Nov 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
ACROSS most of the United States, the full rollout of ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) for on-road use seems to have been almost a non-event. That was the best possible outcome for petroleum haulers, such as Saraguay Petroleum Corporation in Atlanta, Georgia.
So far, the transition to ULSD has posed little difficulty for Saraguay Petroleum, a for-hire carrier that operates 19 transports. Diesel accounts for about 35% of the cargo hauled by the fleet. Mandatory shipments of ULSD to retailers began October 15.
“Probably the best development in all of this is that so far we haven't had to dedicate tank trailers to ULSD,” says Anthony C “Tex” Pitfield, Saraguay Petroleum Corp president. “We've been able to switch load with gasoline. Most importantly, ULSD is reaching the loading racks in the Atlanta area with sulfur content well under 15 ppm. In fact, it's significantly under 10 ppm.
“We do have to make sure that we thoroughly drain down trailers after each delivery. We also have to pay more attention to the products we transport ahead of the ULSD. All of this means we have to give more thought to equipment scheduling. It's definitely more of a thinking man's process now.”
Pitfield adds that ULSD supplies have been adequate in the Atlanta area for the most part. Random shortages of low sulfur and ULSD did occur in the first couple of weeks following the October 15 rollout date, but those shortages were very localized. Additional spot shortages were reported during the first week of November and continue at press time.
Why was the rollout relatively trouble-free? Pitfield credits several factors. Most importantly, several refiners began shipping ULSD almost a year ago, and volumes were increased steadily during 2006. “By mid August, perhaps even earlier, ULSD accounted for 60% of the diesel we hauled,” he says.
Problems were encountered during the year, but most were addressed. For instance, some automated loading systems had difficulty handling an additional grade of diesel, and loading arms weren't properly marked.
“As a result, we had some loading mistakes early on,” Pitfield says. “Even with ULSD-specific training, drivers were confused. Some drivers say the situation at some loading racks is still confusing.”
As Pitfield discusses the ULSD situation in the Atlanta area, it quickly becomes clear that he's not a native of the South. In fact, he's a long, long way from his family home in the Canadian province of Quebec. Pitfield, born in Montreal, moved to a ranch in Alberta when he was a young child. His love of big equipment and trucks was developed there and has never left him. He started his professional life in 1977 as an investment banker in Canada.
All of that changed in 1990 when Pitfield received a green card in a lottery conducted by the US government. He wasted little time in finding a new investment position in Florida. By 1993, he had joined the rush to the Internet and was involved in electronic commerce.
Pitfield's first brush with the tank truck industry came in 1994 when he hired on with a Florida-based petroleum hauler. He went back to electronic commerce in 1996, but another petroleum hauling opportunity arrived in 1999.
“I took the driving job in 1994, because I needed a break from the Internet,” Pitfield says. “The second time around was to help a friend on weekends. That arrangement lasted just a short time. In August of 1999, I bought my first truck — a purple Kenworth W900.”
Saraguay Petroleum was up and running. The company name serves as a reminder of Pitfield's roots. The Saraguay Forest on the outskirts of Montreal, Quebec, was where his grandparents were married and the location of the family home.
Along with petroleum-based diesel, the tank truck carrier transports a large volume of biodiesel to commercial accounts, county government, and military customers. Other cargoes include gasoline, kerosene, and lube oils.
The majority of the Saraguay Petroleum customers are petroleum marketers. “We work with quite a few petroleum marketers, and no single customer accounts for more than 10% of our business volume,” Pitfield says. “We don't want to be tied to one or two big customers.”
The customer mix is one reason the company has achieved consistent growth during its seven years in business. Saraguay Petroleum has posted double-digit annual growth in each of those years. “We expect to show 20% growth for 2006, and we're optimistic about 2007,” Pitfield says.
Pitfield's finance and Internet backgrounds are key factors in the way the company is operated. A lean management team uses technology to coax maximum productivity from the fleet. Management systems include TankerPro software (dispatch, billing, maintenance, and driver management) which interfaces directly with accounting software, NEXTEL cell phones with walkie-talkie capability, and PeopleNet on-board computers.
“We focus on technology that gives us flexibility in managing this business, and we've tried to anticipate technology requirements that are likely to be included in future federal hazmat security rules,” Pitfield says. “Truck fleets today must be modern businesses that can change at a moment's notice. They need the most efficient means possible to collect data and maintain constant communication with drivers.”
Using the TankerPro system, five dispatchers keep the fleet in operation virtually around the clock. They direct a veteran team of 32 drivers, who serve customers across northern Georgia and into the surrounding states.
Drivers work a five-day week and are assigned to one of six shifts with start times at midnight, 3 am, 5 am, noon, 3 pm, and 5 pm. The fleet averages 4.5 loads per shift, per driver.
“We run the staggered-shift arrangement because we don't want the inefficiency that comes with a single shift change,” Pitfield says. “Our arrangement offers more flexibility for our drivers and our operation as a whole.
“Many of our drivers haul five loads or more a day, and we pay them well for that productivity. Ours are some of the best-paid drivers in the industry. The average annual income is $65,000 for drivers at this company. Those who want to put in extra effort can make as much as $80,000 a year, and they are home at the end of each shift. That's one reason we don't have much difficulty finding and retaining truck drivers.
