TANKERS don’t have tails.
The unique forms and functions of a tank trailer simply aren’t compatible with those aerodynamic rear fairings many freight haulers equip, but that doesn’t mean their owners aren’t interested in saving fuel.
That’s where Ed McCarthy says Vnomics can help.
McCarthy, vice president of operations and customer success for the fuel optimization corporation—which traces its roots to mission critical support of US Armed Forces—talked about aligning drivers with the company mission of reducing fuel costs, and the benefits of Vnomics’ True Fuel program, in “Fuel: The Cost of Doing Business Doesn’t Need to be so Expensive” during the National Tank Truck Carriers’ Tank Truck Week 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.
“You guys are a little bit different,” McCarthy said. “First, because of your unique configurations and safety features, you can’t take advantage of all the aerodynamic contraptions that are out there. Also, you tend to haul heavy, and another thing that works against fuel efficiency is you make a lot of deliveries throughout the day—starting, stopping, having to stop, (and) idling is a crucial part of many of your businesses—so that means you’re not going to achieve these great 9 or 10 mpg numbers.”
Those miles-per-gallon averages aren’t the numbers to look for anyway, McCarthy said.
A more realistic goal for tank fleets is maximizing fuel efficiency for their specific operations and environment.
“There have been a lot of fuel economy improvements, particularly in and around the tractors, with drivetrains, configurations, and that kind of stuff,” McCarthy said. “However, fuel costs still matter.
“This past year, fuel costs have risen 20% (as of November 2018) … and fuel costs tend to be your first or second controllable cost when you deliver a load.”
Vnomics arose from a consortium between the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, the Office of Naval Research and the Marine Corps, which McCarthy, who is a retired Marine officer, said began developing systems for monitoring drivers and fuel efficiency through an effort to better prepare young soldiers to operate and maintain heavy machinery in hostile territory.
Through their research, they found 40% of all fuel used by the Marine Corps in and around vehicles was spent idling, and not “good” idling, but simply siting in vehicles for long periods of time unnecessarily.
“We then took this technology, took it out of the lab, out of the Marine Corps, and started applying it to commercial vehicles, because you guys are challenged in the same way,” McCarthy said. “You have a driver core that is coming up … that just doesn’t have that background in heavy equipment.
“When your stuff is away from you and breaks down, it’s very costly—not as costly as breaking down in bad-guy country but still very costly—and drivers are not as experienced in and around heavy equipment, particularly the younger drivers, and so you really need to provide a lot of coaching for those drivers.”
Since the company’s founding in 2008, McCarthy estimates they’ve coached 48,000 drivers, modeled 22,000 “digital twins,” a key component of their fuel-saving software, analyzed 500 million gallons of fuel over 3.45 billion miles—saving 75 million gallons of fuel and more than $180 million.
He also says the company’s efforts have eliminated 633,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
The key to their success, he said, is delivering a coaching product and fuel programs with real-time feedback.
“One of the nice things about technology now is all that data that’s being collected on your trucks—you have a mini-network on there—can be used to provide feedback where it matters most, real-time in the cab,” McCarthy said. “That’s important because waiting until two or three weeks later, based off a report, to tell a driver, ‘Hey you shouldn’t have done this,’ is the wrong approach.
“There are a ton of gallons to be saved. We’ve saved about 75 million gallons, and that’s why I get young people to work for me, because they’re all about impacting our carbon footprint, and a lot of our companies have won awards for this, and gotten visibility because of being able to go after this footprint.”
The goal of Vnomics’ True Fuel program is to normalize fuel efficiency measurements, allowing carriers to better assess their drivers, whether they’re driving newer or older trucks, running heavy or light, driving long distances over mountain passes or making frequent stops on city roads.
To do this, the company develops a digital twin of each truck make, model and engine configuration, allowing it to “pull out” driver impact by comparing their truck’s performance to its twin’s predicted performance.
“Every truck is tracked by its digital twin to determine whether a fleet’s trucks are performing as efficiently as possible. If not, why and how to improve,” said Lloyd Palum, Vnomics’ chief technology officer.
Without a fair and accurate way to evaluate driver performance—and mpg alone aren’t it—most fuel programs fail, McCarthy said, especially if they’re not reinforced by meaningful, long-term coaching.
Vnomics delivers performance “metrics that matter,” he said, with normalized and clearly understood feedback gleaned from an analysis of the many factors that influence fuel economy, including idling, shifting and acceleration, and a truck’s load weight, environment, configuration and routing.
“If you have the right technology … you can separate that, and that’s really important because if you can give a scoring metric that separates that stuff out, you can start to end the arguments around mpg and drivers,” McCarthy said.
In his example, Driver 1, a long-haul driver racking up highway miles, is achieving 6.1 mpg, Driver 2 is averaging 5.3 mpg on local deliveries, and Driver 3 is at 4.6 in a construction-site vehicle. Using the company’s digital twin to compare actual to potential mpg, Driver 2, with the potential for 5.4 mpg, is the most efficient, at 98%, and Driver 3, using only 88% of his 5.2 mpg potential, is the least.
“Your particular tank truck fleets are not this extreme, but you can see issues between, OK, maybe (Driver 1) is driving one of your older tractors, and manual, all the way to (Driver 3), who’s in a fully automatic, he’s driving lighter and he’s got a tough route, either a hilly route or he’s in traffic, and you can now do an apples-to-apples comparison because you can pull all those factors that impact the driver,” McCarthy said.
Automated Manual Transmissions (AMTs), and other modern powertrain technologies, are great, and do help conserve fuel, but driver behavior still is the greatest cost variable when comparing trucks outfitted the same way, based on data they’ve collected and industry-wide, McCarthy said.
With even the most advanced AMTs, if drivers are frequently mashing the gas pedal and missing the engine’s RPM “sweet spot,” they still can burn 20%-30% more fuel than necessary, he said, and a driver running at 85% efficiency can achieve “significant” improvement with regular coaching.
Testimonials from Vnomics partners who’ve utilized the True Fuel program, including Terpening Trucking Co, Mirabito Energy Products, Superior Plus Energy Services and Paraco Gas, support that claim.
“Our fleet average of 5.36 mpg is almost 10% higher than it was before we began using the Vnomics fuel optimization solution to help improve shifting habits and analyze areas where fuel economy improvements are possible,” said Brian Brundage, Terpening’s operations manager during a 2016 Vnomics case study.
“That equates to an annual fuel cost savings in our operation today of more than $275,000.”
Vnomics provides real-time coaching on shifting, speeding and idling with in-cab audio alerts and performance scores drivers hear after each trip, along with actionable analytics for fleet managers.
McCarthy said the company also is focused on developing mobile feedback apps.
“Success is possible,” McCarthy said.
“(Vnomics’ tech) can say, ‘Here are the five drivers you need to coach, here are the reasons you need to coach them, here are the five trucks you need to take a look at, and here are the reasons why,’ and that makes your day go much quicker than facing 100-200 drivers and trucks, and trying to decide what to do.”
For more information, visit vnomicscorp.com.