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The reigning wrench

WINDSOR, Ont. - Mike Sills returned to Windsor-based Wolverine Freight System the first week of May with something big to smile about - the 2001 Volvo Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year Aw...

WINDSOR, Ont. – Mike Sills returned to Windsor-based Wolverine Freight System the first week of May with something big to smile about – the 2001 Volvo Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year Award.

Sills received the honor at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar, held Apr. 29 – May 2 in Don Mills, Ont.

The award, now in its 13th year, is sponsored by Volvo Trucks Canada and is presented annually by its president, Michael O’Connell.

While he has enjoyed a nine-year maintenance role at Wolverine, Sills is actually a trucking industry veteran of some 36 years.

Along with his trophy, Sills was awarded a 14 carat gold ring, and will tour Volvo’s manufacturing facility in Sweden later this year.

Sills explains that throughout his career, he has been worked hard to improve communications and professional development between management and the maintenance department, while also fostering a better working environment overall.

One of the accomplishments he’s quick to list is the fact that Wolverine was a Natural Resource Canada FleetSmart Program participant. He beams when he explains his company was given top marks in comparison with many other fleets. The results were based on performance measures and fuel ratings.

In order to improve performance measures within the company, Sills developed a set of videos for his maintenance staff, which cover areas identified as a training need. The videos also examine training procedures for technicians.

There are currently eight videos reflecting different areas of repair ranging from repairing 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,” says Sills. He adds employees can review the videos before they begin their job and they know the precise procedure – every step.

“It’s something that has worked really well,” says Sills. “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.”

Wolverine also offers monthly new product and procedure training for its staff, who maintain 180 power units (including those of the owner/ops), as well as some 475 trailers.

Sills has also tried his hand at publishing, in a manner of speaking. He developed a 37-item preventive maintenance (PM) inspection checklist and 32-page PM inspection manual.

They outline what conditions generate the repairs, how they are done, as well as information on the company’s specs and tolerances and how to work around them.

“The PM program is part of the manual,” says Sills. “Everyone can easily sign off on the steps – there are fewer mistakes or comebacks.”

He says one of the other key benefits is that there is a reference point for maintenance personnel to refer back to.

“For our outsourced vendor,” he adds, “they would get the pertaining section of the manual for the PMs.”

In terms of spec’ing the right components, Wolverine follows a practice in place since 1992, incorporating, says Sills, daily refinements.

“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,” he says. “We then try several units and commit to a spec once it’s proven itself.”

To keep staff informed of changes, and to stay abreast himself, Sills has established regular staff meetings with the supervisors of each shift, and each of those supervisors then meets with their staff. Sills says he considers this set-up quite an accomplishment, as it requires organizing three shifts of workers across two terminals.

“All the shift supervisors get updated and briefed on any new technology, and for any maintenance alerts that may come up,” says Sills. “The supervisors, as well as each employee, will sign off on the alert. It works well back and forth from floor to supervisor – it’s a very good feedback system and it’s created a tight, proud, team effect.”

But when it comes to differences between operations and maintenance, specifically on the topic of who has the final say on putting a truck on the road, “Maintenance has the final say in anything that has a safety factor,” insists Sills.

Wolverine Freight System is ISO 9002 certified for maintenance operations, and the process of implementing the ISO standards, notes Sills, was at first a bit challenging.

“We’re audited, so we have to practice what we preach. But attitude-wise at first it was scary,” says Sills. “There was a fear of generating paperwork. Participation was fantastic in formulating a game plan, though.”

The maintenance guru says his next challenge will be to try to meet today’s, and tomorrow’s, tighter transportation demands. As Wolverine deals mostly with automotive freight, there are some very tight pickup and delivery deadlines.

“We’re governed by window times that, if they are not met, can lead to plant closures none of us can afford,” says Sills. “The automotive companies are asking for tighter on-time performance, now about 98 per cent on-time pick up and delivery.”

The maintenance chief says he estimates that will jump to 99 per cent before too long.

“Without good maintenance, we’d never be able to meet these goals,” he contends. “For this reason, our maintenance is a little overboard.”

As well he explains the fleet needs to have a solid relationship with the various logistics companies.

“Our customers are our prime concern and meeting their window times is a hard accomplishment. But when it comes time for the PM you can be sure you won’t see the truck back in until the next scheduled service,” he says. “Actually, less than one per cent of service failures result from maintenance failures.” n

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