High-tech tools

HE Butt Grocery Company, operator of more than 300 supermarkets in Texas and Mexico, recently hosted an open house with buffet lunch to introduce its new “super” fleet maintenance facility in San Antonio that includes a drive-thru equipment diagnostic bay and computer-programmed automated wash bay for tractors and trailers.

HEB partners, senior management, and many HEB vendors attended the ribbon cutting on September 13. Ken Allen, senior vice-president of supply chain and logistics; Sam Medrano, transportation director; and Don Everingham, facility manager — fleet maintenance, thanked HEB partners for their work in the design and planning of the facility.

The 108,000-sq-ft building sits on 18 acres adjacent to the company's distribution center on the east side of the city. The new maintenance center is divided into three wings — north, east, and west.

The north wing contains the trailer shop that houses nine dedicated repair bays for maintenance of 2,147 trailers. The reefer shop has five repair bays to service 1,364 trailer refrigeration units. Light tractor and trailer maintenance can be handled in four additional quick fix bays.

The east wing contains a tractor shop with 12 repair bays, two oil and lubrication pits, and one alignment pit to maintain 420 tractors. In addition, the drive-thru equipment diagnostic lane can check tire pressure and temperature by individual tire, check brake adjustment, and check tractor and trailer axle alignment. A five-ton crane runs the length of the shop.

Hunter Engineering Group installed the equipment that can measure pressure on the front and tandem brake plates. The equipment also can detect alignment problems with a tractor/trailer rig.

The west wing contains a tire shop, wash lanes, and a parts department. The tire shop has three bays with room for tire storage and tire repair and mounting equipment. The wash lanes house two automated drive-thru tractor/trailer lanes, three tractor power wash bays for drivers, and a technician's wash bay for cleaning components during repairs.

About half of the entire HEB fleet of tractor and trailers are equipped with Michelin X-One wide base single tires, and all new equipment will be equipped with them. Each tire has an electronic chip inside the casing. Sensors measure tire pressures and temperatures from the chips while tractor-trailer rigs roll slowly through the diagnostic lane in the maintenance facility.

Repair orders are paperless. Computer terminals programmed with TNT software allow mechanics to access their repair schedules and order parts from the parts department. Mechanics handle repairs for the entire HEB fleet, except for warranty work that is handled by various dealers, such as Sterling, Caterpillar, Utility Trailer, Thermo King, and Carrier Transicold.

Because of the region's high level of clay composition, extensive soil stabilization was included to keep the foundation of the building stable. Liquid potassium chloride was injected in one-inch columns every six inches 13 feet below the building.

Construction time was about 12 months, but HEB management had been working on the design of a modern maintenance facility for several years to ensure efficient use of space. HEB partner teams developed the interior lay out of the building, including lighting, tools, aisle ways, computers, and equipment. Even step ladders in the repair shops are numbered so that they match to an exact location in each repair bay. Every mechanic's tool box is housed in one storage area when not in use.

“Planning of the design was key to this maintenance facility,” says Everingham. “HEB incorporated business excellence models for maintenance. Everything was measured and examined before construction began to provide the highest level of efficiency, such as cost of concrete per square foot, the physical lay out of the shop to eliminate any shadows where mechanics are working, and location of fluid, air, and exhaust lines. If one ladder is not in the proper place in our shop, we immediately know it.”

In addition to tractor and trailer shops, the first floor of the maintenance building has a library, file storage, and offices for supervisors and clerks. The second floor contains training and conference rooms, a room with exercise machines and weights, and a locker room with dressing area and management/support offices.

The former maintenance shop next to the distribution center in San Antonio has been converted to a trailer return center where milk cartons and bread trays are gathered and then recycled to various HEB properties. HEB also operates repair terminals in Houston, Corpus Christi, Waco, and Weslaco.

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