Shop profile: Communication skills and technology are among the proven practices used at Old Dominion Freight Line

Jerry Manning is effectively using communication skills and technology to manage shop operations at Old Dominion Freight Line.

“At Old Dominion Freight Line, we understand that our people are our biggest asset,” says Jerry Manning, a regional maintenance manager who oversees maintenance operations at the nationwide LTL carrier’s Parsons, Kansas, shop and four other maintenance facilities in the central region. “It can be as simple as walking around and meeting with employees at shops. The point is that communication is vital.”

“We have created an environment where communication is critical to helping identify positive or negative trends,” Manning continues. “For example, on Old Dominion’s intranet we have a platform called ‘Shop Talk’ where management and technicians discuss issues. We also conduct monthly regional conference calls to cover those items and other ideas.”

Manning notes that training is seen as equally important at Old Dominion, a Thomasville, N.C.-based less-than-truckload (LTL) motor carrier. “In our shops, the approach is to continually train technicians,” he says. “We use the training materials and resources that our HR department and training team develops, and on the Shop Talk platform there is access to technician tips that come from management and the maintenance training department.”

The Old Dominion shop in Parsons, Kansas, where Manning works, has 30 maintenance employees, including 27 technicians, who service 375 tractors, 750 trailers and converter dollies and 50 forklifts. The staff also includes a supervisor, a manager and a parts coordinator. The facility has five tractor bays, five trailer bays and one wash bay.

“Old Dominion is the only LTL carrier with an in-house, ASE-certified training program,” Manning continues. “Currently, we have four regional trainers. We also develop materials and conduct our own training, which is done both in classroom settings and online. In our training program, we use manufacturer’s training materials and we encourage and allow training while on the clock.”

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A desirable place to work

“This approach has been extremely successful for our maintenance technicians,” Manning adds. “It has also helped our ongoing recruitment efforts, including working with vocational schools and programs and providing job opportunities. Overall, we have not seen any issues with a shortage of technicians, mainly because Old Dominion is a very desirable place to work.”

Communication with suppliers is also paying off at Old Dominion shops, Manning notes. “Having a great working relationship with our vendors is critical for several reasons,” he says. “We are able to have a dialogue with suppliers to offer feedback—positive or negative. We get parts and service on time and expectations are managed. Lastly, we get a quality product because our needs are communicated correctly.”

All purchasing of parts and tires for the shop is done through national accounts managed by the parts coordinator, who creates usage reports so proper inventory levels are maintained. Through suppliers, Manning mentions, a mounted tire program is saving time and is more efficient for the shop than alternatives.

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Effective planning

To save time and improve productivity, effective planning is central to the shop operation in Parsons and across the carrier’s extensive nationwide network. “We utilize a proprietary maintenance platform called OD Fleet Maintenance, or ODFM,” Manning explains. “Our technology team has spent a significant amount of time and resources to develop an application specific to our fleet’s needs.

“This platform allows us to adapt to the ever-changing technological needs of our equipment for technicians and to improve efficiency,” Manning continues. “With a fleet our size, time and quality is vitally important, and that’s what the OD Fleet Maintenance platform brings.”

The ODFM application automatically creates work orders that shop managers assign to technicians through the system, Manning relates. It is also pre-loaded with equipment specifications and preventive maintenance schedules and checklists. The functionality of the app also allows drivers to include notes about issues before equipment even comes to the shop.

Through the ODFM system, technicians are provided with a detailed checklist to ensure that all areas of each piece of equipment are serviced and examined. PMs are scheduled every 90 days and take about four hours to complete per tractor and one hour per trailer. “We record all of this information electronically through ODFM; there is no paper involved,” Manning says. “That allows our management team to see what is due or coming due on any particular unit.

“We also use telematics and diagnostics software from manufacturers,” Manning relates. “With those systems, technicians can go directly to the issue and repair it correctly the first time. Through ODFM, they also have ability to look on mobile devices at a particular unit’s repair and maintenance history. That allows us to flag trends or recurring issues with vehicles.

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Defining expectations

“Our PM program and the technology we have in place to support it is one of our strengths,” Manning continues. “Using automation to complete tasks improves shop and technician efficiency and productivity, and ensures units are serviced on schedule and correctly. It also makes expectations and tasks clear from the beginning.”

The Parsons Old Dominion maintenance facility outsources a portion of its maintenance and repair work. To maintain its high level of standards, Manning notes, a quality check is performed by the shop when equipment returns.

“While we always look to solve issues with our in-house technicians, we use two types of criteria when deciding to outsource: time and warranty,” Manning says. “If the component or system is under warranty, we will have the manufacturer fix the issue. We also analyze freight levels to see if we have the capacity to service the equipment.”

Currently, Manning’s maintenance team is fully staffed and operates on three shifts, 24 hours a day, six days per week. “We are looking into expanding our maintenance activity in Parsons to be a seven day a week operation because of growth and demand,” he adds.

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Driving efficiency

“What makes us unique is Old Dominion’s culture—what we call the OD Family Spirit,” Manning continues. “We are a non-union company with approximately 35,000 trailers and 9,000 power units, and more than 21,000 employees nationwide, but we maintain a culture that drives efficiency at every level of the organization. 

“We take pride in communicating, training everyone effectively, offering clear career paths, promoting from within and providing the right tools to do the job correctly and productively,” Manning says. “Ultimately, all of those practices increase uptime for equipment, which allows Old Dominion to maintain a high level of response time for customers.”