Kate Wade

Prestolite Isolated Ground Technology

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Prestolite Electric recently pioneered the use of isolated ground technology – which protects engines from potentially severe electrolytic damage caused by stray voltage – in its line of IdlePro and IdlePro Extreme alternators. 

The technology, which helps to prevent overall associated component failure and vehicle downtime, includes a dedicated cable that directs the electric current from the battery to the alternator, as well as a second dedicated electrical cable that directs the electric current from the alternator back to the battery.

More common alternator designs allow the case of the alternator to be part of the electrical circuit. When an alternator is anchored to the engine, electric current can then travel through or along the engine, increasing the opportunity for engine electrolysis or electronic noise interfering with other electronic equipment in the engine or vehicle. In today’s modern engines, the added electronic noise can trip ghost error codes, necessitating a service incident and diagnostic troubleshooting. www.prestolite.com

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Kate Wade

SolarEdge Electric Vehicle Charger

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SolarEdge Technologies Inc., a global leader in PV inverters, power optimizers and module-level monitoring services, is unveiling the world’s first inverter-integrated electric vehicle (EV) charger. By supplementing grid power with PV power, SolarEdge’s Level 2 EV charger offers charging up to six times faster than a standard Level 1 charger with its innovative solar boost mode. 

SolarEdge’s HD-Wave inverter, once integrated with an EV charger, will not only provide the existing management and monitoring of solar production, but also will enable EV charging from a single inverter and dashboard. The combined solution will offer considerable cost savings on both hardware and labor by eliminating the need for an additional conduit, wiring and breaker installation. The solution also will eliminate the need for an additional dedicated circuit breaker, which saves space and a potential main distribution panel upgrade.

With a 12-year warranty, the inverter-integrated EV charger offers potential future operating modes, such as demand-response and charging at off-peak hours to optimize time-of-use rates. The inverter-integrated EV charger is expected to be available in the last quarter of 2017. www.solaredge.us

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Keith Gindoff, manager of fleet and energy services for Duke Energy subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (www.piedmontng.com), an energy services company that distributes natural gas to more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, with about 1,215 total vehicles in its fleet.

#1. Make data-driven decisions.
“Think of a vehicle as a giant computer, and use the telematics data that the vehicle provides to give you greater insight to make more effective decisions with your fleet. Find a way to generate as much information as possible from the vehicle to optimize your maintenance and replacement schedules for maximum uptime and cost efficiency.” 

#2. Understand the driver’s needs.
“Really get to know the users of the vehicles and assets by going out into the field with them to understand the jobs they need the assets for. When you ask drivers for their opinions and observe for yourself how the vehicle is being used, you will be able to develop much more effective specifications.”

#3. Network with other fleet managers.
“You will learn at a much faster pace if you get to know and work with other fleet managers in your industry. They have already gone through, tested and tried – successfully or unsuccessfully – most of what you will be encountering. So, use their experience and expertise to help you become a more successful fleet manager.”

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Sean M. Lyden

Piedmont Natural Gas Expands Its CNG-Powered Fleet

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When it comes to discussions of alternative fuels and sustainability in utility fleets, electrification often takes center stage.

And for good reason. Electric utilities have a vested interest in selling more of their product – electricity – so it makes sense that they would take the lead by making big investments in electric vehicles (EVs) for their fleets. A major contributor to this trend has been Edison Electric Institute’s Transportation Electrification Initiative, which in late 2014 garnered commitments from more than 70 investor-owned electric utilities to devote at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchase plug-in EVs and equipment.

But utility fleets shouldn’t overlook compressed natural gas (CNG) as part of their green initiatives, said Karl Newlin, senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Duke Energy's natural gas operations, who also oversees the fleet and public fueling station development at Duke subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (www.piedmontng.com), which serves more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

That’s because natural gas not only burns much cleaner than gasoline and diesel, but it also offers – at least historically – more stable pricing than conventional fossil fuels, giving fleets a greater sense of predictability with fuel costs.

Piedmont launched its fleet CNG program in 2009 with 12 natural-gas-powered Ford F-150 pickup trucks. Today, the utility operates 469 natural gas vehicles – more than a third of its total fleet of 1,215 vehicles. And in August, Piedmont expects to open its 11th natural gas filling station available to the public.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets

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When you need to dig trenches to lay underground gas lines, or drill holes for setting transmission poles, or be able to dig in tight spaces, the objective is the same: to have crews get the most work done in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort and cost. When you need to dig trenches to lay underground gas lines, or drill holes for setting transmission poles, or be able to dig in tight spaces, the objective is the same: to have crews get the most work done in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort and cost. 

