VSP News: Uptime Update, Episode 45 – Connecting good maintenance practices to improved fuel economy

Oct. 13, 2020
Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE, provides insights on how the organization conducts research and gathers feedback from fleets on how to ensure optimal efficiency of assets.

Benefits of a comprehensive fleet maintenance program include improved vehicle reliability and reduced breakdowns, increased asset resale value, enhanced driver safety, and a reduction in CSA violations. But is there a case that a good maintenance program can also improve fuel efficiency?

NACFE Executive Director Mike Roeth provides insights on how the organization conducts research and gathers feedback from fleets on how to ensure optimal efficiency of assets.

Transcription of interview:

Erica Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Welcome to VSP News: Uptime Update. I am your host Erica Schueller, editorial director of Fleet Maintenance magazine, covering all maintenance, all vehicle classes, all management, all the time.

Benefits of a comprehensive fleet maintenance program include improved vehicle reliability and reduced breakdowns, increased asset resale value, enhanced driver safety, and a reduction in CSA violations. But you could also make the case that a good maintenance program can also improve fuel efficiency. This is what the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, or NACFE, set out to do through research and feedback from fleets.

I talked to Mike Roeth, NACFE’s executive director, to find out more about the organization’s initiatives as it relates to evaluating fuel efficiency for commercial vehicles. He first shared some insights and background on NACFE and its objectives.

Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE: NACFE, or the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, we’re about 10 years old. We help the industry with fuel economy and freight efficiency technology and practices.

Our early work was on scaling available technologies. These are things like aerodynamics, the powertrain, maintenance, and operational changes that can be done to save fuel and reduce emissions at the same time.

In the last few years, we’ve branched out into future technologies – those technologies that are coming, like electric trucks, automation, and connectivity.

We also do Run on Less. It’s event we do every couple of years to show what’s possible with the best of the best tractors and trailers, and the best drivers around, on what fuel economy gains can be made at the forefront of 9 mph or 10 mph performance.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: NACFE specializes in conducting Confidence Reports, which assess and analyze the potential adoption of new technologies or implementation of new processes to improve overall fuel economy for fleets. One such report assesses the link between fuel economy and truck maintenance practices. Roeth shares the process of conducting this report, as well as some notable findings.

Roeth, NACFE: Many times, when people – and they’ve even asked us – maintenance and fuel economy? There’s no link there.

What we’ve found is there is. We did the work a couple of years ago, asking fleets around maintenance practices and do they see a link to fuel economy and fuel efficiency savings. We had this hypothesis that a well-maintained truck would get better fuel economy than a poorly maintained one. We were right in what we found when we asked the fleets, and even some manufacturers about maintenance and fuel economy.

We did the work with a lot of interviews, and we did some surveys, we looked at reports and findings that had been done previously on the topic. What we found, which was kind of a surprise to me, is that there is a link between maintenance and fuel economy. And it can be really big.

Now, many fleets, you can’t afford to run a fleet with a lot of downtime and not doing maintenance. We found that a really poorly maintained fleet will cost in fuel, but they are also costing their business because the trucks are down, and they may not have customers that are happy with downed trucks.

But all in all, it was interesting that we did find there is the link. It could be one, two, three, four percent depending on how significant and robust the maintenance practices are versus not. But, around a one percent fuel savings is not unheard of. And when you think about something like $500, $600, or $700 per truck per year, per that 1 percent, that can go a long way to help pay for some infrastructure for the maintenance, maybe a couple more technicians, maybe some software to help at the fleet level with maintenance. We encourage fleets to think about a number that you could put into fuel savings as a justification for maintenance practices.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: In the maintenance world, it's been repeatedly stressed that comprehensive maintenance practices can help improve uptime. But that can be a challenging concept to quantify.

Roeth shares more about the NACFE Truck Maintenance Report’s findings on how maintenance can also improve fuel efficiency, and how that may be a better maintenance “sell” to other fleet departments.

Roeth, NACFE: Fleets measure fuel usage at a pretty detailed level, so they know what they spend on fuel per truck, maybe fuel used on a particular route or in a particular area, seasonal usage. They know their fuel costs, and they’re big. These semi-tractors will have $40,000 to $60,000 in fuel expense [annually].

The thought here, on maintenance practices and do they have an effect on fuel economy or not, is a tough link to make. But when you think about the different components that might have an impact, think about aerodynamic devices that are shaking in the wind, that are loose. They can actually increase the drag instead of decrease the drag on the truck. Fix those, replace them if they’re damaged.

Filters, particularly the diesel exhaust and aftertreatment. The diesel particulate filter (DPF), as it clogs up, it effects fuel economy. Look at the practices you have around cleaning [those filters]. Other lubrication, and other things on the truck, we list out on the report some specific maintenance practices that we think have a clear effect on fuel economy. If you add up a little on each one of those [areas] and come up with one percent savings on fuel, we think that’s probable.

Now, if you’re one of the best of the best in maintenance out there, there’s probably not a fuel savings to get even better. But if you’re sort of average in your maintenance practices, getting better in that will not only get you better uptime and make the trucks last longer, but it does in fact have a fuel economy benefit.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Roeth shares some additional insight from one fleet in particular, on how they categorized truck performance to assess fuel economy for the NACFE Confidence Report on Maintenance.

Roeth, NACFE: As we were doing the confidence report on maintenance, one fleet told us they actually “quarantined” trucks. What they were doing was they were looking at the fuel economy for a particular tractor trailer, and they were determining if the fuel economy – and also if it went up – and what caused that.

They looked at three things. They looked at the environment the truck was being driven in. Things like mountains, rain, or wind. Did that cause the drop or increase in fuel economy? Was it the driver itself? Or, was it the equipment?

They went through it in that order. If they determined it wasn’t the environment and it wasn’t the driver, but it was the equipment, they would actually go pull that tractor in for quarantine, and an inspection. It was a private fleet that had a return-to-base operation, so the truck came home to the depot every night. It wasn’t that hard for them to say, “Technician, go look at truck 6312 and see what’s wrong with it.” And, a lot of times, they would find issues. Most of those were maintenance areas.

Now, with predictive maintenance, can we take data off the truck and learn what might not be going well, whether it’s a plugged filter or maybe the trailers isn’t tracking the tractor just right and we need to lube the fifth wheel? All those kinds of things can have a benefit of uptime and maintenance, but also on fuel efficiency. So, it’s just a good practice to have good maintenance and a lot of costs will come out of the system, including [the use of] less fuel.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: If you’d like to learn more about the initiatives and confidence reports currently available from NACFE, head to the link below.

That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you for tuning in to VSP News Uptime Update, I’m your host Erica Schueller.

Until our next broadcast, keep up with this, and other industry topics, by visiting us online at VehicleServicePros.com.

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