TQI Grows with Demand for More Vaccines

Total Quality Inc in Mecosta, Michigan, hauls high-dollar refrigerated loads that other carriers shy away from. It specializes in pharmaceuticals and high-demand vaccines.

“Unlike many carriers that track their tractors, we focus on trailers,” says Terry Fewless, TQI's president. “It would cost us less to lose a tractor than a loaded trailer.”

TQI can ill afford to make even one mistake when it comes to temperature control, Fewless adds. That's why the company invested $1.5 million for refrigerated trailers equipped with monitoring and alarm systems. Drivers and company managers are alerted instantly of any fault in reefer operation. Driver notification is by Carrier Transicold temperature and lightbar monitors on the trailer. StarTrak's ReeferTrak satellite monitoring alerts managers. Satellite Monitoring and Remote Tracking Systems in Toms River, New Jersey, provides service for StarTrak.

SMART introduced the web-enabled ReeferTrak remote monitoring and control system about two years ago. In addition to tracking, the satellite system interacts with the refrigeration unit to alter system settings in transit. TQI managers with access to the Internet can monitor equipment remotely, change settings, and even start a pretrip routine. SMART monitors TQI equipment on evenings and weekends, alerting TQI of any unit malfunctions.

TQI is the first highway trailer fleet to purchase ReeferTrak, which originally was designed for intermodal carriers moving long distances by rail. “Ninety-five percent of our business is for pharmaceutical companies, and we purchased this equipment to serve them better,” Fewless says. “We've had some minor hurdles with StarTrak because it's all new technology. For instance, the map used in the software is a rail map. However, we're working out the bugs.

“We like the SMART system because it will monitor trailer temperature 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If an alarm goes off while we're off-duty, SMART will notify us by phone or beepers. And the drivers should know what's going on before we call, because their in-cab alarms will go off. We use cell phones for driver communications.”

Fewless, who has worked in transportation for 28 years, opened TQI as a brokerage in a leased office in Lansing, Michigan, in 1993. One of his first customers was a pharmaceutical company that also manufactured infant formula. “The manufacturer called and requested temperature-control for its milk products, which needed to be protected from freezing,” he says. “I started working with Sysco in Lansing.”

In 1995, Fewless built the current TQI office in Mecosta. That same year, the customer closed its domestic infant formula operation and asked TQI to arrange transportation for pharmaceuticals. By that time, Fewless had become a sales agent for several refrigerated carriers.

“We installed EDI systems in 1996 and became a full-service brokerage,” he says. “We had built up our pharmaceutical business to include several manufacturers by then. Our reputation as a transportation provider had spread by word of mouth. Customers wanted us to be their only contact for transportation, with the only bill coming from us.”

Annual Gross Revenue

TQI's annual gross revenue reached $1 million in 1995, and demand for company service continued to increase. Over the next four years, however, Fewless noted that products were not consistently hauled at proper temperature. “Pharmaceutical companies wanted more service and better quality control,” he says. “TQI had a choice — lose that business to someone else or invest in better technology.”

In 1999, Fewless teamed up with Alex Hollenbeck of Hollenbeck Enterprises to start a TQI fleet. Hollenbeck, now TQI's vice-president of operations, purchased 12 tractors, a mix of Peterbilt 379s and International 9900s, for dedicated pharmaceutical service with TQI's 12 Great Dane refrigerated trailers. “Alex owns the tractors and I own the trailers,” Fewless says. “As fleet manager, he handles drivers and equipment maintenance.”

TQI expects annual sales to increase to $12 million in 2001 from $5 million last year, Fewless says. With an anticipated increase in demand for vaccines, the company aims at $20 million in sales over the next few years. “There's no question that we'll grow our fleet for pharmaceutical service up to 30 trailers,” he says.

TQI provides transportation for 250 temperature-controlled vaccine and pharmaceutical loads per week, Fewless says. Some of these are brokered to other carriers. Ten of TQI's 12 refrigerated trailers are used only for vaccine runs, carrying 30 to 40 loads per week.

