Maintenance and Safety Can Be One in the Same

Carl Barton, owner of Aardvark Sweeping in Memphis, Tennessee, says, “We’re fanatical about our maintenance.” He believes if you put a driver in a cleaner, well-oiled machine that always looks like new, the effects of that overlap onto the job site, “If we can’t keep our own equipment clean—how can we ever hope or make you believe that we can keep your equipment clean?”

Aardvark Sweeping is a full-service property maintenance company that has been in business for 15 years, “We started with one truck and built up as we went along.” The company now has 15 trucks, and Barton says one backbone of the company, “Is keep the trucks in like-new condition.”

To do so, his fleet of 15 trucks gets washed every day. Well, every day except for two—Christmas and Easter. Barton has a dedicated fleet staff, complete with one full-time and one part-time washer to ensure his trucks stay looking clean. Barton believes if the trucks aren’t washed routinely, they start to lose their vacuum, which translates into poor productivity.

Productivity is one of Aardvark’s top three priorities, with safety and quality rounding out the other two. “If you can only have two,” Barton says, “we want safety and quality.” Above all, safety is priority number one, “To me, safety and maintenance are the same thing,” Barton says. Spending five minutes in the shop in order to fix a problem could save two and a half hours of being broken down on the side of the road. That’s when safety, quality and productivity suffer. And each driver has the ability to “deadline” a truck if they feel it shouldn’t be on the road, “They can ask for a spare,” Barton says.

Barton says his fanaticism stems from his own experiences working for Coke and Pepsi when he first started out. He would find chicken bones from weeks before that another driver had left in the truck, and no one cared if the Check Engine light came on or if the truck ever got washed.

That is not the case with Aardvark Sweeping. No truck is allowed off or on Aardvark’s property without going through a pre- and post inspection by a member of the fleet staff. And if a driver does find an issue with a truck, there is a board in Aardvark’s office where they can write down the symptoms, and the issue remains there until the mechanic fixes the problem. Then, and only then, can the issue be removed from the board.

Aardvark Sweeping labels their trucks the AARDY1 through AARDY21. Barton says each truck gets replaced every two years, except the AARDY1, “She’ll keep going until she gives out,” he says, and only a supervisor or manager is allowed to drive “her.” Every anniversary, on July 1, Barton takes her out, “All my customers know about AARDY1.”

“We instill in them that they own that piece of equipment, it’s theirs and they should treat it like it’s theirs,” Barton says. Every truck has a primary and a secondary driver assigned to it. The primary driver typically drives the truck five days out of the week and the secondary driver operates it the remaining two. Still, the truck the driver is assigned to is meant to serve like it is their own.

David Zajicek, like Carl Barton, knows the value of instilling into sweeper operators the concept of treating the truck as if it were their own. He’s been with TYMCO since 1983. He got hired with the Waco, Texas based company straight out of technical school as a sweeper operator and thought he’d be with the company no longer than a year. Now, he is TYMCO’s Training Director, and it is his responsibility to make sure TYMCO’s customers know and understand the value of equipment maintenance.

“I can relate to the operators,” Zajicek says, referring to his first job when he joined the company, “My boss said, ‘You’re gonna take this sweeper and this is gonna be your office.’” But he was also told he was going to be responsible for the mechanics of his “office,” and if anything broke, he needed to be able to fix it, as well as be able to put whatever the customer wanted onto a sweeper truck. All these skill sets only served to help Zajicek when he took over teaching the two-day training classes that offered by TYMCO.

Zajicek teaches about 300 people a year in a training room set up at TYMCO’s Waco facility. Class sizes are small, usually around 10 to 15 people, and usually take up about a week’s time when travel time is factored in and around the two-day training session that is ongoing throughout the year. Both customers and potential customers are welcome to attend, and all are put up at the Marriott Courtyard in downtown Waco where they are within walking distance of restaurants and shops.

“I enjoy it. I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world,” Zajicek says, including people from Chile, Canada, Mexico and China. Over the course of the two days, though, it’s those people from around the world who are getting to know the sweeper. Zajicek begins with the history of the Regenerative Air Sweeper (RAS) in terms of how it functions, what can hurt it and where it came from. “We are the inventor,” he says of the RAS.

From there, Zajicek covers preventative maintenance, and then moves onto the various components of the sweeper truck, such as the hopper, blower wheel and the pick-up head. “The blower’s the heart of a sweeper truck, but the pick-up head’s the soul,” Zajicek says. He goes over how to remove and clean various parts, as well as how to replace them.

In the morning, when it’s cooler, he’ll take the sweeper out, “I’ll go out, run it, show how the head needs to be set,” he says. He’ll go over the electrical and hydraulic systems, the gutter broom and water system before a tour of the plant closes out the second day of training.

There is no tuition to attend TYMCO’s two-day training sessions, something that is a bit of a rarity in the industry, as other companies charge a fee, “Free training has been good for us,” Zajicek says. And it can only be good for the customer, as well. Learning the ins and outs of a sweeper truck can only lead to better maintenance practices, which, as with Barton from Aardvark Sweeping, better maintenance practices can only lead to safer sweeping practices.

Story by Megan McClure