Grading is a numbers game for Black Hawk County

Tim Reiter isn’t your average fleet maintenance manager; he’s a numbers guy. As the man in charge of maintaining the extensive fleet of motor graders, trucks, cranes and excavators for Iowa’s Black Hawk County, he has little time for inefficiencies. That’s why he involves himself heavily in the equipment purchasing decisions and evaluates machines with a critical eye.

Before the County Board of Supervisors accepts a bid and moves forward with a purchase decision, Reiter will often complete a machine inspection to ensure it meets all specifications — pretty standard practice.  But Reiter takes his evaluation a step further than most maintenance managers; Reiter looks beyond the iron and into the numbers.

Maintenance-matician

“Hard costs associated with improved fuel efficiency are probably the easiest thing to quantify, but I also give a lot of thought to how much time a machine will save us from servicing and maintenance perspectives, and I equate that cost savings,” says Reiter.

Reiter’s opinion is taken seriously, not just because he’s the one who will ultimately be responsible for maintaining the equipment, but because his evaluations are so thorough. His penchant for being meticulous is only compounded when evaluating a new brand of equipment.

It all adds up

In 2009, it came time for Black Hawk County to purchase three new motor graders, which are used for maintaining the county’s 500 miles of gravel roads. Among the participants in this bid-letting were three manufacturers, including a company whose equipment Black Hawk County had never before owned — Volvo.  Naturally, Reiter’s curious mind led to a full-on investigation.

“We immediately eliminated one of the brands, because the cab did not meet specs,” says Reiter. “We wanted a taller cab so that our operators could stand up and stretch out in the winter without needing to step outside.”

Once it was down to two machines, Reiter’s investigation turned to the numbers — and to his peers.

“With Tier 4i coming in, we looked pretty seriously at the Volvo machines because of fuel efficiency,” says Reiter. “The numbers were impressive, but I wanted to talk to someone who had actually been using them in their fleet.”

Reiter commenced his background check, confirming the numbers with neighboring counties who were running Volvo motor graders. After a thorough investigation, Reiter made his recommendation to the County Engineer. He recommended the Volvo G946B based on fuel efficiency and lowest initial machine cost.  The county then moved ahead with the purchase of three Volvos.

By the numbers

As the county began using the Volvo motor graders, the power in numbers became even more evident.

“The Volvos are using about 30 to 40 percent of what our 5 to 15-year old machines are using,” says Reiter, “which we figured was about $30/day per machine.  “And they’re getting more work done, because they don’t have to stop to refuel as often.”

Conservatively, Reiter’s estimates show that the machines are saving Black Hawk County approximately $1,890 per month in year-round fuel savings.

Fuel savings: $30/day x 3 machines x 21 work days = $1,890 per month

Black Hawk County typically runs their machines for 10 to 15 years before cycling them out. The lifelong savings of the three Volvo motor graders versus the county’s old equipment could be estimated as follows:

Lifelong fuel savings: $1,890 per month x 120 months (10 years) = $226,800   

                                        $1,890 per month x 180 months (15 years) = $340,200

Time-saving techniques

While some cost- and time-saving techniques are easy to quantify for Reiter, there are many others related to maintenance that undoubtedly save the county time, but are not as easily quantifiable. Namely, the use of CareTrack — Volvo’s telematics system — which falls into this category.

“CareTrack saves me a lot of time chasing down paperwork. Our operators used to manually track hours on paper, and we’d determine service intervals based on those weekly timesheets, which wouldn’t always match up to the machine’s true hours,” says Reiter. “Now, I just log into CareTrack, and it will tell me exactly where the machines are and how many hours until the next service interval, so I can plan accordingly.”

Reiter is also saved from making trips out to the field when issues arise.

“If a service light comes on in the cab, the operators used to call me, and sometimes I’d have to travel out to their location to diagnose the issue,” says Reiter. “Now, I can diagnose things remotely.”

Reiter isn’t the only one keeping his eye on the machines. Reiter’s local Volvo dealer — Scott Van Keppel, Inc. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — helped the county get set up with CareTrack, and their service department regularly monitors Reiter’s machines.

“CareTrack automatically emails both Tim and our service manager whenever a service light comes on in one of the machines,” says Phil Rausch, Northeastern Iowa sales representative for Scott Van Keppel. “A lot of times, we’re able to call Tim and help him diagnose the issue before he’s even had a chance to find out about it. More often than not, it’s something he can easily address at the next service interval.”

“It’s great to know we have another set of eyes on the machines” adds Reiter, “and it’s saved me a lot of trips out to the field.”

Less fuel consumption ≠ less power

Conventional wisdom would tell you that decreased fuel consumption means a commensurate decrease in power — a trade-off that Black Hawk County cannot afford. The county gets its fair share of snow in the winter, and plowing through it requires powerful equipment. When put to the test, the county’s operators found that power is not sacrificed for fuel consumption.

“I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, and this is the most powerful machine I’ve ever run,” said Scott Bonorden, motor grader operator for Black Hawk County. “That power is definitely needed when pushing through heavy snow. The Volvo motor grader doesn’t get bogged down.”

The big picture

Reiter’s equipment evaluations are uncharacteristically mathematical for a maintenance manager — but for good reason, as he explains.

“We have roughly 120,000 residents depending on us to keep the roads open, and they’re the ones paying our salaries,” says Reiter. “So, I want to make sure that our equipment purchasing decisions will result in the most efficient and cost-effective road maintenance regimen possible.”

How much of a difference can the equipment make? Perhaps the operator says it best.

“With the machines as efficient as they are now, it’s a lot easier to get the roads open in the winter time.” says Bonorden.