Aug 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Mary Davis
HOW TO increase operations efficiency? That's the question tank truck carriers ponder each day as they search for ways to meet demands of a highly competitive market.
At Kamps Propane in Manteca, California, managers examined their commercial operation and determined that using bobtail trucks with capacities ranging from 2,600 gallons to 3,200 gallons, in some cases, was eating away at driver time and complicating vehicle coordination.
The solution? The company decided to kill two birds with one stone by purchasing a 5,900-gallon tank trailer — not an inexpensive capital investment at $73,000 per trailer, nor a revolutionary idea for the propane industry. However, sometimes one small change can bring significant results. Adding the new trailer to route service resulted in one vehicle doing the work of two bobtails. The consolidated routes soon began to pay off.
“The trailer is returning the expected payback, and I wish we had acted on this before now,” says John Kamps, president and company founder. “I can still remember when a 2,000-gallon bobtail was a large payload, and the driver would empty it twice per day. With each increase in volume of the bobtail tank size, the truck still seems to go out and back with two loads per day. Of course, the new 5,900-gallon trailer has to be coordinated with the delivery area to handle this kind of volume.”
Mike Konanz, fleet maintenance, safety, and training director seconds Kamps' comments. “We've freed up bobtails for use in other areas, and we're saving approximately 40 driver-hours per month. We've also been able to reduce work time on Saturdays.”
Added capacity of the tank trailer works especially well for farm deliveries where propane is used to heat dryers in walnut and almond production. Storage tanks on farms range from 1,000 gallons to 3,000 gallons, which quickly exhausted smaller bobtails loads. Although a three-axle tractor-trailer rig is longer than a bobtail, it can maneuver twists and turns required for rural roads and farm lanes, routes a five-axle tractor and transport would find more difficult.
Farms in California's San Joaquin Valley traditionally have contributed to Kamps Propane's commercial growth. The service area includes customers who use propane for boilers, dairy water heaters, green house heating systems, irrigation pumps, and brooder barn heating.
“There is another potential growth area in agriculture,” says Terry Ayres, vice-president, retail operations. “Many farmers are exchanging diesel-powered irrigation pumps for those that use propane. We see that as a good prospect for us.”
The company offers a variety of supply services: on-call supply, tank monitoring, and scheduled routes. Personal service has long been high on the priority list. “Our main office is still right where it started, in Manteca,” says Kamps. “We know a big reason for our customer satisfaction and growth is because we're local.”
While agriculture has been a long-time contributor to Kamps Propane's success, the industrial sector has an equally strong presence. Customers buy propane for stand-by fuel, heating, space heating, generators, tar kettles, food service vehicles, laundromats, car washes, forklift cylinders, and fleet fuel.
In addition, Kamps Propane delivers fuel to homes that use the gas in space heaters and other heating appliances, water heaters, and ranges. The company installs new gas piping systems, additions, and retrofit piping, and is a distributor of Blue Rhino, a cylinder exchange program. On the retail side of the business, the company provides customers with propane appliances and supplies parts and fittings, as well as storage tanks and other equipment.
Kamps Propane provides on-site refueling for fleet users and installs 24-hour keylock fuel dispensers. The company also will deliver filled tanks of lift truck fuel to customer sites.
To keep customers supplied with product, Kamps Propane has continually added storage capacity, culminating today in 1.55 million gallons. “We use rail to transport a lot of our fuel supply to our rail facility in Riverbank, California,” says Kamps. “The intermodal facility can handle three cars. We also take positions in large underground salt dome containers for the balance of the supply, which could increase our supply needs another five million gallons.”
Supply planning is directed by John Paul and Jack Penzes, who manage the supply and distribution on a daily basis. Being flexible is the key to the wholesale business, says Kamps. “We have to be able to move transportation to the supply at a moment's notice, as well as changing the supply volumes in different areas at any time. Pricing and supply moves extremely fast at times, so we have to show up with our running shoes on.”
