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Trucking Industry: An Update On Hybrid Electric And Natural Gas Powertrains

With so many manufacturers already testing advanced truck concepts and technology continuing to reshape the tractor and trailer – both literally and figuratively – the trucking landscape is changing. New technologies allow for things like route planning and fuel efficiency to be taken to the next level.

Today, we will take a look at a few new technologies that may reshape the truck you drive in the future. After all, the future is now.

The Turbine-Electric Drivetrain

Although there has been plenty of innovation around the inside of the cab and the trailer, the one area where there stands to be more innovation is in the drivetrain. The standard diesel-driven model – though made better over the years – is getting a little long in the tooth.

Now, converting a truck’s diesel and automatic powertrain into a turbine-electric plug-in hybrid is easier than ever. The fact is, diesel is not getting any cheaper and global warming isn’t going away.

Still, each alternative is not without its challenges. Many hybrid models still utilize a hefty diesel engine component. Compressed natural gas may come with some storage, range and maintenance issues. While landfill gas is free, the gas must be filtered, and natural gas stations don’t run cheap.

Enter the turbine-electric drivetrain. While retrofits aren’t cheap, costing around $200,000 to complete, it’s still $300,000 less than it would be to set up a whole new diesel chassis. Though it is worth noting that a natural-gas conversion still comes in under $100,000.

For applications like city garbage trucks or regional delivery vehicles, this setup makes a lot of sense considering the constant stopping and starting. These setups deliver a turbine engine that generates 325 hp. The turbine does not propel the truck, however. Instead it turns a generator that produces energy sent to lithium ion batteries.

The batteries then power a set of electric motors. The motors drive through 4-speed gearboxes. There is no differential on the rear tandem axle. Together, the electric motors can generate up to 1,000 hp and 40,000 lb-feet of torque. Of course, for most applications that kind of power will be electronically limited.

During braking, the motors become generators and send electricity back to the batteries. This prevents the turbine from working too hard and limits wear on foundation brakes. Expect plug-in capability to come in around 40 miles on grid power alone. Add the turbine generator and you get potentially unlimited range.

It is believed this powertrain could potentially save 50 to 90 percent in fuel over a traditional diesel setup. Systems like these could one day go a long way to easing air quality and fuel efficiency concerns.

Barriers to Natural Gas

Due to the increased interest in transitioning away from standard diesel powertrains, many fleets have been turning to natural gas. Unfortunately, this fuel source is not without its own drawbacks.

According to a recent joint-study by the Environmental Defense Fund and Columbia University, the challenge with natural gas powered trucks lies in the main ingredient: Methane. Methane has 84 times more warming power than carbon dioxide when you scale it out over 20 years.

The problem doesn’t lie in the trucks however. Natural gas trucks have a great potential to help reduce the impacts of climate change, but the emissions from the manufacturing methods that produce and deliver the fuel must be reduced.

While the report does make the point that natural gas should remain a crucial part of our energy infrastructure, the report did raise serious questions about its viability in the transportation sector. Would large-scale moves simply make things worse or would they contribute to a truly climate-positive model? Only time will tell.

Trucking Companies: Using Technology To Improve Customer Service

When it comes to today’s game of hide-and-seek with finding the right freight carrier, consumers can be very finicky. Gone are the days when fleets can rely on customer loyalty alone. Consider a survey completed by American Express in 2014 which said that over a third of people who have just one bad experience with a company they will switch to a competitor.

Over half reported that they will tolerate no more than two or three negative incidents before taking their business elsewhere. So you can see why it is so important for your business to keep customer service at the very top of your priority list.

More Than One Touchpoint

The fact is, customer service involves more than just one interaction or touchpoint. One example could be making sure you let a customer know when you are going to make good on a delivery or service. Another could be the condition of the employee, vehicle or cargo once it reaches its destination.

Each different interaction gives you an opportunity to showcase your fleet’s customer service chops. You have many opportunities to end up with a satisfied customer. Remember that American Express survey? Well it reported a full 60 percent of Americans as citing they walked away from a sale because of poor service at least once.

With multiple touchpoints, the potential for a bad experience goes up. We now live in an environment where social media, reviews and word-of-mouth marketing can make or break a business. When you deliver on the promise of outstanding customer service you put yourself at a competitive advantage over your peers.

That being said, we get that when you operate a fleet, there are certain things that are outside of your control. Both your vehicles and your truck drivers are an extension of your operation. When a vehicle breaks down, it could cause a situation where your delivery is late. That kind of experience could damage your reputation with that customer, and possibly more. So what’s a fleet manager to do?

Fleet Management Solutions and GPS

If you haven’t heard of fleet management solutions, you might not be operating on the cutting edge of the trucking industry.  Fleet management solutions offer unique ways to get rid of troublesome time-wasting tasks, which lets you focus on more important things. There are several specific ways a fleet management system can work for your business.

Depending on the type of fleet you are operating, you likely need accurate location data for each of your operators. You need to be able to provide timely billing information to your customers, and be accurate every time.

