Tankers provide safer environment for drivers, maximizes payload capacity.

By outward appearances, the equipment that Savage Services uses to haul production water for a major exploration company in Utah’s Uintah Basin looks like typical tanker trucks with pup trailers. But in reality they’re highly customized vehicles tailored specifically to play an integral role in a supply-chain logistics solution that boosts efficiency and significantly reduces hauling-related expenses.

The customer contracted with Savage, a supply-chain solutions company, to transport more than 460 million gallons of production water annually, gathered from more than 2,600 drilling sites. Based in Midvale, Utah, Savage took the somewhat unusual step of investing in the design and production of 28 customized truck-mounted tankers and 10 pup trailers, all built by Polar Corp., around 2009, says Ray Alt, senior vice president, equipment solutions at Savage.

“It’s unusual in the industry, but not for us,” says Alt about investing in customized equipment for a specific customer. “It’s actually a part of our strategy to look at different and better ways of doing things and always bring value to our customers.”

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To develop an efficient solution, Savage shunned the use of standard-size tanks and instead worked with Polar to engineer a system that would maximize payload capacity yet still comply with bridge law weight restrictions. Employee safety and environmental protection also ranked high on the company’s list of concerns.

The result: a unique five-axle truck and pup-trailer combo that features a 3,600-gallon vacuum tank mounted on a Mack GU813 truck and a 3,000-gallon vacuum tank atop a pup trailer. A vacuum pump mounted on the truck made by Masport Inc. provides 400 cfm of vacuum power to both tanks, Alt says.

In bridge formula states like Utah, the length of a vehicle as well as the number of axles and how they’re spaced determines gross vehicle weights. As such, Polar engineers tweaked the axle spacing on the units to attain a maximum gross vehicle weight of 87,000 pounds, Alt says.

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“The tanks are designed specifically for this project,” Alt explains. “We started with the tare weight, then calculated how much product we could haul and sized the tanks accordingly. It’s all about efficiency … there was no need for larger tanks because we’d just be hauling extra steel around.”

For maximum longevity and reduced long-term maintenance, Savage opted for more expensive stainless steel tanks that can better withstand corrosive production water. “It cost us more capital up front, but the payoff is additional years of service and reduced maintenance,” Alt says.

Savage also asked that the tanks meet United States Department of Transportation Code 407 standards that, among other things, require sealed hatches and valves that prevent bulk liquids from spilling during rollover accidents. That move also improves employee safety because operators don’t have to climb ladders onto the top of the tanks to seal valves and hatches; instead that process is automated, he points out.

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“The trucks also are equipped with roll-stability technology [developed by Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC],” Alt says. “It’s more common now, but at the time it was the first roll-stability system put on a Mack truck in this application [with a truck and a pup trailer]. If a driver goes too fast around a curve, the roll-stability system senses it and applies the brakes. We’re a big believer in this technology.”

Along with the Polar equipment, Savage relies on tankers from Beall Corp., Heil Trailer International, J&L and Brenner Tank LLC (part of Walker Group Holdings), as well as tractor cabs made by Kenworth (part of PACCAR Inc.) and Mack Trucks Inc.

In addition, Savage took a broader view of water management that went beyond a typical move-it-and-dispose-it-approach. The company developed a software and mobile hardware system that features a Global Positioning System unit that provides Savage with actual and analytical data, such as the number of barrels of water being loaded on a real-time basis and when trucks arrive and depart from each well site, Alt says.

“We’re always concerned about what can we do differently with equipment and logistics,” Alt explains. “We also use proprietary logistics and tracking software that monitors the [water] inventory on each well site and tracks the movement of all product from the minute it’s picked up to when it’s delivered.”

One of the system’s biggest benefits: The exploration company no longer needs to send an employee out to “stick the tank,” or check the production-water level in large holding tanks located by well sites, then phone in the results. “Instead we were able to integrate our customer’s measuring system on each tank with our own communication network to transmit that information in real time via radio and cellphone,” Alt says. “Equipment in each truck is connected to that system, too.

“The net effect is that we’re able to reduce the number of miles traveled per barrel of water because the customer doesn’t have to send someone out to physically perform a measurement,” Alt adds.

In addition, employees no longer need to file hundreds of paper reports, effectively turning a very labor-intensive, error-prone process into a paperless, real-time and more accurate system. As such, instead of waiting weeks for reports to be compiled, the customer can easily view metrics such as how much water is being moved, the productivity on an hourly basis and the costs – all in real time, Alt points out.

Moreover, the customer was able to cut daily truck shifts in half, reduce man-hours in ticketing and invoicing by 92 percent and decrease wastewater-hauling costs by 20 percent, Alt says.

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