Friday, 17 July 2015

Improve Fuel Efficiency and Drive Down Costs

This article and its information is nothing new and has been a topic and discussion point in numerous blogs and articles over the last couple of years already. It is however still a very relevant topic and will still be beneficial to take a minute or two to read and analyze this information against your own position, and see what else you can do to save fuel costs.

Every month, consumers and business owners alike, wait in anticipation and expect another fuel price increase. Throughout the month some listen and watch out for news about oil price increase and/or exchange rate changes in order to establish the chance of another likely fuel price increase. And every time we a pull out a calculator to work out what impact the new price will have on our lives, whether personally or from a business perspective.

By now we have actually realized that our hands are tied and that we can’t control the economic changes that have such an impact on our expenses and eat so eagerly into our bottom line. What we do know however, is that we can implement certain operational controls to reduce the impact it has or will have, such as identifying and implementing controls to manage how, where and when we drive, etc. in order to manage fuel efficiency as well as to reduce risks and costs.

So what can we do to be as fuel efficient as possible and to reduce risks and costs?

1. Improving Driving Behavior
Improved driving behavior plays an important and significant role in reducing costs. Global research and experience tell us that fuel efficiency can be improved, by an average of 20%, where aggressive driving behavior, i.e. over speeding, harsh acceleration, harsh deceleration and harsh braking, is managed proactively. This includes the monitoring and identification of exceptions and trends and to then debrief drivers regularly, preferably directly after arriving back from a trip. This should include fuel consumption information for the debriefed trip. Too many companies only calculate fuel consumption figures at the end of the month which hide individual fuel discrepancies. By doing it on a trip by trip basis an opportunity will exist for anomalies to be identified and addressed very close to the time it actually happened.

Most businesses, with a fleet of vehicles, utilize fleet management tracking solutions to provide them with essential driving behavior data. By utilizing Business Intelligence tools, which can provide easy to use and integrated dashboards from various collaborative data sources, will allow businesses to identify and address poor driving behavior more pro-actively and not re-actively, at the end of the month, when the costs could have escalated beyond the acceptable.

Another alternative is to actively monitor poor driving behavior through life fleet management tracking platforms and phone drivers immediately when these exceptions happen. This concept, although slightly more expensive due to the required human resource component, has been proven to be a successful intervention in improving driving behavior. Outsourcing, rather than employing staff to perform this function, for this type of service allows for shared resources at vastly reduced costs and can help companies to manage driving behavior more extensively.

Cost saving is not the only aspect that is addressed. Reducing aggressive driving behavior reduces risk as the possibilities of collisions are greatly reduced and with it reputation and an impact on the company’s bottom line.

2. Reduce Idling
The worst consumption statistic for any vehicle is a 0 km per liter figure, i.e. vehicle standing in one position whilst the engine runs and fuel is consumed. Idling costs might seem insignificant to many but the costs over period can proof to be extensive. Idling waste cost can be reduced simply by switching the engine off completely when standing in queues waiting to offload at a customer for example. There will be an argument that restarting an engine also uses fuel but this is more or less equivalent to the same amount as idling for 30 seconds compared to standing and idling for 5 minutes.

To give you an idea; in a recent customer analysis, 4 out of their 27 vehicles, we found that the customer was losing around 28% of his fuel due to idling (obtained from the On Board Computers (OBC)) fuel waste. This equates to around R 5 000.00 ($400.00) per month at approximately R 60 000.00 ($ 4 800) per year for just the 4 vehicles. The reason; the drivers were waiting for 2 – 3 hours in long queues waiting to offload and whilst waiting simply left the engine running. Nobody knew this until this was highlighted. The customer could, as a result address two very important issues, i.e. reduce the long delivery waiting times with his customer and save a substantial amount of money on wasted idling costs for all 27 vehicles.

OBC data is not always directly available to most vehicle owners but fleet management tracking applications in conjunction with Business Intelligence tools can provide significant data and information that allow customers to identify and manage these costs. Idling should form part of the debriefing process and excessive instances should be investigated in order to reduce it significantly.

3. Preventative Management
Preventative maintenance is essential and is a key component in extending a vehicle’s operational life as well as to reduce risk and costs and finally, to improve fuel economy. Aspects like, paying attention to the wheel alignment of the vehicle (unaligned wheels work against wheels it is not aligned to and this increases fuel usage) can assist in improving fuel economy.

Changing tire positions are also key in enhancing tire life and to maintain fuel efficiency. Also, keeping air filters clean will result in a higher fuel-to-air ratio which will increase fuel consumption; dirty air filters prevents air supply to an engine which decreases fuel consumption. Using prescribed, good quality parts, lubricants and oils will further improve fuel efficiency and reduce breakdown risks and costs.

Preventative maintenance must always be done in accordance with manufacturer requirements and specifications. This include required service intervals, component interval changes, etc.
Keeping a comprehensive record system for each vehicle is also an essential component in order to manage costs, service records, planned component changes, changes to tires, etc. These records will also assist the fleet manager to identify when to replace vehicles and not just to control maintenance on these vehicles.

4. Managing Tires
No vehicle can operate without tires and with this, there are obviously also significant cost and risk implications. Drivers are not always immediately aware that a tire/s might be deflated and can drive kilometers before realizing this. Deflation of tires can be caused by valve leakages, punctures and damages and if not identified early can negatively impact on the vehicle performance and efficiency. For example, a 4 – 5 psi under inflated tire can cause a 10% fuel consumption increase and up to 15% reduction in tire thread.

Manage tires efficiently and a vehicle’s fuel consumption can be improved by around 3%. There are several solutions that can be used to assist with tire management in order to improve efficiency. To start, drivers should be equipped with fuel gauges so that they can physically check tires on route and to address tire issues earlier, walking around the vehicle hitting tires with a pipe is not really an effective way to check for deflated tires. Lastly, using tire protection technology, to stop leakages without having to stop, should be used as a further alternative to reduce tire deflation.

5. Route Planning And Scheduling
Taking the shortest route is always tempting and to some the most logical step. This, however, is not always the most efficient option as the shortest route might be a highly traffic congested route, the general quality of the road might be poor, it may have several stop/start situations on route, several hill climbs, etc, all of which will have a negative impact on fuel efficiency. It is therefore important to plan routes optimally in order to reduce distance and time and to reduce risks and costs.
There are several applications available in the market that allows for better route management. These systems allow for up-to-date and historical traffic trend information, which allow operators to plan routes and even optimal departure times, to avoid congestion, efficiently. This means, in short, a reduction in wasted fuel, i.e. reduced idle times due to congestion, reduced distances, etc, improved reputation as deliveries are made on time and optimized business processes.

There are plenty more solutions to consider, some others are:
• Utilize cruise control technology, where available, on highways
• Look at service providers that can provide fuel at a lower cost
• Reduce air conditioner usage, where possible
• Buy the correct fuel grade as prescribed by the manufacturer
• Understand and buy aerodynamic trucks and trailers

There are several links in this article that revert to solutions available in the market place. Please have a look at them as a reference and feel free to contact me should you require my assistance or more information about the specific solutions.

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