Whether you are in the manufacturing, distribution or the logistics industry, if your business involves shipping freight, you need your transport vehicles to be reliable and have as little downtime as possible. Anything that keeps your trucks or the trucks of your carrier either procured by you or your logistics service provider, on the road longer, is a good thing — and will save you money.
In a supply chain, every link is important. If one partner fails, the entire process comes crashing down. In today’s world of just-in-time manufacturing, factories simply do not have the excess raw materials on hand to continue operations for very long between shipments. If the shipping company or logistics provider you manage fails to make on-time deliveries, you could lose the contract, costing you a lot of money and maybe even your job. This is why if you are a shipper who works with carriers or if you have outsourced to a third party logistics company, you MUST ensure you have a good collaborative carrier relations program so that you can make sure that the quality of the trucks used to ship your freight are of the utmost condition to haul your precious freight.
Replacing trucks is extremely expensive. A big rig can cost well over $100,000 to replace. It is much more cost effective for carriers to keep trucks running for as long as they are still capable. If you want to keep carriers’ or your trucks on the road for as long as possible, there are three areas that you need to address or look out for if you are a shipper:
Proper maintenance keeps all vehicles running smoothly. As oil in your engine breaks down and engine components wear, the friction inside your engine increases. This cycle can become self-perpetuating, because increased friction causes parts to wear more quickly. Routine oil changes with high-quality oil are necessary. Ask your carrier partner if they have records on hand to show you proof they do this. This is a part of business, to review your collaborative partnerships. If they view you as a partner, they will surely show you those maintenance records.
Heat is the enemy of your engine — lubrication is one part of reducing heat buildup, and proper cooling is another. Maintenance crews should be inspecting and cleaning radiators as part of daily operations. Catching problems early allows personnel to perform preventive maintenance and keep small problems from turning into large problems.
Proper tire inflation and axle-bearing service reduce drag on your engine. The engines in yours or carriers’ trucks are working hard enough already to haul your cargo and freight down the highway; don’t make them work any harder with poor maintenance procedures.
The second key to long life for trucks is sending them on efficient routes. Use a master map of all your customers to ensure that your trucks’ routes are not overlapping when possible. Use a computer mapping system to ensure that your trucks are running the shortest routes possible to reach all your customers.
If your deliveries are demand-responsive, you should be employing a real-time tracking system, so that you know where all your trucks are at all times. When customer orders come in, you will know which of your vehicles is best positioned to respond. Computers are more powerful than ever, and they are growing more capable every day. Use the computing power and other technology at your disposal to ensure that your fleet is not doing redundant work.
If you are a shipper, this means working with your carrier or logistics provider to analyze your lanes, and in this way, you can also talk about negotiating rates PER lane to get the most bang for your buck. This kind of collaboration over the long haul will truly impact your overall cost of doing business on the transportation ledger side of the general ledger.
Train your drivers
The final key to giving your trucks a long, productive life is driver training. No matter what steps you take to increase efficiency, a driver with a lead foot costs you extra money. Repeated unnecessary acceleration and deceleration can cause your fuel use to skyrocket. Considering the high cost of fuel, this can cause an incredible drain on your profits. In addition to the extra fuel use, the wear and tear on your truck will cause it to need more frequent maintenance, costing you even more money in labor and parts.
Modifying your vehicles to operate more efficiently is expensive, and offers mixed results at best. Modifying human behavior can be much cheaper. But no one likes to have their mistakes pointed out, especially in front of their coworkers. Finding a way to recognize and reward individuals who do well is usually better received than punishing individuals who perform poorly. This is also true when it comes to working with full truckload shipments. Thank them for their business, but make sure you talk to them about how they can get the most out of the truck. Again, this requires MORE collaboration with your carriers or your 3PL working with carriers, but in the long run, it pays off!
With modern technology, monitoring the efficiency of your trucks is not difficult. Fuel use and smooth braking can easily be measured. Once you have this information, you can use it to alter behavior for the better. Most people enjoy the feeling of competition; you can make a game out of saving fuel and driving efficiently. You could prominently post a driver leaderboard, and offer daily, weekly and quarterly awards to top-performing drivers. Everyone wants to be a winner, and when drivers are competing to be efficient, everybody wins.
In the freight, logistics, and shipping industries, every dollar counts. Make every dollar count more by taking simple steps to extend the life of the vehicles in your fleet. Proper maintenance, better routing and more efficient driving are the keys to achieving this goal. Your customers are depending on you, and you are depending on the vehicles in your fleet. Take steps to make sure you are getting your money’s worth out of your vehicles now, and the maximum residual value later.
The author of this blog is Robert J. Hall. Mr. Hall is president of Track Your Truck, a leading provider of fleet tracking systems and software for small and midsized companies.