Constant improvement boosts efficiency in fuels deliveries at Cumberland Farms
Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
AN OPEN mind qualifies as one of the most important tools in the Fleet Services Team inventory at Cumberland Farms Inc. It's a trait that has been especially valuable for Ed Potkay in his role as fleet manager for Cumberland Farms Inc, a major northeastern convenience store operation based in Canton, Massachusetts.
By constantly asking questions and refining fleet specifications and operations, Potkay and his team have achieved impressive results keeping the trucks rolling in the petroleum distribution program. Eighty-five petroleum transports will haul approximately one billion gallons of gasoline this year and boast a distribution efficiency that approaches 95%. The fleet serves several hundred convenience stores and service stations spread across 11 eastern states.
“We believe we've built one of the most efficient fleet service programs in the industry,” Potkay says. “This is a true team effort. We involve everybody in the petroleum transport operation, particularly drivers and mechanics.
“We're always looking for new ideas in tractors and trailers, and we're constantly evaluating new technologies. Most recently, the search for greater productivity and performance led us to Polar petroleum trailers, Volvo VN daycab tractors, and we're now acquiring International 9200s and Kenworth T800s. We're testing backup cameras and we have investigated other technologies such as collision avoidance devices and tire inflation systems.”
Drivers initiate some of the equipment and technology evaluations. “Driver involvement is the most important part of the vehicle specification process,” says Carl Wood, fleet maintenance manager. “We survey our drivers for their ideas at frequent intervals, and not just when we are buying new equipment. We ask them to rate tractors and tanks, but also items such as hoses and fittings.”
Acquisitions also bring opportunities to examine various tractors, trailers, and other equipment. The Kenworth T800s and the backup cameras arrived with Cumberland Farms' latest market expansion, which came in June with the acquisition of 200 Exxon-branded service stations from ConocoPhillips. Seventeen petroleum transports were included in the deal.
Located in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, the newly acquired stations will continue to provide Exxon products and offer customers Exxon credit cards and Speedpass payment services. Cumberland Farms also is the largest operator of Gulf-branded stations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
Purchasing the Exxon service stations has helped Cumberland Farms reinforce its position as one of the largest family-owned convenience store petroleum marketers in the United States. Growing into a market leader took decades of hard work.
Cumberland Farms traces its convenience-store heritage to 1956, when company founder Vasilios Haseotes and his family opened their first “jug store” for retail milk sales in Bellingham, Massachusetts. More stores were added over the next few years.
By 1962, Cumberland Farms was offering much more than dairy products at its outlets. Now customers could find groceries, beverages, health, and beauty items in a convenient one-stop store that had liberal operating hours. Gasoline sales also were added.
During the 1970s, Cumberland Farms became the second largest convenience store chain in the United States overall and the largest privately owned C-store chain. The company was operating 1,200 C-stores and 400 service stations as it entered the 1980s. Operations include bakery, beverage, ice cream, and grocery warehousing and distribution in support of its convenience stores.
Gasoline long ago replaced milk as the dominant product sold by Cumberland Farms C-stores. Involvement in the petroleum side of the business got a big boost in 1986 when Cumberland Farms purchased the assets of Gulf Oil that involved Gulf Oil's refining and marketing operations in the Northeast.
Primary responsibility for keeping the Cumberland Farms C-stores, as well as other customers, adequately supplied with gasoline falls on the 85 transports that make up the Cumberland Farms petroleum distribution fleet. Common carriers fill the gaps during the busiest times of the year, but those numbers are dwindling, and the focus is to haul as much as possible on the Cumberland Farms fleet.
Fleet acquisition and maintenance are directed through the Fleet Services office, which was established two and a half years ago. Using Dossier fleet management software from Arsenault Associates, managers keep a close watch on what it costs to run the petroleum distribution operation. They pay close attention to the cost-benefit of vehicle specifications, including factors such as warranty claims.
“We have a particularly aggressive warranty claim program,” says Tom Hayden, parts manager. “Close monitoring of the process means that most of our warranty claims are honored by our vendors.”
Much of the fleet oversight is done in partnership with Cumberland Farms' 240 petroleum distribution drivers. These drivers are dispersed among 16 petroleum fleet locations across the Cumberland Farms marketing area.
“When we set up the Fleet Services office, we realized that we needed to view our drivers as both partners and customers,” Potkay says. “It's a different mindset, but we believe driver involvement is crucial. Involvement builds cooperation. We get suggestions, rather than complaints.”
Driver opinions are valued because drivers spend the most time with the petroleum transports. They work 12-hour shifts on a four-day schedule, with an option to work five days during the busy times. Typically, three drivers are assigned to each tractor.
In addition to asking drivers to test and evaluate new tractor models, fleet management sends out surveys at regular intervals to solicit driver opinions on various specification issues. All of this contributes to a continual process of fleet renewal.
As a result of a tractor evaluation in 2001, Cumberland Farms has begun a shift to Volvo VNL and VNM conventionals. “This test was conducted by drivers at our locations in Glenmont, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; and Canton and Chelsea, Massachusetts,” Potkay says. “They overwhelmingly rated the Volvo better in all categories (visibility, comfort, noise, general ride, cab access, adequate mirrors, storage, interior layout, climate control, fuel economy, power, responsiveness, and image) than the other power unit make we were running.”