That’s the goal that has driven the development of several new products and upgrades released by top heavy-equipment manufacturers in the past few months. 

So, what new digging machines and tools have recently come to market? How can they equip utility companies and contractors to boost productivity and profit? Here are seven new developments to keep your eye on. 

CASE Construction Equipment
What’s New: Six New Mini Excavator Models
Website: www.casece.com

This spring, CASE Construction Equipment introduced six new mini excavator models: the CX17C, CX26C, CX33C, CX37C, CX57C and CX60C. Offered in zero tail-swing, short-radius or conventional configurations, C Series mini excavators feature an adjustable boom with the ability to offset left or right to work closer to buildings and obstacles. An auto-shift travel system offers greater ease and efficiency when operating the machine on varying terrain. 

All C Series mini excavators are built with an auxiliary hydraulic system that features standard proportional controls, shut-off valve and easy-to-select joystick control patterns to equip operators to get more done in less time. A spacious and comfortable operator environment – with ergonomic controls, adjustable seating and line-of-sight digital displays – helps minimize operator fatigue. 

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Jim Galligan

The Gas-or-Diesel Decision Gets Complicated

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Which engine – gasoline or diesel – is best for light-duty vehicles? The age-old answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on annual mileage, fuel economy, purchase price, expected lifespan, fuel costs, maintenance and more; a whole assortment of considerations specific to the fleet. 

Those considerations still drive the fleet’s decision tree, but recent advancements in the engines, oils, fuels, maintenance support and even onboard performance data have given fleet buyers more means to find the best power choice. 

Take lifespan, for example. Advancements in equipment durability and manufacturing processes combined with higher-quality fuel and oil are pushing out the average lifespans of gasoline engines, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com) and a former utility fleet executive. 

“Ten, even five years ago, fleets would turn in their gasoline-powered truck at about seven years and 70,000 miles,” Survant said. “Now, I wouldn’t consider turning it in under 150,000 miles.”

Fuel economy is another example. The newer non-hybrid gasoline engines with single or dual turbos, less weight and multispeed (6-, 8- and 10-speed) transmissions have narrowed the traditional fuel economy gap with diesels, with some spark-ignition units getting ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Power ratings are up, too. Ford’s 2017 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rates a beefy 470 pound-feet of torque.

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Grace Suizo

Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

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Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv (www.decisiv.com) and Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that's a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

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Fiona Soltes

Strategies to Reduce Fuel Theft and Fuel Card Misuse

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Yes, it could happen: A nefarious individual could approach one of your pieces of equipment parked on the lot and siphon fuel right from the tank.

What is perhaps more likely, though, is loss due to improperly used fuel cards.

“By and large, employees do the right thing,” said Geoff Scalf, director of global energy business development at Telogis (www.telogis.com). “But you will have some employees who will make poor choices.”

Leveraging the proper technology and techniques can help ensure fuel theft is kept to a minimum.

It’s important that employees understand what the proper use of fuel cards means. Aside from using the cards to fill up personal vehicles, Scalf said he often hears of employees who travel in groups and don’t think twice about using one employee’s card to fill up several vehicles at once. There’s nothing fraudulent about that sort of misuse, but it can make for messy paperwork, numbers that don’t add up and misallocation of funds in the future. Another example of misuse: when an employee pulls a trailer with, say, a backhoe loaded onto it, and then uses the card to top off both the truck and backhoe without changing any codes in the system.

Telogis Fleet offers one way to keep closer tabs on misuse, whether or not it was intentional. The Telogis platform includes a module that gives increased visibility into fuel usage.

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Sandy Smith

Renting vs. Buying Heavy Equipment

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It’s a common occurrence for utilities and contractors: A piece of heavy equipment is needed, but it’s not immediately available in the fleet, so the project manager rents what’s required. But that may not always be the right strategy – especially when the rental is done outside the fleet manager’s purview.

“I have seen cases where equipment was rented for lengths up to 27 months and turned back in to the rental store,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. “When this happens, you lose any rental credit and the equipment.”

