Redesigning the shop

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It’s about making things easier for customers – and for us as well.” –Chris Anderholm, Area VP for the Carolinas, Penske Truck Leasing, discussing his company’s ongoing effort to redesign the footprint of its service centers

Compared to all the technological wonders deployed in trucking today – nearly automatic braking, “dual personality” engines, and emission control systems making exhaust air super-clean – redesigning the footprint of service centers/maintenance shops seems a pretty rudimentary effort at best.

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Yet when you place such redesigns within the context of improving the overall efficiency of the trucking enterprise, the value of such efforts rises substantially. For cramped and crowded fuel islands, Lilliputian-sized parking lots, and even poorly placed desks impacts the ability to speedily get drivers and equipment alike through the many routine yet mundane tasks of daily trucking life.

That’s why Penske Truck Leasing is engaging in an ongoing effort to redesign its national network of 1,000 facilities, to make them more user-friendly and efficient for customers and employees alike. I recently got a tour of one – Penske’s $5.3 million facility in Chester, VA, which opened in 2007 – to view the end result of such efforts.

Chris Anderholm, Penske’s Area VP for the Carolinas, explained to me that there are several goals established for this redesign effort: create a consistent customer experience, no matter what location they use; make the facility easy to use for customers and employees alike; and finally make such facilities operate more efficiently.

[Here’s a clip of Anderholm explaining this redesign philosophy in a little more detail.]

From the outside looking in, Penske’s 16,000 square-foot Chester VA location sits on 6.5 acres, manages some 70 leasing customers, and is responsible for maintaining some 87 vehicles on site out of the 330 or so assigned to the Richmond, VA, area (for Chester is but a stone’s throw south of the Commonwealth’s capital).

The mammoth parking lot surrounding the building is a conscious design element, Charlie Ellison, Penske’s district manager for the region, told me.

“A lot of space makes it easier for drivers to maneuver their equipment, whether to park and drop trailers or to get to the fueling island,” he said. “It also gives more flexibility in where we position vehicles in need of repair – called the ‘dead line’ – and those that are ready to go back into service; the ‘ready line.’”

[You can click here for a photo gallery showing off the various sections of Penske’s new facility floor plan.]

The back part of the lot where trailers get stored features a concrete “pad” where the landing gear rests. That’s because the summer head in Virginia tends to soften asphalt, which would not hold up well under the weight of a fully-loaded trailer. So Penske added in the concrete pad to eliminate this potential problem – a small detail that makes a huge difference once put into service.

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The six-lane fueling island is now spaced a goodly distance away from the main facility, again with an eye to reducing traffic congestion for both locations. “We’ve got separate lanes for rental and lease customers, as well as for gasoline and diesel pumps,” Anderholm said (on the left in the photo at left, with Ellison). “Eventually, we’ll add in a DEF [diesel exhaust fluid] pump as well for those trucks equipped with SCR [selective catalytic reduction] emission control systems.”

He added that the fueling island is equipped with “high speed” pumps as well, again to help improve customer throughput.

Penske is also reshaping its facilities, making them one-story high instead of two, added Ellison. “We used to put all of the offices on the second floor, but that created too much separation between the groups working in these buildings,” he explained.

Now, the offices line the back of one half of the building, allowing all the employees – technicians, counter personnel, and managers – to mingle and communicate far more easily.

For customers, Anderholm noted that the service and rental/lease counters are now completely separated to help reduce wait times. Rental and leasing each have their own counters at the front of the building, while the service area now sports a customer-only lounge complete with vending machines, TVs, and Internet access. That creates a much more efficiency and convenient process for all involved, he said.

On the maintenance side, Penske’s Chester facility features three service bays that can actually be turned into six due to the availability of doors at either end. One bay, reserved for “quick lube” needs such as oil changes, is equipped with a service “pit” so technicians can make visual inspections of brakes, etc., along with service work.

A new wireless system allows Penske service technicians to integrate various diagnostic and repair software packages, Anderholm noted, while, to save energy, the maintenance area features GE fluorescent light bulbs with electronic ballasts that consume 50% less electricity. “Those bulbs all told cost about $15,000 to $16,000 to install, but we make that back in just a year with the energy savings,” he pointed out.

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Next to maintenance is a wash bay high and long enough to accommodate tractor-trailers if need be. Frequent washing, of course, helps remove dirt, grease, and snow removal chemicals from vehicles, helping reduce the potential for corrosion while maintaining its exterior appearance for the long term, Anderholm noted.

So, what types of trucks are in big demand by commercial customers in the area around Richmond, VA? Straight trucks that don’t require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate along with tandem-axle Class 8 daycab tractors. “We’ve got a lot of food distributors, logistics providers, and delivery companies in this area,” Ellison explained. “That’s our core customer base.”

Watching the facility in action for a day, I could see how all the different elements in Penske’s redesign effort came into play – with tractor-trailers slipping in and out of the fueling island almost unnoticed, as the deliberate spacing gave them a wide berth around the hustle and bustle of trucks being worked on in the shop.

It just goes to show that all sorts of things – even something as simple as facility design – can boost trucking efficiency in unexpected ways.

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