Real-world tests produce fleet savings

Real-world tests produce fleet savings

Schneider National has a team of a half dozen engineers who work on process development, maintenance training, troubleshooting equipment and component testing.

It’s not difficult for a carrier to join the SmartWay Partnership. It is, however, not an easy task to remain a leader in the program year after year, but that’s exactly what Schneider National has done.

It was particularly easy for Schneider to support the SmartWay Transport Partnership when it was launched in 2004 as a charter member and the program’s first truckload carrier. The fleet had been working toward lower exhaust emissions and higher fuel economy for over two and a half decades by then. In 1978 it began spec’ing equipment that offered the highest operating efficiency. In 1985 it pioneered driver incentives for idle reduction and fuel management and in 1989, led by Steve Graham, it established an in-house team of engineers dedicated to equipment performance and efficiency.

Graham, who then managed the fleet’s tire program and is currently its vice president of purchasing, understood that a vehicle’s fuel economy was directly related to the choice of tires he purchased for that truck. But how could he determine the difference in performance between tires? In an effort to learn how to effectively test various tires for the fuel efficiency they offered, he visited the Transportation Research Center in Ohio, which had been using the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) test protocols that had been developed specifically to meet the needs of the trucking industry.

Upon returning, Graham launched the fleet’s product first testing program. He said, “It started quite primitively. Today’s program is much more sophisticated, but the goal back then was the same as now—find new ways to minimize fuel usage and reduce our environmental impact.”

Schneider now has a team of a half dozen engineers who work on equipment-related topics throughout the year. These projects include process development, maintenance training, troubleshooting equipment and component testing.

Every summer, however, they take to the field to conduct SAE Type II and Type III on-highway fuel economy testing on new technologies and/or products to determine the potential they offer for improving the fleet’s fuel economy. Each is tested using the same protocol on a 50-mile route that represents the typical engine stress loads experienced by Schneider’s fleet. Two trucks are pulled from the fleet for the summer so they can be dedicated solely to testing, along with two veteran drivers with extensive experience in these efforts. In each test, one truck becomes the “control” vehicle, while the other is outfitted with the technology and/or product being evaluated.

These tests were jointly developed by the SAE and the TMC specifically to provide end users with guidelines on how to qualify products that claim to improve fuel economy in heavy-duty trucks. These on-road test procedures are regarded by the industry as the only accurate and repeatable methods of evaluating products that claim to boost fuel economy.

On the fleet’s list for testing this year were a host of new items, including low viscosity motor oils; renewable fuel alternatives; low-rolling resistance tires; new engine calibrations; predictive cruise control, in which the engine uses mapping software to determine how to best conserve vehicle momentum when approaching or cresting hills; and verification of Freightliner’s wind tunnel testing.

Of course, such a test program is far from inexpensive, but with the cost of diesel around $4 a gallon in most areas of the country, and—nearing $5 in California—such testing can pay dividends for a fleet as large as Schneider’s. According to Graham, “Even if a device yields less than 1% fuel efficiency, that small amount of savings can add up to huge numbers when you consider the vast size of our fleet.” For example, a tested product delivered a mere 0.8% fuel efficiency. That, however, translated into 1.8 million gallons of fuel conserved each year on Schneider’s trucks—a savings of about $7.2 million.

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