Money PIT

It can be a bit overwhelming for fleets to be at the receiving end of a sales pitch, as Yves Provencher well knows.

“All our members have vendors going to visit them almost every week with the next technology that will make them rich and save the planet.”

As director of Performance Innovation Transport (PIT), it is Provencher’s job to put those claims to test and give fleets information they need to make informed decision about equipment purchases. PIT is the off-shoot of a forestry industry research organization called FPInnovations. The non-profit organization is a member-led group that undertakes research to prove just how well technologies and procedures improve fuel economy and make fleets greener. It also helps fleets find money to help offset the costs of becoming more efficient.

Provencher said provincial and federal governments have a number of programs in place that will provide tax credits to companies conducting original research into fuel saving techniques and devices. Some governments even offer rebates for purchasing technology that will make fleets more efficient.

“We have a full map of those available funds that our members can access,” he said

“Many fleets don’t even know they exist. So they don’t apply for them. That’s why some of the fleets choose to become members. We can help them to access those funds.”

PIT conducts research on behalf of fleets in two ways: first it does investigations on behalf of all of its member fleets, and second, it takes on one-off projects for individual members.

“Every year the fleets come together to an advisory meeting. At the meeting we tell them, ‘we have about $2.5 million worth of budget on the table. It’s your money. What do you want to do with it?’ Then they list a bunch of issues they have. At the end of the day we may end up with some 80 issues on the flip chart on the wall. Then we vote and bring the list down to 10 and that becomes our work plan for the year,” explained Provencher. Member fleets are also asked to participate in the research by providing trucks, mechanics and drivers to install and test the equipment.

Sample project: Engine tuning
PIT received $243,000 from the Quebec government to study engine tuning. It will compare the performance of engines that have been optimized for a specific application (refuse hauling, long-haul work, etc.) versus those that come with stock tuning from the factory. The project will last for approximately one year, so that performance over the various seasons can be gauged.

Chris Trajkovski, vice-president of maintenance at Bison Transport in Winnipeg, says having the group decide on projects works pretty well.

“There is generally a consensus with the powertrain. When it comes to commodities like tires and fuel consumption, there are some specific needs based on a trade or a vocation and those are managed a little bit differently, based on how much scale is associated with them.”

Long-time PIT member Groupe Robert in Rougemont, Que. is one of the fleets that often volunteers equipment for testing. Currently Groupe Robert is co-operating on a number of different PIT tests, said Yves Maurais, technical manager at Groupe Robert.

“One of them being snow removal from the top of trailers when we’re in remote locations. PIT is in contact with European providers of systems designed to remove the snow from trailer roofs without needing special equipment. This is one thing we would like to evaluate during the winter,” he said.

“We have some ongoing projects. As far as the fuel performance goes, we’re going to compare different configurations of trucks to see which one gives us the optimum fuel consumption depending on operating conditions. We’re looking at powertrain configuration—engine, transmission, tires.

“For us, it’s like having an engineering group within the company—they’re just not located locally with us, but they work for us. It’s a lot cheaper than having two or three clones of myself just working at that particular type of work. It’s much cheaper to do it with the PIT Group. All we have to do is follow up on the results with them.”

If a fleet is interested in a test that doesn’t make the work plan, or isn’t interested in sharing its results with the rest of the members, or wants a very specific answer about how a proposed solution will work in its own particular circumstances, it can hire PIT to organize a demonstration project. PIT will set out the parameters of test, hire the engineers to analyze the data, and work with the fleet to understand the process and the results. There is a separate fee (in addition to the regular membership dues) for the service, but Provencher said doing the research through PIT is typically much cheaper than hiring an outside engineering or analyst firm.

Sample project: Driver training
PIT is conducing a two-year investigation into the effectiveness of driver training techniques, including in-class instruction, time in a simulator, and being coached from the passenger seat. The study wants to look at both the short-term and long-term effectiveness of the teaching styles and the ways drivers prefer to obtain feedback about how they perform.

OEMs and parts manufacturers can also approach PIT to have their performance claims evaluated. Part of that process includes subjecting the equipment to field trials in PIT’s yearly Energotest, which puts the technology onto member-supplied vehicles which are taken out onto the road and around a test track in Blaineville, Que.

“It’s good for the supplier because instead of lending a piece of his equipment to 30 fleets and coming back six months later and asking ‘what do you think of my piece of equipment?’ we do the test and we send the results to the fleets. If the product works, obviously the fleets will start to call the suppliers and ask, ‘why don’t you come to see me?’”

While it may seem obvious for large fleets to join, Bison’s Trajkovski said PIT makes sense for small fleets as well.
“It allows the opportunity for smaller carriers to enter into that arena and gain the benefits of some of the larger scale testing without necessarily being financially impacted,” he said.

“It doesn’t take a long time for smaller fleets to see what is happening by what I’ll call curbside engineering. You see what carriers adopted a technology or component or philosophy out on the road pretty quickly. If you’re willing to wait, say anywhere from 18 to 36 months for that to make it to market, that’s fine. If you want to be ahead of the game and feel the risk is not great—certainly you have to decide what that investment ROI is—the uptake is being able to implement an idea and a concept, especially in today’s environment where miniscule percentages can deliver huge results. It all depends on their appetite.”

As to what PIT plans for the future, that can only be decided by membership vote, but Groupe Robert’s Maurais has a good idea of some of the tests he’d like to see.

“We know the larger size boat tail has been approved by Transport Canada. We’re still awaiting the provincial statements about it because it will be different from province to province. Only Ontario has started to talk about it. This is one thing we want to discuss. The evaluation of the LCV program. We want to work on getting the most efficient equipment to run LCVs. We’re also looking at different configurations for engines and powertrains. Currently that’s what we are looking at because there is nothing new on the horizon.”

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