Minnesota Milk Hauler Turns to High Tech in Search for More Efficiency
Milk Hauling May not be known as a high-technology industry, but that hasn’t deterred Paul Plager from involving the company in some exotic electronic research. Plager is chief executive officer of Caledonia Haulers Inc of Caledonia, Minnesota, a company specializing in foodgrade product transportation. The company operates a fleet of 50 tractors and 55 tank trailers, along with three grain and five livestock transport trailers. It operates throughout the United States and Manitoba, Canada.
Five of Caledonia’s tractors are equipped with Rockwell Tripmaster computers and Pro-2000 multi-mode communications systems. This equipment was a requirement for Caledonia Haulers involvement in a research project called the Automated Mileage And State Line Crossing Operational Test (AMASCOT) currently being conducted by three state transportation departments, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Minnesota Trucking Association.
Assists Tax Collection
The test is designed to determine accurately when a truck crosses a state line. The states collect fuel taxes based on the mileage the truck travels within their borders. The only way the states have of determining the mileage now is from driver logs. The carrier is required to report the information to the separate states and is subject to occasional audits. The reports require a considerable amount of paperwork the drivers and the carriers would prefer not having to do.
The AMASCOT project started in the fall of 1994 and is scheduled for one year. Six carriers and 30 vehicles are participating in the test along with Rockwell, Rand McNally, and the state and federal agencies. Rand McNally provides accurate coordinates for highway state line crossings. In addition to supplying the equipment for the test, Rockwell engineers wrote some of the software and set up the communication links.
As the name of the project implies, computers on the trucks automatically register the point when and where a state line is crossed and calculated the intrastate mileage. This information is transmitted via radio through landbased or satellite relay stations to the state transportation departments. The mileage and taxes are calculated and a bill is sent to the carrier.
For the duration of the test, the AMASCOT data will be compared with driver logs to check its accuracy. So far, the system is performing well. Some minor software and equipment glitches were easily corrected.
“I think this system ultimately will have some benefit for carriers,” Plager says. “We have to pay the taxes no matter how the states obtain the data, and this system is more painless than the way we’ve been doing it. Anything that reduces paperwork makes us more efficient.”
As Caledonia’s chief executive officer, Plager keeps a close eye on finances. “The company is doing okay,” he says. “Revenues from milk hauling creep up a little every year, but you have to look at a 10-year history to see a significant improvement. That’s why we’re looking for more backhauls and decided to make the shop an income-producer. You have to find ways to make money anywhere you can.”
Plager believs the company’s future lies in diversification within the foodgrade hauling business and improving efficiency wherever they can. “There is only so much we can charge for hauling milk, and that rate has been stable for some years now,” Plager says. “I don’t see it going up much in the near future. For now, we have to find ways to reduce our costs and look for good backhauls to keep our profit at a workable level. We’re constantly on the phone looking for different foodgrade products we can haul. There’s a lot of competition, so it isn’t easy.”
Caledonia’s hauls take the tractor-trailer rigs to all parts of the country. Backhauls are picked up wherever possible. “We backhaul corn syrup and sweeteners from Iowa, and cranberry juice from Oregon back to Wisconsin,” Plager says. “We’re always looking for more quality backhauls from shippers willing to enter into a contract with us. We prefer dairy items, but we’ll haul just about any foodgrade product. We’re kosher approved, so we can take those products, too.”
In spite of a strong desire for diversification, Plager sees milk and dairy product hauling as the mainstay of Caledonia Haulers and devotes most of his time to keeping the dairies pleased with the service the company provides.
For farm pick-up, the company operates three route trucks that gather milk within a 50-mile radius of Caledonia. This portion of the fleet consists of two Fords and one Peterbilt. One of the Fords and the Peterbilt have 4,000-gallon tanks. The second Ford has a 2,600-gallon tank. All three tanks were made by Walker Stainless Equipment. The three trucks serve the three collection routes that were the basis for founding the company in 1958.
Before that time, six independent haulers had been collecting milk in cans and delivering it to the Land-O-Lakes milk plant in Caledonia. As the farmers began switching to bulk milk storage, the haulers had to change with them. The six individual truckers incorporated as Caledonia Haulers and bought their first bulk truck: a 1958 International with a 1,200-gallon tank.
The Land-O-Lakes plant is still Caledonia Haulers’ principal customer. All the milk gathered by the route trucks goes there, and most of the bulk trailers load and haul from there.
Caledonia has 40 Peterbilt and 10 Freightliner tractors in its fleet. “We buy power units on the basis of weight and cost,” Plager says. “We like both tractors and usually get bids from both companies when we buy new equipment. The one offering the lowest weight at the lowest cost is the one that gets the order.”
Weight and Cost Considerations
Driver preference plays some part in the purchasing decision. “Some of our drivers like Petes, and some like the Freightliners. Others don’t care as long as the unit is new. We take all of this into account when we ask for bids.”
The model 377A conventional Peterbilts with 63-inch sleepers have Cummings M11-370E engines with Jacob’s engine brakes, Fuller Super 13 transmissions, and Spicer 15.5 inch clutches. All axles are from Eaton with the steer axles rated at 12,000 lb; the drive tandems at 40,000 lb. The suspension systems are tapered leaf-springs on the front and Peterbilt air-leaf springs on the rear. The brakes are from Eaton, including the automatic slack adjusters, and have dust shields.
The aluminum hubs used front and rear are manufactured by Con Met. All wheels are by Alcoa.
The FLD 120 conventional Freightliners have set-forward from axles and 70-inch sleepercabs with a 40-inch-wide bunk. The Cummins N14-370E electric engines are set for a maximum of 64 miles per hour.
