Master the latest methods for optimizing work trucks on the jobsite

Because a typical fleet spends a large portion of its total operating budget on energy or fuel, fleet managers are always looking for ways to reduce energy costs. There are really only two methods for doing so: consuming less of the energy you are currently using or switching to a lower-cost energy source. First, most fleets must maintain service during any conversion process. They also may have to figure out how to relocate vehicles on an emergency, short-term or permanent basis. Funding is another important consideration. Depending on how a fleet approaches energy-cost reduction, it could require significant expenditures, one-time expense payouts and ongoing supplemental maintenance and operating costs. Assuming the required funding is available, the fleet manager might need to prove an acceptable return on investment (ROI) within a reasonable payback period. Below are six steps to maximizing your fleet’s energy budget.

1. Analyze Drive & Duty Cycles

Most of the processes and technologies for reducing fleet energy costs are sensitive to drive and duty cycles. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are actually separate measurements of how a fleet operates. A drive cycle defines how vehicles operate based on several different factors, such as:

  • Average speed
  • Amount of incidental idling time
  • Power export time (PTO operation, etc.)
  • Number of starts and stops per cycle
  • Longest, average, continuous running time per cycle

A duty cycle defines how much a vehicle is used and looks at factors, such as:

  • Length of average operating cycle
  • Number of operating cycles per period
  • Total miles driven per measurement period
  • Percentage of loaded vs. empty operation
  • Percentage of on-road vs. off-road operation

Because the effectiveness of energy reduction technologies is closely related to a fleet’s drive cycles, fleet managers can utilize drive-cycle data to identify technologies that could reduce their energy budgets. They can then use duty cycle data to determine if the projected savings associated with an alternative are adequate to cover the investment and provide the desired ROI. Remember, a single fleet can have multiple drive and duty cycles, so one approach to energy cost reduction might not work across the board. Also, drive and duty cycles are frequently seasonally dependent, especially in areas with harsh winter weather. For example, a fleet may have an inner-city drive cycle with low average speeds, multiple stop/start cycles and extended periods of incidental idle time. All of these factors are compatible with use of an electric hybrid powertrain. However, a duty-cycle analysis could show that annual miles driven are so low that even doubling the current average fuel economy will not produce enough savings to cover the cost of buying the hybrid system. Since the drive cycle also documents an excessive amount of incidental idle time, a better (lower-cost) approach for this fleet may be to implement an idle management strategy.

2. Remember the Basics

In many cases, the easiest and most economical approach to reducing energy costs is to consume less energy. The simplest techniques have been recognized for so long, they are often downplayed, but when implemented properly, they can be very effective. A short list of these techniques includes:

  • Maintain proper tire inflation.
  • Reduce vehicle weight.
  • Reduce rolling resistance.
  • Practice passive idle reduction.
  • Maintain vehicles properly.

Going beyond these approaches, fleet managers can also take action to make new or existing vehicles more efficient. Since the powertrains of newer vehicles are computer-controlled, fleets can often re-map the engine performance curves and transmission shift points of their trucks to improve overall powertrain efficiency. When ordering new trucks, choosing and matching components to specific drive and duty cycles can produce impressive energy reductions.

3. Implement Telematics & 
Driver Behavior Modification

There are a number of ways to improve vehicle operational efficiency. Two approaches that have potential are telematics and driver behavior modification. The most familiar application of telematics in the vocational fleet environment is GPS functionality. This technology can have a direct impact on fleet operating costs by reducing total miles driven. Going beyond GPS functionality, the ability to track vehicle condition in real time offers multiple possibilities for energy management. By mapping the PCM to the telematics system, fleet managers can read system fault codes, tire pressures and other information. By using an exception reporting system, vehicles with defects are flagged, so repairs can be made at the earliest opportunity. The data collected can also be used to develop drive-cycle profiles and identify issues, such as hard acceleration and braking, sudden radial maneuvers and engine idle time. The driver can impact overall fuel economy by as much as 30 percent.

