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Playing it cool.

Playing It Cool

The Coors Brewing Co. was once a relatively well-kept Colorado secret, a large regional brewery nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain front range. Over the past decade, however, Coors has transformed itself into a truly national brewery, with a continually growing market share nation-wide. That transformation has been accomplished with remarkable aplomb, as the brewery has swiftly expanded its production and transportation capabilities to meet an ever-widening demand.

Coors Brewing Co. now operates the largest single brewery in the world, producing over 17 million barrels of beer in 1989. The brewery continues to eschew pasteurization, preferring to microfilter the product. To ensure freshness, Coors has committed itself, and its wholesalers, to keeping the beer cold from the aging tank to the retail shelf. The necessity for cold transportation and storage exacerbates an already complex equation.

Transporting the volume of beer Coors produces on a timely basis is a logistical task of daunting proportions, and requires a corporate commitment to transportation on a grand scale. The first stage of transportation is perhaps the most difficult, involving as it does the transport of bulk quantities of beer over great distances. `Our distribution pattern is different than most other breweries in the U.S.," observes Tom Langley distribution project manager, `and most manufacturers in the U.S. for that matter. Being in Colorado, motor-carriers aren't viable for the East Coast, so we've made a major commitment to rail transport."

'Super-Insulated" transportation

Trailers and railcars used to transport the product must be `super-insulated"; that is, insulated enough to keep product from warming quickly once it leaves the plant. The beer starts out cold, at 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and is line-loaded directly into boxcars and truck trailers. The product is packed extremely tightly for maximum thermal efficiency - special boxcars even feature air bladders at each interior end that are inflated after loading for the tightest possible fit.

"The beer is packed so it should only warm by one degree Fahrenheit each day that it's in transit," reports manager of corporate communications Don Shook. `We take this commitment to product integrity seriously, and we'll actually dispatch testers to the scene of any transportation foul-up to evaluate product for damage. We ship it cold, the distributor stores it cold, and they ship it cold to the retailer,"

Although the insulated trailers and railcars will keep the product cold for a remarkably long time, speed is of the essence. At the brewery, the dedication to this creed is tangible, as movement of the product never ceases once it exits the packaging line. `The distribution department has a four-hour window to move freshly packaged beer out the door," Langley reports. `From here it goes directly to wholesalers and to 14 re-distribution centers around the country." Every day, 80 to 100 railcars loaded with beer leave the Coors brewery in Golden, CO. Another 100-150 truckloads follow.

Over the road

Although rail is the primary mode of transport for the finished product, a substantial quantity goes over the highway. The beer is carried by private contractors or by Coors subsidiary truck fleet, the Coors Transportation Co. `Coors Transportation Co. was originally formed to fill in the gaps in the rail network," reports Larry White, director of Coors Transportation Co. "We supplement contract carriers and ensure that dedicated transportation is available for Coors."

The Coors Transportation fleet was originally created to carry beer to the West Coast in 1971. Initially only a flexible alternative to rail transport, the fleet metamorphosed into a common carrier with the onset of trucking deregulation.

"When we were just serving the West Coast," White recalls, `we would haul beer out and come back with empties." White notes, however, that the same specifications that require insulated cargo bodies for beer hauling make them ideal for hauling a wide range of commodities, from produce to frozen food. "We soon were using our backhauls to the fullest," he says.

Indeed, the Coors Transportation Company has found such a demand for refrigerated transport that the company has allowed the laws of economics to dictate what cargoes are chosen for Coors trucks. Under that system, beer has gradually declined as a percentage of the company's business, to the point that only 20 percent of the goods hauled consists of Coors beer.

"Although we're a fully-owned subsidiary of Coors," White says, `we still have to bid on loads we'd like to haul just like other contractors the company hires.

"The key to our operation is that we don't have to be a major profit center," White says. "We are a stand-alone business, and they'll pay us competitive rates. We have to support ourselves, and as we grow we will have to cover that financially. We're still seeing steady, slow growth."

Fleet expansion

That steady growth is borne out by the fleet's expansion from 30 units to a roster that now includes 144 power units and 254 trailers. "Our growth was triggered by deregulation," White observes. "In today's trucking environment we had to grow or we wouldn't exist."

The backbone of the Coors Transportation fleet is made up of 107 Kenworth T600s. The Kenworths are powered by the Cummins NTC365 rated for 365-HP at 1800 RPM. Common specs include Fuller RTX14609P nine-speed transmissions and Eaton DS402P rear axles rated for 40,000 lbs with a ratio of 4.11.

