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Podcast Interviews

There’s More to a Kingpin Than Most People Realize

Learn the importance of taking care of your kingpin, and about the experts who will help ensure your fleet’s trailers stay on the road.

Episode 50: Rich Lefebvre from Kingpin Specialists is our guest and in this episode, we discuss everything you need to know about kingpins and the services that Kingpin Specialists offer.

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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the podcast where you will get expert advice about the heavy-duty parts you buy and keep you informed about what’s happening in the industry. This episode is sponsored by TruckPartsInventory.com. Lowering the cost per mile is all about finding the right part quickly. At TruckPartsInventory.com. you will save time by searching inventory from around North America in one place. You will save money by having the option of buying new, used, or aftermarket parts. You’ll save yourself work by sending a parts request and having companies contact you. TruckPartsInventory.com is easy to use, and it’s free. Go to TruckPartsInventory.com today. Lowering your cost per mile starts with buying high-quality parts and if you’ve listened to this show, you know that I’m always promoting that and it ends with using high-quality services and stringent maintenance standards. To be honest, how often do you give any thought to your kingpin to help us give kingpins the attention they deserve? I’d like to introduce you to Rich Lefebvre from Kingpin Specialists. Rich, welcome to the podcast.

Rich Lefebvre:

Thank you very much for having me, Jamie.

Jamie Irvine:

So why do people seem to forget about the kingpin?

Rich Lefebvre:

Well, it’s a strange animal. The kingpin is probably one of the most overlooked parts of the connection, it’s probably the most important part. It’s the only part keeping the trailer connected to the tractor. Usually, there is a little bit of movement between the two parts, and a lot of times you’ll have drivers complain about a banging or constant bang. They are designed to have a little bit of movement between the two, but when they start getting excessively worn the driver will definitely notice. And each separate part of the industry has as you know, different wear characteristics and following how much wear each unit is going to have is independent of a lot of different factors. Everything from the environment – the like if you’re living in the mountains, you have 48 footers with a 28 footer tow behind you don’t see that configuration anything anywhere other than around the Rocky Mountains, some areas of Michigan you’ll see, triple 28. Well, every time you change that configuration, you get different wear characteristics. So that’s one of those things and the kingpin when we’re doing maintenance on these trailers is definitely something that gets left behind. It

Jamie Irvine:

Sounds to me like unless it’s making a lot of noise, then it’s just something that people don’t think about.

Rich Lefebvre:

It is definitely something that people don’t give a lot of thought to until it’s laying on the ground, usually when it’s pulling away from a dock. So that definitely gets some attention.

Jamie Irvine:

Rich, I’d like to kind of get an overview of what Kingpin Specialists actually does for their customers. Can you give us that overview?

Rich Lefebvre:

When people think of us, they think of, we have a problem, we give these guys a call, we go out and we fix that particular issue. What we do for our main core customers is basically try to find the sweet spot where we give you the most value for the life of the kingpin, the jaws of the fifth wheel, and ensure that you get maximum wear characteristics from both pieces of equipment. If you try and do maintenance only on the fifth wheels it’s almost like a cancer that, especially in a drop and hook configuration. That fifth wheel gets married up with a worn kingpin or a damaged kingpin and it takes that damage. As it hooks onto the next kingpin, you’re going to transfer the damage from that fifth wheel to the brand new kingpin. And as this is happening, because in grocery and food service, you’re going to see, sometimes these trailers will be hooked up and disconnected four, maybe five times in a day, as it goes from the bay, loaded, picked up by the tractor, and then it’s going to go out on the run. Then it comes back, it gets dropped to have the garbage taken off, it gets moved over and washed out, it gets refueled, it gets backed up to another door and loaded. So every time that happens, if there’s damage on the fifth wheel, that damage transfers to each one of the kingpins that it touches. And what we end up with at the end of the day is if you have two or five or 10% of the fleet, that has a lot of damage, the bigger the variants in these, where, or in this damage, the quicker that you see the entire fleet begin to wear at an accelerated rate. So what we basically do for our customers is trying to find where the damage happens and how to get it back under control, to be able to maintain and get the most life out of your fifth wheels and your kingpins.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, so describe to me kind of like your ideal customer then?

