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No stone unturned.

No Stone Unturned

"Just how different is managing a truck fleet from being the administrator of a hospital?" asks Robert Pellettier.

"It really isn't. You don't have to be a heart surgeon to run a hospital, and you don't have to be an engineer to handle a fleet operation. Both positions come down to knowing how to deal with people, what their needs are and how to guide them to accomplish specific goals."

Prior to becoming the manager of automotive planning and procurement for McKesson Water Products Company, the parent company of Sparkletts Drinking Water Company, Bob has been involved in developing and supervising the fleet's driver training program, overseen the research and development of new vehicle components and systems, and managed the fleet maintenance department. From McKesson Water Products Company's headquarters in Los Angeles, CA, he now monitors compliance with a variety of regulatory issues required by the state's Division of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol. And when he's not busy keeping up to date on the latest environmental or driver-related laws, Bob delves into the specification of the equipment with a fervor.

In total, the Sparkletts fleet numbers 800 light- and medium-duty units along with 22 Class 8 tractors and 39 semi- and doubles trailers. The company's 600 Class 6 straight trucks are manufactured by GMC, Ford and Navistar International and domiciled at maintenance shops in Santa Ana, Culver City, Riverside, San Diego, and numerous branch locations throughout southern California. In addition, Bob is also responsible for procurement of equipment fielded by sister companies located in the San Francisco Bay area, Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

Many of the evaluations Bob has supervised over the years have proven the worthiness of a number of components - from fuel additives to automatic transmissions - that are now routinely speced on Sparkletts tractors, trailers, beverage trucks and service vehicles. For example, according to Bob, the introduction of diesel power to the Sparkletts fleet was made for its positive effect on engine life.

Natural Durability

"We switched to diesels in 1980," Bob explains, "because there was a large increase in fuel economy and less of a chance that drivers could overrev the engine, which translated into longer life and lower life-cycle costs. Today, we're specing Caterpillar's 3116 in the GMC TopKick as well as Ford's 6.6-liter in our F-700s and International's DTA-360 in the Navistar 4700s. We know the diesels are a big step forward in trying to engineer out any type of driver error because of their natural durability and the shutdown systems included on each engine."

Beyond the nameplate on the front of a Sparkletts route truck, Bob points out, the components are fairly standardized. Specs call for a turbocharged 170-HP diesel, and engine accessory equipment includes Eaton's viscous fan clutch and Bendix AD-9 air dryer and 13 CFM compressor. Axles are rated from 8,000- to 9,000-lbs capacity on the front and 17,500 or 19,000 lbs on the rear. S-cam brakes, 15x4-inch on the steer axle and 16.5x7-inch on the drive, with non-asbestos linings are standard, along with 245/75R22.5 Bridgestone radials mounted on 22.5x7.25-inch steel disc wheels.

Once the changeover to diesels took hold in the Sparkletts fleet, Bob adds, the engine's higher torque shortened clutch life and produced a rash of broken rear axles. The driver training program was adjusted to address the issues but was only able to relieve some of the problems. As with most beverage delivery fleets, he points out, salesmen are hired, not drivers. And as a result they are more attentive to increasing sales rather than learning about the dynamics of a diesel-powered vehicle.

The answer, Bob says, was automatic transmissions, which have been speced on all new route trucks for the last four years. They are helping to make vehicles more "bullet-proof," he notes, by eliminating downtime due to clutch, rear axle and driveline repairs. Currently 140 Sparkletts straight trucks are equipped with Allison's AT 545 four-speed automatic.

"Some of the first Allisons in the fleet," he relates, "have run for more than 50,000 miles, which is a lot for our operation, without any problems. We're happy because the automatics take the guess work out of when to shift. And our drivers look forward to getting a new truck because they know it will have an automatic, which means they'll be able to pay more attention to the traffic instead of concentrating on making the next shift."

Park Position

Even more importantly, according to Bob, the latest development in Allison's automatics ties together transmissions and air brake systems. "We've taken our interest in automatics further by working with several manufacturers to create a park position for a medium-duty application," he explains. "Our newest vehicles have a shift selector that looks just like the one in a car. When the transmission is shifted into park, the air brakes are applied automatically.

"The marriage of air brakes to an automatic transmission is better than using hydraulic brakes and a manual gearbox," Bob continues. "We were never really satisfied with the holding ability of older trucks when they were fully loaded and parked on the steeper hills in some of the Los Angeles suburbs, like Beverly Hills. Now, when the transmission is shifted into park and the brake chambers are activated we have a much more positive lock."

Bob reports that it's hard to tell who's more excited about this idea - the manufacturers or the fleet. And now, the latest revision to the specs for Sparkletts route trucks, Allison's AT 545 automatic with park position is included in the fleet's newest International and GMC trucks. The 1991-model trucks, he adds, also signal a change from open- to closed-bay beverage bodies. Manufactured by Hesse, Mickey and Hackney, the closed eight-bay bodies can carry more payload than open models while also providing added protection for empties and bottles smaller than the industry-standard, five-gallon size.

Bob also reports that Sparkletts driver-sales reps have many positive comments about the fleet's newest trucks with closed-bay beverage bodies. But whether open or closed, he adds, the choice of the body is among the easier decisions to make when specing a route truck. It's the cab and chassis that require the most consideration, and working with body and vehicle manufacturers he has helped design a vehicle that requires only minimal modifications for beverage-delivery applications.

Getting Involved

"All of the truck manufacturers have worked hard to build a vehicle that conforms to our needs," Bob notes. "We were involved when GMC designed the TopKick, for instance, and one of the things we told them was that the beverage industry needs a clean frame. That meant getting the batteries and air tanks off the frame rails, but even with clean frame rails, there are still a few modifications that OEMs still have to take care of.