For 1990, the fleet has also acquired a group of Kenworth T800s. "We liked what we've heard about the T800," says Jerry Goodale, Coors Transportation maintenance manager, "it has been reported to have lower cost-per-mile based on leasing company statistics. We also noted that the accessibility of components for maintenance was very good."

Electronic revolution

Specs for the 1990 T800s include the Cummins N14-370 governed to 1800 RPM with Cummins PT PACER electronic controls. The T800s, together with a number of similarly-equipped Internationals and Peterbilts, are the heralds of the electronic revolution for the Coors fleet.

According to Goodale, Coors views the electronic controls as providing a number of benefits, not the least of which is fuel economy through the control of RPM. Any improvement in MPG would be welcome for Coors, since their mountainous operating area isn't particularly conducive to fuel economy. "Our current fleet averages 5.2 MPG," he says, "and the new trucks should bring that up to a minimum of 5.7, although some will get six."

Goodale also sees the Cummins PT PACER as an excellent compromise engine, in that it doesn't feature full electronics. "We see electronic engines as the wave of the future," he notes, "but they're so new there isn't much of a service network. The PACER isn't 100-percent electronic, which save us some money and also gives us some reassurance. If you break down somewhere with a 100-percent electronic engine, nothing turns and nothing moves. When it's gone it's gone, and if it happens in a small town that can mean a lot of down-time. The way we see it, if we want to make money, that truck can't stop. You can get the PACER started and running without the electronics," he says, "and we're confident it can be maintained on the road."

Another factor White cites are government emissions standards. "Coors is trying to meet the government standard before we have to," White says, "particularly since two of the states we run in - California and Colorado - have the toughest emissions standards in the country." White sees the benefits of electronic engines as providing long-term savings possibilities. "Although it might be cheaper in the short-term to get a less sophisticated engine," he says, "over the long run I think the more expensive engine will give us savings.

Temperature extremes

Trailers are Great Dane and Utility 48 ft x 102-inch reefers, incorporating 2-1/2-inches of insulation in the sidewalls. Reefer units include the Thermo-King SB-II and Carrier Phoenix units utilizing 502 refrigerant. "We ship beer at 40 degrees," says Goodale, "and we use the reefer to keep it at the proper temperature. We can handle a great many temperature extremes with those units," he continues. "Depending on the weather, we could boil or freeze our cargo if it came down to it."

Beyond specs and maintenance, that other key element, the driver, receives a great deal of attention at Coors. "We've shifted from contract drivers to our own people," White reports. "We just found when we used contractors that we had no control over what was happening. We wanted to have drivers working for us."

With drivers as employees, driver comfort receives a good deal of attention, with upgraded interior packages on all vehicles, air-ride suspension, power steering, air conditioning and AM/FM stereo.

`Creature comforts are more important these days," White says. "Trucks are more built for the driver than they used to be. We see it as a good driver-retention tool. No driver at Coors is behind the wheel of anything more than three years old.

No "barn-burners"

`At the same time," White notes, "we expect more out of our drivers. We'd rather have thinking drivers than the old barn-burners. We pay them by the mile, with a good benefit package."

According to White, the company has begun reaping dividends. "We had one driver on America's Road Team," he reports, "and one of our people was driver of the year last year."

The maintenance for the Coors Transportation fleet is currently contracted out to several shops. "We had an internal shop until 1987," White states, "and we served as a test center for Michelin and Cummins. At the time, however, the idea was that our fleet was going to be absorbed into the brewery. Since they had a sizeable shop of their own, we decided to eliminate our shop.

"In the interim," White continues, "we found that we could hire out our maintenance cheaper than doing it ourselves. We've seen significant cost savings, so we just can't warrant going back to being a self-sufficient operation."

According to White, when it comes to vehicle specifications, constant change is the only surety. "Components are much more sophisticated these days," he says, "and we've seen continual improvement on the durability of the trucks. It's just a matter of staying on top of new developments, and starting testing early enough."

Although the Coors over-the road fleet is just one facet of the overall transportation effort at Coors, it is representative of the company's dedicated approach to transportation. Coors has managed to mesh road and rail transport to a remarkable degree, in an operation that could serve as an example to other industries just beginning to embrace the just-in-time techniques that Coors has honed to a fine art.

PHOTO : Larry White, director, and Jerry Goodale, maintenance manager, of the the Coors Transportation Co., oversee a growing fleet of on-highway equipment. Tom Langley, distribution project manager, assists in marshalling Coors' rail resources.
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Title Annotation:includes motor fleet tractor specifications; Adolph Coors Co. transportation management
Author:Reid, Peter
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Nov 19, 1990
Previous Article:Transportation update.
Next Article:"Decade of Challenge".

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