The SmartWay Transport Partnership is a free and voluntary program that helps businesses move goods efficiently while keeping fuel costs and environmental impact at a minimum. As a long-standing SmartWay partner Trimac was recently profiled on the SmartWay web site and newsletter:

Trimac successfully proves new fuel-saving technologies

A road curve can be challenging the first time you face it. You don’t want to go too fast and attempt to fight the implacable laws of physics when negotiating it. Yet at some point, you’ll master the same curve well enough to actually enjoy it. That’s pretty much how Trimac Transportation considers its own learning curve when it comes to fuel economy and emissions reduction.

The Calgary-based fleet of 2,100 tractors and 3,500 tanker trailers hauling anything from petroleum products to chemicals, food and dry bulk products is a SmartWay partner since 2004 and still is in a learning pattern, according to Marcel Pouliot, Trimac’s vice president, Industry & Regulatory Affairs.

Pouliot himself admits that he was perplexed when he got behind the wheel of some of the first 247 new tractors the fleet ordered with engines that deliver high torque at low RPM, which is a great combination to increase fuel economy and lower emissions without sacrificing operational performance. But the shift points are different and the RPM can go below 1,000 during a hill climb before the transmission reacts. “For someone like me who learned to drive a long time ago, that is so unnatural,” he chuckles, admitting that he first tended to override the automated transmission to make it shift earlier. He was on a learning curve.

Special training was required for Trimac drivers too, but now they wouldn’t drive anything else. “Drivers are intelligent people. If you give them the information, they’re going to do their own evaluation very rapidly,” Pouliot says.

This particular initiative, with tractor specs optimized for fuel economy in partnership with six different truck makers, paid off. In September of 2018, Trimac’s fleet burned 6.2% less fuel than during the same month of 2017. Given the “3 times” rule of thumb according to which you need to increase a truck’s aerodynamics by 3% to improve its fuel economy by 1%, it means Trimac would have needed to achieve nearly 20% better air penetration with its tractor trailer combinations to obtain such fuel consumption reduction numbers. Another way to appreciate the 6.2% improvement would be to say that Trimac has calculated that reducing its fuel consumption by only 1 mpg (or going an extra 0.42 km with each litre of fuel) would decrease its CO2 footprint by 55 million kg a year.

Free flow of air and information

The firm is still working at improving its units’ aerodynamics. Side skirts are being tested on the tanker trailers as well as FlowBelow caps to reduce air drag at the wheels level. Yet, tank trailers usually are more round shaped than regular dry vans, which can make closing the gap between tractors and trailers to avoid unwanted turbulence a little more difficult. Trimac’s working on it.

Just like air, information needs to flow freely in a fuel-efficient company. Trimac’s management and drivers alike can access dashboards that tell them how well they performed during a given period using a given piece of equipment. And recognition of a job well done usually helps with driver retention, which is no small task in a staff shortage era.

Fuel-efficient drivers also tend to be safer, which can help lower skyrocketing insurance premiums. “If you drive a truck safely, you’re usually driving it in a SmartWay efficient manner,” Pouliot says, referring to avoidance of driving behaviours such as tailgating or aggressive acceleration.

The fleet installed DriveCam event recorders primarily for safety reasons, but they also use the system for fuel economy management. Pouliot points out that such devices have a module that looks at fuel consumption Vs. driving behaviour, giving drivers a fuel-efficiency score compared to what the perfect standards would be. This complements the new ISACC Instruments’ electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), which also give drivers better feedback about their fuel economy performance, according to Pouliot.

The related better understanding of performance “helps drivers and management redirect training to where it needs to be,” Pouliot explains.

Solar and hybrid

Solar panels are used to keep electric HVAC systems’ batteries fully charged on trucks outfitted with sleeper compartments. It saves on wasted fuel because there’s less idling and provides drivers with a much more peaceful night’s sleep as opposed to the disruptive diesel engine starting in the middle of the night to recharge low batteries.

“The trucks we buy today put out 2% of the particulate, volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides of what they did shortly before SmartWay started,” Pouliot says to illustrate how quickly technology as evolved since the turn of the century. And that’s one of the reasons Trimac is making its power units’ replacement cycle shorter. “You’re better off buying new trucks or newer trucks with the right specs using all the newest technology,” Pouliot says, referring to 2019 model-year trucks being 12.5% more fuel-efficient than their equivalent 2016 model from the same brand.

One promising fuel-saving technologies that Trimac is looking at is the electric Hyliion drive axle that replaces one of the diesel engine driven axles on a standard tandem configuration. It assists on starts, especially in hill climbing, and regenerates and recharges at deceleration or downhill, requiring less effort – and fuel – from the diesel engine.

The company tested the electric drive axle last May on a Class 8 tractor and was pleased by its performance, especially when the additional 1,500 lb-ft of electric torque kicked in. Pouliot remembers a particular situation where a fully loaded tractor-trailer combination was climbing up a hill with the hybrid drive and the diesel engine’s RPM still at 1,100 without the transmission shifting and the driver needing to take his foot off the throttle because the truck was accelerating beyond the speed limit. On a climb!

Trimac says it’s likely to start adding some of these hybrid tractors in its fleet next year, following a second round of tests scheduled for this year.

That’s one powerful learning curve.

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