Keep on Truckin' Toward Greener Pastures

July 27, 2009
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Features such as enhanced square footage and translucent ceiling plates were incorporated to accommodate service techs working out of the vehicles on a daily basis. These upgrades make the vehicles themselves more efficient, and also ensure increased safety.

Given the dire straits of the current global economy, businesses are relentlessly looking for ways to trim costs and invest in newer/greener technologies that are not only good for the financial bottom line, but are also more environmentally conscientious.

For industries such as the HVAC sector, it only makes sense to evaluate the costs and concerns associated with heavy-use/high-mileage vehicles employed by service technicians and perhaps look for solutions that involve reducing fuel costs/consumption, as well as vehicle maintenance and tire replacement, etc. With worker safety and efficiency the cornerstones of any reputable outfit, investing in vehicles that help tow the triple bottom line (economic, ecological, and social) can be a boon to the economy as well as the businesses and employees that depend on them for their livelihood.



GROWING A GREENER FLEET

As ARS/Rescue Rooter continues to grow nationally, the company, which handles HVAC and plumbing needs and provides installation, maintenance, and repair services, has put a focus on growing its work fleet sensibly, with an emphasis on reducing costs and increasing efficiency by combining current fleet augmentation with new, lighter fleet vehicles. And we are talking about a sizeable operation: The company recently procured 3,600 vehicles, which are spread throughout the 62 branch locations across the country.

Mike Baessler, director of purchasing and fleet for ARS/Rescue Rooter, works out of the company’s corporate office in Memphis, Tenn. According to Baessler, ARS/Rescue Rooter President and COO Dave Slott wanted to make the entire fleet greener. Slott wanted to know what his options were; Mike looked into various strategies, including diesel, which due to life-cycle concerns, didn’t fit well, and eventually started talking shop with Michael Snyder, vice president of sales for Reading Fleet Services - a division of the Reading Group - about aluminum body vehicles. Reading Group, which has been in business for 65 years, is headquartered in Reading, Pa., while the Fleet Services arm is based out of Pontiac, Mich., and was established four and one-half years ago.

“We met with Reading, looked at the program, and then toured the plant,” Baessler said. “We presented them with our bottom line: ‘How can we make our fleet greener?’”

In addition to lighter vehicle bodies, ARS was also focused on reducing fuel and maintenance costs, as well as tire wear, etc. “That is how we started down this path,” Baessler said.

Reading had demo units available, so ARS arranged for meetings in California and Texas and brought the demo units for some of the company’s general managers to test out and provide feedback - likes, dislikes, and changes - and then incorporated some of these ideas into the final versions.

“We wanted to get some input from the field - how can we better our service vehicles,” Baessler said. “Small things make a huge difference when you’re talking about our service techs working out of that truck all day. The goal was making [the trucks] more efficient, but also more efficient for the individual techs to work out of - safer and easier for them.”

“This presents a different twist to the cargo van market,” Mike Snyder said. “[You’ve got] three times the square footage of a usual van, and are able to have this room and maintain the same payload.”

“We want to incorporate all those types of changes to benefit them as well as we roll forward,” Baessler said.

ARS/Rescue Rooter, which handles HVAC and plumbing needs, respectively, provides installation, maintenance and repair services. Based on a corporate decision to green its work fleet, the company has placed an emphasis on reducing costs and increasing efficiency by combining current fleet augmentation with new, lighter fleet vehicles. (Photo courtesy of ARS / Rescue Rooter.)

TREADING LIGHTLY

Switching over all new vehicles to this type of aluminum classic service van (CSV), the Reading 75-inch body - which is nearly 1,100 pounds lighter than the current steel service vans ARS has been using - significantly helps the company reduce maintenance costs, tire wear, and improve fuel mileage, Baessler reports. The lightweight aluminum will also make vehicles safer by preventing vehicle overloads. Each new vehicle (as well as all existing vehicles) will be outfitted with a Rostra back-up system, giving each driver the ability to prevent collisions when backing up.

“Just another safety feature,” Baessler said.

“We’ve been able to reduce our overall costs from a fuel/maintenance standpoint by around 15 percent compared to what [we’re] currently paying,” Baessler said. “When putting in fuel, maintenance, tire savings, you end up with 15 percent, overall.”

Everyone goes to costs first, said Snyder. The options run from single-wheel to dual-wheel chassis. Typically, maintenance costs one-half to two times more for a dual wheel, Snyder said, and you often contend with certain vehicular restrictions in some counties with dual-wheel requirements, etc.

