Briefing on Vapor Recovery Prototype Drives System Transport to Adaptation
Jul 1, 1999 12:00 PM, MBT STAFF
SOMETIME IN the late 1960s, George Engler delivered a load of mineral spirits to an aircraft company in the Los Angeles, California, area. He learned the company was developing vapor recovery and bottom-loading equipment for tank trailers.
Today, Engler's company, System Transport of Signal Hill, California, has vapor recovery and bottom-loading equipment on almost all of the fleet's petrochemical tank trailers. Engler decided to install the equipment on System Transport petrochemical tank trailers in 1973.
"We thought when it was mandated for gasoline, that eventually it would be specified for the products we were hauling; so we started ordering the equipment," he recalls.
The decision impacted the budget, but Engler found he could ease the financial strain by specifying the equipment when new tank trailers were ordered. He also began retrofitting the older trailers in the fleet. Retrofitting proved costly because of trailer downtime, expertise required for cutting into the tank, and testing. The regular use of bottom load/vapor recovery for chemical loading dates back to the mid-1980s when Shell Chemical Company converted its Dominquez, California, facility to allow its use. Some customers now are requiring carriers to have the equipment on their tank trailers.
"That's not just in California," he says. "At least one company in Arizona specifies the requirement on the bill of lading."
To order new DOT406 specified trailers called for coordination with manufacturers because the trailers are used primarily for petroleum distribution.
Stainless steel valves are special ordered and used to protect the loading head from the petrochemical products System Transport distributes.
Installing special equipment is just one of the ways a small business like System Transport ($3.2 million in annual revenue) can compete with larger carriers in the chemical market. At the same time, providing specialized service at a moment's notice has been the company's core philosophy since its founding in 1946 by Engler's father, Merlin Engler.
At the senior Engler's death in 1981, his elder son assumed the reins as president. Involved in the company's operations today are George's brother, Larry, chief financial officer; George's wife, Joy, quality control manager; Larry's wife, Laura, office manager and accountant; and the brothers' mother, Florence, who is vice-president.
The company started in Gardena, California, where Merlin established a dry freight business that included among its customers a fledgling toy manufacturer operating out of the owner's garage. System Transport continued to haul the toys until Mattel Inc moved some of the facilities into Mexico. Mattel Inc is just one of the companies the Englers have seen grow from infancy into huge corporations.
System Transport's focus changed from dry freight to liquid bulk when the senior Engler formed a partnership with a petroleum distributor, Charles Hess. "In the early days, they had about six trucks, one broken down and five running all the time," George Engler says, laughing.
Eventually, Hess sold his shares to George and another employee, Marjorie Palmer. In 1972, company headquarters was moved to Signal Hill. Palmer retired in the late 1970s and sold her shares to George. The company became entirely family-owned.
Although the company operates throughout the western United States and south to Tijuana, Mexico, about half of the business is in southern California. A few deliveries travel east into Texas and Florida, and have been made to Alaska. About 430 loads per month are delivered.
"The general commodities business was my dad's interest, but when he passed away, we slowly began to change, eventually getting totally into petrochemicals by the early 1980s," says George Engler. "We're often called a Mom and Pop operation."
And the family style, albeit with a professional touch, is apparent at the headquarters and terminal where employees, owner-operators, contract maintenance personnel, and owners often gather around a table for a home-cooked lunch. Sometimes it is prepared by the owners or sometimes brought in by an employee with a special recipe - like Ron Delmark's gourmet Italian sauce. Delmark, the maintenance contractor, operates his business in the System Transport shop and oversees the company's fleet needs.
When not treated to Delmark's recipes, the owners and employees may be preparing food outdoors. In keeping with the Southern California lifestyle, a patio complete with grill and hammock is in place at one side of the building. And meals aren't the only convenience provided by the company. A washer and dryer, showers, and kitchen facilities are available for drivers at any time.
Amenities aside, the company keeps trucks and tank trailers rolling, particularly through the coordination efforts of Susan Lane, who handles all dispatching. Orders come into the office via fax or telephone. Drivers either pick up orders at the terminal or telephone in for instructions. They carry cellular phones, pagers, and two-way radios. The managers stay in touch with drivers, requiring them to call in after deliveries and every day at 4 pm.
System Transport serves a long list of shippers, but about 25% of the company's business comes from Shell Chemical Company, a relationship that has stretched over more than 15 years. Among other customers are Van Waters & Roger Inc, Chemcentral Corp, Soco-Lynch, Nalco Chemical Co, Houghton Int'l, Borden Chemical, Equilon Enterprises, Global Specialties, Sunco Chemical Company, Holland Chemical International (the customer in Mexico), AG Layne Co, and Calsol Inc.
