Maintaining a diverse range of equipment: An interview with Tropical Shipping
FleetWave customer Tropical Shipping provides cargo transportation services from Canada and South Florida to The Bahamas and Caribbean. It operates a fleet of 17 vessels and thousands of assets including five mobile harbour cranes, 18 straddle carriers, various reach stackers and forklifts capable of handling up to 80,000 pound capacity.
We spoke with Director of Fleet Maintenance for Tropical Shipping, Kevin Blake, about his experience of managing such a diverse range of equipment.
Your operation isn’t your classic roadgoing fleet. It’s everything you need to manage the movement of containers on and off your vessels. What kind of challenges do you face when maintaining such a diverse range of equipment?
“The priority at Tropical Shipping is equipment reliability. Just like any organisation, if you do not have the upkeep and reliability, it impacts the business greatly. We overcome this by having a good maintenance regimen, and also good cooperation between the various departments. We’re not just responsible for maintaining the quality of equipment for operations, but for stevedoring, warehousing and security too. So not only do we have to satisfy our external customers, but our internal customers as well.”
There is a lot of legislation around, particularly when it comes to health and safety. How do you handle that?
“Tropical Shipping have their own safety department, and we also service some of their equipment. But it’s key that we stay in collaboration with them as well, especially in my area – we’re very safety driven. We have a culture at Tropical Shipping that anybody in the organisation can stop a job if they see an unsafe act, or potential for an unsafe act or accident.”
When thinking about legislation, health and safety, and the standard preventative maintenance schedule, what kind of technologies do you use? How do you deal with the wealth of information you receive?
“The key is to have real time data. Real time good data – correct data – in my opinion causes self-correcting behaviour. When you have that in your face every day it forces people to look at their operation and act upon it based upon the data.
You have to look at the system and how you’re utilising it. I’ve been in many places where systems were very robust, but the company was not using that software to its maximum capabilities. So new or upgraded software is not always necessary; you have to take a look at how it’s being used. Can you use it to its full extent? And will that satisfy your operation? If not, then maybe you have to look at possibly upgrading or improving your software.”
So you’ve got the proactive versus the reactive. If your system dashboard is telling you about things constantly, it kind of changes your mindset.
“And in the maintenance world, that’s the utopia! You want to be proactive or preventive, as opposed to reactive or putting out those fires all the time. So we’re always looking at that. And how we can improve and use KPIs and create reports to our advantage.”
You’ve said that it’s not necessarily about having to reinvest in new software and new products – that it’s more about using and understanding that data. Have you got a technology plan to streamline any additional processes going forwards?
“It depends on the equipment, or the new equipment we’re purchasing. We’re also looking at fully electric capability and that comes with its challenges right now. Part of looking at systems is how do you automate more to reduce the workload for employees and be more efficient and productive? We’re constantly looking at ways to automate and streamline our processes.”
In this digital world that we live in, having that automation process is key. If you’re talking to multiple vendors, and multiple internal and external parties, you don’t want to chase data, produce reports or send incorrect information out to people.
“You have to constantly look at the data that’s in the system and scrub it. And make sure it’s good data before you start generating reports and KPIs. Otherwise it can cause a raft of problems.”
When it comes to the delivery of technology to the people performing the maintenance, how open are they to those kinds of changes?
“I think the main thing when you implement something like that is showing the individual what’s going to make their job easier. If you can reduce steps for them the acceptance or the buy in of what changes you’re trying to make is much easier. The overall goal is to automate, make life a little easier, make processes smoother and have that really good real time data so you can make educated and reliable decisions.”
What advice could you give to people in the fleet industry regarding the management of potentially complex assets?
It’s imperative that you strive to understand the business first. Once you have a clear grasp of how the business functions, including your involvement with all the other departments and how your decisions affect them, it then makes it easier for you to make rational, educated and impactful decisions. So from my standpoint, because I deal with so many different departments, it’s critical that I obviously not only know the business, but have a good working relationship with each department. That’s an everyday occurrence – it’s a learning process. It’s not just for somebody coming in new; it’s something that people should just practice in general.
Watch the full interview here with Kevin Blake, Director of Fleet Maintenance for Tropical Shipping.
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