A certifiable success

President Gary Percy (right) asked David Konopka (left) to lead the drive for quality certification. Then A.D. Transport turned that expertise into a profit center. Above them flies a Ford Q1 flag.

Resourcefulness is central to the management culture at A.D. Transport Express. Present the Canton, Mich.-based automotive and general commodities carrier with a challenge, and it will find a solution in technology and changes in management process. And then it will try to find other ways to leverage those solutions.

In 1996, Ford Motor Co. notified its carrier base of its effort to have all carriers in compliance to ISO 9000 and Ford’s Quality Operating System requirements. The payoff for the compliant carrier would be Ford’s Q1 award, which, providing that individual service levels were maintained, would ensure the carrier would remain part of the Ford transportation family. For A.D. Transport, which operated about 125 trucks at the time, obtaining that certification became a top priority. Quality was, quite literally, Job 1 for the carrier.

A.D. Transport President Gary Percy marshaled his resources to obtain quality registration. To lead the effort, he called in David Konopka, who already was working on quality assurance initiatives in A.D. Transport’s Chicago terminal. Konopka, now the carrier’s director of quality, moved to Michigan and spent months documenting processes throughout A.D. Transport’s operation. He also translated those policies and procedures into electronic files and forms hosted on the company’s computer network.

The effort paid off. Working closely with Robert Djurovic of ISO 9000 registrar DNV Certification, A.D. Transport was certified in late 1997 to ISO 9002, the specific ISO standards that then applied to service companies. It became the first ground service carrier to receive Ford’s prestigious Q1 award, which it now holds for both its expedite and truckload divisions.

Percy saw an opportunity for leveraging the company’s investment in certification. “It was so painful and expensive, we decided we would take it to market,” he says.

The result was a new division, A.D. Professional Services. Through software and eight weeks of training and modification, ADPS helps its customers – some of which have been direct competitors of A.D. Transport – implement quality systems designed to meet the requirements of ISO 9000. To date, ADPS has worked with more than 50 trucking companies, some of which are large. Celadon, which today operates about 2,000 trucks, was the second ADPS customer. A.D. Transport itself has grown to more than 600 trucks.

Konopka’s team has continued to develop the ADPS package, converting it several years ago into an intranet Web portal that links all operations through a home page. “You can run the whole company through this,” says Konopka. By translating policies and procedures into an electronic interface that can be used by everyone throughout the day, the company’s quality manual becomes a living, usable document, he says.

Easing the hiring burden
A.D. Transport leverages its information technology skills in other ways. Especially in a tight driver market, the paperwork involved in hiring drivers can become overwhelming. “Administratively, it was a nightmare,” Konopka says. The company, which hires about 40 drivers a month, addressed this problem about three years ago by developing a computer application it calls Recruiter 2000.

“Typically, it takes two hours of paperwork just to hire a driver,” Percy says. So A.D. Transport programmers identified all the data fields necessary to generate the myriad of driver qualification documents required to hire a driver and, using Visual Basic, compiled them into a single computer form.

By filling each blank on a master form during the driver hiring process, the information automatically populates all required fields on more than 40 individual driver new-hire forms. A simple command key sends the information to a printer where the populated documents are retrieved. For now, A.D. Transport uses Recruiter 2000, which grew out of the ISO process, internally. “Rolling this program out to other carriers is likely in the near future,” Konopka says.

Once the paperwork is done, new hires must complete orientation. A.D. Transport found a simple but resourceful way to provide orientation without demanding too much time of busy personnel. The company has filmed its own videos, which Konopka edited through PC-based software and burned to DVDs. The videos feature company equipment, drivers and managers and cover company-specific policies. The videos substitute for in-person presentations, thereby increasing management productivity.

Technology in the yard
The carrier has used cameras in another area. A.D. Transport once employed inspectors to check the condition of equipment leaving and returning to the yard. Aside from being an additional expense, inspectors were especially subject to absenteeism during harsh winter months.

Then one evening, Percy left his car with valet parking. As the attendant took the car he waved a small plastic card. Percy learned that the card was a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. The system logged the identity of the attendant, and digital cameras snapped photographs of the vehicle. Faced with dubious complaints of damage to automobiles, the business now verifies a vehicle’s condition as the driver hands over the keys.

Percy immediately saw an opportunity. Today, the company’s equipment inspectors are gone. A.D. Transport now uses a system it developed in conjunction with Columbus, Ohio-based Interface Logic System Inc. Each time a driver approaches a gate, an RF reader scans tags attached to the tractor and trailer while eight cameras positioned around the tractor-trailer snap photographs.

The system serves two purposes. Photos preserve equipment condition – matched to the driver assigned to the tractor – for future reference. Meanwhile, the RF reader gathers the RFID info on each tractor and trailer tag and checks the data against dispatch information to ensure a match. If a driver hooks up the wrong trailer or an unauthorized tractor tries to take a trailer, the gate doesn’t open and dispatch is alerted. In labor savings alone, the camera/RFID system has paid for itself, Percy says.

The management of A.D. Transport continually looks for an edge by changing processes, technologies or equipment. For example, trailer damage from lift trucks at docks was costing the carrier $40,000 a month in repairs. So A.D. Transport began spec’ing its Wabash trailers with a special Kevlar lining to resist such damage. Now, trailer repairs run about $2,000 a month.

“We learn things every day,” Percy says. “If we have a failure in our systems, we dive in and fix it.”