VANCOUVER, B. C. – Research and development can be a costly exercise, and economically prohibitive for many fleets.
That was a consideration of a few Canadian fleets, after observing the scientific and technical efforts offered by FPInnovations, a non-profit forest research institute created in 1975, which is located in B. C. and Quebec. At that time, FPInnovations’ research team had developed transportation innovations for the forestry fleet – some of which were also being adopted by over-the-road applications. Out of that recognition, came the formation of Project Innovation Transport (PIT), a dedicated group within FPInnovations that was created in 2007, to offer strength in unity, for the benefit of research and development for over-the-road fleets.
“The fleets wanted us to work specifically for their own needs,” says Yves Provencher, manager of business development for FPInnovations, who was responsible for the creation of PIT, which has evolved into a committee of fleets and government organizations motivated by performance improvements instigated by the transportation sector. “So that’s how we created PIT.”
PIT develops, assesses, and implements new technologies for its members. Member fleets get together twice a year for advisory meetings and make decisions about upcoming research and development projects. At those meetings, PIT partners identify the study projects and FPInnovations’ research arm then undertakes the work. While PIT has not yet developed any innovations specifically for over-the-road transportation, it has done a fair amount of equipment testing, with the results shared by PIT member fleets.
One of those tests is what PIT refers to as Energotest, a campaign undertaken in 2007 and 2008. PIT has tested aerodynamic devices, fuel additives, hydrogen injection systems, wide-base tires and more. “You name it, and we’ve tested it,” says Provencher. “So far, we’ve tested over 30 technologies.”
PIT has also tested best practices, such as the fuel consumption of hauling a container compared to a dry box. Since the container has side walls that are corrugated, there is a great deal more drag than on a dry box. The test analyzed the impact on fuel consumption to determine if transloading to a dry box would be an option on long-distance hauls.
“There was a huge impact, like 14% difference,” says the PIT manager. “The container is more difficult to pull.”
PIT then developed a decision-making software tool for the computer, where an operator could input handling fees, distance, and fuel consumption, etc., to determine if it is worthwhile pulling the container box based on the distance.
“Knowing this, you can turn around and determine ‘if I have a container to take from Vancouver to Saskatoon, for instance, it may be worth my while to unload the container, put it back in the dry box and then drive with it’,” says Provencher.
PIT has also tested aerodynamic skirts for trailers, which are not all equal in design and benefit, according to PIT test results.
But more important is the installation process, or more specifically the angle of installation. PIT researchers discovered that the angle has a great impact on the performance of the skirt.
For instance, PIT tested a skirt that was giving 7.5% fuel economy improvements but on another trailer, it offered no improvements. After tweaking the angle a bit, PIT brought that economy up to 7.5%.
“So that was very enlightening for us, because then we said ‘it’s not only the skirt, it’s how you install it.’ That’s how/where our researchers are supporting our members, to make sure that not only they implement the technology, but they implement it right.”
With that test, PIT members soon realized the economic benefits, according to Provencher, because aerodynamic skirts may cost between $1,500 and $2,000 – a wasted investment if the installation is not effective.
The PIT manager of business development notes that Canadian fleets that have already joined the young research organization, are already innovative with their own operations, and easily understand the benefits of PIT.
As an example, he refers to Bison Transport, a Manitoba company which stands out for its own innovations, including simulators, a research arm, as well as numerous safety initiatives – a cost savings in itself. “Sure enough, they were among the first ones that wanted to become a member of our organization.”
Despite having an office in B. C., located on the University of B. C. campus, membership with PIT in the west is not as strong as it is in the east.
Therefore, Provencher has undertaken trips to the coast recently to seek new members.
“We have met with fleets, (B. C.) Ministry of Transportation and the B. C. Trucking Association. All see great potential in PIT and we are now looking at how to define the best approach to make sure that B. C. fleets can benefit from PIT’s work.”