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How Long Before Hydrogen-Powered Semi-Trucks Hit The Road?

Have you heard? With much fanfare, Nikola, the company working on electric cars, has unveiled their first hydrogen-powered semi concept. The fact is it’s not just passenger cars that are inching away from gasoline-combustion engines, but big rigs are also saying goodbye to the old way of doing things.

Recently, at an unveiling in Salt Lake City, Nikola unveiled their first long-haul truck concept. Per their marketing department deliveries are expected to be taken on the truck starting in 2020. Let’s dig a little deeper into the details of this advanced new machine and discover how viable it really is.

Hydrogen-Powered Trucks

The new Class-8 truck comes in with a range between 800 and 1,200 miles between refueling. If the company can carry through with this promise, expect these vehicles to get from California to Wyoming on a single tank of gas.

The company has also announced that they will build several hydrogen stations across the United States and Canada to refuel in both countries. The company expects to start breaking ground on the stations in 2018. The first should be scheduled to open in 2019.

Consider that without the hydrogen stations, it won’t matter how great the truck is, considering there is no way for the vehicles to get the freight where it needs to go. On the road, expect the technology to run the show.

How it Works

Per the company, the truck’s navigation system will determine the best routes between destinations and where it needs to go. Much like some other prototypes appearing on the market, the Nikola One will have a large display mounted mid-center in the cab.

The vehicle will use a combination hydrogen and electric power setup designed to offer the same level of performance found in comparable diesel varieties. There is an electric motor also attached to each wheel, which helps with acceleration due to increased torque vectoring and regenerative braking.

But although the technology shows a lot promise, there’s one sticking point, and that’s the infrastructure problem. The Nikola truck utilizes a fully electric hybrid drivetrain powered by both lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

Where will these stations go? Nikola has announced a partnership with Ryder to build a network of hydrogen fueling stations across the country. Additionally, Toyota Motor Corp. is itself looking at plans to invest in a nationwide hydrogen fueling network.

Building a Network

But where can hydrogen look for inspiration? Take CNG and LNG as an example. While the network isn’t expansive, the U.S. CNG and LNG network spans across 1,040 fueling stations. As for hydrogen fueling stations? There are only 31, most which are in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and South Carolina.

With almost double the distance of the Nikola’s range coming in between California and South Carolina, no doubt there will need to be a far greater amount of infrastructure built to support a fleet of hydrogen-powered big rigs.

Still, companies are on the case. A company called NMC plans to build a network of 364 hydrogen fueling stations across the nation.

Don’t think that sounds like much? Consider that if the planned network gets fully built out, that would equate to more H-stations than there are currently Love’s Truck Stops.

So, what can a fleet equipment purchasing manager expect to pay for such an advanced piece of machinery? As of this publication date they are set to come in at or around $400,000.

But while they may be expensive, the potential for major change using these vehicles is very alluring. How soon we will see fleets of hybrid hydrogen-electric fuel cell big rigs on the road? Only time will tell.

How Fleets Can Use Workplace Training To Cultivate Future Leaders

The fact is the skills necessary to run a successful trucking company are very different from what they were in the past. Thus, motor carriers across the nation are turning to workplace education training and partnerships to find the right people in an ever-changing trucking environment.

Swift Transportation

For a number of companies, this means making a much larger drive to integrate their job training programs with their academic programs. Still, others are broadening their search to include people with specific skills sets. Did you think you would ever see a day when a data analyst was in such high demand at trucking companies?

Take Swift Transportation as an example. No matter what position you are in, up to 12 people are given the opportunity to rotate through several different jobs and positions over the course of a 12-month period. This rotation helps them prepare for management positions and ensures the new hires are fully acclimated to the nitty gritty of the transport business.

Swift employees may come from such varied backgrounds as education and banking, but with the help of the work training programs they have put into place, it’s not difficult for employees to find themselves rapidly growing through the ranks, and perhaps in ways they wouldn’t have dreamed of before.

Maersk Global

Another company setting the standard for new-hire training and trucking employee development is the global ship operator Maersk Line, who has created a program that offers anywhere from 5 – 50 new hires the opportunity to travel the world and learn more about the various Maersk locations, all within a two-year period.

The purpose of their Line Graduate Program, as it is called, is to attract smart, ambitious people to come work for them, no matter the position. They provide a strong developmental framework to help front-line employees develop into senior leaders.

Programs like Maersk’s also give senior management the ability to observe their employees to see where their aspirations lie and where they may like to go within the business.

J.B. Hunt

A final example of how intensive education and well thought out job training programs have a real impact on our fleet is in that of J.B. Hunt’s partnership with the University of Arkansas in 2012 to give a number of their managers access to educational programs, this allowing them to further their careers.