4. Consider Hybrid & 
Electrification Technology

For vocational trucks, hybrid and electrification technology can be an effective choice. It can reduce energy costs in several ways:

  • Allowing the engine to operate in an optimum efficiency range
  • Recapturing kinetic energy normally lost during braking
  • Capturing surplus engine energy for use at a later time
  • Facilitating engine idle management
  • Allowing for the primary vehicle power source to be downsized

When utilizing hybrid vehicles, the selected technology should be matched to the drive and duty cycles. Many vocational trucks are driven a relatively limited number of miles per day, so the efficiencies associated with full hybrid drivetrains might not justify the cost and complexity of such a system. This has resulted in the development of worksite hybrids. These vehicles utilize surplus engine power, stored as electric energy, to operate truck-mounted equipment without having to run the primary engine. This technology is much simpler than full hybrid powertrains, but still provides substantial idle time reductions during stationary worksite operations.

5. Evaluate Lower-Cost Energy Options

Fleet managers have several lower-cost energy options, such as biodiesel, electricity, natural gas (CNG or LNG) and propane (autogas).

  • Biodiesel is generally more expensive than conventional diesel fuel. However, in some regulatory environments, it offers significant tax advantages that may result in lower total cost. In these areas, biodiesel represents a significant opportunity for fleet managers, since it is basically a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel. The primary expense associated with conversion to biodiesel is in cleaning fuel storage tanks before taking delivery and changing fuel filters frequently.
  • Electricity is typically the least expensive alternative fuel available, and when the capabilities of an available vehicle fit the associated drive and duty cycles, operating cost savings are very attractive. But electric trucks are limited in availability and range/speed capabilities. Up-front costs can be high, as they require a fairly large capital investment. An alternative to pure electric trucks is the extended-range electric truck. These units utilize an 
all-electric drivetrain with a small, onboard motor generator 
set that can provide a portion of the electric demand.
  • Natural gas has the lowest cost of all the alternative internal combustion engine fuels currently in use and generates the smallest carbon footprint. These advantages are offset in some applications by high conversion and infrastructure costs. If a fleet has access to a public natural gas fueling infrastructure, or if the quantity of fuel consumed at a given location is enough to justify the infrastructure investment required for a captive facility, natural gas has the potential to generate major energy-cost savings. Compressed natural gas (CNG), currently the most commonly used natural gas variant, imposes weight and space penalties on trucks.
  • Propane, also known as autogas, has the second-lowest carbon footprint of currently viable alternative fuels, and is priced between natural gas and gasoline. It has the advantage of requiring the lowest infrastructure costs of any of the alternative fuels. It also has a much higher energy density than CNG and is stored at a lower pressure, so the tanks are lighter and cheaper. This makes it much easier to convert existing vehicles and more attractive for fleets with lower volumes per fueling facility.

6. Take Advantage of Industry Resources

All of the technologies discussed in this article will be addressed in detail during The Work Truck Show 2016 and concurrent Green Truck Summit educational sessions. The Work Truck Show is produced annually by NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry, which was held March 1–4, 2016, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Visit The Work Truck Show. For a compilation of tweets from the CBO team while they were on the ground at The Work Truck Show, click here.

How Do You Measure Fuel Economy?

The most common method of measuring fuel economy is in terms of miles per gallon or gallon equivalent fuel consumption. While this traditional approach works well for some drive and duty cycles, it can present a misleading picture for applications that experience extended periods of engine idle time or power export by means of a power takeoff. For example, a utility construction truck may only drive 20 or 30 miles a day, but spend 6 or more hours a day exporting power to operate equipment. In such case, a 35- or 30-percent reduction in total fuel consumed might only generate a small increase in overall vehicle MPG rating. In applications of this nature, a fleet manager could be better served to measure fuel consumption in terms of fuel used per unit of work accomplished. This approach will help the fleet manager focus on those portions of their drive cycles where they can actually reduce fuel consumption.