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Get More Work Out Of Work Trucks

Maximizing fleet productivity often is determined by the type of fleet and drive cycles, and each truck model should be managed differently based on a number of variables.

Robert Johnson, National Truck Equipment Association

Maximizing fleet productivity often is determined by the type of fleet and drive cycles, and each truck model should be managed differently based on a number of variables.

Making sure that the right size vehicle is used for each application is a good starting point. If trucks are fully loaded at the start of the day, but have to come back for a second load, using larger trucks, may be a solution. This can save time and reduce total vehicle mileage. On the other hand, trucks hauling only partial loads can be replaced with smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Another right-sizing opportunity is to replace three trucks that operate in the same general area with two larger trucks. Larger trucks also can be equipped with material-handling devices to speed up cycle times with one less vehicle.

Downtime and on-the-road breakdowns occur when trucks are overloaded or improperly designed for the application. This not only destroys a fleetís productivity, it also is dangerous and expensive. Learn how to properly match a truck to its application before buying another.

The routes that a fleet travels also can be optimized for shortening cycle times, decreasing fuel consumption and minimizing wear. Computer-based map programs can be advantageous when reviewing route options. Technology-savvy operators may even consider using computer-based modeling programs such as Whatís Best to model routes.

Specialized truck bodies, mounted equipment and other accessories have been designed to make work trucks more productive and are in constant development. Keeping a watch on what's available and occasional upgrades help ensure the best technology is being employed. A simple upgrade can be as effective as purchasing a new vehicle. Make detailed reviews of current and projected work truck requirements, and determine what products are available including specialized bodies to enhance productivity.

A combination of increasing labor costs and the availability of new components may make it worthwhile to upgrade to more specialized truck bodies and equipment. Take time to talk to equipment providers, do research on the Web sites and attending trade shows.

One measure of productivity is the quantity of assets being used to perform a specific task. This may be measured in hours of labor per unit, total cost per unit, or gallons of fuel burned per task. The Department of Energy has estimated that the typical Class 6 / 7 work truck has an equivalent fuel economy of around 6 miles per gallon. In many cases, a significant portion of fuel is burned in non-productive operation (idling) or while operating engine-driven auxiliary equipment (PTO operation). Anything you can do to reduce this type of engine operation will have a direct impact on your fleetís productivity.

Many cities, counties and even states have implemented idling restrictions for commercial vehicles. Expect even more areas to adopt these restrictions in the future.

Many newer trucks can be programmed to automatically shut down the engine after a specified period of idling. Aftermarket systems are available as well as systems that will automatically start an engine during PTO operations when there is a demand for power and shut down after a specified period of idle time. In some operating cycles, these systems can produce significant reductions in non-productive engine operation.

The need for auxiliary power at a job site does not necessarily mean keeping the engine running. Many soft hybrid technologies provide auxiliary power on demand. These include electric PTOs (E-PTOs), battery-powered static inverters to provide commercial-quality AC electric power (120- and 240-volt) and auxiliary engine-driven systems. Auxiliary engine power systems are available to provide commercial-quality electricity, welding capabilities, hydraulic power and compressed air.

In addition to the auxiliary engine-driven systems mentioned above, electric-powered (battery) systems are available to support cab heating and cooling for shorter periods of time. Fuel-fired systems maintain not only cab heat, but also keep the engine water jacket warm and even pre-warm hydraulic fluids. These systems are very effective in cold climates and can maintain acceptable temperatures for extended periods of time while consuming a small fraction of the fuel that would be burned by operating the truckís engine.

The largest impact on productivity obviously is the driver, so it's important to monitor the operator and maintain communication. In certain operating and drive cycles, the use of telematics (including GPS systems) can significantly increase productivity. At the same time, some systems will allow monitoring vehicle operation and identify potential problems before they result in failures.

Electronic data collection and management systems allow for almost instantaneous collection and tracking of data in areas such as inventory control, job-specific component selection, and pickup and delivery. These technologies include radio frequency identification, optical bar code scanning, GPS location interface, and computer-generated parts picking lists. All of these systems are designed to improve inventory control. These help reduce the amount of time spent performing administrative functions, which means less time chasing forgotten materials and more actual production.

There is no denying that ìgreenî is in. Many operations have incorporated some type of mandate or purchasing philosophy to increase the green elements within their fleets. Many of the same steps that improve fleet productivity also can contribute to greening a fleet. Using smaller vehicles, improving fuel utilization, reducing idle time and using lighter weight equipment for upfits all contribute to reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Over time, more productive vehicles will increase efficiency and save money.