Manager: Mike Derrig

Title: Director of Maintenance

Fleet: Louis J. Kennedy Trucking, Kearney, NJ

Operation: Flatbed hauler, primarily building supplies


When you're running full 80,800-lb. loads of building materials — lumber, gypsum board, steel, pipes, and roofing materials — primarily on the congested highways and cramped city streets of the Northeast, the very last thing you want to do is shift gears. Not only does it become a physically arduous task for truck drivers, says Mike Derrig, but all that constant shifting is none too good for the gears and the clutch.

“When you've got a heavy load to deliver in a place like New York City, for example, they are just shifting all the time,” says Derrig. “It just wears out the left legs of your drivers, along with the gears and the clutch.”

Louis J. Kennedy, which operates 390 tractors and 880 trailers, is a short-to-medium haul contract carrier specializing in just in time (JIT) service for building-materials shippers. Derrig heads a staff of 40 techs working out of seven locations.

Kenedy isn't afraid to try new specs that appeal to drivers and help the bottom line. Current specs include wide base tires, auxiliary power units (APUs), traction and roll stability control, Eaton's Vorad forward-scanning radar system, and the Iteris lane departure warning system.

When it comes to transmissions, the fleet wanted to take shifting out of the equation to create a more relaxed, less-fatiguing environment for drivers, while also saving on fuel and maintenance.

“We've got just a 28% driver turnover rate here, so whatever we did transmission-wise, we wanted to keep the focus on improving the driver experience,” Derrig says. “That's first and foremost.”


The Eaton UltraShift automated mechanical transmission seemed to fit the bill. The key, says Derrig, is that the transmission itself remains fully mechanical — a design most technicians are well versed in — while an overlay of electronic controls take care of the shifting.

“The transmission itself remains very basic and we still perform all the diagnostics with the same laptop [computer] we use for everything else,” he explains.

“The benefits here are primarily for the driver. Since they don't have to shift, they can keep both hands on the wheel and all their attention on the road,” says Derrig. “Yet on the maintenance side, every shift — since it's computer controlled — is now done in the engine's ‘sweet spot,’ so we get the best fuel economy. They are also smoother shifts, all done at the appropriate rpm, which vastly reduces abuse not only on the transmission itself, but the entire drivetrain, back to the axles as well.”

Currently, 200 of the fleet's tractors are equipped with the UltraShift. A three-year trade cycle means it will be a while before the entire fleet is converted.

“Going with these transmissions doesn't change our service intervals so much as it eliminates a lot of the work we have to do during our regular PMs,” Derrig explains. “Since we're not burning up clutches on trucks equipped with UltraShift, we don't need to make as many of those repairs on a regular basis anymore.”

Maintenance Bay presents case studies detailing how fleets resolve maintenance-related issues.