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7 Ways to Cut Idling Costs

Limiting idle time is a sure-fire way to cut fuel costs for over-the-road fleets, but how do you do it without compromising driver comfort?

June 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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Volvo was the first truck maker to offer built-in shore power systems. Shore power can be used on its own or in conjunction with other idle reduction systems on the market.
Volvo was the first truck maker to offer built-in shore power systems. Shore power can be used on its own or in conjunction with other idle reduction systems on the market.

Royal Jones, president and CEO of Mesilla Valley Transportation, is known for his near-obsessive attention to saving fuel. Yet eight or nine years ago, the fleet was averaging nearly 50% idle time.

After researching and trying various idle reduction methods, today MVT uses a 3-minute idle shutdown timer and Idle Free electric auxiliary power units with shore power connections.

As a result, the Southwest-based fleet is down to 3% to 4% idle time in the winter and spring, although it creeps up to around 10% in the summer.

In contrast, a typical linehaul fleet sees 20% to 30% idle time over the course of a year, according to Aaron Peterson, chief engineer of vehicle performance at Navistar. Some fleets are even upwards of 40%.

“A general rule of thumb is every extra 10% idle time equates to another percentage point in fuel economy savings,” Peterson says.

Carrier is just one of a number of companies offering auxiliary power units. One drawback to APUs is they require frame rail space and add extra weight.
Carrier is just one of a number of companies offering auxiliary power units. One drawback to APUs is they require frame rail space and add extra weight.

Higher fuel costs, stricter environmental and idling regulations, and new technology are driving more fleets to take multi-pronged approaches to saving fuel wasted while idling. However, there are still many fleets without idle reduction policies or technology.

“Some small to medium size fleets just aren’t onboard yet with the entire idle reduction savings,” says John Dennehy, vice president of marketing at cab-heater supplier Espar Products. “I still see 50% of vehicles out there that still aren’t implementing idle reduction.”

Why aren’t more fleets cutting idling?

“I think in general, fleets are very cognizant of idle time,” says Navistar’s Peterson. “However, they are also very cognizant of driver turnover. They want to make sure they provide the comfort that drivers expect.”
In order to provide that comfort without idling, you have to invest in auxiliary power, heating and cooling.

“You’ve got to have this technology to recruit operators and drivers,” says Nick Forte, fleet maintenance administrator with Prime Inc. in Springfield, Mo. “How many of us would want to live somewhere on the side of the road where you can’t watch TV, use your PlayStation or Skype with your family?” Not to mention being able to sleep comfortably in 90-degree weather.

For some fleets, it’s also a weight issue. Depending on the application, the tradeoff in fuel savings might not be worth losing several hundred pounds of payload.

Then there’s the up-front cost. While there are a range of idle reduction solutions, a full-blown APU that can slash idling to next to zero is not cheap.
“We always encourage fleets to look at the total cost of ownership of an idle reduction solution,” says Josh Lupu, marketing manager, Webasto Product North America. “This means, don’t just look at the initial cost. Look at the efficiency of the product to really calculate how soon it will pay for itself.”

Payback periods can be relatively short on an APU – less than three years, based on fuel savings alone, says Dean Lande, APU business manager for Carrier Transicold, which offers a diesel-powered APU. Less idling also means less engine wear, he says. “It can mean extended engine life and better trade-in value.”

At one time, idle reduction products were nearly all an aftermarket solution.

Today, truck manufacturers now offer APUs, cab heaters and other idle reduction technology installed in the factory, both their own brand as well as some third-party options.

They also may offer a pre-wiring package for your desired aftermarket idle reduction solution.

At Kenworth, for instance, “customers tell Kenworth which aftermarket APU they plan to purchase, and Kenworth provides electrical connections to a single point back of the sleeper for easy aftermarket installation,” says Erik Johnson, Kenworth on-highway marketing manager.

Following are seven technologies that could help reduce idling in your fleet.

1. Idle Shutdown

Automatic idle shutdown could be considered the “first tier” of idle reduction. The ability to program the engine to shut down after five minutes of idling (or less) is available from all truck makers.

“Programs such as ambient temperature override allow the engine to idle in extreme low and high temperatures, this is critical for customers who do not choose APUs but still want some idle shut down benefits,” says Mary Aufdemberg, director, product marketing, Freightliner Trucks.

More truck makers are offering their own factory-installed electric auxiliary power systems, such as this ParkSmart unit from Freightliner.
More truck makers are offering their own factory-installed electric auxiliary power systems, such as this ParkSmart unit from Freightliner.

2. Cab Heaters

Cab heaters are less expensive, smaller and lighter weight than full-blown APUs, but they don’t offer electricity for “hotel loads” – creature comforts such as TVs, computers, etc.