Rich Lefebvre:

My ideal customer is one that has a problem; context as we go through and decide what the problem is, and when it’s time to make repairs, we make the repairs. A lot of times, when we get called in for a fleet, they’re going through a lot of fifth wheels, they’re having a lot of complaints from drivers, or somebody has bought a new tool and they’re checking these trailers. All of a sudden they’ve got an explosion because nobody’s checked them for a decade. All of my customers are my favorite, but different sectors of the market, food services is a part of the industry where a kingpin replacement properly done on a refrigerated trailer is going to cost anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000 – it’s a huge variance. That’s on a refrigerated unit , on a drive in you’re probably going to get somewhere between $3500 and $5,500. So these are two sectors that we really see a lot of benefit. They see the cost benefit right away. But when you look at flatbeds and other curtain side trailers, semi dump trailers, being able to have this repair done in only a couple of hours, having the wear characteristics the same as what it was when the trailer was brand new, these are two major driving factors to be able to, you know, rather than having a trailer out of commission for a week while these repairs are done, everything is done in a couple of hours. It’s not leaving the site it’s done when the trailer is not being used to make money for the customer. So that’s ideal.

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Rich from Kingpin Specialists. Rich, tell me more about the repair services that you offer. So just walk us through the trailer sitting in the yard, they put the gauge on it and they found it’s not safe to continue using, it needs to be repaired. Now they make the call and your guys show up, just walk me through that repair process. What are they looking at? What are they doing? I want to get a vision.

Rich Lefebvre:

Well, basically when a customer reaches out to us with an issue we get the unit number. We want to know what physical trailer has brought this to their attention. The next thing you want to do is take a look at a manifest or an asset list, something that’s going to list the length of trailer, the manufacturer, any special equipment in the year. So you’ve got to kind of baseline. From there we’ll book to go in and take a look at the fleet and we try and take a look at what could possibly be the issue. And a lot of times when we get brought in with this, you may have had a changing of guard. It’s a company that was using an outside fleet service, or it’s a maintenance manager that’s been in the location for 20 years and retires, those types of things. And somebody new will come in and they’ll run across an issue, or they will have a complaint when they start digging into it, they realize that there’s a lot bigger problem than they realize because it was just neglected for so long. So we will go through and do an evaluation, identify the trailer that specifically brought this out. Sometimes that one is a little further along or perhaps all of the ones in that series have the same issue, but basically we take a look at that. And then we start to schedule times to get the repairs done. For us doing multiple units at a time is the most cost-effective; we’ve got a little bit of cool-down time, we’ve got some prep time. So if we have four trailers set side-by-side for one tech, that’s a comfortable day’s work. He’s probably going to finish all four of those in six to seven hours, depending on the amount of wear. And then basically he will go down the line ensure that the thickness of the bolster plate there’s enough material left, he sets up, does his welding, moves to the next one, welds that, moves to the next one, welds the fourth one, and then begins turning them all down in sequence. If there’s an issue where they need trailers back quicker, they’re starting to load at 11 o’clock. Well at 11 o’clock, I can cut the first trailer loose, at 12 o’clock I can cut the second trailer loose so that we’re not holding up their loading procedure or any other issues like that. Basically when we’re finished, the pin is stamped with an identification number that traces back for the batch of welding rods, the welding technician that did the welding, the truck that was used, the welding machine that was used, the lathe that was used. And this may seem a little over the top, but it’s also quality control. If we ever have any issue with the batch of welding rods where something’s defective, or we have any kind of an issue, I can go back and tell from our tracking records exactly where those batches of rods were used, what trailer numbers, they were repaired on, the date that tech was there and we can go back and repair any issue. And in 24 years, we have had to go back and we had one issue where we had to find 22 trailers that were done by one machine where it was off calibration. We were able to track every one of them down, but it was four states and six weeks that this one particular unit had gone. We should probably cut that, but I figured I’d throw it in there.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, I think that that gives people confidence though, because it’s not a perfect world and it’s not really a matter of if something goes wrong. It’s usually when, and it’s nice to know that you’re dealing with someone who’s professional, who has a system who can, you know, manage their own quality control. And if, if by chance there is an issue, you have a mechanism to correct it and make it right. So, no, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want that cut from this interview at all, because anybody listening who wants to use your service now has additional confidence in both your transparency and your integrity. So I think that’s really important.

