Good maintenance keeps rigs rolling for Boychuk Transport in Edmonton
Feb 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
GROWING UP, Tim Boychuk spent countless hours in coveralls, working on the tractors in his family's tank truck fleet. The hard work taught him that vehicle maintenance is one of the crucial factors that can make or break a trucking company.
It's a lesson he never forgot. Excellent maintenance is one of the factors making Boychuk Transport Inc one of the premier chemical haulers in western Canada. Based in Edmonton, Alberta, the fleet runs 45 company tractors and 100 trailers.
“Our maintenance program helps us to meet our commitment to total customer satisfaction,” says Boychuk, president of Boychuk Transport. “We want to make sure that our customers feel confident that their products are being transported by the safest, most up-to-date equipment in the industry.
“We're growing about 10% a year, which is a good indication that we're following the right strategy. We're optimistic about the future, and we expect to continue growing.”
Boychuk Transport achieved success hauling a variety of chemicals over nearly 70 years it has been in business. Today, the carrier hauls methanol, solvents, cement add mixtures, deicing solution, amines, and waste and recycled oil.
The methanol business is heaviest in the winter, and most of the loads go to customers on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. Waste oil and cement additives account for a greater share of loads during the summer.
Established in 1934, Boychuk Transport hauled its first chemical loads in the 1950s. John Boychuk, Tim's grandfather, started the company with a Ford Model T pickup that he used for hauling livestock around his hometown of Duvernay, Alberta.
A transition into chemical hauling started in 1953 with the opening of a chlor-alkali plant in Duvernay, and the carrier was incorporated as Boychuk's Transport Ltd. In pursuit of new opportunities in the chemical sector, John Boychuk moved the fleet operation to Edmonton in the late 1950s. The fleet was up to five delivery trucks and 10 tractors.
Edmonton was the place to go for a trucking company that wanted to capture more chemical hauling business. New plant construction was turning Edmonton into one of Canada's chemical manufacturing centers.
Boychuk's Transport bought its first methanol trailer in 1964. Celanese Chemical chose the carrier in 1968 to haul caustic soda. The volume of chemical business continued to grow, as did the fleet, which had reached 40 company trucks, 15 owner-operator tractors, and 70 trailers by the late 1970s.
With the growth came buyout offers from other trucking companies. In 1978, Boychuk family members agreed to sell the company to Rice Truck Lines of Great Falls, Montana. It looked like the Boychuks might be out of the trucking business.
At the time of the sale, John had been in semiretirement for nearly eight years. He had turned over management of day-to-day operations to his son, Nick. Tim is Nick's son and had been working in the business with his father since a very early age.
For Nick and Tim, the time away from trucking was short. In fact, Tim was back on the road almost immediately driving for various carriers and owner-operators. “My father told me to go out and get plenty of hauling experience with a lot of different products,” Tim says.
Nine years after Nick and Tim sold Boychuk's Transport, Celanese Chemical approached them and asked if they wanted to get back into the tanker business. They came back as NRB Developments Ltd with a super A-train (34-ft lead tank and 28-ft pup).
“We've had a close relationship with Celanese throughout most of our company's history,” Tim says. “Today, Celanese Methanol accounts for about 60% of our business. We serve western Canada for Celanese.”
Within a year, Nick and Tim had reacquired the Boychuk company name. They renamed their operation Boychuk Transport (1988) Inc. Through hard work over the next five years, they built a new company that was every bit as successful as the original fleet operation.
Just when it seemed like nothing but good times were ahead, Nick lost a battle to cancer. Suddenly, responsibility for the future of the company rested totally on Tim's shoulders. For a short time, he thought about walking away from it all.
After reflection, though, Tim decided not only to keep going but also to move forward aggressively. He purchased six new B-trains to haul methanol, which is used to remove moisture in crude oil pipelines. Additional equipment and chemical cargoes were added as the Alberta economy began to heat up.
Today, the fleet has more work than ever. The economy of Alberta — particularly the Edmonton-to-Calgary corridor — is the hottest in Canada, according to a special report published in the National Post. Powered by industries such as oil and gas production, the 300-kilometer corridor generates per capita gross domestic product of US $40,000, which is 10% higher than comparable US metropolitan areas and 40% above other Canadian industrial centers.
Canada's financial sector predicts more fast-paced growth for the next few years, as Alberta benefits from massive oil sands investments and continuing bright prospects for the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas sector accounts for 19% of the province's economy. In Edmonton, alone, there are at least 10 chemical plants and five refineries.
For Boychuk Transport, the surging economy means a steady supply of chemical loads that keep the tank truck carrier running at full capacity. Operating from its only terminal in Edmonton, the fleet runs throughout western Canada and into the United States.
While the average length of haul is 200 miles, the Boychuk Transport fleet makes some challenging runs. Some of the cement add mixture hauls take rigs to Whitehorse, Yukon, 1,266 miles northwest of Edmonton.
