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Orange turns green

TAMPA, Fla. – There should be little surprise that Schneider National burns a lot of fuel. With more than 12,000 tractors and 13,270 trailers, the truckload fleet that first came to Canada in 1989 is covering a lot of ground.


TAMPA, Fla. – There should be little surprise that Schneider National burns a lot of fuel. With more than 12,000 tractors and 13,270 trailers, the truckload fleet that first came to Canada in 1989 is covering a lot of ground.

Luckily, it has been able to reclaim much of the fuel efficiency that had been sacrificed in the name of tighter emission controls.

Fuel economy dropped about 5% when exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems were first introduced in 2002, said vice-president of purchasing Steve Duley, during a recent presentation to the Technology & Maintenance Council. “The last nine years of emission changes have really created some challenges from reduced payload, fuel consumption and higher costs.” But even when the regeneration of Diesel Particulate Filters is considered, the engines built to 2010 standards have matched the best fuel economy seen before the days of EGR. “We’re pretty happy about that,” he said.

The fleet widely recognized for its orange tractor-trailers hopes to become greener still, and continues to focus on a wide array of steps to improve fuel efficiency and reduce the size of its carbon footprint.

Shippers are joining the company in its search. “They’re very aware of fuel costs, and certainly the surcharges they see are making them aware of it,” Duley said. A growing number of customers are even looking for steps to support their own sustainability programs, all in a bid to develop more environmentally friendly businesses.

Any enhancements will obviously have a big impact since Schneider National is a big believer in standardized equipment. Freightliner is the brand of choice for 99.7% of all the trucks, and Cascadia models account for 24%. Detroit Diesel engines are found under 98% of all hoods, with the DD15 being the favoured engine 32% of the time.  These have already been matched by a long list of standard spec’s chosen in the name of fuel economy.

There are smooth-sided trailers, tires with a lower rolling resistance, optimized drivelines, low-friction driveline lubricants, fuel tank skirts, aerodynamic bumpers and mirrors, roof fairings, a minimized tractor-trailer gap, trailer tracking, Webasto cab heaters, and side extenders on the cab.

The covers added to tractor wheels may have improved fuel economy by less than 1%, but they represent a minor cost.

“We’ve done enough repetitive tests that (we know) they’re a low-cost investment that generates a return,” Duley said.
And while trailer skirts are prone to damage, they make a difference of their own. “The benefits exceed the costs even if it is a little bit of a challenge to keep the vehicle maintained,” he said.

There are other opportunities to come, such as boat tails or additional skirts on the trailers. Since hood mirrors still sacrifice aerodynamics, he mused about the opportunity to mount cameras in their place. Fuel additives might also represent a future option.

“We don’t use anything today,” Duley said, “but we do look at those from time to time.” And low-viscosity oils could deliver another percentage of fuel economy improvements depending on the engine.

There is little question where the fleet plans to focus when it comes to tires. When given a choice between tire life and fuel economy, fuel economy will win out every time. “Fuel is just such a big lever that it always wins,” he said. Granted, the fleet has yet to embrace wide-base single tires because of challenges in getting them serviced.

“From a weight standpoint and a fuel efficiency standpoint they are very strong,” he said. “You just have to have the right operating network.”

This year, the fleet is introducing electric auxiliary cooling units, more aerodynamic tractors, and predictive cruise control. Ongoing tests also involve tag axles with traction control, automated transmissions, and tire inflation monitors.

One of the biggest changes of all could come in the form of lower axle ratios, even though the fleet already incorporates direct drive transmissions and 2.64 rear axle ratios. The change would simply need to be accompanied by a focus on driveshafts and U-joints to make sure they can last six years or more.

 “We do believe the new (2014-18) fuel-efficiency standards overall are going to be helpful,” he added. “We ask our suppliers to help us find creative but also balanced solutions.”


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