Product is delivered to Nutra Sweet Kelco, Pressure Vessel, Barrick Gold Mines, Geneva Steel, Homestake Mining, Dep Corp, and Ellis Inc. Some of the shippers also receive product, including AG Layne, Van Waters & Rogers, and Nalco.
The chemicals transported are used in paint, cosmetics, water treatment, lubricants, soap, bleach, and other manufacturing processes. A typical month of commodities transported includes budiox, mineral spirits, acetates, xylene, toluene, alcohols, tolusol 6, hexane, acetone, methanol, cleaning compounds, glycols, monoethylomanime, texanol, triethylonamine, acids, and caustics.
Hauling the variety of products and tailoring customer service calls for well-trained veteran drivers, says George Engler."I can't really say just how long it takes to train one of our drivers," says Engler. "We are willing to spend the time that is needed for each individual. Usually, they have a commercial driver license when they come to us, but we have trained beginners."
Joy conducts the classroom training that includes all the required procedures as well as lectures on company policy and customer service.
Once newly hired drivers finish in the classroom, they are trained on the job by the company's driver/trainers. "Before we let them go out alone, they will have been through all the job functions," she adds. "We really rely on our trainers to decide when they are ready."
System Transport customers have audited the training program. "One shipper sent auditors who were here for about two weeks to see if we were qualified," she said. "They looked at our equipment, training procedures, personnel records, and logs."
System Transport passed the inspection with flying colors and continues to win customers with its ability to meet their needs.
Success was demonstrated again in 1998 when System Transport received special recognition for the fifth time in Shell Chemical's 4-Star Carrier Awards. Shell has made the award for six years. The minimum requirement for the status includes excellent operation in hauling and achieving a performance rating of at least 99.0%. System Transport's vehicles travel about 1.12 million miles annually.
Even with its outstanding record, System Transport continues to work to uphold its reputation. Emphasis is placed on vehicle maintenance, much of which is performed on the two-acre site. Delmark oversees all repairs on the tank trailers with the exception of code tank welding and repairs, which are performed by outside repair facilities. Trailers are inspected monthly with a special eye to brakes, suspension, dome lids, and overfill protection systems.
Tractor engine repairs and service are performed by outside shops. The power units receive routine 90-day oil and fluids service.
Typically, the newer DOT406 aluminum trailers in the fleet are from Polar Tank Trailer. The 9,400-gallon, five-compartment trailers are equipped with a Civacon vapor recovery system. Internal emergency valves are from DTM Emco Wheaton, and the overfill protection system comes from Scully Signal. Blackmer pumps are mounted on all the tractors.
Trailers are equipped with Hendrickson Intraax tandem air ride suspension system. A Holland Hitch coupler plate is adjustable in two-inch increments. Landing gear are from Austin. Truck-Lite supplies the lights.
System Transport specifies full-length aluminum hose trays on the curbside because the design makes hose handling easier and safer for the driver. Rear-mounted ladders also are specified.
System Transport specifies Yokohama tires and Alcoa aluminum wheels for its 14 MC307 and DOT407 tank trailers.
There are 30 tank trailers in the fleet. They are from Trailmaster Corp, West-Mark, Heil Trailer International, Fruehauf Trailer Services, Brenner, Beall Corporation, and Polar.
Latest trailers come from Polar and are 8,000-gallon double conical with one compartment. Polar provides the stainless steel manholes. The stainless steel bottom-loading tank trailers are equipped with hydraulic internal valves and bottom-loading secondary valves from Betts. Other hardware includes Fort Vale vacuum pressure vents with Girard magnetic vacuum breakers, Fort Vale hydraulic vapor recovery vents, and Scully stainless steel optic probes.
The tandem Intraax air ride suspension is supplied by Hendrickson as are axles. Austin supplies the landing gear.
System Transport's newest tractors are from Peterbilt. They have Cummins engines with 370-410 horsepower and nine-speed Fuller transmissions. The Eaton drivetrain has a 3.7 ratio, and steering axles are from Meritor.
Tractors have Argo tacographs that show time on the job, speed of the tractor, and time the engine is run. Operation time is measured for loading, unloading, and parking at the terminal. "We get detailed information," says Engler.
Excellent equipment, maintenance, and dedication to service are constant factors at System Transport. But Engler also watches for industry trends to meet future demands. He knows there will be more environmental regulations on the horizon, especially for the petrochemical industry. "I expect there will be more consolidation of shippers and more partner shipping. These will be the areas that will dictate some of the growth pattern of our company," he says.
Attention to such details, and others, has helped System Transport grow into a regional competitor, particularly as a result of applying equipment that meets the environmental standards of today. The Englers leave no doubt that the company will continue with that priority.
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