To learn more ways producers are improving their truck washing programs and cutting costs, see our exclusive Web extras, "An Ounce of Prevention"dswedbyyvzwsuaycvvzybbuc and "Re-Fin Rehab."

One subtle effect of the current slowdown in ready-mixed concrete sales will be the aging of most producers' fleets. Fewer miles, hours, and yards shipped will result in longer fleet life. Trucks will remain active longer than before.

For many producers, this trend during an economic downturn is nothing new. Around the time of the last slowdown, the average age of a producer's fleet was more than 10 years old. While few experts believe the newer average age will approach a decade of service life, producers should be aware that owning trucks longer requires a renewed commitment to preventative maintenance.

Managers who haven't faced such belt-tightening times may need to rethink how they prioritize their maintenance spending. Looking at cost-per-yard shipped makes it easy to justify spending enough to get the job done right. In these demanding times, proper maintenance must be paramount to keep these important investments running longer. And a key part of this effort is equipment washing.

When it comes to judging whether a fleet is clean, a half-hearted effort isn't good enough. Cement dust, concrete splatter, and jobsite grime are unforgiving to appearance and lead to corrosion and unnecessary wear. As producers trim operating budgets to the barest necessities while business decreases, they must find effective and efficient methods for their cleaning regimens.

Delivery vehicles provide a neighbor's first impression of the producer's commitment to operational excellence. “Image is everything,” says one producer in Raleigh, N.C. “Your trucks and mixers are your company's running billboards. Dirty trucks give the whole industry a bad image.”

But maintaining a clean fleet offers more than goodwill. Clean trucks allow faster, more thorough pre-shift inspections for potential maintenance problems. Drivers can more easily see the key wear points on a truck's brakes, drum bearings, and frames. Cleaner trucks are safer trucks, as drivers and mechanics can easily mount inspection platforms and driver steps. And clean fleets instill a sense of order that becomes the cornerstone for all plant and office activities.

A daily wash

Not long ago, fleet managers viewed truck and mixer washing activities as tasks that filled an employee's time on rainy days or late afternoons as they waited for the last footing pour. But as new dispatching software has enabled managers to better control driver utilization, deferred cleaning is being phased out. Just-in-time washing has become commonplace.

Many producers have adopted procedures that specify frequent washes. “You can really save on maintenance costs by establishing a regular cleaning schedule,” says one producer. “Concrete buildup causes you to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning before you can use the mixer, which means lost time on the job.”

Manufacturers have responded to this daily wash approach. Products such as Power Kleen's Right Off cleaners and Environmental Manufacturing Solutions' (EMS) Ready Mix Wash & Wax feature special formulations designed to remove the day's build-up of grime, cement, and concrete. Daily washes also have another benefit. Some cleaning agents leave a residual coating on the surface that reduces material buildup the next day.

In some tough applications, many producers have used additional surface protection products designed to prevent concrete buildup. Drivers spray coatings like Tam Tech Concrete Removal from Tammaron Technology onto their mixers once a day after washing or before their shift begins. Concrete doesn't stick to the drum and the pretreated surface shortens the washing process. As a side benefit, the petroleum-based product creates a water barrier, which will help prevent corrosion and rust.