Called J.B. Hunt University, the customized program provides tangible education benefits not only to company executive and faculty members, but to employees as well. As managers and directors get better, everyone benefits.

Their program focuses on a holistic view of the supply chain, rather than a hierarchical one.  These types of opportunities don’t come to just anyone at every fleet. Motor carriers are innovating on the concept and finding new ways to hire and retain the right people. They are making it more about creating lasting value for the customer and less about the bottom line.

Why This is Important

We aren’t talking about training and education because it is a generic topic, but because it is important to the trucking industry. The transportation and logistics industry employs over 6 million people across the United States. Through 2018, an estimated 270,000 new jobs are due to be created.

With demand growing and the need for talented people increasing, fleets will have to become more innovative in how they attract and retain the right people. With comprehensive and creative training programs in place, they’re sure to be successful. The future of trucking looks bright with well-trained people behind the wheel.

What Will Future Reefers Look Like?

You’re very familiar with them. Likely you may drive them. Reefers, or refrigerated trailers, are an essential part of the freight supply chain. These vehicles haul freight that needs to be kept at very specific temperatures for very specific reasons.

Even so, trailer refrigeration technology has remained relatively static over the years. So, what will the refrigerated trailer of tomorrow look like? Can we expect strong, lightweight material made of corrosion-proof materials? For many manufacturers, that is certainly the hope.

Evolution of the Reefer

For many years now, engineers have been involved in design improvements to temperature cooled trailers. Economic, efficient aluminum-sheet designs becoming the norm.

Still, far too many reefer trailers are made of sheet-and-post walls. The floors are generally supported by underbody crossmembers.

One thing truck drivers and fleet technicians are continuing to see is the use of non-metallic materials. Things like aluminum are great for strength, but it also conducts heat very well. Inside a wall cavity, they contribute far less to the trailer’s overall heat signature. This is where design comes in.

New trailer walls will come with a void between the inner and outer metal panels. The void between the aluminum is then filled with polyurethane foam insulation. The foam then acts as both an insulator and limits heat conduction, or any internal cold seeping through trailer walls.

Another way to better insulate a reefer trailer is to surround the narrow interior posts with foam. The one-inch posts, located within a 2-inch wall, allows for injection room between the open spaces.

More changes to foam insulation comes in 2020, when the federal government is making the switch to a more environmentally friendly foam. The “blowing agent” used in current industrial capacity foam for commercial vehicles is not environmentally friendly, which is what is prompting the change.

Greater Efficiency

Also, being looked at for increased reefer efficiency are aerospace-like composites. These advanced materials use little to no bolts, rivets or crossmembers, thus greatly decreasing the areas where air can escape.

Panel-type composite reefer trailers uses a molded structure that gives the 53-foot trailer up to 25% improvement over thermal performance, while at the same time being 20 percent lighter than conventional trailers.

These composites are a mixture of fiberglass, carbon fiber and resin. Carbon fiber is used for strength, and the rest of the materials help resist corrosion and other chemicals.

While many of these prototypes are currently being tested, how will they fare on actual roads, and will there be any repair issues when a technician is working on a trailer he or she is simply not familiar with?

Certainly, the area of maintenance may be the biggest stumbling block to full-scale adoption. Much like working on a truck hood, which is made of fiberglass, repairing these new advanced materials generally takes a sidewall patching material. Will there be a premium for these new materials?

Electric Reefer Units

The new buzzword on the block is in electric reefer units. Solar-generated electricity will supply all the power the trailer needs. This will save on both time and money and make the trailers far more reliable.

These electric systems also serve as a great way to cut back on exhaust fumes and greenhouse gases. And since there is charging infrastructure in place all around the country, these systems can be used for single or multi-temperature moving and stationary cold storage, as needed.

Shore power can be used at the docks but is expensive in yards. Since long stretches of wiring must be buried, human error – such as driving away still plugged in – increases the risk of unforced error.

Still, as technology marches forward unapologetically, expect to see the reefers of the future become the reefers of today.

Fleet Technician – Why Proper Tire Inflation Is So Important

Are you an enterprising fleet technician looking to get the most out of your equipment and maximize life for value on your vehicles? If so, you need every trick in the book you can get your hands on.

The fact is each aspect of vehicle maintenance is governed by multiple components. Today, we will look at one such component: Tire inflation. Sure, it may seem like a small thing, but inflation is very important, for several reasons, not the least of which being truck driver safety. There’s a lot riding on your tires. You want to make sure they are properly inflated.