Cab heaters can work by using engine coolant, much as your truck’s own heating system does, or they can be diesel-fired. They can be used on their own, or may be part of an electric APU setup.

One diesel-fired unit is Espar’s Airtronic D2 bunk heater. About the size of a loaf of break and mounted under the bunk, it draws a small amount of diesel fuel from the truck’s tank and runs very much like a home furnace, explains Espar’s Dennehy. “It’s run by a thermostat so it’s just like you’re controlling your heat at home.”

Espar is even close to making available a bunk heater that works on compressed natural gas for truck owners going the route of CNG fueling for their trucks.

Webasto recently introduced what it calls SmarTemp Control, a digital controller that works with Webasto bunk heaters and allows the user to choose the desired bunk temperature.

3. Auxiliary Air Conditioning

There are a few cooling solutions without going to a full-blown APU.
Dometic, for instance, has an auxiliary air conditioning system that runs on 12-volt power from an onboard bank of batteries using an inverter. The batteries are automatically recharged by the alternator whenever the truck is running or from shore power.

Webasto has an unusual thermal storage unit, BlueCool Truck, which charges itself while the vehicle is in motion so it can cool the bunk during rest hours.

IdleAir offers a truckstop-based idle reduction solution that offers heating, cooling, electrical power and other amenities delivered via this unit that fits in the truck's window.
IdleAir offers a truckstop-based idle reduction solution that offers heating, cooling, electrical power and other amenities delivered via this unit that fits in the truck's window.

4. Auxiliary Power Units

There are two main categories of APUs: Traditional diesel-fueled and those that use batteries/electricity.

The big advantage to a diesel-powered APU is that, spec’d properly, it can handle just about any hotel load drivers throw at it on top of heating and cooling needs. On the downside, it’s still using some amount of diesel fuel, even though it is much less. In California, you may need to add a diesel particulate filter.

Electric APUs are quieter, and they aren’t adding another diesel engine to the truck, with its additional fuel use and maintenance costs.

Their biggest disadvantage is they require more careful use of air conditioning and hotel loads to ensure the driver has comfortable conditions for his entire rest period and so the truck batteries are not drawn down too much. For 34-hour restarts, some sort of idling or shore power will be required.

Both diesel and electric APUs mean added weight and require space on the frame rail and/or under the bunk, but makers are doing what they can.
For instance, RigMaster is marketing the LG200 diesel-powered APU, which it built to Prime Inc.’s specs. According to Prime’s Forte, it weighs only 327 pounds, compared to more traditional APUs that are closer to 500, and takes up less space.

Many fleets have reported high maintenance costs for APUs, especially the traditional diesel-fueled ones. APU manufacturers are working to address that. Thermo King, for instance, offers improved diagnostics and a new 1,500-hour extended maintenance interval on its TriPac Evolution APU.

A number of APUs offer the ability to plug in to shore power, especially the electric ones, because it addresses the problems of staying comfortable beyond the eight- to 10-hour limit.

If shore power’s not available, one option that can help is an auto stop/start system.

Navistar’s MaxxPower APU, for instance, will monitor the battery charge and engine oil temperature. At programmable thresholds, it will automatically start the truck in order to recharge the batteries. This typically takes about 70 minutes, Peterson says.

Later this year, Freightliner’s ParkSmart will be available with something similar, called Opt Idle. ParkSmart monitors the temperature in the cabin, using the batteries. Once the batteries reach a low level, Opt Idle will start up the engine to recharge the battery, proving unlimited ParkSmart run time.
However, for New Jersey-based NFI Industries, a mostly dedicated carrier where sustainability is a major focus, automatically starting the truck to recharge the APU batteries was not enough.

“To us that’s still idling,” says Bill Bliem, senior vice president of fleet services. “If you add up 70 minutes, over a month that equals a lot of minutes of idling.”

Instead, NFI uses electric APUs such as the Bergstrom Nite, and worked with Daimler Trucks North America to design battery chargers it could use in conjunction with shore power so the APUs could handle a 34-hour restart.
Some fleets also are concerned that the noise and motion of a truck engine starting up during a driver’s rest period could mean lower-quality sleep that would lead to fatigue.

One electric APU that works a little differently is the reefer-based Idle Free Electric APU. When the truck’s engine is off and the reefer is running, the Idle Free system converts the energy produced by the reefer’s alternator into 120-volt AC electricity using a pure sine wave inverter. This electricity is used to provide power for the Idle Free air conditioning, heat and electrical power.

