Packets of fifth-wheel grease also offer some slick advice for the office

Fancy packaging is not a trucking industry "thing." No indeed. Fleet managers generally could care less about the container a product comes in, as long as the product itself works and works well. So it's a bit of a shock to discover that many fleets are now buying grease, arguably the least glamorous of all trucking products, largely for its packaging.

Dubbed "Slik-Pak" by its inventor, Dennis Spiers, who is also the owner/founder of Keystone Business Service Inc., these pre-measured, two-ounce packets of grease are designed to provide a clean and efficient approach to the process of greasing a fifth wheel.

"Drivers just put two of these packets on the fifth-wheel plate or on either side of the kingpin before coupling the trailer to the tractor," explains Spiers. "The weight of the trailer ruptures the pouch and spreads the grease. As the plates rotate, the thin plastic packets just disintegrate." It's a pretty slick idea, isn't it? In fact, that's how the product got its name. "I would show drivers how the packets worked," recalls Spiers, and they would usually say, "That's the slickest thing I've ever seen."

Drivers are not the only ones impressed with Spier's invention. He counts some of the nation's biggest fleets as customers, including J.B. Hunt, Yellow Freight System, and RoadwayExpress. He has also captured the attention and accolades of the packaging industry, which recently presented Spiers with three of its top honors, including the 3M Eco-Efficient Award.

"Applying grease with Slik-Pak means there's no need for special tools like grease guns, no waste, and no problems with reclaiming the barrels grease is usually stored in," notes Spiers. "Our grease is a proprietary lubricant with a 30% graphite base, especially for load-bearing surfaces," he adds. "The packets themselves are made from food-grade film produced for bakeries, just put to an industrial use."

While the product's characteristics are certainly worth discussion, it is almost impossible to talk with Spiers without asking him, "How did you come up with this idea?" As it turns out, that story itself also has much to offer the trucking industry.

"Back in the early 1990s, I was driving a truck, hauling bulk milk," Spiers begins. "I would switch trailers with another driver at a truck stop in Wamsutter, Wyo. Once, we got stuck there during a terrible blizzard. It was 30 degrees below zero, with the wind and snow blowing like mad.

"We were sitting in the coffee shop looking out the window, watching another driver try to grease his fifth wheel," Spiers recalls. "He was holding the grease gun over the exhaust manifold trying to warm it up enough to get the grease to flow. Finally, he got so frustrated that he actually threw the gun across the lot where it rolled under another truck.

"We had a good laugh at his expense and turned back to our cups of coffee," Spiers continues. "Then my fellow driver reached for one of those little paper packets of sugar to sweeten his coffee, and it hit me. 'That's what we need to solve the greasing problem,' I said. When I got home, I put grease in some plastic sandwich bags and tried it out. And I decided that the idea could work."

There are lots of object lessons to be learned from Spier's success story - lessons about persistence, about vision, and about taking risks. But it's that darn blizzard that sticks out in my mind. Inventing, after all, not only takes problems to solve, it also takes time - time to ponder, time to consider, time to daydream, and time to think.

Today's top-velocity trucking industry has no shortage of problems to solve, but it's a little shy on old-fashioned free time. Perhaps 1999 is the perfect year to give some serious attention to creating work environments that encourage and reward thought as well as action.

In other words, maybe a business "blizzard" now and again would be a pretty slick idea.