Kamps Propane has locations in Oakley, Hayward, Elk Grove, Jamestown, Turlock, Placerville, and Pioneer, all in California; and in Pahrump and Sandy Valley in Nevada. Retail operations are in Manteca and Alpine, California. “California hasn't dropped in propane usage, but we did come off an extreme business boom prior to September 11, 2001,” says Kamps. “That is probably what has carried us forward through the past few months. Business seems to have slowed a bit now, but I expect it to pick up through the end of the year.”
Kamps should have a handle on projecting his company's operation, having been in business since 1969. “I was Suburban Gas's field engineer in Southern California for three years prior to starting Kamps Propane,” he says. “They gave me the opportunity to start a propane company from scratch. They sold me a 1,750-gallon bobtail. After installing a hitch on it, I hooked it to a trailer to carry my personal items and set out for Manteca.
“I was 25 years old and had more energy than good sense. I'm glad nobody told me about the failure rates of new start-up businesses. Believe me, it was not easy, but more than three decades later I have to say that it has been fun over the long haul. The employees here are the best in the industry, and I couldn't have done it without them. They are really who we are.”
The company is organized so that each retail office handles its own dispatching. Lead drivers at each location organize delivery schedules for the company's 55 drivers. New hires receive training from instructors who use the National Propane Gas Association curriculum. Training includes company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling.
Drivers have been issued photo identification cards because of concern for security after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC. They also were briefed on precautions to take while transporting propane. The need for security also prompted Kamps Propane to increase its diligence at its facilities. Terminals are fenced and gated, and guards are on duty at night at some of the locations, overseeing storage tanks and vehicles.
The fleet includes the new tank trailer, 39 bobtails, three tractor-tank trailer units, two tank truck-trailer units, and six trucks used to haul cylinders. Three 11,600-gallon MC331 tank semi-trailers are on the road in service for wholesale customers and for supplying company storage tanks.
Pacific Truck Tank Inc, a long-time vehicle supplier for Kamps Propane, was chosen for construction of the 5,900-gallon tank trailer. Another one will be ordered in 2003, says Konanz. Like most specifications for Kamps Propane vehicles, the trailer has a Trinity vessel equipped with Fisher valves and pressure-relief vents and Betts Industries vapor-proof lighting. The company typically specifies Blackmer pumps, Actaris Neptune meters, Mid:Com computerized registers with in-cab printer, and Hannay electric rewind hose reels.
Base Engineering Inc and McTier Supply Co provide remote control shutdown systems. Like propane distributors throughout the United States, Kamps Propane is installing remote control devices on its vehicles in order to comply with new rules implemented by the Research and Special Programs Administration.
The new trailer has a Reyco Transpro spring suspension. Kamps Propane specifies Alcoa aluminum wheels and Jost landing gear.
Workhorses of the fleet, bobtails, come in a variety of capacities, 2,600-gallon for the California foothills, mostly homes, and 3,000-gallon and 3,200-gallon for both home and commercial deliveries in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to the bobtails are 11,600-gallon tank trailers.
The MC331 Mississippi Tank transport trailers are equipped with Transpro suspensions and Dana Spicer axles and brakes.
Sacramento Truck Center furnishes the Freightliner trucks and tractors. Kamps Propane specifies Freightliner trucks with 230-horsepower Mercedes-Benz MBE-900 engines. They have Fuller nine-speed transmissions, Freightliner suspensions, ArvinMeritor axles, and MeritorWABCO antilock brake systems. Accuride supplies steel disc wheels.
“We are always looking for a way to optimize our efficiency,” says Kamps. “Our routing programs seem to hold the most potential for more efficiency. Adding the larger bobtails will help us in that effort. We will always supply the services the customers want, and get the product to them in a timely fashion. Our customers expect us to run an efficient operation to stay competitive, and that is exactly what we do.”
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
Acceptable Use Policy blog comments powered by Disqus