Save on Costs with Your Professional Guide to Asphalt Mix Delivery, Part 3—An Independent Look at Best Haul Truck Practices
BY Sandy Lender
For the 2017 paving season, we dive into an essential area of project management for asphalt professionals: safe and timely delivery of hot-mix or warm-mix asphalt (HMA/WMA) to the paving site. During this eight-part series, you’ll get some back-to-basics best practices to share with veteran and new haul truck drivers, in addition to new tips, ideas, and case studies with logistics and technology that will enhance your bottom line. Producers have streamlined processes at the plant; contractors have nailed down best practices in the work zone. Now it’s time to harness the potential you’ve been missing when it comes to mix delivery and haul truck fleet management.
Last month we took an in-depth tour of maintenance. Next month we’ll look at safety aspects. This installment gets down to business with one independent driver’s great ideas and adherence to regulations in particular.
Steve Murray of Steve Murray Trucking in Hooksett, New Hampshire, cut his teeth at Pike Industries, headquartered in Belmont, New Hampshire. He’s been driving independently for 35 years—25 of those hauling asphalt—and he takes safety and operations seriously. His current rig is a 2007 Kenworth tri-axle, and you better believe he has it decked out for optimum performance. Beyond the truck, Murray knows his job responsibilities inside and out, and knows how to be an indispensable member of the paving team.
Get to the Job
The driver who works as a member of the team follows directions and communicates with the rest of the crew. One of the first steps upon arriving at the plant is to take note of the signs posted for your benefit.
“We all have CBs,” Murray said. “The plant will post which channel you should be on when you’re on site.”
When you pull through the gates, make sure your citizens band radio is set to the correct channel to receive instructions and communicate with the plant manager. Follow the signs to unload material or proceed to the loadout area.
Depending on the plant’s setup, you may be required to spray release agent in the bed by hand. If this is the case, you must wear your safety vest and be aware of your surroundings when out of the truck. There’s no dilly dallying when out of the cab at an active plant. If the plant is equipped to automatically spray the bed, you can stay in the safety of the cab and merely drive under the spray system.
The release agent isn’t just a mechanism to help you with cleaning later. The release agent—as its name implies—assists in the proper release of material from the body of the truck. Murray went a step further and installed a plastic liner made for asphalt in the bed of his truck. It allows the asphalt to slide and not build up.
“Letting material move as a mass is important to keep it from segregating when you’re charging the hopper,” John Ball said. He’s the proprietor of Top Quality Paving and Training of Manchester, New Hampshire. Similar to Murray, he began his career with 30 years at Pike Industries, working 10 of those years as Pike’s director of training.
The next step is to drive under the silos, using stoplights or marked bars along the loadout scale to help line up under the correct silo gate for loadout. Ball shared that to deliver mix with minimal segregation, drivers—and plant operators—should start by loading haul trucks in a three-drop method under the silos. To do this, pull the truck under the designated silo to receive one drop in one end of the truck bed. Then move the truck back for the second drop. Then move the truck forward to receive the third drop in the center of the truck’s body.
The plant owner can set up a system of numbered or lettered stop signs or bars, or an actual traffic light, to help direct this operation. Loadout controls available from any number of plant or controls manufacturers can make it easy on the plant operator and safer for the driver under the gates.
For example, Ken Cardy, the president of Libra Systems Inc., of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, explained that the Libra Silo Safety System will not allow a drop to occur if the truck is not detected under the selected silo. Then the user has the option to be prompted prior to discharging the first drop, or every drop.
“The system can be set up for three drops,” Cardy shared. “In fact, the number of drops can be set to any value and they can be configured on a truck-by-truck basis. Further, for producers that use trailers or ‘pups,’ the user can specify the number of drops to put in each vessel.”
Even ticket-retrieval after loadout has become automated to the point that drivers can collect the paper from a kiosk on their way off the loadout scales or past the control house without leaving the safety of the cab. You will give this ticket to the dump man at the paving site, so keep it close at hand.
One of the more obvious tools haul truck drivers have available to them nowadays is global positioning systems (GPS). That doesn’t mean you want to plug in the address of the nearest business to the work zone and take off from the plant, following the voice prompts from your Garmin™.
Your smart phone or GPS on the dashboard may not know that the job foreman has set up a route that keeps all haul truck traffic away from a nearby school or away from a congested area that would not only slow production but also give material time to cool while you sit in a traffic jam for an hour. Murray explained why you don’t want to merely set your own route and schedule.