“You’re getting a lighter vehicle plus more room for essentially the same amount of money,” Snyder said. “With a 10-year warranty, you can take the body, pop it off, and place onto a new chassis. If you’ve run it for 250,000 miles, you can trash the chassis for scrap, pop off the body, and refurbish.”

“Aluminum allows us to install a higher-height vehicle on a single wheel due to lighter weight,” Snyder said. “We offer 57-inch and 75-inch vehicle heights. By utilizing aluminum for the body and decreasing the weight by 50 percent, we can take the same body and payload as a dual wheel and put it on a single wheel.”

When the lower maintenance and restrictions as to what vehicles can go where in residential neighborhoods are factored in, the single-wheel chassis allows for more accessibility. The 57-inch trucks are “garageable,” Snyder said. This size can fit into any standard spec’d garage, and were designed for that reason. This way, technicians in the field can park in certain areas and secure locations. “It’s definitely a huge innovation to the market,” Snyder said. “I always get this feedback, ‘Well, this a no-brainer.’” Indeed.

SHEDDING SOME LIGHT ON THE SITUATION

The new ARS trucks feature clear ceiling plates that help save energy since the technicians can avoid using lights or flashlights when in the back. These clear ceilings also allow the service techs to perform their job more efficiently, rather than having to fumble around in a dark van. The technicians really like the translucent ceilings, Baessler said.

“There’s lots more visibility and light in the back of the truck, so the technicians are able to work more efficiently. They don’t have to worry about having a flashlight to go looking for parts/pieces in back.”

The technology is very similar to the translucent roofs added to some UPS delivery trucks: the ceiling adds light and makes the vehicles more efficient and safer while working out of the back of the truck. (Some additional lights have also been added for night-time use, etc., Baessler said.) Baessler said he’s also gotten feedback that the vehicles also remain cooler, temperature-wise.

With the CSV, further unique features include pass-through compartments; technicians can stand inside the body and reach into compartments for tools, etc. Additionally, all Reading products feature bolt-on, recessed hinges. These internal hidden hinges give maximum security and allow for ease of changing damaged doors, Snyder said. The replacement door is shipped white powder-coated.

“It’s what we call the ‘seven-minute door,’” Snyder said. “Two bolts done, and you’re off and down the road.”

And, body shops applying decals love it - no external hinges to go over lend to a clean billboard effect, Snyder said. For a contractor using the truck as a rolling billboard, since there are no white lines cut into decals, for aesthetic reasons, this makes for a superior body style, Snyder said.

EXTRA MEASURES EQUAL ENHANCED EFFICIENCY

In addition to the new fleet of lighter, more sustainable aluminum CSVs, ASR has also made further enhancements to both new and existing fleet vehicles that again reward the company’s bottom line.

For example, Baessler reports that the company is adding air deflectors on the front of all vehicles to make them more energy efficient. This small change is projected to increase vehicle fuel efficiency by 9 to 12 percent.

Additionally, all box trucks, KUVs, and CSVs will have a vehicle height sticker placed in the driver’s side box, allowing the driver to see height of vehicle at all times through the rearview mirror and preventing collisions in height-restricted areas. In the end, the cost for these $2 decals distributed throughout the entire fleet will be paid for if they prevent just one height-related collision, the company asserted.

Combined, all of these efforts showcase ARS/Rescue Rooter’s focus on building a smart, efficient, and effective fleet to serve as the backbone of this growing national company. In terms of greening your own organization’s work fleet, Baessler offers this sage advice: “Start with research; each particular solution might not work with your company. Manufacturers and vendors are willing to come and meet with private buyers about solutions and how to work through them, etc.”

Owners need to determine individually “what’s going to work best for me.”

“Educate yourself as to how to ask the right questions,” Baessler said. “If educated and prepared to ask the right questions, then you’re well on your way to getting solutions that will meet your needs.”

Sidebar: Work Utilization

Reading has manufactured aluminum bodies of all sizes for over 25 years and offers a 10-year structural warranty on the product. The substantial weight savings and additional payload with the company’s Reading Truck Body is due to the use of aluminum body sides and rear doors married to a galvanneal, zinc-coated treadplate floor in an all new Modular concept, the company reports, which features E-coat immersion primer with a durable powder-coated finish.

For more information, visit www.ars.com, www.readingbody.com, www.readingfleetservices.com.

Publication date: 07/27/2009

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