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May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Improved management can deliver fuel savings on logging trucks

By Mark Brown

The costs related to the operation of a forestry truck have increased in recent years, but no single cost has risen as fast as the cost of fuel. As little as five years ago, fuel costs represented 20 to 25 per cent of the operating costs of a forestry truck. Today, this is approaching 50 per cent. While there is little you can do to control pump prices, there are many actions you can take to reduce how much you spend on fuel.

In the control of fuel costs, there are four areas that forest trucking operations need to consider:

• Supplier management;

• Driver training and information;

• Equipment specification;

• Itinerary planning and management;

While the whole forest industry has a role to play in all four, the contractor’s influence is typically limited to the first three items.

Supplier management is simply ensuring you are getting the best fuel price available. Most truck contractors do a good job of this through traditional approaches. On a regular basis, they sit down with their supplier and negotiate their price. If they are not happy with their supplier, they get quotes from the local alternatives. Since most forestry trucking contractors are small customers, this approach has limits and usually saves a few cents compared to pump prices. To address the limitation of their business size, some forest trucking contractors have become more creative with their approach by using group buying. The idea is to regroup several small customers into one large purchasing unit in order to provide a stronger negotiating position.

This can either be done by creating a co-operative amongst the contractors or with the forest company acting as a distributor for their contractors. With this combined purchasing power, the contractors are able to reach annual volumes that give them access to better discounts.

Training drivers on topics of safety and maintenance is very common, but little focus is given to training for fuel efficiency. Many truck owners believe that if they work with experienced drivers, there is no benefit to training them on fuel efficiency. The fact is that the skill and experience of a driver are often not linked to how efficient a driver they are.

The equipment that drivers operate today cannot be compared to the equipment they worked on 15 years ago, or even five years ago! As a result, operating this equipment efficiently is significantly different now than it was then. Different techniques are needed to take advantage of the new electronics and settings that are now commonly found in equipment.

In looking at the fuel consumption of forestry fleets, the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) has found that within any fleet of 20 or more trucks, on the same haul, there can be fuel consumption differences of up to 40 per cent, much of which can be linked to driving technique.

Driver training for fuel efficiency does not have to be an involved, complicated process. Tools like SmartDriver for Forestry Trucks, available from Natural Resources Canada and distributed by FERIC, allows truck owners to train drivers on fuel efficient driving. It can be used to deliver one-day training sessions, a series of five two-hour training sessions or any number of 15-minute tailgate meetings. Implementations of SmartDriver for Forestry Trucks have yielded fuel savings between six and 12 per cent.

The primary objective of equipment specification is to have a truck that delivers the required level of performance, reliably and cost effectively.

Fuel efficiency can be addressed with specification at the time of truck purchase or with aftermarket solutions. At the time of purchase, benefits in fuel efficiency are gained with driveline specification. Your specification must provide enough power without excessive horsepower, and you must gear the driveline to keep the engine speed in its“sweet spot” as often as possible. Your truck supplier has the tools to help you do this driveline specification effectively. Alternatively, FERIC can help with simulation software like OTTO.

To specify a driveline, you want to compare start-ability, grade-ability and cruise speed condition between alternatives, or the ability to pull the load, attainable speeds and the amount of fuel used to do so.

In looking at aftermarket solutions to improve the fuel efficiency of your existing trucks, the first step is to understand your needs or how your fuel is being
used. The most effective way to do this is with onboard computers, but with enough effort, this can be done with good paper records and periodic downloads from the engine’s electronic control unit. Once you know how your fuel is being used, then you can select technology that addresses your needs.

Fuel costs are and will continue to be an important cost to forestry trucking operations. While there is little you can do about the price of fuel, through improved management, driver training and equipment specification, you can reduce what you spend on fuel. The first key to savings is in your hands.

Mark Brown is program leader, transportation systems for the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC).

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This page last modified on Wednesday, October 18, 2006