“It’s imperative that everybody goes the same way,” he said. “If everybody goes their own way, load one ends up arriving as load six. And if someone breaks down at 2 in the afternoon, you need to be able to find him.” When Murray is hired for a job, the owner doing the hiring typically gives him instructions, but he recommended double-checking driving directions with someone who has been at the job site.
“Usually the owner of the company gives me directions, but the best person to get directions from is the foreman on the job. The worst person to get directions from is the dispatcher, because that person has no clue where the job is.”
When in doubt, ask. “It’s to the advantage of the people you’re working for if you all communicate,” Murray said.
Join the Crew
Murray knows what the asphalt paving crew needs from the haul truck driver who brings the perishable material to the paving site. Whether you’re the trucking foreman managing a fleet of in-house vehicles for a large contractor, or the dispatcher for a trucking company subcontracted for a variety of projects each day, Murray’s tips can help your drivers be more efficient and contribute to a quality outcome.
First, drivers should not approach the work zone with the attitude of a private, subcontracted outsider. They should recognize that they are members of the crew striving for a bonus-worthy mat. The manner in which the driver delivers the mix will make a difference in the end result that motorists drive on and that the company gets paid for. This requires communication. For example, during a night paving project on the Florida Turnpike, one of the crews for Middlesex Corporation, Orlando, rallied to help a new driver. The driver was the first of the trucks to arrive for the paving portion of the project that particular night, and the dump man guided him into the work zone. When the truck was in position, the driver didn’t immediately respond to hand signals from the dump man or the paver operator. The crew knew something was wrong.
Rather than yelling or getting upset, the dump man and foreman on the job went to the driver’s window and worked with him. They explained the signals and helped him get the hopper charged. The next time that driver came to the work zone, he knew just what to do. That’s teamwork. Their help made the driver part of the crew that placed a quality mat. Keep in mind, it’s not the dump man’s job to train truck drivers. As the haul truck driver, you want to be aware of your responsibilities, and you want to work as a member of a well-oiled machine out there.
For example, when you get to the work zone, Ball suggested you take note of how many trucks are already on the job. If you aren’t the first truck to arrive, Ball said you’ll enter the work zone between the cones or barrels several feet in front of the first truck in the line. You will then line up in front of the other haul trucks.
If you are the first—or only—truck on the scene, you’ll slow down and enter the work zone ahead of the paver, and come to a complete stop when the entire truck body is inside the work zone. Make sure no one from the traveling public has followed you into the work zone. Look in your mirrors to make eye contact with the dump man or foreman on the job, and check your backup camera.
Murray reminds you that at this time, you will either press a button in your cab to automatically raise your mud flaps; or you will put the truck in park, engage the parking brake, double-check your safety vest, and exit the cab to lift the mud flaps manually. Be efficient in this operation and get back in the cab so you aren’t in harm’s way.
“Things change very quickly on the job, so be aware of your surroundings,” Murray said. “When I get on the job, I look around, and I’ll get out and take care of the flaps.”
Only when you re-establish eye contact with the dump man, will he signal that it’s safe to begin backing toward the paver. When you put the truck in reverse, make sure you can hear your backup alarm.
You will back toward the paver, looking to the side where the dump man’s working. Murray suggested keeping that edge of the body about a foot from the edge of the hopper to keep the bed centered in the hopper. You will come to a stop before touching the machine. The dump man will guide you, giving signals to nudge left or right, and when to stop to prevent a bump against the paver. He will come to you to collect the loadout ticket. Next, the paver operator will drive the tractor slowly forward to touch the rollers to your back tires. The dump man and paver operator will give the signal for you to begin raising the body, and will give a signal when you are to stop, holding the body at a certain height, letting the material move as a mass.
You will keep your foot on the brake while the paver pushes the truck forward, and you will feel the pressure. If you lift your foot off the brake, the pressure of the material charging the hopper will push you off the tractor and you’ll end up with a mess in front of the paver. Nobody wants to see that happen. All of this requires your full attention not only for smooth operation, but also for crew member safety. “When you get into a paver, get off the CB radio,” Murray said. “Get off the phone. Take the three minutes out of your day to pay attention. Be aware of the guy you’re working with.”
Once the material starts to move, you’ll know that it’s going well. Remember the release agent you sprayed in the bed when you were at the plant? That comes in handy now.
“You can feel it,” Murray said. “After you’ve done it a long time, you can feel it shifting right. You can see the edges in the mirrors and you can hear it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dumping in a paver or a windrow, you’ll feel it when it’s right.”
To participate as a member of the paving crew, you must keep your truck up to spec. Last month, we walked through maintenance items thoroughly. Now let’s take a look at some of the new regulations that affect your rig.
