One measure of productivity is the quantity of assets utilized to perform a specific task.
This may be measured in hours of labor Spring 2010 per unit, total cost per unit, or, in the case of a work truck, gallons of fuel burned per task. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical Class 6/7 work truck www.pwmag.com has an equivalent fuel economy of 6 miles/gallon. In many cases, a significant portion of that fuel is burned in nonproductive operation (idling) or while operating engine-driven auxiliary equipment (power take-off or PTO operation).
Anything that reduces this type of engine operation raises productivity. As a result, many cities, counties, and states have implemented idling restrictions while taking advantage of technological enhancements to lower stationary fuel consumption.
Idle-reduction technology. Many newer trucks can be programmed to automatically shut down the engine after a specified period of idling. Aftermarket systems are also available; as are systems that automatically start an engine during PTO operations when there's a demand for power and shut it down after a specified period of no demand.
In some operating cycles, these systems significantly reduce nonproductive engine operation.
Alternative power sources. It's no longer necessary to run the engine for extended periods of time to provide auxiliary power at a jobsite. Many “soft” hybrid technologies provide auxiliary power on demand.
These include electric PTOs (E-PTOs), battery-powered static inverters to provide commercial-quality AC electric power (120 V and 240 V), and auxiliary engine-driven systems. The latter provide commercial-quality electricity, welding capabilities, hydraulic power, compressed air, and even support heating and cooling.
Cab hotel loads. In addition to auxiliary power systems, electric-powered (battery) systems support cab heating and cooling for shorter periods of time. Fuel-fired systems also keep the engine water jacket warm and even prewarm hydraulic fluids.
These systems are very effective in cold climates and maintain acceptable temperatures for extended periods of time while consuming a small fraction of the fuel that would be burned by the engine.
Looking beyond the vehicle itself, anything that helps drivers accomplish more within the same period of time further enhances fuel efficiency.
Route optimization. Routes often develop over time and may not be efficient. If you suspect this has happened in your operation, take advantage of computer-based map programs to review various route options. If you're technology-savvy, there are computer-based modeling programs as well. Remember to consider combining existing routes by using larger or more efficient trucks.
Depending on operating and drive cycles, telematics (including GPS systems) significantly increase productivity. Some systems monitor vehicle operation and identify potential problems before they result in on-the-road failures.
Make sure your operation's using the appropriately sized vehicle for each application. One way to “right-size” is to replace three trucks that operate in the same general area with two larger vehicles You may be able to equip the larger trucks with material-handling devices to speed up cycle times, making it possible to accomplish the same tasks in the same amount of time with one less vehicle.
Electronic data collection and management. Radio frequency identification (RFID), optical bar code scanning, GPS location interface, and computer-generated parts picking lists allow for almost instantaneous collection and tracking of data in areas such as inventory control, job-specific component selection, and pickup and delivery. All are designed to reduce the amount of time crews spend performing administrative functions. This, in turn, means less time chasing forgotten materials and more actual productive time.
These systems have been mainstream technologies for companies like FedEx and UPS for years. They've been proven effective and their cost has lowered, making them affordable to almost any operation that could benefit from their use.
— Robert Johnson is director of fleet relations for the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA; www.ntea.com). Used with permission of NTEA.