DSV: Against the grain

Overseeing a fleet of 8,000 trailers that are constantly on the move between Spain and Scandinavia, Søren Lund is a powerful man in the European road transport scene. Serving as Equipment Manager at DSV Road, one of the three leading logistics providers in Europe, his job is to keep an eye on each and every piece of equipment entrusted to his care.

To handle the mammoth task, he has begun setting up a whole network of company-owned workshops across Europe. In February, DSV opened a new branch in Gorinchem, The Netherlands, followed by a Finnish one in April and a Danish one in June. But the system is still not lean enough for the seasoned equipment specialist. The next step, he says, is tackling the ever-present tyre management issue.

Tyre consumption has an “immense impact” on a big fleet like DSV, Lund explains, which is why he opted for bringing the whole management process in-house – from procurement to pressure testing. “It’s a money saving exercise for us. We’ve done our homework and we believe that not entering into a service agreement for all of Europe will be the least costly option. But that doesn’t mean we won’t sign local service agreements with individual suppliers in different countries. All we want is a centralised structure with full transparency, supported by experts on the ground.”

While putting DSV into a strong purchasing position is one reason for the move, he says a centralised tyre management approach will also simplify trialling new technology. “One example of that new R&D edge is the implementation of Ultraseal technology across the board,” he says. “The sealant will prevent pressure loss and immediately seal the tyre in case of a puncture, which means we avoid expensive breakdowns down the line.”

Also on the technology front, DSV is open to using remoulded or retreaded tyres if the price is right, with a company-wide policy to never go below two millimetres of tread depth. However, Lund is no fan of re-grooving a worn tread. “After the tyre is worn, we can remould it once more, but we won’t re-groove it. We just don’t think there’s enough expertise out there and not enough to gain from re-grooving a tyre. The risk of damaging the casing is just too big.”

To do the work usually carried out by service companies or OEMs, Lund is planning to involve his drivers more actively. “In our line of work, drivers often use different trailers, so what we do is make them responsible for the trailer they are currently pulling. We make them check the entire unit, including the tyres, every time they couple or uncouple it. They then have to report directly back to head office.”

Firmly trusting in the driver as some form of modern-day vehicle manager, Lund says he doesn’t see much advantage in the use of automatic tyre pressure monitoring technology. “Even if the system managed to alert us of a pressure loss, we still wouldn’t be able to get to a workshop in time. So we use Ultraseal as a low-cost, low-risk back-up.” 

Lund says while his staff take on the day-to-day work, a series of strategically located, company-owned workshops will do the rest during a yearly routine inspection. “Our experience has shown that people tend to go for temporary repairs if service intervals are too short,” he says. “In Germany, they maintain a trailer twice a year, in Britain three to four times, but this does not improve the quality of the fleet because they know a fix only has to last until the next check-up. Preventive maintenance is executed best when mechanics know that it will take a while before the trailer comes back into the workshop.”

While his view on tyre technology and maintenance is fairly straightforward, Lund is less sure about how to tackle varying regulations across the Eurozone. “As a European fleet, it can be extremely tough to comply with different standards, especially when traveling to the UK. Every trailer produced in Europe will receive a European type approval, so a vehicle registered in Belgium will automatically be able to work in Denmark. But if you use the same unit in the UK, you have to send it back to Belgium every year for a new Ministry of Transport test (MOT). For an international business like us, that’s a nightmare.”

He adds, “If there’s a pan-European type approval system, it should also be possible to test trailers in any country, with a consistent technical procedure like they do in the Netherlands. For a centrally organised business like us, such a complicated, localised structure is not worthwhile.”

To counteract the issue, Lund is banking more and more on company-owned and run workshops with local know-how. “It’s a question of quality control and cost. When you run a fleet 24/7 all across Europe, having your own service network can still make sense, even in the age of service contracts. Especially with tyres, we want to be able to handle the spare parts and equipment flow centrally and then supply our own network from there.”

According to Lund, it’s all about standardisation. “The more we can steer our equipment use, the more can save. It’s the same with trailers. We exclusively use trailers from Krone and Schmitz, but we’d like to go a step further and see them fully standardised like in the US. Over there, the equipment is nearly all the same, while we still have too much customisation here in Europe – it’s just too expensive over the long run. With our in-house approach, we can probably tackle that issue too.”

Despite a well thought-out plan, there are issues Lund can’t control on the quest to standardising DSV’s fleet maintenance regime – politics, for example. The situation in Russia and the Ukraine is a case in point. It is affecting used trailer demand and has caused residual value to decline, making Lund’s business mission a little more complex than expected.

“Up until recently, Russia used to import up to 30,000 used trailers yearly, but due to the crisis and the devaluation of the Rubel this has dropped to 5,000-6,000 units now. It has a big impact on us and our maintenance regime, because we sell trailers when they are five years old,” he explains. “The Russian market will come back, but the question is, when and how. Until then we have to look at other markets to maintain our natural material flow through.”

Until then, Lund will keep working on streamlining the company’s tyre management strategy and assess new technologies with the scrutiny of a seasoned businessman. “People want to sell you stuff all the time, but sometimes less is more. Aerodynamic devices, for example, are just not viable in Europe yet, at least with current legislation. It’s the same with auto coupling technology – the time is just not right for it yet,” he says. “Telematics technology is probably the most attractive trend for us at the moment; in fact we already use it to track our equipment, mileage and CO2 emissions. With our new focus on tyre management, it could become increasingly important for us in the future.”

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