AS A leading regional foodgrade hauler, H R Ewell Inc transports chocolate, vegetable oil, and a veritable shopping list of other bulk liquid and dry food products across North America. Every effort is made to ensure that shipments move efficiently, on time, and without incident.
An ongoing program of strategic investments has helped the East Earl, Pennsylvania, tank truck carrier meet its operating objectives. Even in this down economy, the company added 35 new tractors in 2009. Maintenance operations were upgraded significantly over the past year. Steps also were taken to give the company a greener image.
“In trucking right now, cash is king,” says Randy Sheeler, H R Ewell vice-president of operations. “At H R Ewell Inc, that means making strategic investments at a time when many other trucking companies are just cutting costs. Our investments are positioning our company for future growth as the economy turns around.
“We have spent a lot of money on new power, but we believe that this is a worthwhile investment. The average age of our tractor fleet is now 3.5 years. Newer equipment means greater reliability and less risk of unscheduled downtime. That is important because it helps ensure that we can meet our customers' needs for just-in-time deliveries.
“We've also enhanced fleet reliability with the addition of the TMT Fleet Maintenance system. We had it fully online by April 1, and it has significantly improved overall performance of our maintenance operation. We've always had a strong maintenance focus, because we simply can't afford equipment breakdowns.
“Finally, H R Ewell has spent the last four or five years going green. This effort supports our focus on quality as a foodgrade tank truck carrier, and it's a selling point with customers. Among other things, we joined the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency's) SmartWay Program in May.”
Food hauling history
H R Ewell has been hauling bulk edibles since opening for business in 1946 and is still a family-owned trucking company. Like so many foodgrade tank fleets, H R Ewell started out as a local milk hauler. The company diversified from there into other edible cargoes, including liquid and dry sweeteners, chocolate, vegetable oil, flour, and starch.
The carrier's 148 tractors and 302 tank and dry bulk trailers are kosher certified and serve customers throughout the United States and portions of Canada and Mexico. The fleet operates from terminals in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, and Illinois.
For much of its 63-year history, H R Ewell has run Mack tractors, and that is still true today. The newest units are Mack Vision conventionals. Every effort has been made to minimize tare, and new sleeper tractors weigh in at 15,500 pounds. Daycabs are a slim 14,500 pounds.
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Sheeler attributes part of the weight reduction effort to the EPA's SmartWay program. Switching to Michelin X One widebase tires trimmed 700 to 800 pounds from each tractor. The widebase tires also are cutting trailer weight. Estimates suggest that the move to widebase tires may cut energy use by each tractor-trailer rig by up to 13%, according to one EPA report.
Additional energy and weight savings are coming from Eaton AutoShift transmissions, Thermo King TriPak auxiliary power units (APUs), and dual 75-gallon aluminum fuel tanks. “We've got the AutoShift in 98% of our tractor fleet now, and it is helping us achieve 5.6 to 6 miles per gallon fuel economy,” Sheeler says. “That includes pump-off time. We're also saving fuel with the APUs, which have reduced idling time.”
The tractors handle a trailer fleet that includes 75 temperature-controlled tanks dedicated to chocolate and oils, 170 sweetener tankers, and 20 pneumatic self-loading dry bulkers. Tanks range in capacity from 5,900 to 6,900 gallons.
H R Ewell's maintenance operation has the responsibility for keeping the tractors and trailers up and running. The carrier employs a skilled, experienced team of mechanics that have been with the company for at least 11 years on average. Several mechanics have worked for the company for more than 30 years.
In addition to the primary vehicle maintenance facility in East Earl, the tank truck carrier has shops at its terminals in Marsville, Pennsylvania, and Westboro, Massachusetts. Most of the fleet maintenance and service is handled at these three locations, but the carrier also uses some Commercial repair shops in other areas.
The East Earl terminal has the largest of the three maintenance shops. Three work shifts keep the shop's six bays busy 24/7. In addition to handling a full range of tractor repairs, mechanics also are qualified to make cargo tank weld repairs and modifications and service product transfer equipment, including pumps and hydraulic power systems.