For driver comfort, the Volvos are specified with a Heritage II cab interior trim level. Drivers sit in a high-back, air-ride seat from National. Other features include air-conditioning, gauge package, 18-inch steering wheel, tilting and telescoping steering column, AM-FM-CD stereo radio with weather band, and CB radio.
Cumberland Farms also outfits all of its tractors with on-board computers from Xata Inc. The computer is used to compile driver logs and trip manifests, track speed and brake applications, and gather data for fuel reports.
“We've eliminated all of our paper logs with the Xata computers,” Potkay says. “It also assists the dispatch process by maintaining the available hours for each driver. We have a continuing effort to try to provide the best equipment for the drivers as well as keep an open mind for new technologies.”
The Volvo tractors are specified with Volvo's VE D12-425 engine rated for 425-horsepower at 1,800 rpm. Also part of the drivetrain are a Meritor 10-speed transmission and Eaton Fuller 15.5-inch cerametallic clutch. The VNL models are used in the New England region and have a Meritor 46,000-lb capacity RT46-160 drive tandem with a Hendrickson air suspension. The VNM tractors are specified with 40,000-lb drive tandems and are used in other parts of the Cumberland Farms operating area.
Visibility was a major consideration in the specifications, and the tractors have plenty of mirrors — convex wide-angle mirrors on both sides, downview mirror over the passenger door, powered and heated side mirrors, and tripod mounted mirrors on the fenders. Among other components are Volvo 26.5 cfm compressor, MeritorWABCO System Saver 1200 air dryer, TRW power steering, ASF Simplex Lite fifthwheel, Arctic Fox in-tank fuel heater, Accuride aluminum disc wheels, and Goodyear Unisteel radial tires.
Polar Trailer Inc has been named the exclusive supplier of new DOT406 tanks to the fleet. “Polar stood out because they were receptive to our desire for customization,” Potkay says. “They helped us develop our current specification.”
Cumberland Farms drivers also had a big say in the process. A majority of the drivers said in a recent survey that they would prefer low-profile tanks, and that is now the fleet standard. Low-profile tanks are preferred for greater stability with the higher capacity trailers that are used across a large section of the Cumberland Farms operating area.
Recently retired Senior Driver Bill Raposa says “the tractor-trailer combination is the best I've ever driven.”
Based on maximum gross weights, the fleet runs 9,300-gallon, 9,500-gallon, 11,500-gallon, and 12,200-gallon trailers in tandem- and tri-axle configurations. “Higher weights certainly help our productivity,” Potkay says. “We have a maximum weight of 120,000 pounds in New York, 104,800 pounds in Rhode Island, 99,000 pounds in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and 90,000 pounds in Vermont.”
Regardless of capacity, all of the trailers are five-compartment units with double bulkheads between the fourth and fifth compartments. Based on driver comments, the trailers are specified with a 33-inch manifold height and with crossover lines.
Betts 20-inch domelids and EBW vapor recovery are specified. Tank hardware also includes Civacon overfill protection; EBW internal valves, API adapters, and elbows; Scully Groundhog grounding bolts; and Allegheny valve selector manifold with fusible emergency actuators.
A big driver concern in recent surveys was for good lighting, with most saying they wanted floodlights positioned at most of the work areas around the tractor and trailer.
The trailers have Betts swivel spotlights near the vapor recovery connection and on the front corner of the fitting cabinet. Another Betts spotlight is mounted near the crossover line. Yet another work light is inside the fitting cabinet.
Truck-Lite LED running and brake lights are standard. The Truck-Lite Super 44 brake lights are positioned at three o'clock and nine o'clock. “We want to leave no doubt when we're coming to a stop,” Potkay says.
The gasoline fleet is standard on Revolver upper coupler plates from Direct Dimension Inc. Running gear includes Hendrickson Intraax air suspension and axles, MeritorWABCO antilock braking, Centrifuse brake drums, Walther EMC Dura-Light hubs, Alcoa aluminum disc wheels, and Goodyear tires. The Meritor Tire Inflation System by PSI is now standard on all trailers.
Both trailers and tractors are spec'd for hard work. Cumberland Farms petroleum transports average 140,000 miles annually. Power equipment is projected to be replaced at the time the warranty expires — 550,000 to 600,000 miles. Tank trailers are replaced at around eight years.
Keeping the fleet in top running order takes a solid preventive maintenance program. Much of the routine service is handled in-house. The largest company maintenance facility is at the Canton headquarters, and some of the outlying petroleum fleet locations also have small shops.
“Maintenance is a challenge,” Potkay says. “We don't have a shop or mechanic at every location, but we do have mobile service trucks that operate out of Canton. All emergency maintenance calls are routed through our Canton office.”
Code tank repairs are sent to qualified third-party shops. However, most tanks in the fleet are inspected and tested in-house. Quality Management Institute Inc handles inspection certification and training.
Jim Costa, one of five transportation supervisors, says that in his view, “Cumberland Farms has overall the best fleet program and best looking trucks in the industry today.” This is echoed by Mike Mayo, a Canton-based driver. “Maintenance problems are handled so well that we don't have downtime like a lot of other carriers,” Mayo says. “We must be doing something right.”
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