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Rising to the challenge

MT: Wolverine Freight System deals mostly with customers shipping automotive freight, and those can be some of the most demanding customers in the industry. What challenges does your fleet face in mee...

MT: Wolverine Freight System deals mostly with customers shipping automotive freight, and those can be some of the most demanding customers in the industry. What challenges does your fleet face in meeting the requirements of such customers and what role does maintenance play in helping meet those challenges?

Sills: We’re governed by window times that, if they are not met, can lead to plant closures none of us can afford. The automotive companies are asking for tighter on-time performance, now about 98 percent on-time pick up and delivery. I see them raising that to 99 percent. Without good maintenance, we’d never be able to meet these goals. For this reason, our maintenance is a little overboard. And our relationship has to be quite close with the logistics companies. Our customers are our prime concern and meeting their window times is a hard accomplishment. But when it comes to PM you can be sure you won’t see the truck back in until the next scheduled service. Actually, less than one percent of service failures result from maintenance failures.

MT: You are responsible for a fleet of 180 power units (including brokers’ trucks) and about 475 trailers.What do you see as key to making your maintenance plan work?

Sills: We have regular staff meetings with the supervisors of each shift, and each of those supervisors then meets with the staff on their shift. We consider this really quite an accomplishment, as it requires organizing three shifts of staff across two terminals. All the shift supervisors get updated and briefed on any new technology, and for any maintenance alert that may come up, the supervisors as well as each employee will sign off on the alert. What I like about what we have set up is that it works well back and forth from floor to supervisor – it’s a very good feedback system and it has created a tight, proud team effect. And in my mind it’s totally a team effort.

MT: You were involved in developing a procedures manual for your maintenance operation. How has this improved processes and communication?

Sills: The practice and procedures manual has a 37-item PM inspection checklist and a 32-page PM inspection manual that outlines what creates and what generates the repairs, how they are done, the specs and tolerances and how to work around them. The PM program is part of the manual. Everyone can easily sign off on the steps – there are fewer mistakes or comebacks. And there’s a reference point that (maintenance) can refer to. For our outsourced vendor, they would get the pertaining section of the manual for the PM’s. Wolverine FS also offers monthly new product training and procedure training.

MT: You also developed a set of videos to improve performance measures within the company. What did you want to incorporate in the video training?

Sills: The videos cover areas identified as a training need. The videos also cover training procedures for technicians. There are currently eight videos reflecting different areas of repair, from trailer doors to installing scuff liners. We got together with the lead mechanics to stage the correct procedure for the repair of and maintenance of various areas. Employees can review the videos before they begin their job and it’s something that has worked really well. The visual effect gives a much better perspective on why certain things need to be done, and the quality of the workmanship is that much better.

MT: Of course, the success of any maintenance plan is dependent in part on the quality of the parts spec’ed. What’s your strategy for spec’ing the right components?

Sills: Historically we’ve been at a set spec for two to three years – we meet with service reps, work with them to establish a formula for spec’ing, we then try several units and commit to a spec once it has proven itself. We also incorporate daily refinements.

MT: Wolverine Freight System is ISO 9002 certified for maintenance operations. What challenges did the process of becoming ISO 9002-certified bring about?

Sills: At first, it was a bit challenging. We’re audited, so we have to practise what we preach. But attitude-wise at first it was scary. There was a fear of generating paperwork. Participation was fantastic in formulating a game plan, though. What we’ve laid out we have to achieve or readjust our processes. But overall, the attitude here has been phenomenal.

MT: You have just been named the best fleet maintenance manager in the country. What’s your next challenge?

Sills: The next step in certification, especially as the automotive companies will require it, will be to go through the process of developing Quality Operating Systems, to develop a set of key measurables, and maintenance results will definitely be a key part of that.

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