Maximizing fleet productivity starts with getting the most out of your vehicles. To a large degree, the best approach is driven by the type of fleet you operate and its drive cycles. In many cases, you may find that different techniques are required for individual groups of trucks within your fleet.
Sizing up Your Vehicles
Make sure you are using the right sized vehicle for each application. If your trucks are fully loaded at the start of the day, but come back for a second load before the end of the shift, consider using larger trucks. This saves time and reduces mileage.
But if your trucks start with a partial load and don't return during the day, use smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Another right-sizing opportunity is to replace three trucks that operate in the same area with two larger trucks. You may be able to equip the larger trucks with material handling devices to speed up cycle times.
If you are experiencing excessive downtime and on-the-road breakdowns, your trucks may be overloaded or improperly designed for the application. This not only destroys your fleet's productivity, but it is also dangerous and expensive. Take the time to learn how to properly match your trucks to your application before buying another vehicle.
Truck Body and Equipment Designs
Specialized truck bodies, mounted equipment, and other accessories are constantly being improved, so update your components. Before purchasing another truck, review your current and projected requirements, and then determine if there are newer products available that could improve your trucks' productivity.
If you are not currently using specialized bodies or equipment, see what's available. A combination of increasing labor costs and the availability of new components may make it worthwhile to upgrade to more specialized equipment.
Research what's available. Talk to your local truck equipment provider, visit Web sites such as www.ntea.com, or attend events such as The Work Truck Show.
Reducing Stationary Fuel Consumption
One measure of productivity is the quantity of assets utilized to perform a specific task. This may be measured in hours of labor per unit, total cost per unit, or in the case of work trucks, gallons of fuel burned per task. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical Class 6/7 work truck has an equivalent fuel economy of around six miles per gallon. Most of that fuel is usually burned while idling or while operating engine-driven auxiliary equipment (PTO operation).
Reducing this type of engine operation improves your fleet's productivity. Also, many jurisdictions have implemented idling restrictions for commercial vehicles.
Idle Reduction Technology – Many newer trucks can be programmed to automatically shut down the engine after a period of idling. Aftermarket systems are available as well as systems that will automatically start an engine during PTO operations when there is a demand for power, and then shut it down when there is no demand.
Alternative Auxiliary Power Sources – The need for auxiliary power at a jobsite doesn't mean you must operate your truck's engine for extended periods. 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- and 240-volt), and auxiliary engine-driven systems. Auxiliary engine power systems provide electricity, welding capabilities, hydraulic power, compressed air, and even support truck hotel loads (heating and cooling).
Beyond the Truck
There are many ways to make your drivers more productive. In certain operating and drive cycles, using telematics, including GPS systems, significantly increases productivity. Some systems allow you to monitor vehicle operation and identify potential problems before they result in on-the-road failures.
Electronic data collection and management systems allow for almost instantaneous collection and tracking of data in inventory control, job-specific component selection, and pickup and delivery. These technologies include radio frequency identification, optical bar code scanning, GPS location interface, and computer-generated parts picking lists. These are already mainstream technologies at FedEx and UPS.
Robert Johnson, director of fleet relations for the National Truck Equipment Association, will lead two technical sessions on specifying work trucks at The Work Truck Show 2010 and 46th Annual NTEA Convention. Visitwww.ntea.com.