Bringing home baby
Doug Weichman crafts his fleet management strategy around the Boy Scouts philosophy, “Be prepared,” especially for the emission changes to diesel-powered truck engines and exhaust systems that take effect this year. Weichman, fleet manager for Palm Beach County, Fla., began preparing his 70-member maintenance team 18 months ago for the EPA-mandated change to new 2007 engines and exhaust after-treatment systems that are designed to reduce particulate matter (PM) tailpipe emissions by 90 percent.
Two years ago, Weichman and his supervisors began learning how the changes would affect operation and maintenance practices by talking with their heavy truck and diesel engine suppliers — Warrenville, Ill.-based International Truck & Engine, Portland, Ore.-based Freightliner, Columbus, Ind.-based Cummins Engine, Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar, and Detroit-based Detroit Diesel. “The first part of preparing for '07 involved educating our top guys — including me — about what would change on our trucks and what would not,” Weichman says. “As more information became available over the last year or so, we'd go back and review it, gradually educating the entire team.”
That gradual training proved to be vital, he says. “By the end of 2006, International's '07 training PowerPoint presentation ran between 50 to 60 pages,” Weichman says. “It [gave] us a step-by-step description of every single '07 change, but if we hadn't exposed our team to much of that over time, it could have been overwhelming.”
To give the county's maintenance technicians time to learn all the material, purchases of new trucks equipped with 2007 engines were delayed slightly, Weichman says. “It also helps us avoid the first batch of vehicles built with all the new technology, as those are the ones that typically have the most bugs to work out,” he says. “Once we cut a purchase order for a new truck, it takes 60 days for that vehicle to arrive, so that gives our technicians at least until March to be thoroughly prepared to care for them.”
Training to order
Some fleet managers are ordering training from the manufacturers to ensure their maintenance personnel are thoroughly versed in '07 technology. “Our specifications have historically included a requirement that the vendor provide up to 10 training sessions per year with each session being two days or 16 hours in length,” says Bill Underwood, senior mechanical engineer-fleet operations for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). “The training sessions are specifically developed for VDOT technicians, and the topics are determined by VDOT, and we can reasonably expect that in ‘07 one of the topics will be how to maintain and deal with the new emissions technologies,” he says.
Palm Beach County has adopted the practice for operators as well as maintenance technicians. “On top of that, each of the county's departments is going to designate a vehicle coordinator to ensure that all of their drivers understand [the new technology and] how that affects vehicle operation,” Weichman says. “At our annual meeting last July, we reminded everyone that operated county vehicles about this changeover, giving them the big picture as to how emission requirements were going to affect our vehicles.”
Public sector fleets include several types of engines and a wide variety of vehicles, increasing operator and shop training needs. “That's the big challenge for us — we don't get just one type of truck,” says Lisa Kunzman, chief of the equipment division for the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). “As we maintain 14,000 pieces of equipment statewide with a staff of 640, we can't pull everyone into a room for a day or two to conduct training.”
Kunzman says that each local shop should define its training needs. For example, a local dealer could train small facilities with one or two technicians, whereas a location with 10 or 20 technicians might ask the manufacturer to send a training team to that shop. “It's about conforming the training to the size and scope of each of our local operations,” she says.
Previous experience a plus
Fleets that previously have made some emission changes to their vehicles and maintenance practices will have fewer training needs than others. The Capital Area Transit Authority (CATA) in Lansing, Mich., for example, equipped its diesel and hybrid diesel-electric buses with newly mandated diesel particulate filters (DPF) in 2004. “Our service technicians are quite used to them,” says Craig Allen, director of maintenance. “Also, they've improved the life of the DPF units that are coming out in '07, along with the warranties, so that's an added benefit.”
CATA has not purchased '07 engines yet, but Allen feels confident that his technicians will be prepared to maintain '07 technology when the time comes. “Right now, we're going to use the time to watch the industry; see what the differences are with '07 systems, how the turbochargers perform, how the extra heat generated by the '07 engines [to burn off PM recirculated from the exhaust] might affect overall packaging,” he says. “That's going to give us valuable training insights when our inevitable turn comes.”
Fleets in California have been retrofitting their vehicles with DPFs for several years to comply with the state's clean air rules. “We have over 350 trucks retrofitted with DPFs already, so that's given us a lot of experience that'll pay dividends down the road,” Kunzman says.
The small stuff
Fleet managers must address several smaller issues before the new trucks arrive. For example, '07 engines must operate on ultra low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD), which has a sulfur content of 15 parts per million (ppm) that is drastically lower than the typical 500-ppm diesel blend previously used. The engines also must use CJ-4 engine oil — a virtually sulfur free oil — instead of previously used CI-4 and CI-4 Plus oil blends that cannot be used in '07 engines.
Palm Beach County started lining up new fuel and oil sources early to ensure they were on hand and in good supply, Weichman says. He made sure all 13 county fueling sites switched to ULSD in September 2006 — a month before the Oct. 16 deadline when 80 percent of all on-road diesel fuel produced by refineries had to be ULSD blends. “That gave us time to make sure all the higher sulfur fuel got worked out of our system,” he says. “We wrote that ULSD requirement into our fuel purchasing contracts, so by the time we actually purchased trucks with '07 engines, we'd have none of the old fuel left.”
Weichman decided to switch to CJ-4 engine oil for all of the county's diesel truck engines when the first truck equipped with an '07 engine arrives in his fleet sometime between March and June. “We store all our oil in bulk drums, so we would've had to add in a completely separate hose reel oil delivery system in each of our shops — that would have been costly,” he says. “Secondly, we just didn't want to make a mistake down the road. It's OK to put the new oil in older trucks, but the old [CI-4] oil can't be used in the new trucks. If we use CI-4 in an '07 engine, we may risk invalidating the warranty. That's an expensive mistake to make.”
VDOT, in turn, is closely watching its vehicle specs to make sure the design parameters it has used previously do not conflict with the new emission systems, Underwood says. “We'll work with chassis manufacturers and body builders to be sure emissions hardware and usable cab-to-axle (CA) dimension requirements are compatible,” he says. “We already have learned of one case where emissions hardware requires a longer CA.”
Finally, Weichman plans to perform all of the preventive maintenance recommended by the truck manufacturers. “The cheapest way is not necessarily the best way,” he says. “We're going to follow their oil drain intervals and service checks to the letter because it will pay off. And, frankly, as a fleet maintenance operation keeping fire trucks and other vital equipment up and running for the county, we can't afford to make a maintenance decision that might lead to a breakdown or an under-performing vehicle. Those trucks have a duty to perform for the public, and we have a duty to support them the best we can.”
Sean Kilcarr is senior editor for Fleet Owner, American City & County's sister publication.