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (http://mercury-assoc.com/), has seen it too. “One of the problems we see, particularly in utility companies, is they allow business units to rent equipment to fill a temporary need,” he said. “Two years later, the rental unit is still in the fleet and no one has been paying attention. It would have been cheaper to purchase and then dispose of it.”

Granted, haggling over a purchase or evaluating the merits of rental versus ownership may not make sense when thousands of customers are without service. So, while there likely are no hard and fast rules that utilities can develop to address this issue, following some broad principles can help.

“It makes financial sense to own your equipment,” Fitzpatrick said. He tries to purchase any rental equipment at a reduced price when the rental ends, or when money has become available. “Where a buyout is not an option, focus on the interest rate and controlling costs in the short term.”

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Sean M. Lyden

When Does it Make Sense to Outsource Maintenance?

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Even if you have a robust in-house repair shop, chances are that you still outsource portions of your maintenance operations – to save money, quickly fill gaps left by technicians who’ve recently retired or tap into specialized expertise to perform critical repairs.

But how do you determine which aspects of your maintenance operations make the most sense to outsource and which ones you should keep in-house?

UFP recently posed this question to Paul Lauria, who has worked with numerous government and utility fleets for more than three decades as president of Mercury Associates Inc. (www.mercury-assoc.com), a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md. He offered these four points to consider.

1. Cost
How much money will outsourcing actually save the organization?

“The only way that you're going to be able to determine if you're saving money is to know the costs of performing outsourceable fleet maintenance and repair activities in-house versus farming them out to a vendor or contractor,” Lauria said. “And that's one thing, in my experience, that a lot of organizations, including utilities, don't have a good handle on. What are the avoidable costs of operating its own garages or of performing a particular type of maintenance or repair activity, for example? If you were to shut down or downsize those garages and shift work to third-party service providers, what costs would go away? That establishes the baseline for determining whether or not you can save money by outsourcing.”

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Takeaways to Expect from Utility Fleet Conference 2017

Utility Fleet Conference 2017 exists to provide a forum that challenges us in the utility fleet industry to change ourselves – to learn, grow and adapt in an environment where so much change is happening so quickly.

Think about it: Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, connected vehicles and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on your fleet – and how you do business. And, as more older fleet workers and technicians prepare for retirement, you have to compete even harder to find workers who are qualified to fill those roles.

The reality is that yesterday’s knowledge, skills and strategies are not enough to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. We must grow.

But what should we learn? And how can we apply that new knowledge to equip ourselves for long-term success?

Start by attending Utility Fleet Conference 2017 (www.utilityfleetconference.com) October 2-4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., and expect to leave with these three important takeaways.

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Kate Wade

Stertil-Koni Smart Control System

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Heavy-duty vehicle lift leader Stertil-Koni has incorporated its advanced, full-color, touch-screen control console – known as the ebright Smart Control System – into the company’s popular ECOLIFT, an ultra-shallow, full-rise, axle-engaging in-ground scissor-lifting system.

In that way, the ongoing operation and monitoring of the lift is made even easier, placing all critical information directly at the fingertips of the person who needs it most – the busy technician on the shop floor.

First deployed on Stertil-Koni wireless mobile column lifts in 2015, and subsequently rolled out to the company’s battery-operated cable mobile column lifts in 2017, the enhanced ebright Smart Control System provides intuitive ease of use with maximum visual information about the entire lifting process.

This ebright Smart Control System will deliver intuitive controls with actual data about the lift in action; tracking of specific operations and information codes; relevant information available at a glance; actual lifting height displayed; and visual display of maximum programmable lifting height. www.stertil-koni.com

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Kate Wade

Greenlee G6 Turbo Puller

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Greenlee Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, has introduced the G6 Turbo puller to improve contractor speed and efficiency. Capable of pulling 6,000 pounds of force, the G6 Turbo model pulls up to 60 percent faster than the competition, according to the company.

The 120-volt AC drive motor can pull 6,000 pounds of maximum force and 4,000 pounds continuously. Dual capstans on the G6 Turbo puller deliver faster pulling speeds across the entire load spectrum of the pull. Control boards monitor the current draw of the G6 Turbo puller motor and protect it from overloading the puller. Built-in spring-loaded pins allow for quick changeovers and easy setup, and eliminate the hassle of loose pieces.

