CHICAGO — For laundry and linen services that pick up and deliver goods, a properly functioning plant is only one side of the customer-service coin.
The other side is the functionality of the delivery fleet. If trucks aren’t running and the customers aren’t receiving their linens, the best processing in the industry won’t make a difference.
So, what makes the difference between a truck that runs and one that doesn’t? Fleet maintenance.
“Fleet maintenance, that’s the difference between trucks that are going on almost 20-25 years of service, but they were built to be 15-year vehicles,” says Kenn Klein, director of marketing and communications for walk-in van provider Morgan Olson in Sturgis, Michigan.
There’s a lot to fleet maintenance, and any advice could be very “granular,” as Klein puts it, but detailed checkpoints for fleet managers can be found in sources like the Morgan Olson’s video maintenance library. These checklist items can include lubrication points, safety checks, tire inspection, and more.
“We talking about maintenance, but the real word is preventative maintenance (PM),” he says. “Preventative maintenance is something I became familiar with in the Navy, and the longevity of our vehicles is achieved by having a good preventative maintenance program.”
And a good preventative maintenance program comes from scheduling, technology and effective communication.
Klein recommends scheduling maintenance items about every three months, depending on usage.
“When you have a personal package truck that’s making a hundred stops a day and using their roll-up door a hundred-plus times a day, then the use rate is very high,” he points out. “Whereas in the laundry and textile rental industry, the usage may not be as high. So, the maintenance may not require every three months. They’ll establish that by doing an inspection.
“We are advocates of inspecting items like the rear roll-up door or the side sliding door, the bulkhead door, which is the door between the driver’s area and the cargo area. Those are heavily used areas that we highly recommend. Inspection and maintenance are needed.”
Proper scheduling, and following the schedule, can be the difference between a laundry delivery arriving on time or the truck breaking down on the side of the road, miles away from mechanical service and the customer.
“You’d rather take and replace the starter instead of taking the chance for it to fail in the field,” Klein points out. “The same thing with headlights. Some operators change them every eight months, replacing both headlights. Their headlights are working, but they’re not waiting for a headlight to burn out before they replace it.”
Brandon Scantlen, corporate service director for Superior Linen Service, headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, agrees that scheduling preventative maintenance is key to keeping trucks on the road.
“We do, daily, we call them DVI tours, delivery vehicle inspection tours,” he says. “We do daily walkarounds with our vehicles. It’s a little bit more than just walking around and kicking the tires, but it’s making sure that everything is operational.”
Scantlen says that since Superior leases its fleet vehicles, the company relies more on technology to follow a vehicle maintenance schedule.
“It’s similar to an oil change that you would get on your own personal vehicle, but (leasing companies) schedule preventative maintenance,” shares Scantlen. “We have scheduling apps through websites that we use with different lease providers, and they contact us.”
He says a lease company will e-mail Superior one month to six weeks ahead of time to let them know that maintenance is coming up, along with what trucks are on that schedule.
“That way we can coordinate and drop those vehicles off to get that preventive maintenance done,” Scantlen says.
For the DVI tours he mentioned previously, Superior has a checklist on its electronic devices used for routes.
“We use a logistics app, and it has a daily record-keeping that we go through and make sure that there are no defects on a consistent basis with each vehicle that we’re driving,” shares Scantlen.
“If there is an issue, we can log it right there and contact the shop and get it in before its PM is due if the need is there.”
He says that Superior has devices that tie into the electronic control module (ECM) of each vehicle.
“If it recognizes a check engine light comes on, it’ll diagnose that, and it will actually send an alert to whoever’s e-mail is tied to that vehicle,” Scantlen says. “That way we understand and know that there is a flag issue with that vehicle. Then we can contact the shop and speed up the process.
“This is all really ties into preventive maintenance, but it also ties into eliminating or diminishing downtime as much as possible. We started using this particular device a little over a year ago, and it helps us diagnose a lot quicker than what we were doing before.”
For Scantlen, the key to effective fleet maintenance is communication.
“It’s trusting that whoever is operating your vehicles, whether it be a route service rep or a truck driver or whatever, is communicating issues when they occur and not letting it go,” he says. “That’s the most important thing.
“It’s getting your team to communicate with each other and then the shop or whoever is working on the vehicles."
That also means maintenance needs to communicate when a job is finished.
“That way you can you can have that peace of mind that it was done and move on to the next issue,” Scantlen says. “You have to have some accountability there and trust that they’re going to take care of those vehicles, whether you own them or lease them.”