What if you got your fleet's average idle time down to about a third of the national average? Would you be satisfied that you had done all you could do?
If so, you might rethink your position after meeting Dennis Damman and Mike Beauchamp, of Schneider National. In the world of idle-reduction, few fleets have made as much progress as Green Bay, WI-based Schneider, and Damman and Beauchamp are two big reasons why.
The two men are part of a team searching for what may be the holy grail of trucking: a clean, reliable, lightweight, inexpensive, engine-off sleeper air conditioning system. And, according to Damman, director of engineering for tractors, even if they find it, they may not reap significant rewards.
BEATING THE INDUSTRY
"Cab cooling is certainly going to help us incrementally, but probably not to the point where fuel alone will pay for the technology," he explains. "Different fleets run different vocations, and it's hard to benchmark our fleet against anybody else's, because they could be running less aerodynamic tractors, or different engines, or maybe they're more short-haul than we are—there's definitely a fuel economy advantage if you're running long-haul—or they could be running heavy loads, or on secondary roads, so it's really hard to say if we're doing better than anybody else."
Certainly, Schneider already does a lot: according to Damman, the company spec's the most aerodynamic tractors available, it road speed limits the tractors, and spec's the most energy-efficient tires on the market.
"We have one of the lowest idle-reduction percentages of anyone in the industry," he says. "We've been working with our drivers, and they've been very cooperative at helping to reduce idling by only idling when it's absolutely necessary. The industry average is 44 percent, and we run at about a third of that for our idle. Which is good, but it doesn't leave a lot of money to offset the cost of the cab cooling and cab heating technologies that we know we need to put on the trucks. We have less of an opportunity to pay for an idling solution because we're already fairly low on our idle percentages."
The equation is straightforward: if your idling time is already down in the neighborhood of 15 percent, you've already reaped the lion's share of the benefits, and any further reduction idle time will yield smaller returns for a relatively larger investment. Still, knowing that, Schneider is forging ahead with plans to adopt a new cab cooling system across the entire fleet by the fourth quarter of 2007.
"Fuel economy has been really challenging in the last few years, primarily because the emissions changes have taken us in the other direction," Damman says. "In 2003, 20 years of fuel economy improvements were all lost with the introduction of the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) engine. And again in 2007, with the combination of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD) and another emissions hurdle involving regeneration and filtration, we're probably going to take another step backwards, so just staying where we're at is extremely challenging.
"We definitely see room to improve our idling time," he says. "Furthermore, we're looking for our drivers to have a comfortable environment in which to sleep, to improve their ability to get a good night's sleep, so they're not sleeping in a truck that's either too hot or too cold, and potentially having fatigue issues because they're not getting a good night's sleep. The way we look at it, there is some opportunity to improve fuel economy, there's also an opportunity to improve our emissions footprint, and there's definitely a quality of life issue that we're trying to address for our drivers."
"We do hold our drivers to a higher standard," adds Beauchamp, manager of tractor engineering, line-haul servicing. "In 2003, we made the decision to go across the board with the fleet with Webasto cab heaters. That was a very popular decision with the drivers, and a lot of the feedback was that they were getting better sleep, they were able to get their bonuses, and the next thing out of their mouths was, ‘What are you going to do in the summertime?' So the cooling solution is largely driven by the drivers (pardon the pun), and the goal is to get that idle percentage even lower."
The new energy bill will fuel growth of the already-booming idle-reduction industry.