Preventive maintenance (PM) is a big part of the shop operation. “We do PM inspections for all of our fleet vehicles on a regular schedule,” Sheeler says. “For instance, we do “C” inspections every 30 days. This is a visual “Check-Out Procedure,” similar to a safety lane. During the inspection, mechanics follow a 30-point checklist.”
Comprehensive maintenance histories on every vehicle in the fleet has always been a critical part of the PM effort. In recent years, the paper-based recordkeeping process had become complex and cumbersome. It was time for something new.
“Our maintenance tracking history was based on paper invoices held in a storage facility,” Sheeler says. “An employee might spend hours sorting through paper files to reconstruct work done on a single truck within the fleet. We knew there had to be a better way for this company to manage fleet maintenance tracking and operations.”
The better way came in the form of TMT Fleet Maintenance software from TMW Systems. Installing the software was part of a coordinated effort designed to reshape the way H R Ewell handles the overall management of fleet operations. The TMT system was modified to work with H R Ewell's own in-house-designed business management software.
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TMT Fleet Maintenance is now used by the carrier to manage preventive maintenance schedules, parts inventories, fuel and tire usage, mechanic hours, billing, and warranty recovery. The software also enhances the ability of H R Ewell to manage breakdowns, inspections, and outside vendor work with better oversight of costs and operations performance.
The carrier has made Shop Planner, TMT INterActive (TINA) mechanic workstations and Advanced Warranty Recapture capabilities part of its maintenance software toolkit. Shop Planner coordinates and tracks repair schedules for equipment routed to company or vendor facilities, allowing management to monitor workload within the shop.
TINA is an interactive task management and time collection system for the shop foreman and employees. Warranty Management is designed to increase the recovery of warranty dollars in normal maintenance operations. It captures information that supports failed-parts analysis, claims preparation, and claims analysis.
Sheeler acknowledges that mechanics faced a learning curve when the maintenance software was installed, and it was steep for some of them. However, all of the mechanics were able to master the system, and none of them quit.
In short order, the software was put to work to automate tracking of the maintenance lifecycle. Many man-hours went into building the maintenance history database. Pulling previously filed paper invoices to track down work and costs is now a thing of the past. Repair order history reports are a standard feature, along with master parts and warranty claim reports.
“We're very excited about the benefits of this software,” Sheeler says. “From a company standpoint, we're able to manage and measure productivity and provide better training. I've used TMT and TMW software for the past seven years at two other companies, and I've seen the value of the product.
“The historical data showed almost immediate benefits. Previously, we could pull two system tractors into the shop for repair. We might go back and look at clutch jobs and warranty information and discover that on one truck we had spent thousands more than on the other. This software has the functionality to show just how much we are spending on any vehicle at any given time.”
Sheeler also says the software should enable H R Ewell to save $100,000 in inventory costs over one year. “Analysis with the software has shown that it will be cost effective for us to do 80% of engine and transmission rebuilds in-house,” he says. “We also project a reduction of 30% in the number of tires we need to keep on hand. The analytical capabilities of the software are even showing which geographic areas are hardest on tires, and we are changing some routes to avoid the rough roads.”
Use of the TMT Fleet Maintenance software isn't limited to only tractors and trailers. H R Ewell also is using the software for inventory management in its wash rack and for corporate office supplies. “Proper inventory control means managing all aspects of an operation, not just tractor and trailer parts,” Sheeler says.
Kosher certified, the wash rack performs several hundred foodgrade tank cleanings each month. Wash rack workers also do approximately 500 exterior washes per month. “Cleaning is critical to us as a foodgrade carrier,” Sheeler says. “We want the outside of the tank to look as clean as the inside.”
Three tank wash bays are available — two dedicated to sweeteners and one for chocolate and vegetable oil — and are served by a vat-style Sani-Matic cleaning system with Sellers Model 360 spinners. A major upgrade of the computerized control system was completed in early 2008.
H R Ewell also converted the boilers in the wash rack to methane fuel as part of its green initiative. To obtain methane for the boilers, the carrier worked with two local landfills. Twenty-one miles of pipe was put down to transfer methane from the landfills to the wash rack.
“Certainly this is a tough economy, but we believe it is critical to continue reinvesting in this company even as others are just cutting costs,” Sheeler says. “It's all about preparing for future growth and opportunity.”