Inflation in Mind

Keeping tires properly inflated is more than just a good maintenance practice, it helps equipment last longer and perform better. Are you using a tire inflation system on your trailer? If not, you should be. The benefit to you is longer tire life.

You want to take care to avoid both over- and underinflation. Over-inflated tires are harder than properly inflates tires. This makes them more vulnerable to tread surface cutting, punctures or other various types of impact breaks.

Over-inflation also dramatically changes the tire’s footprint, which can negatively impact tire traction and result in irregular wear patterns. Generally, the probable cause of excessive wear on a tire is over-inflation. You can expect an accelerated tread wear cost of 7 to 15 percent over the life of the tire.

Some fleets are opting for inflation transducers that monitor a tire’s inflation level and report it to the truck driver.

Flats happen, it’s just a fact when you are driving thousands of miles over the nation’s poorly maintained roads, highways and bridges. Utilizing a tire inflation monitoring system allows you to keep tabs on specific tire inflation alert levels. A ‘cautionary’ reading could mean the tire is slightly under-inflated, while a ‘critical’ reading means the tire could be considered legally flat if caught by an inspector.

Using a tire inflation monitoring system also helps to reduce your fleet’s labor costs. When you know exactly what is going on with your tires in real time, it avoids costly time spent in the shop with your fleet technician.

Some systems even go so far as to replenish air when the tire needs it. Others offer patented air sealing systems. But while many focus on the truck, what about the trailer?

For many trucking companies, trailers coming out of the yard is a problem when their tires have lost air. To get around this fleets move to a system where the trailer is connected to electrical lines once it is backed in. A sensor monitors the tire inflation level and keeps it at optimum. When the trailer is removed, it can head straight to the road without any need to stop by the shop for a tire inflation check.

Some Labor

Although in some cases there is some up-front installation required, the initial time spent on these systems is outweighed by the long-term benefits of using them.

Still, that doesn’t mean there are no maintenance costs at all. In some tire inflation systems, the O-rings may need to be replaced on the valve stems. This is where the system connects to the tire. Any part of the system that mechanically attaches to the vehicle is subject to wear or replacement.

As a capable fleet technician, you want to make sure you are harnessing everything in your arsenal to increase the life and operational efficiency of the vehicles in your stable. As such, if you aren’t considering advanced systems like tire inflation monitoring and control devices, you may be missing out on a crucial tool.

Entry-Level Driver Training Rule For New Truck Drivers

The Department of Transportation (DOT) released the final rule on the Entry-Level Driver Training rule. The rule essentially establishes a core curriculum that new truck drivers will be required to learn. They will also be required to go through 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Finally, the rule outlines a minimum level of qualification for instructors, tests, vehicles and more. All this information would be used to create a truck driving trainer registry.

While some argue this is an unnecessary measure, something like this has been in the works for a long time, and industry players from all sides have waded in on the matter. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Details

The proposed rule is set to thoroughly outline how classroom and practical training should go.

New truck drivers would be required to learn:

  • The basics on driving the truck
  • Operating the controls
  • Reading the instruments
  • Pre- and post-trip inspections
  • How to safely back into a dock
  • Hours-of-service regulations

The training will also require a minimum of 10 hours driving on a range and either 10 hours on public roads or 10 trips at 50 minutes a piece, again, on public roads.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has estimated that the 10-year cost of the rule will ring in at just a little over $5.5 billion. This cost considers carrier, driver, trainer and state agency costs.

The Costs

Digging deeper into the estimated costs, it looks as though the bulk of the program costs will be carried by the truck drivers themselves. By 2020 these costs are estimated to ring in at around $27 million dollars. By 2029? Almost $30 million.

Still, the FMCSA defends these numbers by saying that the rules perceived benefits will outweigh the high price tag, though they do admit some of those benefits are indirect. As an example, they cite that better training will lead to safer, more efficient driving techniques. This will result in a reduction in fuel consumption and lower environmental costs.

They point to trained truck drivers saving the industry $75 million in fuel costs by 2020 and almost $180 million by 2029. Lower maintenance and repair costs could bring in almost $45 million by 2020 and more than double that by 2029. Indirect benefits could include less severe crashes.

Voices at the Table

Fortunately, the FMCSA underwent a thorough negotiation session with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). They also consulted major training school and trucking safety advocacy groups. Finally, they took public comment before submitting their text to the Office on Management and Budget.

The fact is, the DOT has been working on something like this for over 30 years. They began the process in 1985, as a part of the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The question now is how the final rule will impact trucking’s bottom line. From the truck driver to the motor carrier and state level, what kind of impact will this have on trucking operations? With the final rule set to land any day now, you can bet we’ll be back here telling you all about it here at the QuickTSI blog.

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