The G6 Turbo puller is equipped with features to reduce downtime and injuries. A footswitch safely controls motor power without the operator placing themselves in front of the rope. The 125-pound G6 Turbo puller is built on a dolly, making it easier to move the unit from worksite to worksite. Handles on the dolly and the boom allow operators to easily and ergonomically adjust for height. A gearbox feature prevents rope and cable tension from pulling back into the conduit when the operator stops pulling. Setup time is faster and easier than other pullers on the market. http://greenlee.com/g6

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Kate Wade

DICA ProStack Cribbing

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Utility crews are often faced with setting outrigger-enabled equipment on sloped or uneven ground. ProStack Cribbing from DICA has been developed with an interlocking design that safely provides additional height under outrigger floats when setting up in uneven ground conditions.

ProStack Cribbing has three basic parts: a base outrigger pad, interlocking cribbing blocks and a high-friction top grip pad. The base ProStack Outrigger Pad is manufactured with a pyramid-shaped surface that interlocks with the cribbing blocks. On top of the base pad, operators stack layers of two 6-inch-by-12-inch-by-24-inch cribbing blocks with the pyramid-shape surface that lock into the base pad. Lastly, a ProStack Grip Pad is placed on top of the stack to protect the pyramid surface on the cribbing blocks and provide a high-friction surface for the outrigger foot.

ProStack is available in three cribbing kit options that include a DR36-2, DR42-2 or DR48-2 base outrigger pad, along with four cribbing blocks and one grip pad. ProStack individual parts also are available for purchase, including Cribbing Wedges, which can be used on sloped surfaces to establish a level foundation under the ProStack Outrigger Pad. http://dicausa.com/products/prostack-plastic-cribbing-blocks/

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Kate Wade

HUBB Fleet Savings Calculator

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HUBB Filters has created a new educational tool to help fleet managers compare their oil change costs and the potential savings they can achieve by switching to the HUBB filter program.

Designed for ease of use, HUBB’s Fleet Savings Calculator is located at www.hubbfilters.com/fleet_calculator and can be completed in less than a minute. Fleet managers simply plug in how many Class 1-4 or 5-6 vehicles they have in their fleet, along with the number of PMs scheduled per year, per vehicle. An instant cost savings analysis of what HUBB could save a fleet over a four-year period is presented.

Fleet field results collected by HUBB, along with independent oil analysis, demonstrate that HUBB can save a typical 2,000-vehicle fleet $500,000 over a four-year period.

HUBB has an 8-inch spin-on oil filter for Class 2-6 light- and medium-duty diesel engines, and a 3-inch filter for passenger cars or light-duty trucks that use a spin-on filter. www.hubbfilters.com/fleet_calculator

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Tim C. King, author of the book “Fleet Services: Managing to Redefine Success” published by SAE International (http://books.sae.org/r-447/) and former manager of fleet services for what is now NV Energy (www.nvenergy.com), an electric and gas utility in Nevada with over 1 million customers. King also will be a presenter at Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE in Louisville, Ky., a fleet education event that will take place October 2-4 (https://utilityfleetconference.com/).

#1. Aim high.
“Require excellence with everything. Benchmark your service performance on organizations that thrive in the most successful industries – such as high-growth startups – not just other fleets. The goal is to consistently exceed expectations by achieving unexpected win-win results with all your customers.”

#2. Remember that successful fleet management begins by identifying all your customers.
“Customers define your success. So, all customers must be identified. These include your executives/owners and all internal recipients of services, external customers and ancillary customers, such as internal supporting services. This last group also includes external regulatory customers such as local, regional, state and federal regulators.”

#3. Be bold and lead change.
“Recognize you’re going to do things differently. For this level of success, you won’t be able to rely only on typical industry standards as a guide. By gaining a broader knowledge and perspective of customer service, learn to outgrow baggage such as history, culture, paradigms and similar other misperceptions. And realize success depends on process redesign, not just the normally required process improvement.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The State of the Fleet Telematics Market

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A lot has happened in the fleet telematics market the past year that could impact utility fleet operations. Major telecom firms have expanded their footprint in the fleet sector with Verizon’s acquisitions of Telogis and Fleetmatics, while AT&T has established key partnerships to provide branded telematics services such as AT&T Fleet Complete and AT&T Fleet Manager. And more and more telematics providers have inked deals with automakers in recent months.

So, what’s driving these trends? And how might they shape the future of telematics and connected fleets?