Regular runs are from the Midwest to the Northeast, south to Tennessee, and west to Colorado and Nevada. “Eight of our drivers are home weekly, and three are gone for up to two weeks at a time,” Hollenbeck says.

Strict Temperature Control

Of course, vaccines require stricter temperature control than pharmaceuticals. Manufacturers insist that vaccines be held between 37° F and 50° F, Fewless says. But TQI strives to keep all loads within 3° F of setpoint. For vaccines, refrigeration unit temperature controls are set at either 40° F or 45° F, according to customer preference. Pharmaceuticals typically are transported at 70° F.

Although TQI brokers some 70° F loads to other carriers, it handles all vaccine loads on its own equipment for maximum temperature control, Fewless says. TQI's 12 Great Dane 53-ft SuperSeal trailers are equipped with Carrier Transicold Phoenix Ultra and Ultima units. A Carrier digital thermometer and operating mode light bar are installed on the street-side front corner of each trailer. The monitors are visible in the tractor roadside-view mirror.

With the help of Reefer Service Inc, the Carrier Transicold dealer in Hudsonville, Michigan, Hollenbeck designed an in-cab alarm to alert drivers to reefer malfunctions. “The warning system inside the cab flashes a light and makes an audible sound loud enough to wake an off-duty driver,” says John Schoonveld, Reefer Service's service manager. “A reefer fault relay wired to the tractor from the Carrier unit controller triggers the alarm.”

SuperSeal Trailers

The SuperSeal trailers have rear aluminum swing doors with .035-inch stainless steel skins. All doors are triple-sealed, with extruded aluminum perimeter, a one-eighth-inch heavy-duty aluminum plate, and a PVC thermal barrier. Each door panel is attached to the rear frame with four hinges and is equipped with a single lock rod. Interior linings are flat fiberglass sheet. Doors are insulated with three inches of urethane foam. They are installed in stainless steel rear frames. Whenever pharmaceuticals are hauled, rear doors are locked with cable seals and padlocks for security, Fewless says.

Interior sidewalls have one-piece .090-inch fiberglass liners. The ceiling is lined with one-piece .060-inch fiberglass sheet. Wall linings fit into a slot at the top of a 10-inch extruded aluminum scuffplate. Insulation is two inches in the sidewalls, four inches in the front wall, 2.88 inches in the roof, and 2.5 inches in the floor. The trailers have 1.38-inch aluminum duct floors.

The Carrier Transicold units have Advance microprocessors that use PC card technology. “If there is a problem with the unit or the load, TQI can download the data module, which stores a continuous record of box temperature, unit engine rpm, coolant temperature, voltage, and amperage readings,” Hollenbeck says. “Data can be printed to settle claims or troubleshoot unit problems.”

Working with other carriers, TQI also delivers 12 million pounds of infant nutritional products per year. They are shipped from TQI's 30,000-sq-ft temperature-controlled warehouse in Mecosta. The warehouse is dedicated to a TQI customer's entire line of infant milk products. It is kept at 60° F.

“We work with LTL refrigerated carriers in winter only, to keep products from freezing,” Fewless says. “The rest of the year we use dry carriers. Infant formula won't spoil in the 60° F to 100° F range, but freezing ruins it.”

In winter, TQI loads some of the infant nutritional shipments in its own refrigerated trailers as outbound loads from Mecosta, on the way to pick up pharmaceuticals, Fewless says. TQI also brokers loads to Refrigerated Transport Inc, Keller Transfer, and other LTL carriers. The shipments are delivered to Wal-Mart distribution centers in practically every state. TQI schedules 100 to 200 outbound shipments per week.

Fewless' son Kristopher, a company vice-president, directs warehouse operations. Another son, Nathan, works in the logistics department. “Kris may get 30 orders from the customer for shipments to four destinations,” Fewless says. “We consolidate the load and ship it, using one of our trucks or another carrier. We cover the entire United States, Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico.”

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