Tier 4 Final (T4F) engines have brought emissions levels to their knees. As the Diesel Technology Forum’s Executive Director Allen Schaeffer pointed out on page xx, “Depending on the horsepower range of the machine, emissions of particulate matter (soot) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) have all been reduced by more than 90 percent.”
With high-tech engines come high-tech considerations. For example, Kristen Williams, the executive director of the Independent Equipment Dealers Association, spoke with Mark Pentz of Calvin Group Inc. in Windsor, Colorado, for this edition of AsphaltPro and learned that his team sees contractor concern when it comes to maintenance costs related to the EPA’s Tier 4 mandate. Asphalt contractors, of course, want to keep these machines running most efficiently. “A few contractors have told me that they’ve had issues with their trucks tripping error codes while hauling hot material,” Pentz shared. “There isn’t anything wrong with the truck, but they still have to get someone who is certified to work on that engine to come out and reset the code. That chews into a lot of the day—something they can’t afford when they are trying to lay pavement.”
A spokesperson for Roadtec in Chattanooga, shared that new T4F engines are intelligent and have different severities of codes to alert operators of internal error. Luckily, paving equipment OEMs have designed intelligent systems, too. Roadtec’s telematics monitors the machine, including what the engine is doing. “Guardian would alert the office, and anyone set up for alerts, that there was an issue before the engine would de-rate or shut down.”
Something else promises to cut into the paving schedule: giving time off to drivers who cross state lines getting to the work zone. As of press time, fleet managers had no choice but to start learning and complying with a rule published Dec. 16, 2015, regarding the amount of time that drivers of commercial vehicles with a minimum combined gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more are entitled to have off-duty after working for a 7-day or 8-day time period.
According to the Federal Register final rule published in Vol. 80, No. 241, “[t]he Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) amends the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) to establish: Minimum performance and design standards for hours-of-service (HOS) electronic logging devices (ELDs); requirements for the mandatory use of these devices by drivers currently required to prepare HOS records of duty status (RODS); requirements concerning HOS supporting documents; and measures to address concerns about harassment resulting from the mandatory use of ELDs. The requirements for ELDs will improve compliance with the HOS rules.”
What that means for trucking foremen is being aware of in-duty schedules for drivers. The effective date of the HOS and ELD rule, as we reported earlier this year, was Feb. 16, 2016, and the compliance date will be Dec. 18, 2017. It’s not an easy rule to digest. Howard Marks, the vice president for environmental, health & safety at the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), helped make sense of it for readers.
“FMCSA’s regulations are difficult to understand, and even though applicable to interstate trucking, many state transportation enforcement agencies incorporate these for intrastate trucking compliance,” Marks shared. “Drivers that haul asphalt pavement mix need to understand and comply with these or their state-specific hours of service regulations. Drivers who haul asphalt mix can take advantage of a couple FMCSA exemptions that provide some relief to the HOS requirements.”
Those exemptions are just as difficult to wade through as the original rule. You have to meet certain conditions to take advantage of certain exemptions, Marks explained.
First of all, truckers hauling asphalt pavement mix from the plant to the work zone are considered “property-carrying drivers” under the HOS regulations. They are on-duty from the time they clock in until they’re relieved from work. It is generally inferred that “on-duty” includes time spent waiting at the plant to load or unload material, time inspecting or servicing the truck, actual driving time, and even time resting in the vehicle while a line of trucks charges the hopper behind you. There’s a list of definitions and guidance for the HOS regulations here.
“There are currently two primary exemptions that asphalt mix drivers can take advantage of: relief from the mandatory 30-minute break within eight hours of on-duty time and the requirement to record their duty status (RODS), through the “short-haul” exemption; and the ability to restart the driver’s weekly on-duty service clock after 24 hours instead of waiting 34 hours, through the ‘construction’ exemption,” Marks said.
NAPA’s prepared guidance explains: “Currently, to take advantage of all available FMCSA exemptions for interstate transportation of asphalt pavement mix, which include exemptions for Record of Duty Status reporting and the 30-minute break requirement, truck drivers must travel within a 100 air-mile radius. To obtain additional relief by utilizing the 24-hour restart, truck drivers must reduce travel to within a 75 air-mile radius of their starting location, which must be the same as their ending location.”
“A number of asphalt contractors have previously petitioned FMCSA for relief from their hours of service regulations, but without success,” Marks said. “It appears that FMCSA has been disproportionate in providing other similar industries relief from certain requirements and after the Administration change, we [NAPA’s Health & Safety Committee] thought it appropriate to re-petition FMCSA. On June 15, FMCSA acknowledged our petition request, which now starts the public comment and review period. Specifically, the industry has requested exemption from the 30-minute break requirement and extension of the 12-hour daily on-duty limit for short hauls.”
