September 11-15, 2017
Category: Fleet

Remaking the Road Operation

By John Holl

In early 2012 the management team at Auburn, Mass.-based Atlas Distributing decided to look over its fleet operations from soup to nuts and make necessary changes to not only be more efficient, but be on the forefront of safety and profitability. 

One of the first things it did, according to Shaun O’Halloran, director of operations, was to take on the project of right-sizing its fleet to meet the demands within Atlas’ territory footprint.  

O’Halloran has a work history with companies like UPS and FedEX, entities that know a thing or two about efficiency on the road. So Atlas began looking around and realized it was not always utilizing time and equipment in the best way. The company then looked at some options and first decided to get some bigger trucks on the road. 

Atlas added 12 new Freightliner M2, 52GVW, straight trucks equipped with the Cummins ISC 8.3 engine. The ISC8.3 for EPA 2010 realizes a 3 percent improvement in fuel economy, he says, and it added high power-to-weight ratio, improved responsiveness, increased power density and optimized calibration for lower engine-out particulates. The body on those units comes from Morgan, and Atlas was pleased with the lighter design due to improvements like the new galvanized steel Z post construction on the sides and front of the body, a 48-inch wide diamond steel runner centered in the floor.  

There are even some safety enhancements in these new models, O’Halloran says, including the 16-foot Road Warrior ramps with “spring assist,” and side doors that have triple-sided door steps with braces.  

Leaving no stone unturned for long-lasting durability, Atlas also addressed the rusting of the undercarriage due in part to liquid calcium chloride being used on the roads during those rough Massachusetts winters by having the body spayed with an undercoating. With previous trucks, he says the bodies looked fantastic, but the undercarriage looked awful. 

“In the end it’s small money,” he says. 

There is also an environmental factor Atlas is considering. To that end, they added seven new Freightliner Cascadia tractors that came equipped with the Cummins ISXEP10 engines. The EPA 2010 engines achieve near zero NOx and PM emissions, says O’Halloran. ISX achieves up to 6 percent better fuel economy versus the ’07 ISX, improved mile-per-gallon results in a smaller carbon footprint, and each ISX can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 12 metric tons per year (compared with an ’07 ISX).

In its top-to-bottom review, Atlas also looked at ways to reduce emissions and make sure fuel was being used wisely, so it installed Fleetmatics as its GPS provider and had its units installed in all trucks. The Atlas team looked at 10 different vendors before deciding on Fleetmatics and chose it over the others because it is web-based, has a phone application and not only was the price right, but O’Halloran believes it is on the forefront of the technology. 

At the time Atlas installed the Fleetmatics, fuel was over $4 a gallon, so fuel cost reduction was a priority. “We’ve seen tremendous improvement in our idling time as well as our driving and service times. We haven’t been disappointed,” he says.

With so many vehicles on the road, safety is paramount for not only the drivers but others on the road. To that end, Atlas has partnered with the Massachusetts State Police and its leasing vendor to provide safety meetings for the distributor’s drivers. This includes implementing the Smith System’s “5 Keys for Defensive Driving,” creating a safe driver program that recognizes top performers (rewarding drivers with accident-free records at the 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year mark) and by making available a Class “A” school for its class “B” Drivers to attend and upgrade their licenses.

The trooper with whom Atlas has partnered offers a real solid foundation for drivers to base their driving on, O’Halloran says. Something as simple as making sure all drivers have their license, DOT card, and registration each time they pull out of the facility, shows they are serious about driving. Having those documents is less of a cause for officers to raise a red flag in the case of a stop. 

O’Halloran says Atlas is not going to rest on just these changes. The company is continuing to look at ways to be more efficient, and even add alternative fuels to its fleet. Atlas is evaluating natural gas, but at this time the infrastructure hasn’t been built into its central Massachusetts territory, and the engines aren’t as powerful as O’Halloran needs them to be. 

“With grade issues here in New England, we’d struggle in the hills,” he says. 

With a new year unfolding O’Halloran says the company will build upon what it’s already accomplished and make sure it is getting out to locations before its competitors—something possible due to its streamlined process and larger trucks. 

“If the customers are getting beer deliveries quickly and efficiently that bodes well for us,” he says. “If we can become more reliable and provide great service, we’ll retain that business if not grow it.”  

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