via Trucking Efficiency

via Trucking Efficiency

The North American Council on Freight Efficiency and the Carbon War Room have been studying the myriad of trucking technologies that improve efficiency. The most recent technology studied was lightweighting, resulting in the group’s latest “Confidence Report,” released August 25 at the Fleet Technology Expo in Long Beach, Calif.

The study began with three hypotheses:

  1. Tractor and trailer tare weights are increasing
  2. Logistics and freight handling improvements lead to more freight per shipment
  3. Weight sensitivity and the value for lightweighting will increase in the future.

The study group interviewed fleets, OEMs, component & system manufacturers and associations. There was general support of these hypotheses, with the exception of trailer manufacturers saying that their efforts have actually lowered trailer weights. 

On tractors, weight increases have been a result of emission regulations with new diesel equipment; fleets adding features to help retain and attract drivers; and the addition of technologies for improved freight efficiency.

Bulk haulers are the most sensitive to weight and have integrated many of the lightweight technologies available today, reducing truck weights by thousands of pounds using lightweight materials, wide-based tires, aluminum wheels, and right-sized cabs and engines.

Not all lightweighting technologies are applicable for each region. For instance, the 6x2 tandem axle arrangement delivers a reduction of up to 400 pounds, yet because there is also a reduction in tractive effort, it is not used in all regions, even for weight-sensitive bulk haulers.

While weight reduction is often synonymous with fuel economy, it takes thousands of pounds of reduction on a Class 8 truck to be measurable. However, reducing weight allows the ability to carry more payload, or it can allow for the addition of fuel economy products like aerodynamics and automatic manual transmissions without a weight penalty that consumes payload.

Similarly, lightweighting can offset the heavy equipment used to lure drivers. Driver shortages drive carriers to spec “high-rise” sleeper cabs – long, spacious, and heavy. Some weight-sensitive fleets would like to spec 13-liter or even 11-liter engines, but drivers and resale buyers believe the larger and heavier 15-liter is necessary.

Nothing comes for free. Those who enjoy the most direct benefit of lightweighting value it more and are more likely to buy it. Lower-weight features are generally categorized in a dollar per pound metric, which is a multiplier on the premium over the baseline component. Saving 50 pounds for a customer who is willing to pay $2 a pound means the customer will pay $100 more for the lightweight component. The bulk haulers will pay $6-11 per pound; the next category is largely reefers willing to pay $2-5 per pound, and the other 88%, general dry van freight, will pay $0-2 per pound. Once the product is spec’d as standard equipment, no one talks about dollars per pound.

In addition to the upfront cost, the challenges of lightweighting include impacts on resale value or maintenance. If those effects are unknown, buyers are wary. Loads and routes may vary from week to week, so it’s difficult to calculate the true value of lightweighting.

Another challenge that is inherent in the market is the redundancy in testing that slows the development from the product designer to the integration partner to the OEM to the fleet. Each level is consuming engineering time, money and resources all for the same goal, to prove value and reliability. 

The report uncovers many technologies that deliver substantial lightweighting opportunities for both tractors and trailers, available now and in future development. (See table on page XX.)

The Confidence Report concludes that the future of lightweighting will depend on three things:

  • Material innovations
  • Reducing the time to market
  • Achieving wide adoption in market segments other than bulk haulers

Confidence plays a big role in determining if a product is reliable and delivers on its advertised value. As fleets adopt these technologies and put millions of miles on them without issues, the popularity will grow. Look at the aluminum wheels that are prominent today on tractors and trailers. They deliver on many fronts – lightweighting, reduced rolling resistance, appearance and resale value. But it took 40 years to reach this level of market acceptance.