Closed Circuit

By Philip Reed

In March 2019, the Procurement team in Desert Southwest received a purchase request from craft employees for a self-loader 8×6 semi-tractor. The vehicle could streamline the previous process for loading poles onto trailers by reducing detailed equipment and manpower.

Traditionally, six craft employees, three work trucks, one line truck, one semi-tractor and one trailer are used to load and unload poles. Using the self-loader would require only two craft employees, one work truck and one trailer.

“That represents significant savings in manhours and equipment, minimizes cost distributions and reduces the number of employees exposed to potential safety hazards,” said Contract Specialist Jeannine Veitz.

Responsible purchasing

Upper Great Plains had assisted DSW craft employees on wood-pole replacement projects in several ways, including providing a self-loader, so DSW knew exactly how much of a benefit the vehicle would be.

The DSW Procurement team conducted initial market research and engaged in discussions with the General Services Administration, concluding that this specialized equipment was not available through the standard supplier.  

“The options available through our standard supplier would not be sufficient for use in difficult terrain,” continued Veitz. “They would also not meet Arizona, California and Nevada road and bridge-crossing regulations without complex and costly multi-award procurement efforts.”

The multi-award option would require that WAPA assume liability to ensure that the equipment would operate at its full potential; meet road, bridge and safety regulations; address potential design flaws; absorb the costs of modifying new equipment; and avoid procuring costly equipment that would not be able to safely carry out the organization’s mission.

In May 2019, after a Request for Interest to GSA Vendors, the Procurement team released a Request for Proposal. Two vendors expressed interest, but they both ended up needing to withdraw their proposal. Over the course of the next two months, a third vendor also proved unable to meet DSW’s needs.

Finding the way forward

In July 2019, Veitz – along with Foreman III Lineman Terry Kugler, Regional Transmission Lines Maintenance Supervisor Abel Betancourt and Equipment Specialist John Lee from Bonneville Power Administration – formed a team to design and procure a vehicle that would be a perfect solution.  

They requested a Department of Energy fleet waiver and authorization to procure the required equipment on the open market. 

“If the waiver were not approved,” explained Veitz, “it would have required us to procure an off-the-shelf semi-tractor through the standard supplier, separately procure the self-loader through GSA and solicit an engineer service contract to alter the semi-tractor to accommodate the loader, winch and hydraulic pump that would comply with road and bridge regulations and meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements.”

This would have been costly, and it would have virtually voided all of the manufacturer warranties on the equipment. 

Fortunately, the situation did not come to that. The waiver was approved in August 2019 and the vendor was selected the following month.

Building the solution

An initial design planning meeting was held in October 2019 to address technical requirements, engineering designs and contractor requirements. For the next several months, designs were prepared and proposed to ensure that all needs and regulations could be met. 

“In April 2020, we finally had an engineer-approved design for a self-loading pole truck, minimum four-axle 8×6 semi-tractor,” said Veitz. “Hours of ideas and brainstorming were now starting to become a reality.”

As soon as the chassis design entered production, however, COVID-19 caused a factory shutdown. This delayed production until July 2020, delaying the expected delivery date from Sept. 30 to Dec. 30, 2020.  

Initially, the team was supposed to inspect the equipment ahead of delivery at the vendor facility in Florida. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, however, a virtual inspection was completed instead in early December. 

“The contractor and their team did a great job meeting unique requirements and specifications, and they provided us with a virtual inspection during these challenging times,” Veitz said.

Calls and discussions continued until a final configuration was approved. 

“The loader, with a 25’ reach, will assist WAPA in safely loading poles onto the trailer with minimal employees,” Veitz explained of the final product. “It also has a special tire-inflation system, which allows the driver to adjust pressure in all rear tires for maximum traction in loose dirt or sand.”

Additionally, a front winch with capstan allows for vehicle recovery if necessary, or for wire-pull assistance. An adjustable fifth wheel allows the vehicle to easily pull a variety of trailers.  

Despite the challenges posed by the various requirements and the COVID-19 pandemic, in only 21 months the team successfully designed and acquired a unique self-loader that will benefit DSW craft employees.

“A big thank you to all involved in the support and for the success of this project,” concluded Veitz. “A special thank you to John Lee with BPA for his time and effort in assisting us as the technical expert during the entire process. From planning to final inspection, we could not have done it without him!”

Reed is a public affairs specialist. 

In Desert Southwest, Procurement and craft employees worked
together to successfully procure a helpful piece of heavy equipment
during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Jeannine Veitz.

In Desert Southwest, Procurement and craft employees worked
together to successfully procure a helpful piece of heavy equipment
during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Jeannine Veitz.

Last modified on March 5th, 2024