The front brakes are from Eaton and the rear brakes are from Rockwell. All brake linings are non-asbestos. Rockwell automatic slack adjusters are used on the front wheels, and Gunite adjusters on the rear wheels. All hubs and wheels are aluminum. Tires are Michelin 11R22.5 14-ply with model XZA on the steer wheels and XDHT on the drive wheels.
Another innovation Plager is adding to the fleet is not electronic, but is expected to improve overall fleet efficiency all the same. Three of the Caledonia tractors are equipped with Onan AUX auxiliary power systems that are used to drive cab air-conditioners and heaters when the truck is parked and the engine is shut down. The unit also heats the main engine in cold weather and provides DC electricity for charging the battery and powering lights and accessories.
The Onan AUX system consitst of a water-cooled, two-cylinder diesel engine in a cabinet mounted on the tractor frame that drives an independent air-conditioning system, alternator, and radiator fan. The system interconnects with most of the truck’s on-board systems, but not the refrigerant lines. In this way, a leak in one system doesn’t affect the other, and the auxiliary unit can be used as a backup if the truck’s system is not working.
The improved efficiency comes from reduced fuel consumption. The AUX system consumes an average of 0.3 gallons of diesel fuel per hour, compared to 0.8 to 1.5 gallons per hour for the truck’s engine set at high idle.
“I really like the Onan AUX systems,” Plager says. “We’ve seen a drop in total fuel consumption by the trucks that have them. I’m sure we’ll install them on more of our tractors as time goes by.”
Foodgrade Trailer Fleet
Caledonia’s transport trailers have 6,000- and 6,200-gallon tanks. Most were built by Walker Stainless Equipment Company of New Lisbon, Wisconsin. The vessels are made of 12-gauge stainless steel with 10-gauge heads. The skin is 22-gauge prebuffed stainless with 14-gauge heads. Insulation consists of an inside layer of two inches of urethane and a two-inch layer of polystyrene on the outside.
Walker supplies the four-lug sanitary manhole covers, and Olsen pressure-relief vents are mounted in them.
Some of the newer trailers have aluminum cabinets at the rear of the tank. The cabinet protects a Drum Ibex reversible pump, a three-inch TTF stainless steel drain valve, and the end-caps of the two hose-carrier tubes mounted underneath the tanks.
The trailer frame is all aluminum. The suspension is Hendrickson Trailer Suspension Systems air-ride with a dump valve. The five-inch round axles, automatic slack adjusters, and WABCO antilock braking system are all supplied by Rockwell. The brakes have Centrifuse drums. The aluminum hubs are made by Con Met, and the wheels by Alcoa. Tires come from either Michelin or Bridgestone.
In-transit heat is provided by an 18-inch-wide panel in a coldwall channel.
“Some of our backhauls are syrups,” Plager says. “In cold weather, they can get thick and hard to pump. The trailer heat saves us a lot of time and trouble.”
Hauling milk and diary products means frequent tank washings, most of which are conducted by the dairies. In southern Minnnesota, the dairies have a handy way of getting rid of the waste wash water: It is dumped into the manure pits at the dairies. The foodgrade heels compost and become fertilizer.
The 65 fulltime drivers on the company’s payroll get more training than is provided by many foodgrade companies of Caledonia’s size. New drivers get two days of classroom training, followed by six weeks of on-the-job training. Emphasis is on customer relations, communications, and personal and equipment appearance. “We take a lot of pride in the looks of our equipment and the people who use it,” Plager says. “We want our drivers to take pride in their jobs and show it when they deal with customers.”
All drivers attend safety training classes once a year. “The safety training classes are put on by Great Western Casualty Insurance Company,” Plager says. “They do a very good job, and just having the program helps keep our insurance costs down. We have very few accidents of any kind, including personnel injuries.”
Driver turnover is more a nuisance than a problem for the company. “We have almost no turnover among the drivers who have been with us a long time,” Plager says. “The lower half of the list – drivers that have been with us about a year – has about a 25% annual turnover. We’d like to get the rate down, but it isn’t bad enough to be a serious concern right now. We have too many other things to worry about.”
Shop Produces Income
The Caledonia terminal has a four-bay repair shop for maintenance and repairs, manned by four mechanincs and two shop foremen. The company has been certified to do its own warranty work. “Since we had the room and the people, we decided to start taking in repair work from other carriers,” Plager says. “We do enough repair work on outside trucks and our own to keep the shops busy.”
Doing repair work required installing a parts warehouse and counter sales room. Parts are moved from the delivery dock to the loft warehouse and back to the shop floor by a freight elevator that was installed when the company’s main terminal building was remodeled. “The elevator is for more than convenience,” Plager says. “There is always the risk of back strains and other injuries when people move heavy parts around manually. Now, the elevator and a forklift do most of that work, and do it much more efficiently.”
Cut Costs, More Efficiency
Reducing costs and improving efficiency will likely result from adopting new technology, Plager thinks. “We’ll consider any ideas for new equipment that will help us in that effort,” he says. “I’m willing to try anything that seems to make sense. I think most of those new ideas are going to revolve around electronics and new technology, and I can see the day when all our tractors will have on-board computers and satellite communications systems. Eventually, the states probably will require us to have them to make tax collection easier.”
The company’s willingness to adopt electronic technology is obvious in the headquarters offices. All dispatching is handled by the same computer system that is used for accounting, maintenance records, and other management systems. The office system also is use to analyze data downloaded from the on-board computers on the tractors.
“High-tech products can help us in a lot of ways,” Plager says. “The carrier that have the right electronic gear can be more competitive. The problem is finding the money to cover the initial cost of buying and installing the equipment.
“But the real keys to success in foodgrade hauling are superior cleanliness and on-time performance. That’s the service we offer now and will in the future, no matter how high-tech our equipment becomes.”
This article was found in the August 1995 issue of Modern Bulk Transporter and was written by Don Reynolds.