"For instance," Bob continues, "brake chambers are mounted inboard on the frame and ahead of the rear axle. This setup means we also have to spec 18-inch camshafts so we can have the wheelhouse area of our bottle trucks as short as possible. If we didn't spec this configuration the wheelhouse area would be eight to 10 inches longer, which would mean using a longer vehicle on southern California streets."

Sparkletts's newest straight trucks are also speced with bucket seats to eliminate another long-time problem. According to Bob, because driver-sales reps make an average of 80 stops per day, seats take a beating. In the past, vehicles had bench seats, which meant repairing the entire component. Now, buckets provide more comfort for drivers and more of a savings to the maintenance department. When repairs are needed only one seat has to be fixed.

While no effort is spared to spec the most durable vehicle for the job at Sparkletts, the engines, axles and drivelines for route trucks are also covered by an extended warranty for up to nine-years/100,000 miles, and the Allison automatics have five-year/unlimited-mileage coverage. The extra measure of insurance remains with Sparkletts vehicles for most of their expected life of ten years. Throughout the cycle, straight trucks at the company average 12,000 miles annually, with newer models running upwards of 30,000 miles and older units seeing only 3,500 miles of service every year.

By rotating newer and older vehicles, according to Bob, the fleet gains the fullest benefit of the warranty coverage. But while route trucks have a long lifespan in the Sparkletts operation, Bob also notes that tires are not quite as fortunate. Tires currently being speced are 245/75R22.5 Bridgestone Metro radials, but urban service makes them prone to reaching the scrap pile early. And for that reason, bias-ply tires are used on certain routes.

Better Wear

"It just doesn't pay to put a more expensive radial tire on some city trucks," Bob explains. "Sure, the radial might be able to run 10,000 miles more than the bias-ply, but too often we've had to replace a radial with only 7,500 miles because the sidewall was damaged. We also know that a bias-ply can actually wear better in some operations because the tire's profile naturally stands up more than a radial. Especially, when a vehicle is being parallel parked, the bias-plies don't grab and scrub as much as radials."

Staying on top of tires and all other preventive maintenance needs at Sparkletts are five maintenance facilities. PMs are scheduled in the shops every eight weeks, and the same schedule applies for vehicles based at satellite locations, where service is provided by a group of field-service technicians. Operating out of a Class 3 Ford or GMC vehicle, the two-man teams make daily runs out of the company's facilities in San Diego, Culver City, Santa Ana and Los Angeles to PM upwards of 200 power units, pickups and forklifts.

According to Bob, personal safety is the primary reason the field-service vehicles are staffed by two technicians, and at the same time, if major repairs are required one man can transport a vehicle back to a shop. Some terminals are as close as eight miles, he adds, but others are as far as 170 miles away. Depending on the location of the vehicles to be serviced and the number of them, technicians can spend several days a month working at one location.

Among the supplies stocked on the field service vehicles at Sparkletts is an assortment of rebuilt components. Bob says the fleet began rebuilding starters, alternators, air compressors, distributors, carburetors, solenoids, LPG regulators and water pumps, in the mid-1970s. By investing in machining and testing equipment, he notes, Sparkletts found it more cost-effective to bring the rebuilding in-house so its technicians could replace a component's parts from top to bottom.

"As we get into larger components such as engines and rear axles, however," Bob says, "there's a fine line between what we'll rebuild and what we'll buy from a remanufacturer. We don't do a lot of them so we're not always as cost-competitive as an outside source. Anytime a rebuilder offers us a component at a lower price than we can do it for, we'll buy the part, track its performance and use that information to decide which method is most cost-efficient."

To all the employees at Sparkletts, it's well known that Bob's not a heart surgeon. They are aware, however, of his expertise in designing beverage-delivery vehicles that routinely endure the rigors of service in the most heavily populated regions of the U.S.

PHOTO : The newest vehicles in the Sparkletts fleet are GMC TopKicks speced with closed beverage bodies.

PHOTO : "All the truck manufacturers have worked hard to build a vehicle that conforms to our needs as a beverage delivery fleet," Bob Pellettier notes. "We were involved when GMC designed the Top Klck, for instance, and one of the things we told them was that our industry needs a clean frame, which meant getting the batteries and air tanks off the frame rails."

PHOTO : In more ways than one, according to Bob Pelletier, Sparkletts's newer route trucks are enhancing the performance of the company's driver-sales reps. From a safety standpoint, the GMC TopKicks, as well as International 4700s, use Allison AT 545 four-speed automatic transmissions that features a park position. The shift selector looks more like that of a car, and he says, "when the transmission is shifted into park the brake chambers are activated and we have a much more positive lock."

PHOTO : Begun in the mid-1970s, according to Bob Pellettier, Sparklett's rebuild shop handles a variety of components for diesel, gasoline and liquified petroleum gas vehicles. By performing the work in-house, he says, the fleet can complete the repairs more cost-effectively than if it were done outside, and it also allows technicians to rebuild a part from top to bottom.

Phil Romba is the senior editor of Diesel Equipment Superintendent, a sister publication of Modern Brewery Age. This article appeared previously in DES, a publication that serves as an information source for truck fleet equipment managers.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Business Journals, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Transportation Report; Sparkletts Drinking Water Co. exhausts all possible specifications for the safest and most durable delivery vehicles
Author:Romba, Phil
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Nov 18, 1991
Previous Article:Transportation update.
Next Article:Branching out.

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