By providing transparency over how long a truck driver is on a run, what their timecards say, what you’re billing and what the GPS reports, your customers know they can trust you. Should there be a dispute, you will have hard data to use when you respond to customer concerns. Getting to the bottom quickly helps you keep that customer satisfied.

You can also use geofencing, which allows you to set customizable, virtual boundaries for your truck drivers. When you ensure your people aren’t wasting their time, you won’t have to worry about any over-the-top bills.

Utilizing GPS tracking also lets you provide a quick and more accurate response to on-the-spot questions. You can also gain a good historical perspective on how long certain jobs might take. Finally, GPS allows you to shape your truck operator’s feedback and training with actionable data.

To exceed your customer’s expectation each and every time takes hard work, but it is very worth it. When one customer speaks highly of your service, you may suddenly end up with more. When you promptly resolve all of their concerns, maintaining their satisfaction and loyalty becomes much easier.

How Advanced Technological Solutions Can Work For Your Fleet

Did you know you can use technology to improve both efficiencies and operational effectiveness? There are just far too many advanced technological ways for you to be managing your operation for you not to be taking advantage of them.

Today, we are going to dive deeper into how to streamline your company’s workflows. And we have one word for you: Simple. All you need to do is reduce the number of manual processes you rely on. But how do you accomplish that?

Technological Efficiencies

As a business owner or fleet manager, there are a number of things you are responsible for. Face it, you wear many different hats. When you don’t have to spend time tracking down who is in what tractor, you have more time to focus on managing the overall operation.

As technology evolves, whether or not you succeed can have a direct impact on what other parts of your company are able to get done. Your decisions trickle on down the line, from the shop to the back office. Today, new fleet management technologies allow you to connect yourself with those in the field as well as your HR, safety and accounting departments.

Some integrated software solutions allow you to identify specific areas where workflow efficiencies are below standard. Integrated solutions allow you to cut out all the time you spend on paperwork and other manual processes.

You can also use these types of systems to find potential cost savings within other departments. Better relationships and more integrated approaches to common problems are the results. All of this has a direct impact on how you interact with your customers. When your stress level is lowered, naturally you are more adept at handling your operations, resulting in fewer errors.

Fuel Cards and Routing

Are you utilizing a fuel card program with integrated GPS tracking? These types of systems allow fleets to monitor where and when a truck driver makes a purchase. You can even limit their spending or create specific categories. No more credit card receipts and time wasted tracking down billing inconsistencies.

This frees up your back office from having to manage tedious data tasks; indeed, this data can now be tracked through the software itself. This also frees up your truck drivers to spend less time filling out forms or keeping track of receipts. That’s freed up time that can be spent handling customer service matters.

Also consider how you utilize routing. By employing the use of data and logistical analysis, you can ensure the right vehicles are on the right routes. Instead of spending time looking for the right operator at the last minute, you can use GPS tracking and advanced routing software to help you identify, schedule and maintain truck driver operations, thus eliminating unnecessary communication.

Better routing also impacts customer service by ensuring your operator gets to where they are going, each and every time. By pairing GPS tracking with navigation systems, you can manage your route configurations on the go and better allocate your resources.

Asset Tracking and Maintenance

Are you utilizing technology to handle your asset tracking and maintenance needs? Today you can increase your efficiencies by pinpointing asset locations, scheduling movement alerts and eliminating time locating equipment.

Consider also the impact on cargo theft. When you are able to precisely keep track of where your assets are, you are better prepared to prevent theft or loss.

Also consider your maintenance efforts. You want to ensure your vehicles maintain as much up-time as possible. Advanced fleet management provides you with real-time data you can use to schedule preventative maintenance on more accurate timeframes.

This way, you can reduce any downtime, get alerted when issues arise and get a good idea of when you may need to replace your equipment. Utilizing engine monitoring systems can provide you with the alerts you need the moment you need them.

So as you consider the different ways to improve your fleet’s efficiencies, ask yourself if you are utilizing technology to its fullest extent.

Trucking Companies: Which Bumper Is Right For You?

Today’s modern fleet has plenty of choices where bumpers are concerned. Whether you are looking for weight or corrosion-resistance, chances are there’s a bumper out there that can be spec’d to your needs. Still, there are things to consider. Let’s take a look at each bumper type.

Plastic Bumpers

Many truck manufacturers build their bumpers with plastic. The fact is, plastic is a lightweight and aerodynamic option. Still, the difference between the weight savings gain between plastic and metal isn’t as much as some believe. Also, should you be considering more than just weight and aerodynamic performance?

You may also need to look at things such as resistance to chipping, cracking, peeling and other appearance-related concerns, especially in regional or city driving. There are also environmental and serviceability considerations.

Chrome Bumpers

How good chrome performs depends on the technique employed to polish the metal. A chrome-plated bumper starts with a steel base material. Depending on the manufacturer, different grades of steel may be used. After the steel is formed and fabricated, the metal gets buffed and polished down.

The important part is that there be no polishing lines. If the chrome application is done correctly, imperfections will be smoothed out or covered during the electroplating process. Finally, the steel bumper is plated.

Plating adds a coating to the polished steel. The bumper is dipped in several tanks before a thin layer of chromium is plated over it. This electroplating process is what gives you your chrome finish.