Complying with the administration’s HOS regulations may seem cumbersome, whether your fleet can take advantage of exemptions or not, but the goal is to keep drivers, workers around the vehicles, and the traveling public safe. It doesn’t take a lengthy study to realize that fresh, well-rested drivers are less likely to be involved in an accident than fatigued drivers.
To increase the likelihood that drivers and their managers are adhering to the new regulations, FMCSA included monitoring. The point of having ELDs in commercial vehicles is to track the driver’s activities and HOS. Because ELD providers—manufacturers—tend to get innovative, their research and development departments have added functionalities to the devices.
Truck drivers who were pushing back because they feared the devices represented an invasion of privacy can take note of two important points. First, the additional services the logging devices offer, such as predictive maintenance alerts, theft prevention/recovery features, and other fleet management system functions work to make the driver’s job easier and reduce his paperwork. Second, the language in the regulation is crafted to warn employers against harassing drivers.
Similar to relief from other HOS provisions, short-haul drivers that are not required to maintain their written duty status would similarly be exempt from installing and using an ELD. “However, once a truck driver is unable to take advantage of the short-haul exemption, they indeed would be required to utilize an ELD,” Marks said, “basically encouraging the use of ELD technology for all truck drivers regardless of their status.”
As you can see, operating a haul truck for the purpose of carrying asphalt mix goes beyond getting to the paving site. Proper loadout methods prepare the material for proper discharge at the paver; and proper communication makes you a safe, efficient and quality member of the team. Next month we will tackle the vital topic of safety as it pertains not only to your rig, but also to your actions for your optimum work ethic and chances for re-hire.
Haul Truck Don’ts
Don’t dump the paver.
Don’t lock up the tires.
Don’t raise the body so high that the tailgate pushes you out of the hopper.
Don’t lose communication with the dump man.
6 Ways to Use Telematics Data
For the fleet managers and estimators in the audience, Caterpillar shared June 22 through its Cat All Day e-newsletter, six bullet points for using telematics to improve your margins. Haul trucks aren’t the only “machines” in your fleet using telematics; by checking the data from all those machines, you can find areas where you can bolster your competitiveness.
- Use historical information to improve bidding accuracy. Before you attempt a cost estimate, take a close look at telematics data from similar jobs that have already been completed. How many machines were required to do the work? How many hours did each unit run? How much idle time was logged? How much fuel was burned? Does the data need to be adjusted for extenuating circumstances—weather delays, supply disruptions, fuel price spikes or other issues? Let facts from the past shape estimates for the future.
- Focus on use. One of the most important things you can do to keep your bids competitive is optimize equipment use. To calculate utilization rates, consult your telematics data—comparing how many hours a machine actually works relative to how many hours it’s available to work. Generally speaking, if overall fleet usage is less than 80 percent, or specific machines are running below 50 percent, you could do the same amount of work with less equipment—reducing your total cost structure and improving your overall competitiveness.
- Customize maintenance and repair planning. Equipment manufacturers make general recommendations about the timing of maintenance and service. But depending on the environment you work in and the jobs you do, the manufacturer’s plan might not be right for your situation. Adjusting the standard plan with real-world data about usage, idle time, fuel consumption and more allows you to recover the value and life built into your equipment, while maximizing uptime and reducing total costs.
- Get serious about cutting idle time. Some industry experts say it’s not unusual for idle time to represent between 40 and 50 percent of total running time. That’s a huge cost driver—not just the extra fuel, but more importantly, the unnecessary maintenance expenses, accelerated component wear, wasted warranty hours and threat to resale value. Tangible data about current idling practices—at both the fleet level and the operator level—allows you to identify problem areas, set improvement goals, initiate change and measure progress.
- Correct operator behavior. Well-trained operators can have a powerful impact on costs. To raise operator skill level, use historical telematics data to identify unsafe, inefficient or abusive techniques. Then structure training to address the issues you uncovered and use new telematics data, captured post-training, to communicate progress and reward success. It’s an objective way to assess the value of your training investment.
- Check your insurance terms. Some insurance providers offer financial incentives to companies that use GPS tracking and geo-fencing to monitor asset location and use. If you’re using telematics data to reduce accidents, injuries, theft and other risks, you may be eligible for big savings that cut fixed costs and extend your margin.
You can bid with more confidence when you know more of the variables. The bidding process will always be somewhat uncertain. But with the right combination of quality data and industry expertise, you’ll improve bidding accuracy, protect your margin and stay competitive.