Lab rats in the bush

by Carroll McCormick

POINTE-CLAIRE, Que. – Logging truck operators want to save money and optimize operations just as much as anyone else in the trucking industry.

To help them, the Eastern Division of the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC), located in Pointe-Claire, Que., exploits the capabilities of on-board computers and data transmission to improve driver performance and better understand the best fit between equipment and application.

FERIC is a private, non-profit research, development and implementation organization that works to improve forestry operations, from preparing sites for new forests to tree harvesting and forest products transportation.

On-board computers can collect data on just about any truck engine to evaluate truck and driver behaviour.

Data include RPM, fuel consumption, speed, idling, brake, PTO, brake retarder and cruise-control usage…pretty well anything that comes off a truck’s Electronic Control Module and more, since other sensors can be added.

To identify drivers who can benefit from extra training to reduce fuel consumption, FERIC runs projects that monitor how they handle their trucks. “We have done several projects like that in Quebec and other parts of the country,” says Richard Carme, a FERIC, Pointe-Claire researcher in intelligent transport systems. “Fleets approach us and we approach them. It is part of a contract umbrella with the Fleet Smart program of Natural Resources of Canada’s Office of Energy and Efficiency, which mandates us to provide a certain amount of training.

“We install the on-board computer and collect truck and driver data, which is then downloaded automatically at base stations at the mills. We benchmark drivers’ habits for six weeks to a year and the performance of the trucks and drivers. We train trainers, such as forest company trainers or outfits like the Commission scolaire du pays des bleuets (a training school) in Lac St-Jean, who in turn teach the course, called SmartDriver for Forestry Trucks, developed jointly by FERIC and Fleet Smart.”

FERIC also does research to shed light on equipment performance and selection. Inquiring minds want to know, because the transportation of wood is one of the largest portions of the total production cost of wood products.

“One big role of on-board computers, aside from training, is to use them to measure truck performance when we evaluate technology,” says Carme.

FERIC recently completed a one-year comparison of Allison HD4560 automatic transmissions to 18-speed manual transmissions for forestry use in northwestern Quebec.

FERIC launched another one-year project in March, which will collect data on the relative performance of a Caterpillar 475-hp big block C15 and a 430-hp C13. FERIC believes that for non-mountainous areas, a smaller engine will deliver enough performance to do the job well.

“You save 300 kilograms with the smaller engine, which you can use to increase payload. We want to find out whether the smaller block can do the job while consuming less. Preliminary data shows fuel savings of eight to 10 per cent for the same number of loads per week,” Carme says.

FERIC installed on-board computers in two identical trucks, except for the C15 and C13 engines, owned by Transport Poirier in St-Alphonse in eastern Quebec’s Gaspesie region.

The owners and operators – two brothers – will drive their giant lab rats on their usual business.

The on-board computers will collect fuel consumption, RPM, distance and engine-load data, and data that can be correlated with maintenance requirements. The data will be downloaded automatically to a base station and remotely retrieved by FERIC in Pointe Claire.

With on-board scale data and GPS positioning, which will trigger the computer to collect additional engine data inside hilly geo-zones, FERIC will learn more about the relationship between engine size, speed and carrying capacity. “With the weight information we will know if the truck with the smaller engine can capitalize on its payload advantage,” Carme explains.

Any time now, FERIC will start two more projects that will take further advantage of the capabilities of on-board computers: In the one, FERIC will compare the fuel consumption of regular trucks with trucks equipped with systems that inject hydrogen into the engine; hydrogen fuel injection engines reputedly burn 10 per cent less fuel.

In the other, FERIC will collect data and evaluate the performance of dual-power engines, which automatically change their horsepower, depending on whether the trucks are loaded or empty.

“This control system, developed jointly by Balances Cleral Inc. and Allison Transmission, is based on an on-board truck weigh scale system which limits the maximum power the engine will develop and the shifting pattern used by the automatic transmission when the vehicle is not carrying a load. Basically, says Carme, “Trucks can communicate with the on-board scales to find out if the truck is loaded or empty, and in turn, change the programming of their engine and shifting pattern, depending on whether the truck is empty or loaded.”

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