Kenan Advantage Group (KAG) supports its ethanol logistics operation with a tanker fleet designed for maximum efficiency, reliability, and safety. Tank trailer specifications also were optimized for hauling biofuels.

The fleet of more than 3100 power units and 4100 trailers is dispersed among KAG subsidiary carriers including Advantage Tank Lines, KAG West, Bulk Express Inc, Kenan Transport, Klemm Tank Lines, North Canton Transfer, Transport Service Co, and Petro-Chemical Transport. Vehicles are based in 35 states.

The job of determining the best trucks and trailers for the diverse KAG operation falls on R J Molder, vice-president of fleet services. In addition to the rolling stock, Molder also manages fixed assets.

Keeping up with the fast-growing company has been one of the biggest challenges for Molder. In a relatively short period of time, KAG completed six carrier acquisitions and 17 private fleet conversions. Molder and his maintenance team did an outstanding job of integrating the acquired fleets into the overall KAG operation.

Their efforts played a critical role in helping KAG build the largest fuel operation in North America. In 2006, the KAG system distributed approximately 21 billion gallons of refined petroleum products through a network of 77 terminals and 93 satellite locations.

Seamless network

Building a seamless transportation network through acquisitions is no easy feat, according to Molder. “When you bring a new company on board, there are definitely some people issues to deal with, and you have to make the people in the acquired company part of the process and create buy-in,” he says. “If you don't create buy-in and you try to force a square peg into a round hole, you're not going to accomplish your mission. It's not a dictatorship. We're here to work with each other. At the end of the day, everybody wants to get the job done and the mission accomplished.”

One of Molder's missions has been to develop standardized specifications that unify the diverse fleet and promote efficient operation. Most of the components specified on KAG vehicles were selected through extensive product trials.

Molder notes that component tests last anywhere from six months to two years. Equipment is tested 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While component performance is a critical part of the specification process, Molder and his team also take into consideration factors that include safety and customer support.

“We can determine which components work best and which don't,” Molder says. “However, customer support is one of the key factors in product selection. We think of the vendor/customer relationship as a partnership. Products must be backed up with customer support. That, at the end of the day, is paramount. Pricing is a consideration, but we dig deeper than that to find out about the vendor's field structure for product support. That is what determines the true low-cost provider.”

Power units

Using that approach, KAG has standardized its specs on Peterbilt, Mack, and Freightliner tractors that are replaced on a 700,000- to 800,000-mile schedule. Molder and his team work hard to limit tare weight for a tractor-trailer/truck-and-trailer combination to 24,500 pounds.

Peterbilt and Freightliner vehicles have Caterpillar C13 engines, and the Macks get the Mack MP7. All of the trucks and tractors are specified with Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions.

Components designed to minimize vehicle service requirements include Oil Purification System's OPS-1 engine oil filtration system. Installed on 500 tractors in the fleet, these units extend oil change intervals to 120,000 miles and are saving the carrier $239,800 a year.

New KAG power units are being specified with Bendix roll stability as part of the fleet's aggressive effort to prevent rollovers. Other running gear includes aluminum disc wheels and Goodyear and Bridgestone tires.

A desire to improve brake performance prompted a campaign to retrofit the entire KAG fleet with BrakeSentry visual brake stroke indicators. “Providing our drivers and technicians with a quick and reliable means to visually check critical brake stroke measurements adds value and efficiency to the maintenance and pre-trip safety inspections of our vehicles,” Molder says. “It is consistent with our commitment to safety.”

Tank trailers

On the trailer side, KAG runs LBT and Polar petroleum tanks and LBT asphalt units. New stainless steel chemical trailers come from Brenner Tank LLC.

The aluminum DOT407 petroleum trailers have four compartments and a 9200-gallon capacity. Every effort is made to ensure that the components specified on those tanks can perform reliably with blended fuels that contain ethanol and biodiesel.

Some concerns have been raised about the effect of ethanol, in particular, on aluminum materials. “I've heard about problems but haven't seen any firm documentation of the effects of ethanol on aluminum,” Molder says. “Ethanol hauling has gone on for a number of years already. It's only the volume that has changed. During the time I've been in this business, I've heard some rumblings about ethanol pitting the aluminum trailer or components. However, I haven't seen any proof or heard of any failures as a result of that. We transport many blends of ethanol up to 100%, and we've had no problems with any aluminum-constructed equipment.”

It's a different story with other components, though. Ethanol has a tendency to dry out gaskets, seals, and other materials that are in constant contact with it.

“Ethanol has affected some of our seals (gaskets and O-rings) when we didn't specify a material such as Viton or Teflon, which are fairly resistant to the fuel,” Molder says. “We've also had problems with sight glasses that dried out, clouded up, and developed cracks with the potential of leaking. We solved the sight glass problem by specifying Civacon valves and API adapters with sight bubbles. We've been using them for three years, and they are performing well.”

All of the petroleum trailers are specified with Civacon's System 3 fully integrated product handling system that includes vapor recovery, manhole assembly, overfill protection, and air-operated valves. Tanks also have Betts internal valves, vents, and manhole covers.

KAG has standardized on aluminum hose trays and four-inch Goodyear and Kanaflex product hoses with OPW fittings. A custom-designed fitting box has individual compartments for the Civacon elbows.

As part of the overall vehicle stability effort, KAG specifies wider rear frame rails and a wide-track Intraax air suspension system that pushed overall trailer width out to 102 inches. New trailers also come with the Haldex roll stability system.