CSA stands for compliance, safety, and accountability, and the rules come from the Federal Motor
Carrier Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation. Further regulations come
from EPA and OSHA.
“Trucking regulations have strict guidelines associated with your preventive maintenance program
for your vehicles,” Dittrich said. “Vehicles are tested.
There are just a lot of rules and regulations, and if
you’re not up on them, it’s very difficult to manage a
Flexibility and Choice
It’s analogous to a fab shop owner staying away
from powder coating. Why not partner with a local custom coater and not have to worry about all
the EPA rules? On the other hand, bringing powder
coating in-house does give a fabricator tremendous
flexibility, the ability to offer more services, and
have broader reach in the market. And if the area is
simply underserved by high-quality, flexible custom
coaters, bringing in powder coating may be a necessity. The same thinking goes for a fabricator that
But as Dittrich explained, even when a shop owns
its delivery trucks, it probably won’t use them to deliver every job. Customers may determine the shipping method, of course. But even if a fabricator can
choose the delivery method, using its own trucks
isn’t always the best choice.
Sometimes this is obvious, particularly if a customer is outside the fabricator’s usual delivery
area. A fabricator in Ohio probably won’t send a box
truck all the way to California. Even for fabricators
like T&D, which has extensive shipping capabilities,
outside carriers still may have more capacity and,
hence, better pricing on certain shipping lanes.
But sometimes even T&D chooses to contract
not with C&L but with an outside carrier for local
deliveries, especially with LTL carriers. It has to do
with minimizing air (open, unpacked space) in the
truck. The decision-making comes when customers
demand smaller, more frequent shipments, which
is not unusual at all these days. In many cases, C&L
groups small jobs together on a truck and delivers
to multiple T&D customers within a certain area.
Sometimes, though, an LTL carrier might offer
better pricing, especially if a customer wants a very
small order delivered regularly. “If they want, say,
just one pallet delivered on a regular basis, we would
probably ship it with an outside LTL carrier,” Dittrich
said, “even if the destination is just 50 miles away.”
He emphasized that it all depends on the nature
of the order, the space it takes up on the truck, de-
livery requirements, and, especially, the flexibility
needed. This includes delivery times during the day.
An outside carrier may offer good prices, but a truck
may be able to show up only at certain times.
“An outside carrier’s truck may get here between
3: 30 and 4 p.m.,” Dittrich said, “but we may need
that truck here at 8 a.m. [Delivering with our own
trucks], we can roll any time we want. It doesn’t have
to be by someone else’s set schedule.” This gives the
entire production schedule more flexibility, and it
minimizes the time pallets of finished goods wait in
the shipping department for the truck to arrive.
Here’s another big reason fabricators own their own
trucks: They have control over the process. Such control includes incorporating shipping considerations
into design-for-manufacturability work with the customer. Can the item be stacked? If not, is there a way
it could be? Or is there a way the piece could be boxed
or otherwise placed on a truck to minimize air?
Many fabricators choose to buy delivery trucks
to minimize the chance of damage. Still, as Dittrich
explained, the mere act of owning and operating
trucks doesn’t by itself change the risk of damage
or late deliveries. Poorly trained in-house drivers are
more likely to damage parts and deliver late than
experienced drivers employed by reputable carriers.
And the world has plenty of reputable carriers.
Fabricators can contract with carriers that own the
trucks or choose to work with shipping brokers, who
match available shipments with trucks (e.g., independent drivers) in the area. Whatever the arrangement, fabricators need to make sure that drivers are
professional, will show up on time and deliver on
schedule—and that, of course, is never a guarantee.
Again, this isn’t a guarantee even if a fabricator
were to choose to bring shipping in-house. In fact,
if a fabricator were to bring shipping in-house, yet
hire the wrong people or institute incomplete or
incorrect training and maintenance processes, the
fabricator would be in worse shape than it was before. A shipment that arrives damaged or late at a
customer facility is never a good thing, and neither
is a rude or inconsiderate driver. But if that driver
and truck bear the fabricator’s name and logo, the
situation becomes even worse.
Risk and Reward
Like any other decision a shop owner or manager
makes, deciding to invest in trucks and drivers has
its risks and rewards. Dittrich said that by far the
greatest reward has been shipping flexibility, the
ability to ship products at a time most convenient
for the fabricator and the customer.
But is this reward worth the associated risks of
hiring and training drivers, managing a maintenance routine, and complying with all the rules and
regulations? That depends on the options available
and the variability of the fabricator’s product mix.
This includes the consistency of demand; order
quantities; and the shape, size, and other physical
attributes of the products a fabricator needs to ship.
C&L Trucking and Maintenance, a sister company of
T&D Metal Products, is opening a new, 34,000-sq.-ft.
maintenance facility this year.
For T&D, the move has made sense, not only to
better serve its customers, but also to diversify and
grow its revenue streams. Overall, the family of companies has more than doubled revenue over the past
five years. Building its unique business model—part
manufacturer, part trucking company, part NAPA
stores owner—is apparently paying off.
Senior Editor Tim Heston can be reached at timh@
thefabricator.com. Contributing Editor Kate Bachman
contributed to this article. Images courtesy of C&L
Trucking and T&D Metal Products, 815-432-4938,
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