“We've had a lot of success hauling cement additives,” Tim says. “We have five units dedicated to the cargo, and we're even able to keep two of them busy through the winter.
“We've also seen good success hauling waste oil and filters to a recycling plant. This is a new business for us, and we've added van trailers to transport the oil filters.”
The waste hauling opportunity came through an acquisition. Tim predicts that more of the growth at Boychuk Transport will be driven by acquisitions over the next few years.
Regardless of what brings the growth, it means more loads and busy rigs. Two dispatchers work hard to maximize the efficiency of the operation. Helping them is computer dispatch software that was developed by Edmonton-area programmers.
“Our dispatchers watch transit times very closely,” Tim says. “They know when a truck is off schedule. That's one reason we have an excellent on-time percentage, and about half of our shipments arrive ahead of schedule. Drivers are required to call whenever there is a delay.
“We've also taken a lot of steps to improve performance in general. For instance, we preload as much as possible. We park the trailer in a secure location — either at our terminal or at the shipper's plant. We generate a waybill once a consignee is designated.”
Years of experience showed what types of tractors and trailers work best in the operation and what was needed to keep the equipment in top running order. Virtually all of the methanol shipments are handled in eight-axle B-trains with a 130,000-lb gross combination weight. Other chemicals are transported in six-axle rigs (104,700-lb GCW) and B-trains.
Kenworth T800 conventionals predominate in the company fleet. All are sleeper tractors. The carrier has standardized specifications as much as possible for ease of maintenance, operation, and driver morale.
“We run our tractors a maximum of 4½ years,” Tim says. “We replace three to six tractors a year, and total annual tractor purchases are four to eight. A key reason for the replacement schedule is to make sure that we keep up with technology changes.
“We're being cautious with our new tractor purchases right now. We bought six tractors with pre-October 2002 engines in 2002, and we added four new units in the fall of 2003. We're still concerned about the new engines. We're still skeptical; we still have a lot of questions.
“My father always said to stay away from new engines for the first two years. Let someone else be the guinea pig.”
Over 60% of the tractors have Caterpillar engines, with the remainder running Cummins. Tim says he prefers the Cat engines, and drivers say the engines are quieter, especially when idling while drivers are resting in the sleeper.
Also part of the drivetrain are 18-speed Fuller transmissions and 46,000-lb-capacity Eaton tandem-drive axles. The powertrain specifications ensure that the tractors have plenty of power to pull the loads and to run at maximum highway speeds.
However, the carrier makes sure that drivers stay within the speed limits. The carrier has been running tachographs in tractors since 1987. “Tachographs are easy to operate and maintain,” Tim says. “They give us all of the information we need. They have helped drivers more than they have hindered.”
In the trailer fleet, Boychuk Transport runs aluminum tankers built to Canada's TC306 standard by Advance Engineered Products Ltd. Canada is in the process of moving to the new TC406 standard, which is virtually identical to the DOT406 code in the United States.
Designed for B-train applications, most of the methanol trailers hold 62,500 liters (16,500 gallons). Tanks are outfitted with Betts domelids, vents, and internal valves; API adapters from EBW, piping with Teflon-encased seals, and Scully overfill protection. Lead B-train trailers have Holland Kompensator fifthwheels. Running gear includes Dana axles, Ridewell air suspensions, and Sealco/MeritorWABCO antilock braking.
Stainless steel tankers are used for the other chemicals hauled by Boychuk Transport. The newest units were built by Tremcar Inc to DOT407 code. Tandem-axle units hold 28,000 liters (7,300 gallons), while tri-axle trailer capacity ranges from 30,000 to 32,000 liters (7,900 to 8,400 gallons).
Tank hardware includes Fort Vale pressure/vacuum-relief vents and Betts valves and domelids. Trailers also have aluminum wheels and Hendrickson Intraax air suspensions.
Keeping the equipment in top running order takes a solid preventive maintenance program. Routine repairs and preventive service are handled at the company shop in Edmonton. Cargo tank repairs and major tractor work are sent out to qualified shops.
Company mechanics follow a detailed preventive maintenance schedule. Tractor service is on a four-tiered arrangement — A1-10,000 kilometers (6200 miles)/30 days, A-20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles)/60 days, B-40,000 kilometers (24,000 miles), and C-80,000 kilometers (49,000 miles). The B and C inspections meet the requirements for Canada's federal annual inspection.
The A1 inspection focuses on safety equipment. All of the other service levels include changing the engine oil and filter. At 160,000 kilometers (99,000 miles), the C service includes power steering filter replacement, engine tuneup, transmission lubricant and filter change, and rear axle and front hub lubricant change.
Trailers are serviced at 10,000-kilometer intervals. In addition to a thorough check of the running gear and subframe, mechanics inspect internal valves, cable releases, and piping.
This attention to detail continues to pay dividends for Boychuk Transport, ensuring that equipment is ready to go when customers have loads to ship.
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