Clad Bumpers

Clad bumpers fuse two different types of metal together. Upon fusion of the metals, the bumper becomes a solid material. Then it can be sent on to forming and fabrication.

Most Clad bumpers start with a pre-polished material at the base. The material will be put through a long and proprietary process that includes a number of buffing and polishing sessions. Once the bumper is formed, no further polishing or adding is required.

Managing Road Problems

Let’s face it, the bumper takes the brunt of the punishment. It sits mounted directly at the front of the vehicle, so it shouldn’t come as a big shock that it will undergo a series of impacts as the truck is driving down the road or highway.

Also consider that chemicals used to de-ice roads can have an extremely corrosive effect on the bumper. So how does each bumper type respond to damage?

  • Plastic: Although plastic does not usually rust or corrode, they are more susceptible to damage from road debris or other hazards or obstructions.
  • Chrome: Chrome bumpers are a lot better at resisting punctures or major damage. Their weakness is that they are susceptible to rust or corrosion.
  • Clad: Depending on what they are formed of, clad bumpers can be very rust and damage-resistant.

Environmental Considerations

It’s no secret that heavy-duty commercial vehicles have an impact on the environment. And certain product types are better for the environment than others. Being “green” goes beyond fuel consumption, it also encompasses manufacturing techniques.

Way back in 2004, the EPA launched their SmartWay initiative. This initiative was designed to reduce transportation-related emissions. The point was to reduce environmental risk and go a way to improving global energy and freight security.

If you want to have a SmartWay-verified trailer, then you may want to choose a bumper that can contribute to the trailer’s environmental “green” footprint. The chemicals used in manufacturing your next bumper will play into that. The key is to not buy a bumper manufactured with volatile organic compounds.

Keeping Up Appearances

Of course, looks matter. There is no getting around the fact that a new chrome bumper has some great visual appeal when you are dealing with customer service matters.

In the end, whether you go with chrome, plastic or clad, make sure you properly consider all the factors going into that purchase, from application to manufacturing technique.

Your vehicle’s bumper sits at the head of the table. You don’t want it giving your fleet a bad image. Choose wisely when you pick your next bumper.

Trucker Drivers: The Key To Managing Your Trailer Tires – Part I

While we spend a lot of time talking about tires for the tractor, far too often we neglect one of the other most important aspects of the rubber on the road: trailer tires. While many fleets opt to buy new tires, others are okay with letting their old drive and steer tires find their way to the back where the trailer can see them to the end of their life.

Still, do trailers really need to end up being the tire’s graveyard? The tires used in these applications are very often neglected and rarely undergo any sort of proactive maintenance. If you imagine fleets operating in the truckload sector, it’s not hard to imagine a tire going six months or longer without anyone looking at it.

Another complicating factor is that tires are often stolen from trailers left in drop yards. In some cases, a thief can get a tire off of the rim in less than 30 seconds. It may sound crazy, but it is absolutely true. All one needs to do is take off the valve stem, let some of the air out and then punch in the sidewall. As the air escapes, they can easily get the tire off of the rim.

Making Use of Your Tires

For some, this is reason enough to leave the worn out old drive and steer tires on the trailer. After all, why increase changes of theft with a nice shiny new pair of tires on the trailer?

Thought of from another perspective, the gains you enjoy from increased customer service and truck driver satisfaction may be enough to offset a few lost tires, if a theft even happens. So how should you proceed?

For many a fleet manager, the conventional wisdom is to simply retread a steer or drive tire once. After it has been used in the driver position, then it is usually retreaded again and then put onto the trailer.

In the truckload sector you can run three to one trailer to tractor ratios, which means many tires will come in as low as 40,000 miles a year in use. In this situations, a high quality, deep rubber tire should work for you just fine.

Others hold the view that letting the tires run down as low as they can, thus reducing rolling resistance, is the better way to go. But are they taking road hazard protection into account? Today’s tire service call, on average can run a fleet over a grand with a new tire. There would have to be a significant gain in fuel savings to justify the expense for that service call.

You may also run the risk of irritating your truck driver if he or she ends up with an angry customer at the other end of the run. Today’s big shippers likely won’t even bother to consider a bid from a carrier who isn’t sitting at 98 percent on time performance or better. Are you sure you want to lose out on that potential business because you made a bad bet on a well-used, worn out tire for the trailer position.

When to Pull

The Department of Transportation says that steer tires should be pulled at 4/32-inch tread depth remaining. For drive and trailer tires 2/32-inch is the regulation. More responsible industry recommendations would likely counsel going with 6/32 or 7/32, as opposed to what the DOT mandates.

One way you can manage the movement is to pull steer or drive position tires even earlier than that and rotate them back to the trailer where they can finish out their tread life. But one does also have to consider application.

In regional or city driving situations, nails and other road debris is much more prevalent, so pulling the tires early and retreading them will ensure the tire’s casing integrity doesn’t get compromised further on down the road.

There are other more specific applications that you must consider, which we will cover in Part II of our series. Join us back here in a couple days to get the final answer on trailer tires.

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