As a split system, Kenworth’s new factory-installed idle management system, an option on the T680 with a 76-inch sleeper, provides one of the smallest footprints in the industry, says the company. A digital LCD display makes it easier for drivers to control the unit.
As a split system, Kenworth’s new factory-installed idle management system, an option on the T680 with a 76-inch sleeper, provides one of the smallest footprints in the industry, says the company. A digital LCD display makes it easier for drivers to control the unit.

5. Shore Power

Many of the above technologies can be used in conjunction with shore power, which brings standard AC voltage into the truck cab so drivers can power microwaves, mini-refrigerators and other electrical devices.

Shore power also can be used on its own.

“Truckstop electrification provides environmental benefits that come from not running the truck engine or even an APU engine,” says Carrier’s Lande, “and at around $1 per hour for electricity, it may also provide a cost savings in situations where drivers need to park for short rest breaks or overnight stops.”

Volvo was the first North American truck maker to offer built-in shore power connections, and most of its large sleepers today are spec’d with this option, according to Frank Bio, Volvo Trucks product manager.

To reduce the need for idling to keep batteries charged, Volvo offers an inverter/converter package that can charge the batteries through shore power or run 110-volt appliances directly from shore power.

The biggest disadvantage is that there is not an extensive network of shore power facilities.

Shore Power Technologies recently completed electrifying the I-5 corridor between Washington and California.

Truckers will find 14 truckstops along the corridor with shore power. Other parts of the country, however, are a different story.

Shore Power is working with Cascade Sierra Solutions to put in more truckstop electrification through a Department of Energy funded program called STEP (Shorepower Truck Electrification Project.)

Alan Bates, vice president of marketing for Shorepower Technologies, notes that the number of truckstops offering power has increased by 314% since the beginning of 2012. “In five years, we expect 400 to 500 truckstops will be offering powering.”

As truckstop electrification becomes more readily available, NFI will increase its number of tractors equipped to use it.

“It’s kind of like natural gas, where we’re running a small number of natural gas tractors and waiting for the infrastructure,” Bliem says.

In the meantime, some drivers get pretty creative when it comes to finding places to plug in.

Matt Purtee says he knows of a few truckstops that have light poles with plug-ins at the base.

“I get to those sites early so I can tap into the power before someone else does,” says the owner-operator, who hauls equipment for NFL broadcasts and popular TV programs.

“I’ve even bobtailed into RV parks and plugged in. I get a few interesting looks, but I don’t mind. They have power and I need it.”

6. Other Off-Truck Options

There are also services that install devices in parking spaces to provide not only electricity, but also air conditioning, heating and other features such as TV or Internet access.

Perhaps the most well-known is IdleAir.

“Right now we know that 95% of all trucks either have an APU or can’t use straight shore power,” says Ethan Garber, CEO of Convoy Solutions, which bought the troubled company three years ago. “We don’t think there is a huge amount of demand for [shorepower alone].”

After working to revitalize the truckstop network, Convoy Solutions is turning its attention to what it calls dedicated terminal solutions.

For some fleets, IdleAir’s network of truckstop locations may not fit into their footprint, even with 50 sites planned by the end of this year and 100 by the end of 2015. So IdleAir is offering to install the same service at fleet facilities that IdleAir has at its truckstop locations.

IdleAir expects to have six of these locations operating by the end of summer.

Another off-truck idle reduction provider that is trying to rejuvenate the concept is AireDock. The company is undergoing a major corporate restructuring, including new leadership, and is opening a new location in Texas.

The AireDock unit adjusts to fit in the driver’s side window and delivers electric power, fresh filtered air, heating and air conditioning, and Internet access. No special adapter is required.

7. Don’t forget about the cargo

The truck engine isn’t the only engine using fuel – there’s also the refrigeration unit on reefer trucks and trailers. There are several options there, too. For instance, Carrier Transicold and Thermo King both offer refrigeration units that also can use shore power through electric standby capability.

For refrigerated straight trucks, there are cold plate refrigeration systems, available on bodies from manufacturers such as Johnson Refrigerated Truck Bodies, Hercules Manufacturing, Kidron and Morgan Corp.

Prime Inc. is taking an innovative approach to cutting idling in its tanker fleet, where you have to idle the truck to heat temperature-sensitive products such as chocolate.

Forte adapted a Webasto coolant heater designed for school buses to heat the coolant that keeps the tanker product warm, without running the truck engine. It saves about 0.7 gallons of fuel per hour, he says.

The right technology or combination of technologies is going to be different for every fleet.

“Really stop and take a look at your business model,” recommends Forte.

“Maybe it’s a hybrid of a couple different technologies. The key is getting the operators to buy into the program. It doesn’t matter what we put on these trucks, if our over-the-road professionals don’t use them, it’s not going to make a difference.”

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