How We Keep Our Railcar Fleet In Top Condition

With a 168-railcar fleet covering a vast rail network, wear and tear is inevitable. Because Saskatchewan Minerals is committed to providing premium quality sodium sulphate, we make tracking and maintaining railcars a priority — even one compromised railcar could result in compromised product.

Since 2007, the Saskatchewan Minerals logistics team has managed railcar repairs using a wireless inventory-tracking software system called IntelliTrack. Anita Stettner, Regional Accounts and Logistics Manager, says IntelliTrack is a huge upgrade from the old inventory system. “It’s hard to believe we used to do this using fax machines.”

Now, the team receives daily data reports by e-mail, which makes it more efficient and accurate to red-flag cars in need of repair. Like the Gate-Change Program, which saw Saskatchewan Minerals replace several railcar bottom outlet gates on its fleet, this state-of-the-art tracking system was implemented with customer satisfaction in mind. Stettner says, “We saw this as a huge opportunity to improve the service we provide. We’re always trying to be better at what we do.”

Gates, linings and hatches
On each railcar, Saskatchewan Minerals maintains the gates, linings and hatches. Problems with gates and hatches can make it difficult for customers to unload product, or allow water to enter the car. Stettner says, “If you don’t have a well-sealed hatch, water gets in. Sodium sulphate is hygroscopic, which means it takes up and retains moisture. It hardens if it gets wet, which affects unload and obviously can affect purity too.”

Saskatchewan Minerals railcars also have a food-grade lining that protects the sodium sulphate from contaminants like rust flakes. Stettner says, “It’s essential that our clients are provided pure product.”

The red-flag system
If a customer, warehouse or railway notes problems with the gates, hatches or linings, a car is “red-flagged.” Once a car is red-flagged, the top priority is to get it repaired. The car remains on a maintenance watch list until the team receives an inspection report from plant management confirming that car is good to go. Stettner says, “The system ensures non-conformance cars are never missed. We can make sure that if there is an issue or a car has a problem, we’re watching it. We get that information every day.”

Better communication
After six years using IntelliTrack, Stettner can’t imagine tracking such an extensive railcar fleet without such an efficient system. “The good thing about using IntelliTrack is that we get all our cars, no matter which railroad they’re on, in one report.”

This reporting method has also been a hit with customers, who also receive daily status reports through IntelliTrack on the status of their railcar deliveries. Stettner says, “When I travel to see customers, they often mention that they appreciate receiving information via e-mail. It’s a great tool.”

Next month: How Saskatchewan Minerals is keeping pricing affordable while maintaining premium product quality.