When combined with mobile communications, routing and other technologies, fleets may be able to further reduce the gallons they burn and pay less for the fuel they use.
"Fuel is the biggest driver" in prompting fleets to adopt new technology, says Brian McLaughlin, chief operating officer of PeopleNet.
"From the enterprise transportation system perspective, the best way you can reduce fuel use is to plan your business the most effective way, and that means to run less empty miles," explains David McKinney, vice president optimization, TMW Systems. According to McKinney, a management system not only improves planning and routing, but when coupled with mobile tracking and communications, it can also monitor the progress of a load through a trip and identify when a driver is incurring excessive miles.
Christian Schenk, vice president product development Xata Corp., says fleets use mobile and onboard technologies to reduce fuel usage by monitoring and minimizing out-of-route miles, ensuring that engine idle is eliminated and even monitoring the use of auxiliary technology such as APUs or cab heaters.
"If I went back 10 years ago, the driving factor for fleets in making technology buying decisions was based on the cost of the driver," Schenk says. "It was really about accountability: how do we ensure the driver does what he says he is doing, arrives on time, departs on time, takes the proper route and minimizes out-of-route miles.
"Fast forward about 5 years and [technology buying decisions] were really focused on the increase in fuel costs. Trucking technology providers started creating solutions that did a great job at managing fuel-related costs."
Because driving behavior is key to how much fuel a truck burns, Schenk says these technologies help in managing and training drivers by providing data on things such as excessive rpm, speeding and shift patterns.
With fuel prices are again on the rise, these fuel-saving tools remain as important as ever.
With the increasing use of telematics, there is more of that information available in real time than ever. Morey Corp., an OEM telematics manufacturer, says telematics products help fleets manage four specific fuel-related areas: idle time, engine speed, hard braking and off-route miles.
In addition to routing and driver issues, some vehicle configurations may get better fuel economy in a particular application than others. Most fleet management software allows managers to track individual vehicle performance. Schenk notes that fleets can create a vehicle profile and compare that profile to other vehicles running similar lanes or routes. "This allows companies to identify potential mechanical issues, or perhaps better spec out equipment for future purchases."
Using less fuel is one way to cut fuel costs. But fleets still have to buy fuel. Many use a variety of strategies when it comes to buying bulk fuel, but products also exist to help fleets of all sizes pay less for their fuel on the road.
"Reducing miles is one way to reduce fuel costs," TMW's McKinney says. "Another way is to purchase the gallons you have to purchase effectively." He says a fuel optimization system benefits a carrier in two ways. First, it can reduce the overall average cost of the fuel options available. Second, the system allows carriers to continually monitor the average cost for each trip so they can take advantage of the best price possible.
Fuel optimization systems, such as the IDSC Expert Fuel system from TMW, integrate with standard routing applications such as ALK's PC*Miler or Rand McNally, and bring together the technology a carrier has already invested in, such as mobile communications and enterprise software.
Most optimization programs take into account the kind of equipment carriers are using, the commodity hauled, oversize or other restricted routing in developing a fuel plan.
Expert Fuel can monitor toll roads versus non-toll roads, letting a fleet manager know if makes sense to route around a toll road or if will cost less in fuel to use the toll road and pay the toll.
As another example, Prophesy Transportation Solutions offers its FuelLogic fuel purchase optimization software. Like other products, it works with a carrier's existing fuel networks, fuel cards and negotiated discounts to find the best prices along a route.
Many carriers have negotiated discounts with truckstop chains. But because that's often X number of cents off the listed retail price, even within a carrier's preferred fuel network, prices can vary as much as 10 to 15 cents per gallon. A fuel optimization program provides a way for fleet managers to identify these differences so they can select fuel stops with the lowest possible price.
ProMiles offers two versions of fuel optimization software that work with its routing and management system, ProMiles XF Kingpin. The system features a fuel price mapping technology that allows managers to see where the least expensive fuel is along a route. The Fuel Management Pro package integrates wholesale prices from OPIS and tracks a fleet's cost-plus discounts, retail-minus discounts, tax rates, average price and contains data on over 9,600 truckstops. A Fuel Management Lite version tracks retail price data and retail-minus discounts.
Most of these systems also look at what the driver did versus the plan and generate reports so managers can share with drivers how much they saved by adhering to the fuel plan - or how much they cost the company by not complying.
McKinney says such compliance reporting is an integral part of a fuel optimization system. Most drivers want to help their companies control costs, but carriers can't be sure they are getting the level of compliance they need unless they measure it. "Then you can coach the drivers and driver management staff on why it's important to comply with the fuel plan."
Qualcomm Enterprise Services offers a Fuel Manager module as part of its transportation services portfolio. The system tracks vehicle and driver performance via direct interface with the vehicle's sensor inputs or onboard data bus.
The system can monitor 14 areas that affect fuel consumption and present this data to fleet managers via a dashboard-type display. The system provides historical data and can show the best and worst drivers in relation to these performance measures.
And as with other systems, Fuel Manager quantifies the impact of driving behavior in terms of fuel and other costs and can generate driver scorecards for coaching and training purposes.
McLeod Software integrates fuel optimization software from partner vendors in its fleet management system. "We are seeing a push for information on driver performance and driving habits," says Robin Hamlin, McLeod product manager. "Anything to do with driver performance, our customers are interested in."
Fleets can save gallons and dollars by taking advantage of the capabilities of their trucking management software, mobile communications and routing products. Whether those systems are full-featured enterprise packages or Web-based applications, there are products available for all sizes of fleets.
From the June 2011 Issue of Heavy Duty Trucking