MANAGERS: Steve Duley and Steve Graham
TITLES: Vice presidents of purchasing
FLEET: Schneider National, Green Bay, WI
OPERATION: Truckload, logistics and intermodal provider operating over 12,000 trucks and 33,000 trailers plus 12,000 intermodal containers
It's well-known in trucking that everything needs to be tested, for that's how one confirms whether or not an item in question delivers on its promise.
Maybe it's improved fuel economy, or better vehicle handling for drivers. Maybe it's more load-carrying capacity out of trailers. Or maybe it's looking at how maintenance intervals affect fuel economy gains.
Those are some of the thoughts that entered the minds of managers at transportation conglomerate Schneider National over two decades ago, back when Big Orange primarily functioned as a truckload carrier.
Take oil change intervals, for example, says Steve Duley, a vice president of purchasing for Schneider. “The oil change interval relates to fuel economy,” he stresses. “As the oil gets older and picks up more contaminants, it gets thicker. The increase in thickness, called viscosity, takes a little bit away from fuel economy. The balancing act is to drain the oil at the point where the overall cost of ownership is lowest. It has to protect the engine, not rob fuel economy and minimize cost.”
That's but one factor that convinced Schneider that it needed to start its own in-house testing program.
Steve Graham got the ball rolling back in 1989 when, as Schneider's tire program manager, he realized fuel economy should factor into tire purchasing decisions, thus leading him to study how to test various tires for fuel efficiency. As a result, he traveled to the Transportation Research Center of Ohio, where many OEMs — automotive and truck makers alike — conduct vehicle testing on a variety of test tracks. Graham watched tire makers conduct Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) fuel economy tests on their products, and that's when a light bulb when off in his head.
Perhaps Schneider could adapt the very same scientific, methodical practices outlined in these SAE protocols to evaluate the efficiency and performance of its own equipment in-house, he thought.
Today, Graham, now also a vice president of purchasing for Schneider, says the fleet employs an on-site team of engineers who work year round on a wide range of equipment-research needs for the company, including process development, maintenance training, troubleshooting equipment, and component testing.
The number of technologies and/or products tested each year varies; however, they are all tested in the same controlled manner. This is done on a 50-mi. route in Northeast Wisconsin that recreates the typical engine stress loads experienced by Schneider's fleet, Graham explains. Two trucks are pulled from the fleet for the summer so they can be dedicated solely to testing. In each test, one truck becomes the “control” vehicle, while the other is outfitted with the technology and/or product being evaluated.
Much of the testing is focused on preventive maintenance, Duley explains. “Even though a component doesn't fail catastrophically, it still can have other more subtle failure modes that could be impacting your efficiency, being out of adjustment, for example,” Duley notes.
Graham adds that the maintenance testing all relates back to the fleet's drive to continually boost fuel economy, no matter how small the increment. “We actually hold ourselves to a tighter standard than SAE protocol requires to determine even the smallest variances,” Graham says. “Even if a device yields less than 1% fuel efficiency, that small amount of savings can add up to huge numbers when you consider the vast size of our fleet.”