Fleet managers know how important vehicle availability is to their business. When vehicles are down, that means less productivity. That’s why an efficient fleet maintenance operation is integral to every business. However, sometimes businesses need to spend time on their own goals and leave fleet maintenance to a professional.

Eastman Chemical, located in Longview, Texas, partnered with a company whose business is fleet maintenance.

Outsourcing for a Good Cause

Eastman Chemical’s business is manufacturing chemicals, fibers, and plastics, including coatings, adhesives, and specialty plastics products. The company is a major supplier of cellulose acetate fibers and produces polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polymers for packaging, so while its vehicles are important, keeping them maintained is not its core competency. By partnering with First Vehicle Services (FVS), a provider of customized fleet maintenance and fleet management solutions, Eastman Chemical could return to concentrating on its own business goals, while FVS focused on improving its fleet efficiencies.

Summing Up the Fleet

Eastman Chemical’s fleet consists of a wide variety of vehicles, including bulldozers, compactors, fire trucks, ambulances, light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks, heavy-, medium-, and light-duty forklifts, industrial compressors, backhoes, tractors, golf carts, electric pallet jacks, medium-duty cranes, equipment-like graders, dump trucks, and small and medium cranes used daily in the construction and maintenance of chemical plant facilities.

With a 507-unit fleet, many are support vehicles used for transportation or service purposes, while others are specific-use units critical to production and safety.

While many fleets might see them as special-use equipment, at Eastman these vehicles are in constant use. That means when a piece of equipment needs repairs or preventive maintenance, a quick turnaround is important.


Offering Help All the Way

After researching several firms, Eastman chose FVS to oversee its maintenance operations and identify ways to increase vehicle availability, whether preventive or critical. At Eastman, the maintenance technicians, general manager, and shop foreman are all employed by FVS, which includes salaries, benefits, and training. Additionally, FVS maintains parts and supplies, which allows it to control the levels of technical expertise and customer service in the maintenance shop. Using these factors as a starting point, FVS helped Eastman in two key areas: vehicle availability and preventive maintenance compliance.

As part of FirstGroup America, a large surface transportation company that employs 99,000 people in North America and is part of a $10 billion-plus company, FVS leverages its buying power to offer Eastman significant discounts on parts and other supplies. Access to a large volume of supplies also helps Eastman maintain an accurate service and repair parts inventory, ensuring maximum availability for common component failures. "Many of the types of equipment in the Eastman fleet demand quick turnaround on repairs with a minimum of downtime," said Bill Snowden, a former Eastman general manager, who was responsible for implementing many of the procedures now underway.

"We try to do that as seamlessly as possible. If we do our jobs right, our operation will remain transparent to the user," said Snowden.


Caring for Customers is Key for Eastman

Bob O’Brien, Eastman Chemical fleet coordinator, said, "FVS pursues any and all avenues to expedite service and repair on our equipment. We have seen them drive out of town to pick up parts versus having the part shipped overnight so they could complete the repair and have the equipment available sooner." With increased access to resources, Eastman’s average vehicle availability rate is now 98.5 percent, which leads to a more productive fleet.

Eastman saw similarly impressive improvements when it came to preventive maintenance compliance. Once only 65 percent per month, it’s now 95 percent.

"Prior to our arrival at Eastman, bringing a vehicle to the shop was a chore, and you never knew what to expect or when you would get your equipment back," said John Claassen, general manager for FVS at Eastman. "They now know that our top priority is taking care of our customers, and they can expect excellent service. If a piece of equipment has a performance problem, we will fix the problem or recommend obsolescence. Regardless, they know they can count on the job being done and done right."

To accomplish this level of customer service, FVS implemented a number of best practices, including training programs from ASE, Ford, International, Delco, and others — Lean Six Sigma practices to increase efficiency and productivity, and maintenance shop safety.

"Employees at Eastman responded to the quality of service and customer service. They now look forward to bringing their equipment to the shop. They know there is minimal wait time for returning equipment back to service. They come to the service center knowing they will have a positive experience," said Claassen.


Taking Preventive Maintenance to Another Level

Support from the Eastman management team also helped improve preventive maintenance compliance. They analyzed key performance indicators (including preventive maintenance compliance) to document performance issues. This information was used to make improvements at Eastman facilities. Furthermore, FVS’s access to volume discounts through national purchasing agreements helped Eastman reduce costs for preventive maintenance parts.

As a chemical industry Responsible Care-certified company, Eastman is committed to achieving the highest standards of health, safety, environmental, and security performance. Eastman also needed a partner that shared those same standards.As a result, FVS implemented daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual mechanisms to ensure a constant state of safety awareness. "FVS at Eastman experiences several rigorous safety audits annually. Audits consist of a compilation of OSHA policy and ‘best in class’ industry standards and practices," said Claassen. "These audits are conducted internally by FVS corporate and by Eastman Chemical, ensuring a constant state of preparedness in facility, work practices, knowledge, and training."

While Eastman has partnered with FVS to improve its fleet operations, its involvement has been seamless. "When we decided to outsource our fleet maintenance operations, we performed extensive research," said O’Brien. "We were looking for a partner, a contractor that shared the same values, particularly in the safety arena. We now are reminded daily that we made a good decision in partnering with a world-class organization."