safer, and brighter than the buildings they replace. From special building features to advanced technologies, the newest trends in maintenance facility design are helping fleets operate more efficiently and safely.
1. Facilities Designed for Alternative Fuels
While fleet managers can only guess at the new technologies and changes in the decades their facility will be in operation, they should plan for future trends. One such trend happening now is the switch to alternative fuels and building stations to accommodate these fuels even if the agency doesn’t have immediate alternative-fuel plans.
Many fleets are or should be designing facilities for vehicles that run on fuels that are lighter than air, such as compressed natural gas (CNG), propane autogas, and hydrogen. Roger Thompson, president of Effective Management Decisions, explained that for gasoline and diesel, facilities are designed to capture fumes up to 18 inches off the floor. Lighter-than-air gases need to be captured from the ceiling, which means electrical services must be placed 18 inches beneath the ceiling, except for a methane detector.
“This is something we’re striving for people to do because the cost of doing it when we’re building it new is really going to be cheap. Actually there is no cost differential at all,” he said. “But if they have to renovate a facility to work on vehicles that run on CNG, the cost can be staggering.”
Thompson works in collaboration with Weston & Sampson, an engineering group, to design and plan facilities. He is working on the design of a 56,000 square foot maintenance facility for the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., that has yet to be built.
Mark Ellis, central region manager of Maintenance Design Group (MDG), a firm that designs transportation facilities, said the main changes the company is making for fleet facilities are upgrading them for alternative fuels and facility expansions. To avoid a future upgrade, plan for alternative fuels in the initial building design.
In addition to lighter-than-air fuels, new fleet facilities can also have electric vehicle charging stations set up. The City of Fort Wayne has a charging station at its present, upgraded facility and will also have them at the new facility. Montgomery County, Md., which opened its 274,000 square foot maintenance facility in October 2013, has four electric vehicle charging stations.
2. Improved Security
Thompson is working on improving site security at the Fort Wayne facility — that is, making the shop floor accessible to only technicians and fleet staff and keeping everyone else out. Operators would enter through a specific door and meet with a service writer.
“The operators drop their vehicle off and unless that service writer lets them in there, they’re not coming into the shop,” Larry Campbell, CPFP, fleet director for the City of Fort Wayne, said.
Vendors would enter a vendor access area and drop off oil, parts, or tires there without needing to enter the shop.
Increased security solves a safety issue, as the shop floor can pose hazards to those not working there, Thompson and Campbell said. It’s also a productivity issue, as it cuts down on the time operators talk to technicians. And finally, technicians often don’t want others in the shop while they are working.
3. More Service Bays Per Technician
Reserving only one work bay per technician can result in lost productivity. At Fort Wayne’s new facility, heavy-duty technicians will have access to 1.5 bays each, and light-duty technicians will each have two bays to work with, an increase from its current 1 to 1.25 bays per technician. Leaving a vehicle on a lift waiting for parts takes up a bay, Campbell explained. Taking the vehicle down, of course, can be time-consuming.
Will Massey, CFM, CAFM, acting fleet manager, City of Gainesville, Fla., knows how it is to deal with limited bays. Before the city opened up a consolidated maintenance facility in October 2013, technicians working with one bay would need to pull down the vehicle if it was waiting on parts to put another vehicle on the lift, which was an inefficient process. At its new $10.7 million, 44,000 square foot facility, each technician has two service bays, which improves technician productivity.
“We built our shop with fleet growth in mind,” Massey said. “The two bays per technician may shrink some as the fleet grows and we add on staff, but right now, that’s how it’s worked out for us.”
4. Sustainable Design
The goal of many sustainably designed buildings is LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Montgomery County’s $40 million facility is LEED Gold certified and includes features such as a green roof, which includes plants and grass; radiant floor heating; photovoltaic array that pumps out 44 kW per day; solar-powered lights; CNG backup generator; and a water recovery system.
However, LEED certification isn’t for everyone, especially cash-strapped agencies. Thompson said when he works on facility designs, he doesn’t focus on the certification. “We do not try to make it LEED certified, but we follow every possible practice we can,” he said. “Just getting the certification is expensive.”
For example, the City of Fort Wayne’s facility will also have a water recovery system that stores collected water in an underground storage tank. This water will be filtered and used for testing fire pumps and for vehicle washes, Thompson said.
Ellis added that other sustainable design elements include natural lighting; LED lights; and high performance flooring systems that are highly reflective, easy to clean, and last longer.
5. Improved Air Quality
For City of Gainesville technicians, exhaust extraction and air quality monitoring systems has helped improve air quality inside the building, especially during the winter months when doors stay closed.
The exhaust extraction system runs throughout all the service bays and connects to a vehicle’s exhaust pipe. It allows technicians to run the vehicles in the shop with the doors closed and send the exhaust outside.
