TIMES are good for Polar Service Centers, a division of Polar Corporation. The cargo tank maintenance and repair specialist came off a very strong year in 2011, and 2012 looks every bit as good or better.
Management gives credit for the strong performance to several critical factors: A strengthening economy kept tank fleets — especially those serving oil and gas exploration and production operations — running hard; Polar has worked hard to expand the service center network; a broad parts offering is available; and management is aggressively developing of new products and services.
“Our service centers are very busy, and we believe 2012 will be a big year for us,” says Michael Evans, president of Polar Service Centers. “Our customers are busy, and that bodes well for us. The energy sector is a driving force, and we believe it may account for as much as a third of our business right now. The general economy is rebounding, and we are seeing quite a few older tank trailers that are being overhauled and put back into service.
“With demand for cargo tank maintenance and repair service growing across the United States, we are adding more facilities and services. We have 30 service shops now, and we are the largest tank-manufacturer-owned service shop network in the industry.
“We anticipate expanding current facilities and adding six to eight new locations over the next few years. We are definitely expansion oriented, and we are going where our customers have operations.”
Close to customers
Being close to customers is the key reason the management team at Polar Corporation chose to build their own tank service network. “Our dealers are important, and we certainly support them, but we want to stay connected to our customers,” Evans says. “It enables us to see how the equipment is performing, and we know which replacement parts are needed to ensure maximum uptime.”
The 30 service shops are in 17 states spread across the United States. Coverage is heaviest in the eastern half of the United States and on the West Coast. Each Polar Service Center can provide HM-183 and other Department of Transportation-mandated tests and inspections, as well as full maintenance service, and tank repair work. Most of the locations are American Society of Mechanical Engineers- (ASME) and R-Stamp certified. Tractor rig-outs and specialized tank trailer customization are provided, as well as installation of pumping and metering systems.
“We'll work on just about any type of tank trailer or tank truck,” Evans says. “That's our specialty and our expertise. We don't work on non-tank products, such as van trailers and flatbeds.
Parts sales are a critical part of the Polar Service Centers operation, and the company offers national account pricing. Some of the larger shops have well-stocked parts showrooms, and all of the locations have parts delivery service. Trailer pickup and delivery also is available at many locations.
Later this year, Polar Service Centers will launch its new enterprise resource planning system, which should boost the efficiency of the tank repair shop network. The system is designed to link back-office operations to make it faster and easier to share data.
Polar's Houston, Texas, location is the largest repair shop in the network. Next in size are the shops in Marietta, Ohio, and Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The 22-bay Houston shop works on upwards of 2,000 cargo tanks a year. Eighteen mechanics staff the shop, and many have spent 10 to 20 years with Polar. The facility has an extensive parts inventory, and a large parts purchase and display area.
“We're doing a lot more tank modification work these days, but repair work still dominates our operation,” says Bryan Watson, general manager of the Houston service center. “One of the biggest challenges we face today is getting enough code welders. It's a struggle.”
Going forward, the Polar Service Centers plan is for larger full-service shops with at least four trailer bays. The shops will have R-stamps and ASME-certified welders who can repair code tanks, and facilities will carry a larger parts inventory.
A growing number of those service centers are being developed in partnership with other companies. For instance, the Polar shop in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, leases space at a Linden Bulk Transportation Co Inc terminal. Polar Service Centers also leases shop space at six QualaWash facilities.
A good example of the partnership approach can be seen at one of the newest Polar Service Centers shops that opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in July 2011. Polar leased an 8,000-sq-ft, five-and-a-half bay shop from Groendyke Transport Inc.
“This arrangement is a win all around,” says Cameron Leipart, facility coordinator at the Phoenix shop. “We handle all of the Groendyke Transport terminal's tank trailer service. They are leasing us a large shop that has plenty of room for growth.
“We are still getting fully up to speed, but we will offer a full range of tank repair services. We have three mechanics at work now, and our goal is eight in all over the next year. We are getting our R-stamp, and we are getting our mechanics qualified as ASME-certified welders.”
Built as a heavy-equipment maintenance shop in 2005, the shop's work bays can accommodate full tractor-trailer rigs. Shop features include double-bay, 15-ft high overhead doors and a ventilation system that can capture and remove any type of exhaust fumes or vapors.
Leipart says the shop is in a desirable Phoenix location, about 2.5 miles off I-10 and easily accessible to east/west traffic. Phoenix is the center point of the Southwest and is within a day's drive of other major cities in the region.
Tank truck assembly
Even as it expands its network, Polar Service Centers is adding products and services at existing facilities. This includes a much broader portfolio of new cargo tank and tank truck assembly.
For instance, Polar Service Centers acquired propane bobtail manufacturer JARCO Inc in Salem, Illinois, in 2010, and the bobtails are now being assembled at a number of service center locations, including Sacramento, California; Houston; Spartanburg; Spokane, Washington; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Billings, Montana. The Phoenix shop will join the group in the second quarter of 2012. Bobtails also are assembled at the JARCO plant.
“In an industry that has been very regional in the past, we offer propane marketers a national support network,” Evans says. “We can install and maintain JARCO propane bobtails wherever it makes the best sense for the customer. “That's a big advantage for propane marketers and distributors that want a consistent level of quality and service, and want more control over vehicle-transportation costs.”
Several Polar Service Centers locations also are assembling and mounting aluminum vacuum tanks built by Polar. In fact, the Houston shop is now selling vacuum trucks — with capacities ranging from 2,500 to 4,200 gallons — direct to customer.
Booming oilfield operations have brought tank truck assembly opportunities for the Houston shop. “We're assembling fleet refuelers and lube oil trucks for oilfield applications, and we believe it has good growth potential,” Watson says.
Finally, the Houston shop is among the Polar Service Centers locations trailerizing fiberglass-reinforced plastic trailers used to haul acids and other corrosives. Mechanics at the shop fabricate the frame, upper coupler, and suspension and axle assembly.
“Our number one focus is on customer satisfaction, and that is our objective with every service offered by our tank repair shops,” Evans says. “In everything we do, we want to be a world class supplier.”