A major site-development contractor in Texas, the Rodman Companies knows it can't succeed in the dirt without reliable, cost-effective construction equipment — and it can't even get into the dirt without a reliable, cost-effective truck fleet.

The company, which provides everything from excavating to utilities installation, was founded some 15 years ago by president & CEO Rod Vilhauer and executive vp & COO Barry Rich.

Rodman's Fleet Services operation consists of over 100 heavy-duty trucks, as well as specialized trailers that “strategically position the right equipment and materials for the job as the need arises or as conditions change,” according to Vilhauer.

Five full-time mechanics provide daily maintenance on the fleet. It should be noted that Rodman also fields over 400 pieces of excavating and other equipment that is maintained by a staff of 10 full-time mechanics.

Fully appreciating the essential role equipment plays in their field, last year Vilhauer and Rich cooked up the innovative idea of creating the new position of manager of process improvement for fleet services.

Shawn Schneider, who was hired to fill that slot in September 2006, says he is charged with improving the operation process by process. “In the construction industry, you are fixed at a certain profit margin,” states Schneider. “So to increase profits, we have to decrease the costs of doing business” by reviewing all aspects of each cost area and determining its impact impartially with statistical analysis.

“We started with tires and will use the same analytical approach as we move from [equipment] process to process,” explains Schneider. The idea is to leave no stone unturned in the quest to determine where costs can be effectively removed or at least lessened.

“With tires,” Schneider advises, “we looked at everything — how we buy them, use them, store them and dispose of them. And we looked at who is involved with them. We got a 360-degree view of what's going on. That let us clearly see the inequities [problem areas] that we could address by making adjustments. Then we wrote a new process-a manual-the person doing the work could implement.”

He says these process manuals may run two or more pages, but notes the one on tires was 136 pages long. “Whether tires or anything else, you have to address the full circle, including having a way to track everything that's put into place before any savings can be realized.” Schneider says it took about six months to tackle tires and put a new “full circle” process in place for managing that cost.

Oil came up next and that review and analysis also lasted about six months. “Our goal with oil was to increase the drain intervals,” he points out. “Actually, we wanted to double them.” The first step was extensive statistical sampling of oil by an independent lab, starting with a baseline and then factoring in the effect of additives and filters.

The upshot was Rodman ended up doubling the oil drain interval for its equisment and did so without additional additives. “Our analysis showed the drains had been too conservative,” he states.

The fleet also deployed its data to establish its own “oil cleanliness standard” for bulk oil. Schneider says this process implements a method he terms “scrubbing the oil” to clean and recycle it enough to reduce overall consumption by 25%.

The oil process is now in the validation stage and will likely be put in place by next month. Once that happens, Schneider figures the longer drains will save the fleet approximately $375,000 a year — proof it pays to look at cost areas up and down and all the way around.