The air quality monitoring system provides an audible warning when air quality drops below a pre-set level, such as when carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide levels are high. “When levels exceed predetermined acceptable standards, roof-mounted exhaust turbines automatically activate, along with a series of louvers mounted around the sides of the building that open automatically to assist in air exchange until the air quality comes back down to a suitable level,” Massey said.
6. Dedicated Training Room
As new facilities are being built, it’s more common to have a designated training room. Campbell said the training room in Fort Wayne’s new facility will have computers set up so technicians can take online training courses, and it will also be used for classes and by other departments. Technicians now take training at a heavily trafficked area, which can make it difficult for them to concentrate.
Montgomery County fleet’s large training room is used to host county training and in-house training. The fleet also uses it to proctor certifications for HVAC training and to host manufacturer training.
7. Wi-fi for the Shop Floor
Having wireless internet on the shop floor is another trend many fleets are adopting.
Gainesville’s facility has Wi-Fi throughout the shop, which allows technicians to roll mobile work stations to their work spaces and use their laptops for mobile diagnostics. This wasn’t possible at the prior facility, where technicians had used wired connections to access the network. But he’s not stopping there.
“My goal for this facility is to have every technician have a tablet that will be their work station, where they log their repair orders, access service information, and communicate with me and each other,” Massey said. “They’ll be able to communicate with the parts room to order parts, and it’s basically going to eliminate unnecessary trips back and forth inside the operations portion of the building.”
Fort Wayne has had Wi-Fi at its facility for at least 10 years, and it will undoubtedly have wireless internet at its new facility as well. Campbell said Wi-Fi allows technicians to log onto manufacturer programs and easily upload any repairs they are required to report to manufacturers.
Having Wi-Fi across the entire facility is also an advantage for customers. Anybody waiting for vehicles can use it to e-mail and work in the waiting room, he added.
Montgomery County’s new facility has wireless internet, and its other two major facilities and six satellite facilities will have Wi-Fi by the end of this fiscal year, said Bill Griffiths, fleet division chief.
The county fleet is also testing out tablets for its technicians. The agency is trying out 15 tablets from three different manufacturers: Lenovo, Samsung, and Apple. All maintenance manuals (digital and scanned paper manuals) are on the server for technicians to access via these tablets.
8. Computerized Fluid Management Systems
Maintenance facilities are now using more technology to control their assets, said Ellis with MDG. One such example is computerized fluid management systems that “enable the technician to request fluids for that vehicle based on the work order he’s on, and then it will track the amount of fluid being put into the vehicle,” he said. This works in conjunction with overhead reel banks that deliver fluids such as oil, transmission fluid, and windshield wiper fluid, and allows the fleet to better charge customers and track usage. A system like this can even improve maintenance. For example, if a vehicle seems to need an excessive amount of oil over time, as recorded by the system, technicians can review the diagnostics to see if it needs service.
Montgomery County uses this kind of system, which tracks orders back to its fleet management system. Technicians scan the component to tie it to a specific work order for accurate accounting and billing. “Now if you want to talk about calculating real total cost of ownership, it captures everything,” Griffiths said.
9. Advanced Vehicle Lifts and Service Pits
Vehicle lifts are not only getting safer, but also more automated and easier to use. Lifts can be programmed to memorize axle points on vehicles, so it knows exactly where the lifting points are. “When a truck comes in, let’s say it’s truck 42, we enter that in the control module, and that truck lift changes the lifting points to fit that specific truck,” Thompson explained. This means technicians don’t have to crawl underneath the vehicle to make sure it’s aligned correctly.
Not only that, but underground lifts are now more environmentally friendly. To solve the problem of leaks in underground lifts getting into the ground water, lift manufacturers now offer self-contained units, Ellis said. He explained that the fully contained modules are built outside the building and brought into the facility, put into the ground, and concrete is poured around it.
Some larger organizations may have self-contained pits that allow the technician to work in a lower work area. Ellis’ company designs an advanced lower-level work area that is ergonomic for technicians of various heights. A 10-foot mobile platform sits on a track that moves the length of the pit opening and can be adjusted for height. The platform includes LED lighting, so only the work area is lighted, eliminating the need to light the entire pit.
Montgomery County has four of these maintenance and inspection pits that have air-driven platforms underneath. The technician also has access to fluids, oil filters, and grease stored in the pit so he can do all his work there, Griffiths said.
10. Storage Systems to Save Space
Space for storage of parts, tires, and other supplies can take up a lot of room on the shop floor. That’s why some newer shops are choosing to go with storage systems such as tire carousels and parts storage machines. These are customizable to the shop and rise to the ceiling, minimizing the floor space needed. A technician enters a code, and the tire carousel moves the desired tire to the opening at floor level, or the parts machine delivers the product at a waist-high opening.
Montgomery County has both these types of machines: two tire carousels from Vidmar that house 200 tires and two Cardex Remstar vertical lift modules that hold about 32,000 parts. The City of Fort Wayne will also install two Vidmar tire carousels that reduce a 2,000 square foot area to a 600 square foot area, Thompson said.