New A&R Transport terminal in Houston complements carrier's customer service
Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Mary Davis
THREE tank cleaning bays at A&R Transport Inc's new $2-million terminal are just part of the facilities at the Houston, Texas, location. The seven acres are home to a three-bay shop, expansive offices, and a large driver suite.
Steve Brantley, Gulf Coast region marketing and operations manager, oversees the terminal that has been on the site for more than seven years. A&R serves about five major shippers in the region.
Over-the-road drivers transport plastic pellets throughout the United States. The carrier has 130 tank trailers and 115 tractors. About 75 percent of the loads are at rail yards while 25 percent of the product is picked up from railcars on site at shipper locations.
About 40 to 50 dry bulk tank trailers are cleaned per day under the supervision of Richard Munoz, wash rack operation director.
“The wash rack is the backbone of our operation,” Brantley adds.
The cleaning racks and shop bays are divided by an area devoted to offices and a breakroom. In designing the catwalks with Fleetclean Systems for the cleaning and maintenance bays, Brantley specified protective rails for fall prevention.
A&R's customers specify pristine equipment to handle the products hauled by A&R. The plastic pellets typically are used to make containers that hold medicine and foods, as well as automotive products.
The wash rack equipment helps the carrier meet the sanitary requirements. Fleetclean Systems Inc designed and installed the customized, automated, and computerized system used in the three wash bays.
The stainless steel system includes a 200-gallon vat for acid used in exterior cleaning, a 300-gallon vat for cold water, and a 400-gallon vat for detergent. Fleetclean pressure washers run at five gallons per minute and can apply both acid and soap. Three other machines that are water blasters are used for high pressure water for cleaning hoses and tank interiors. (Fleetclean chemicals can be used for both interior and exterior cleaning.) The blower system also is a custom package and operates at 3,000 cubic feet per minute at two psi, and creates 200 F° heated air. The system is configured to dry two trailers at the same time.
Driving the system are six Fleetclean pumps, three for the pressure washer systems for chemicals and three for water only. All run at 2,000 psi for five gallons per minute.
To clean the exterior of the tank trailer, the system utilizes a spray gun to apply soap and rinse water. Interior cleanings typically require a cold water wash, again with the use of the spray gun. The process does not require spinners.
The system is piped throughout the cleaning bay to allow 10 work stations to be utilized simultaneously.
“With this system, we have had only one contamination in the past eight years,” he says.
A&R uses a minimum of seven product seals per trailer on any given shipment. They are supplied by JJ Keller and are attached at domelid (four), each end of the product discharge pipe (two), and on the infield where product is loaded (one).
Another important aspect of the wash operation is wastewater handling. The in-house designed system separates solids from liquids. Solids are retrieved, bagged on site, and then removed by a contractor for disposal. The remaining wastewater is pumped into the municipal sewer without need of treatment.
Not only is wastewater captured in the wash bays, stormwater also is captured through drains built into the yard. Screens prevent solids from entering the storm drains.
In addition to the tank wash, A&R provides maintenance for company tank trailers operating in the region. Typically, preventive maintenance is performed on a 90-day schedule. Mechanics repair hoses, brakes, electrical equipment, and part of the suspensions. Also performed at the shop are truck and trailer inspections to meet federal requirements. Maintenance and tank cleaning at the terminal keep vehicles on the road for the demands of the regional companies, which require A&R to keep to a 24/7 operation with just-in-time service.
“We never know when we may be needed,” says Brantley. “Sometimes shippers have rail interruptions and call us in. At other times, changes in plant production schedules are the reason. Sometimes flooding from storms will damage track.”
Although the shippers have access to rail sidings, often the consignee does not, which means A&R fills in the gap from rail siding to plant.
In long-haul transportation, about 97 percent of the tank trailers return empty to avoid product contamination and also because of lack of return shipments.
In addition to product contamination, security in general has taken on an even more important role in the carrier's operation. The terminal is fenced and has a entry/exit gate that is closed with a coded lock at night. Lighting and surveillance cameras provide other security measures for the terminal. Doors at the shop and wash bays have locks that also require entry codes.
A&R provides drivers with in-house-made identification badges, and they also are given the access codes for the terminal gates, bays, and driver lounge.
Company-owned tractors are equipped with Qualcomm satellite tracking and communication systems that provide immediate contact and location. Owner-operators have cell phones and pagers for communication. Local drivers contact dispatchers twice a day, and those out on long-distance assignments check in after loading and unloading, and between 8 am and 10 am and again between 3 pm and 5 pm.
“We can't be too careful,” says Brantley, pointing out the concerns expressed by the government and the public since the United States was attacked by terrorists in 2001.
As for the business management side of the terminal, new offices in another area from the wash bays and shop were designed for dispatchers, customer service, and administrative personnel.
Brantley's wife, Marsha, oversees the office operation, which includes software programs to increase efficiency.
For managing driver pay and customer accounts, the carrier chose McLeod Software's LoadMaster, a dispatch and accounting fleet management program.
“The program tracks vehicle availability and delivery and return dates,” Marsha says.
A scanner for copying driver daily logs has been installed in conjunction with a JJ Keller driver-auditing program that links to the LoadMaster program. The JJ Keller program, developed for the new hours-of-service regulations, includes the capability of generating driver compliance notices, hours available reports, driver summary reports, and violation summaries.
Despite A&R's electronic capability, the carrier emphasizes personal contact for customer service. Customers do not have to deal with voice mail. At the Houston terminal, four people overseen by a manager are dedicated to handling shippers' needs. Orders usually come in via phone calls or fax and are relayed to dispatchers, which also access the LoadMaster program.
Drivers handling local transportation for the five major shippers typically receive 24-hour notice, but may receive additional loads during the same day. When they are at the terminal, drivers have an 1,800-square-foot lounge furnished with amenities that include showers, television, food and drink dispensing machines, and a covered patio. The lounge is adjacent to the office with a covered walkway.
Driver training is conducted at corporate headquarters and at the Houston terminal. Tank cleaners and mechanics are trained at the terminal. The training program includes confined space entry, use of respirators, and various other safety requirements, as well as specific equipment instruction.
Safety, efficiency, and customer service all have significant functions in A&R operations. The new Houston terminal is an asset that complements those functions and will serve them well for the future.
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