UFP spoke with experts from C.J. Driscoll & Associates, GPS Insight, Telogis and Element Fleet Management to get their market outlook.

Telecom Expansion
Why are major telecom firms expanding into the fleet telematics industry? Will this trend continue?

“With landline subscriber bases shrinking and the mobile phone market saturated with declining marginal value, the connected vehicle offers a new market opportunity that allows the telecom companies to capitalize on the need for the vehicle to communicate to the OEM, driver, surrounding infrastructure and other third-party services through cellular networks,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “It also allows them to expand and sell additional products, including in-car applications and infotainment solutions, as this technology becomes mainstream within new vehicles.”

Clark said that telecom expansion into the fleet market will continue for the foreseeable future and “benefit utility fleets through new innovation possibilities, increased pressure on direct OEM connectivity solutions and lower communication costs as part of their service offering over time.”

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Sean M. Lyden

Dominion Virginia Power’s Drone Program Takes Flight

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Unmanned aerial vehicles – also known as UAVs or drones – offer the utility industry the promise of lower costs and improved worker safety with regard to line inspections, storm damage assessments, and other tasks that are traditionally performed using manned helicopters and third-party inspection services.

And the market appears ripe for rapid expansion, as drone technology becomes more advanced and hardware costs continue to plummet. In fact, global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024 – about a 30-fold increase – according to Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com).

But the U.S. market still has regulatory hurdles to overcome before utilities can deploy drones at a level where they can effectively realize the full business benefits of the technology. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, such as having to maintain visual line of sight, have prevented utilities from being able to fly drones over longer distances and inspect large sections of power lines at a time – the holy grail for utility drone programs.

Yet despite these constraints, a growing number of U.S. utility companies, like Dominion Virginia Power, which launched its drone program in 2013, are getting into the drone business and seeing promising results. And there could be huge implications for fleet.

What exactly is involved with starting a utility drone program? How are these programs managed? And what’s the potential impact on fleet? Will drones replace certain types of ground vehicles? Will they eventually become fleet assets?

UFP recently spoke with Steve Eisenrauch, manager of transmission forestry and line services for Dominion Virginia Power and the leader of his department’s drone program, to explore these questions and more.

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Sean M. Lyden

Confronting the Human Dilemma in a Brave New Self-Driving World

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In his speech at the AutoMobili-D Conference in Detroit this past January, John Krafcik, the CEO at Waymo – formerly the Google self-driving car program – cited this compelling statistic: “Each year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world.”

He then put that number in context: “That’s equivalent to a 737 [airliner] falling from the sky every hour of every day all year long.”

Krafcik’s point is clear. Society would never tolerate having a major airline crash every day; so, how can it accept the same number of people dying in automotive crashes? If self-driving systems could prevent the vast majority of fatalities on the road, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for society to adopt that technology?

That’s the argument that Krafcik, several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and most automotive executives have been making in recent months as they present a vision of a “crash-less” society made possible by fully autonomous vehicles. After all, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error. Remove the driver, eliminate human error – right?

But despite bold predictions by industry executives and analysts that fully autonomous vehicles will be available for sale in the U.S. within the next four years, human psychological barriers could put the brakes on societal adoption of this technology.

How?

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Grace Suizo

3 Problems to Avoid When Spec’ing a Cable Reel Trailer

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When it comes to installing cables, pipes and the like, cable reel trailers can help utility and telecom crews boost productivity and efficiency so they can get more done in less time and for a lower cost of operation. That is, of course, assuming that they’ve selected the right equipment for the job.

Considering most cable reel trailers can last at least 10 years – or possibly even up to 20 if properly maintained – careful thought and consideration should be put into spec’ing the right unit prior to purchase. Not doing so could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products for Felling Trailers (www.felling.com), the price of reel trailers varies greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and the options the trailers are equipped with.

For example, a simple single reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000, while a three-reel trailer – set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes – can be $65,000, he explained.

Donnie Bright, business development manager for Sherman + Reilly (www.sherman-reilly.com), had a similar response, noting that cost is influenced by the scope of work desired.

“Cost of ownership is very minimal if the cable reel trailer is sized and used correctly,” he said. “Keep your trailer properly maintained per the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. The life cycle will vary, but if properly maintained and only slightly abused, you should see a minimum 10 to 20 years of service on a quality-built trailer.”

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