Rich Lefebvre:

No, I appreciate that.

Jamie Irvine:

Rich, what role does engineering play in this? I mean, I’m hearing welding, cutting, changing things. I mean, you’re, you’re taking a trailer and you’re trying to put it back to it’s OE spec. So what role does engineering play in what you do for your customers?

Rich Lefebvre:

I first heard of this process probably about 28 years ago from a fellow in my dorm who in summers would work for Coca Cola. He had told me about this and I was like, that just doesn’t make any sense because it’s a special, exotic metal and you’re welding on it. You don’t realize what you’re getting into. I was a lot younger and a lot crazier back then, and he’s a mechanical engineer now, but in the time that passed, I worked on Hibernia. I worked on an oil rig that was out in the North Atlantic and we were dealing with a lot of exotic metals and I was with Peter Kiewit in mechanical outfitting. And I worked in a lot of development of welding procedures and different, just absolutely crazy stuff. I got to know a lot of the welding supervisors and welding engineers and one of the fellows that I met on that project helped develop the welding procedure at its infancy. It’s one of those things that I’ve come to have a lot of respect for the engineering side of things. Usually every four or five years, we would go back to the drawing board. We would collect kingpins from different shops that we would do work with. And we would take these pins back to our shop, weld them up, and then we’d send them into the lab and just make sure that there hadn’t been any too many changes in the industry. A lot of times things start to change and five years down the road, you don’t realize what you’re dealing with anymore. So we had continued kind of keeping up our standards that way and ensuring that we were hitting our targets as far as hardness and everything else. And then a couple of years ago I started working with an engineer out of Orlando, a welding engineer who, had done a lot of work with, 8630 grade steel, the grade of material that pins are made out of. And from there we’ve been able to do a lot more to ensure the quality is as consistent as it can possibly be. It’s one of those things that are reflected in the tracking that we do on fleets that we’ve been working for for over 20 years for us to be able to compare what our wear characteristics are like compared to a brand new trailer that came in at the same time or a trailer that we had to condemn and they put on a replacement grid section or did another type of repair. To be able to track those wear characteristics over the years, you kind of end up 23 or 24 years down the line and realize how much data you’ve got. But it’s incredible to see that our equipment or our repairs stand the test of time and have never had an issue with any of the repairs that we have done in that as far as a catastrophic failure and what I like to think with everything that we see out there, our guys have a lot more experience. All they do is crawl under trailers from coast to coast, across Canada in the US. So we’ve got a network of guys that can communicate with each other. We will notice or see things with new fifth wheels that come onto the market or have a slightly different wear characteristics, that type of thing. Other people aren’t paying attention to that, that’s not what they specialize in. This is all we do. And this is what makes us so good at what we do.

Jamie Irvine:

So if there’s one thing you want people to take away from today’s conversation, what’s that one thing?

Rich Lefebvre:

Biggest thing, when we’re looking at kingpins and fifth wheels, in my opinion is liability. Twenty five years ago was a different time and place. Where we are now, liability is everything, you have to have your butt covered and having a company that does nothing but specialize in ensuring that truck makes it home with the trailer. At the end of the shift is an absolute value.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And we’ve been speaking with Rich, from Kingpin Specialists. To learn more, go to kingpinspecialists.com. Rich, thank you for being on the podcast.

Rich Lefebvre:

Thanks Jamie. Have a great evening.

Jamie Irvine:

Have you subscribed to the podcast yet? Go to heavydutypartsreport.com today to subscribe to the podcast. Don’t forget to give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast player of your choice. I’d like to remind everyone to focus on cost per mile over purchase price and let’s keep those trucks and trailers rolling.

This Episode is Sponsored by TruckPartsInventory.com

Lowering cost-per-mile is all about finding the right part quickly. You will save time by searching for inventory from around North America in one place. You will save money by having the option of buying new, used, or aftermarket parts. You will save yourself work by sending a parts request and having companies contact you. It is easy to use, and it is free. Go to TruckPartsInventory.com today.

Disclaimer: This podcast and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy-Duty Parts Report may receive a small commission. 


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