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Six Ways to Use Technology to Save on Fuel

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Your two biggest trucking operational expenses are the cost of drivers and the cost of fuel. If you’re paying $70,000 a year for fuel logging 100,000 miles, the $7,000 savings you could receive with a 10% reduction in fuel costs is a pretty obvious reason to do all that you can to optimize fuel consumption.

Here are six technologies to augment drivers’ performance and reduce fuel costs – take note that not one of these technologies involves magnets, magic, or secret potions.

1. Cruise Control:  Adaptive, Predictive Powertrain, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Cruise control has come a long way in the last ten years in both cars and trucks. We’re all familiar with basic adaptive cruise control that helps reduce driver fatigue with a slight improvement in fuel usage. Adaptive cruise control manages distance to the vehicle ahead and more safely automates acceleration and deceleration to provide a limited level of automation and improve driver convenience.

Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) from OEMs like Mercedes-Benz Trucks and Mack Trucks can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 5% by controlling acceleration, coasting, braking, and gear optimization in concert with the GPS location to determine the best speed for the vehicle.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) cruise control is PPC on steroids. Like PPC, it considers speed limits, gradients, downhill slopes, road conditions, and radius of bends to adjust speeds and predictively time gear shifts. 

AI systems, however, add real-time contextual data to dramatically improve fuel economy. These systems not only assess the vehicle load but also assess over-the-horizon traffic congestion and weather conditions, all while taking into account drivers’ Hours of Service and time of arrival requirements. Traxen, a provider of AI-based cruise control system called iQPilot™ for after-market installation, is seeing a 10-15% improvement in fuel efficiency on freeways. Interestingly, Traxen displays a map with upcoming conditions on ELD tablets, so drivers better understand AI-driven changes in truck activity. Without this display, drivers are less likely to trust AI-based decisions and tend not to use cruise control.

2. Optimize Engine Settings

Electronic Control Modules (ECM) provide a wide variety of parameters that can be tuned to reduce fuel usage. ECM settings for cruise control, speed management, acceleration, and intelligent coasting can deliver consistent driving behavior to save fuel. Reducing idling time can also be configured in ECM parameters to yield significant savings. OEM and after-market devices using “out of the box” settings may underperform given your actual fleet’s usage, so it is worth your effort to understand what you can configure that best meets your operational needs and whether you can do so with your own maintenance resources or engage the help of experts.

3. “Skip the Line” – Inspections and Tolls

Every time a truck stops and starts, it takes more fuel. Waiting in line is even worse. Weigh station bypass services such as DriveWyze can help drivers avoid lengthy enforcement inspections. The service is based largely on a carrier’s safety score and other state screening criteria. Carriers with the best safety scores can receive bypasses, in some states, up to 98% of the time.  Saved time and less hassle keeps drivers happier and fuel isn’t wasted idling in line.

Take advantage of automated toll services to keep rolling through toll stations. You’ll save on fuel by not having to stop and the automated billing that comes with this service often includes reduced toll rates to further save money.

4. Wasting Fuel – It’s a Drag

Aerodynamic drag using add-ons to the tractor and trailer is one obvious method to reduce drag and save fuel. Those are “table stakes” in long-haul trucking, so what else can you do to reduce drag?

Road drag is a key element of fuel consumption. If your wheels aren’t rolling properly, you’re essentially “dragging a sled” and burning more fuel than you should. What can make your rig behave like a sled? Underinflated, unbalanced tires and unbalanced loads can do that. 

  1. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) – Tires lose pressure all the time. A TPMS can monitor all tires and axels and alert the driver and the dispatch system when action is needed to correct a tire inflation problem.

  2. Axle Load – Uneven loads can lead to increased road friction and reduced fuel mileage. On-vehicle axle load monitoring systems alert you to load imbalances, which not only helps with fuel economy but can help avoid expensive fines.

  3. Bad Tires/Hubs – Efficient forward motion means you want your tires to roll straight and stay on the road. Unbalanced tires, uneven wear, and bald spots will all have an impact. Wheel hub monitoring technology from companies like ConMet use vibration analysis to detect problems in both the hub and the tires.

Monitoring and maintaining tires, wheels, and axle load can not only save fuel as you roll but can prevent costly repairs and downtime by alerting you to conditions before they become critical.

5. Don’t Burn Fuel When Standing Still

Idling engines consume a lot of fuel. The easy but not very practical answer is to turn the engine off and go “dark." The practical answer: use the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) instead of the primary engine for power generation purposes to keep the cab’s “lights on.”  A diesel-fueled APU is just as much an “engine” as the primary power train engine, but it uses only a tenth of the fuel to operate. Battery-powered APUs can be even more efficient.

It is important to actively monitor APU use to gain maximum benefits:

  1. Ensure engines are not idling when they should be using the APU.

  2. Monitor the APU status before problems arise.

  3. Enforce engine idling policies to deliver fuel savings and avoid fines where strict “No Idling” rules are in place.

6. Better Planning

Time, distance, and fuel prices can all be optimized by good planning. Giving dispatchers and drivers the tools to select the optimum route is an important means of saving fuel.

  1. Routing Software – Driving a route that considers duration, regulatory restrictions, rest stop locations, traffic patterns, etc., is going to optimize the time and distance required to minimize fuel usage.

  2. Fuel Stop Aware Routing Software – Stopping for fuel has its own cost in time and idling. A routing package that is aware of in-network fuel stops can plan routes and fuel stops for the best-priced fuel as well as time and distance. 

  3. ELD and Fuel Stops – Allow your ELD and fleet management system to plan fuel stops with full knowledge of driver hours to save money and avoid inefficient and out-of-network fuel stops just because driver time is nearing its end.

Summary

There are lots of ways to waste fuel when transporting a load. Fortunately, there are lots of ways and tools to optimize fuel efficiency. Some of the solutions even provide additional cost-saving benefits like avoiding fines, extending tire life, and monitoring vehicle system health to avoid failures. Using solutions that improve efficiency and save the driver time could help with driver retention.

Bottom line?  Fuel costs are so high that implementing any number of these solutions can be easily justified on fuel savings alone.