Sandridge matches fleet to product image

Mark Sandridge, president of Sandridge Food Corporation in Medina, Ohio, wants a fleet with an image to match the quality of its line of fresh prepared food products. Since 1965, Sandridge has produced a high quality line of fresh salads, soups, desserts, and prepared entrees. To match the reputation of its products, Sandridge requires a pristine image and safety record from its fleet.

The Sandridge fleet is the public face of the product line, says Larry Lewis, transportation manager. “Picking equipment for our private fleet was all about image and finding trucks that set us apart,” he says.

That effort began in earnest in the early 1980s when the company bought its first Kenworth W900 and followed that purchase later with Kenworth T600s. With its most recent purchase of KW T2000s, the fleet has held to Mark Sandridge's vision of the company and its image.

Fresh soups and salads

With 300 employees, Sandridge Food Corporation produces a large line of fresh salads, soups, desserts, and a smaller line of entrees. In winter, soups are the highest volume items. In summer, salads take over the majority of sales. All products must be kept refrigerated. Thermo King SB-190 refrigeration units on a group of new Utility trailers are kept set at 33° F. To ensure that product is maintained at the proper temperature all the way to delivery, the company uses portable Marathon temperature recorders loaded with the freight.

From its manufacturing plant in Medina, less than 50 miles south of Cleveland, Sandridge serves foodservice distributors and grocery wholesalers within a 400-mile radius. Obviously Cleveland is a large part of the market as are receivers in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and distributors in Western Michigan. The fleet of 11 tractors and 17 refrigerated trailers runs about 30 outbound routes in an average week. For most of the year, routes require an average of four to five stops. As the sale of prepared salads increases during summer months, individual drops become larger, and the number of stops per route moves closer to two per trailer. About 75% of routes require only a single day for completion.

The primary purpose of the fleet is distribution of Sandridge products. However, it operates as for-hire carrier for inbound freight after customer delivery. In that role, the Sandridge fleet was named Premier Carrier of the Year for the Sysco distribution center in Bedford Heights, Ohio. Sandridge is a food supplier to Sysco as well as a transportation supplier. In that role, the company drops loaded trailers at the distribution center to maintain constant inventory levels.

Safety takes precedence

Image is a big part of the fleet rationale, but it has to perform as well as look good. Safe, on-time delivery is an absolute requirement. “Three of our 10 drivers have gone more than a million miles without an incident, and a few more are getting close,” says Rich Raham, director of logistics.

The safety record is particularly impressive considering the nature of the miles Sandridge drivers log. “We typically do a lot of in-city driving,” says Lewis.

Routes include big cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. “The average route is about 750 miles,” says Lewis. “These aren't drives where drivers get on the interstate and just keep the tractor pointed in a straight line. We have customers in hard-to-reach places.”

Some of those customers are harder to reach than others, and Sandridge gets some help with deliveries. For instance, the company makes some deliveries in Buffalo but does not go to the smaller communities of Western New York. To reach those customers with small orders, Sandridge delivers to a local distribution carrier, Escro Transport in Buffalo. For small deliveries at the western edge of its trade area, Sandridge delivers to Richwill Enterprises, a warehousing and distribution company in Chicago.

Built-in safety

The Sandridge commitment to safety starts at the top. “We're a small enough fleet that our company can focus on it, and the steps we take can really have an impact,” says Raham. The company uses two methods to help meet safety goals: purchasing vehicles with safety in mind, and providing drivers with proper training.

“As far as the vehicle, it's hard to beat a T2000 when it comes to safety features,” Lewis says. He points to visibility, maneuverability, and fatigue-fighting comforts. “These trucks are pulling in and out of docks, so visibility when backing up is key,” says Lewis. “Backing a T2000 is almost like backing a cabover — you can see what's happening back there better.”

Raham, meanwhile, thinks drivers overall are more alert in a T2000. He and Lewis credit the 75-inch sleeper's comfort and spaciousness. “Some sleepers have a few pieces pushed together to create the bed,” Lewis says. “The sleeper on a T2000 is all one piece, front to rear. It makes a difference.” A comfortable ride is another weapon against fatigue. “All our T2000s have air suspension cabs,” Raham says. “It's a smoother ride, which keeps the drivers more comfortable and more alert.”

A tight turning radius, meanwhile, helps the drivers maneuver through city traffic and squeeze into tight spots at delivery points. “The tight turning radius is one of the first things the drivers notice,” Raham says.

Quarterly safety seminars

The Sandridge safety program goes beyond the vehicles. The company also offers training that helps achieve an impressive safety record. “We have quarterly sessions to reinforce safety lessons that drivers can apply on the road,” Raham says. “In the last year, our seminars have covered defensive driving, extreme weather driving, and nighttime driving. Defensive driving sessions remind drivers always to look as far ahead as possible, and always assume that someone will do something wrong. The night driving lessons stress awareness of other vehicles and the effects of driver fatigue.”

Extreme weather tips include allowing extra time, keeping even more distance between vehicles, and knowing the weather forecast before departure. “If the weather looks bad, we allow our drivers to leave earlier — even if it means paying them more,” Raham says. “It shows we're willing to hold up our end of the bargain.”

Sandridge ensures that the fleet is safe to operate by sticking to a strict maintenance schedule. Safety and maintenance efforts pay off when the insurance bills come due. “There are fewer choices when it comes to insurance carriers,” Lewis says. “Our efforts ensure we get the best premium.”

Improved fuel economy

Sandridge finds additional ways to reduce costs. “We're improving mileage all the time,” says Raham. “Last quarter we averaged 6.5 miles per gallon. This quarter, with the new T2000s in the fleet, we're looking at 6.7 miles per gallon. That's excellent mileage considering all our urban miles. The clean shape of the T2000 combined with an efficient engine help achieve good fuel economy.

Sandridge uses Cummins N14-435 engines with a governed road speed of 69 miles per hour. Tractors are built with high-speed drive axles to keep the engine running at low rpm at normal highway speeds. Gear-fast/run-slow power trains gives drivers a sweet spot on the torque curve with plenty of power at low fuel consumption, Raham says.

The aerodynamic design of the T2000 plays a role in fuel efficiency. “Our fuel economy is significantly higher than it was a few years ago,” Raham says. “We think the clean shape of the tractor is one of the reasons, and we do our best to reduce aerodynamic drag. We tuck the exhaust behind the cab and sleeper to reduce the drag an exposed exhaust system causes,” Raham says. “A deep front bumper and side fairings help maintain smooth air flow all the way back to the trailer.”

Taking weight out of the tractor also helps fuel efficiency. The Kenworth AG200 suspension is about 250 pounds lighter than some other available suspensions. Aluminum wheels for drive tires save 248 pounds, and aluminum wheels for the front axle cut another 62 pounds. “Cutting weight definitely helps with better mileage,” Lewis says. “But to be honest, we did it for load capacity more than anything else.”

In the end, safety is first and foremost on the minds of Raham and Lewis. “The first question we ask is, ‘Can we make this more safe?’” Raham says. “If we can find a way, we do it.”

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