“Looking beyond the basics, we target drivers who fit with our company culture. They need to have excellent references, and they must show an ability to think on their feet. They must be customer-focused.
“We're very willing to hire immigrant drivers. After all, I'm one of them, too. We're very strict on verifying their status, though. We don't cut any corners. Most of the immigrants we've hired have lived in the United States at least five years and have legal residency. They can read, write, and speak English and meet the hazmat security qualifications.”
Saraguay Petroleum hires only experienced truck drivers. Two years of verifiable over-the-road truck-driving experience is the least that the carrier will accept. In addition, candidates must be at least 25 years old and have valid hazmat and tanker endorsements.
Safety is a major concern in the driver hiring process. The carrier will reject any candidate with more than two moving violations listed on the motor vehicle report. In addition, the company turns away anyone with a conviction for driving under the influence or a ticket issued in the past three years for driving more than 15 miles an hour above the speed limit.
Once hired, a driver spends at least five weeks in orientation and training that cover general instruction in “gasoline hauling 101,” company policies and procedures, Department of Transportation regulations, and the American Trucking Associations' Highway Watch program. Some classroom time is devoted to safety videos and one-on-one coaching on “what if” scenarios.
Georgia has mandated training in Highway Watch, which shows drivers how to identify and report safety and security situations that they observe while on the road. Drivers also attend petroleum terminal-mandated training to be certified at the loading racks that they will serve.
On-the-job training ensures that drivers gain familiarity with the tractors and trailers in the fleet before being sent out on their own. They find out quickly that the company runs some of the newest equipment and maintains it in top shape.
They also find a wide variety of equipment in the fleet. “We try a lot of different things, because we want to be able to find the best equipment for each application, and we want to test the latest developments,” Pitfield says. “We want flexibility, and we want to make sure that our business is not taken for granted by any vendor.”
On the tractor side, the carrier runs International, Kenworth, and Mack conventionals. All 19 tractors are on lease. For instance, the Kenworths are obtained through PacLease, and the Internationals are provided by Ideal Lease.
“Leased tractors have been crucial to the success of Saraguay Petroleum,” Pitfield says. “This company could not have gotten as big as it is today without the leasing companies. We've been able to cut our truck costs in half through leasing. Among other things, we rely on the leasing company branches for all tractor service work.”
All of the tractors in the fleet are configured as daycab units. The newest tractors have extended cabs and premium interiors. Wheelbases range from 180 to 190 inches. Most of the tractors are powered by Caterpillar's C13 engine rated at 430 horsepower, and the carrier has begun specifying Eaton's AutoShift transmission.
“We set the engines for a maximum road speed of 68 miles per hour, and we turn off the cruise control,” Pitfield says. “We want our fleet to operate as safely as possible, and we want drivers to pay attention to what they are doing when they are on the road. Automated transmissions are increasingly important, because many of the otherwise qualified applicants for driving positions have never operated any vehicle with a manual transmission. Driveline problems have been virtually eliminated with the automated transmissions.
“We've been running our tractors on ULSD since about mid-year and have seen no problems. We're getting about six miles per gallon with the ULSD. Traffic in the Atlanta area is the biggest factor affecting fuel economy. Along with the shift to ULSD, we also plan to add new tractors in 2007. We'll probably add about five tractors to keep up with growth.”
The newest tractors in the fleet were specified with Bendix antilock braking and the Bendix electronic stability system. Running gear includes Dana tandem-drive axles, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Bridgestone and Goodyear tires.
Most of the tractors have Blackmer pumps with manifold controls from Safety Pumping Systems. “We gain flexibility by putting pumps on a majority of the tractors,” Pitfield says. “The Safety Pumping System units benefit pump operation.”
The tank trailer fleet is one area where Saraguay Petroleum has standardized. The carrier buys only Heil petroleum tankers. “Heil builds a good trailer, and they have excellent customer support,” Pitfield says. “We're on a schedule with them for one new trailer each quarter through 2008.”
The carrier has standardized on 9200-gallon DOT406 tankers with five compartments. Hardware is a different story. No two trailers in the fleet have exactly the same fittings. “We use Civacon, Emco Wheaton, EBW, and Dixon Bayco hardware,” Pitfield says. “We want the flexibility to obtain the best equipment on the market.”
Piping is set high for maximum clearance, and many of the trailers have pump-off and cross-drop lines. Sight glasses are specified for discharge outlets. All of the trailers have large, roomy toolboxes for fittings and other equipment.
The carrier has standardized on Hendrickson's Intraax air suspension system and Tiremaax inflation management system. Pitfield says he decided to standardize on the new Haldex Trailer Rollover Stability System after attending a discussion on the technology at Heil's Innovation Exchange in August.
“I decided then and there to order the Haldex system on all of my new trailers,” he says. “I'm also considering retrofits on the tankers already in service. We've never had a rollover, but this is good technology for a minimal price. It will help make us better as a carrier. Preventing just one rollover will pay for the system on the entire fleet.”
That openness to new technology and new ideas has been a critical factor in the success achieved at Saraguay Petroleum so far. It has given the company the flexibility necessary to tailor services to a customer's specific needs.
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