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GAO dumps on EPA...

GAO dumps on EPA

Plans to introduce tighter emission standards for trucks are leading to a feud between two U.S. government agencies.

A recent report by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) suggests the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should consider offering financial incentives if it wants the trucking industry to embrace equipment built to 2007 standards. Otherwise, the industry may face another “pre-buy”, with fleets rushing to buy equipment built to meet 2004 standards and keeping it on the road as long as possible, the GAO concludes.

The report to the U.S. Congress also asked for an independent panel to review the related technology.

For its part, the EPA is balking at any suggestions of financial help, and thinks an independent review could delay the rollout of the equipment.

“This 2007 rule is a big deal,” admitted EPA assistant administrator Jeffrey Holmstead, likening the shift to the introduction of catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline for cars. While the next round of equipment is expected to add another U.S. $3,000 to the cost of a truck, “we think it’s a cost from a societal perspective that is worth bearing,” he said.

Still, the coming changes to emissions standards may also signal a light at the end of the regulatory tunnel.

“We’re not planning any further diesel engine standards in the near future,” Holmstead said, referring to a round of cuts to occur in 2010. “We’re actually having to re-outfit our laboratories so we can even measure the levels of emissions…. We can’t imagine another round of standards for this industry.”

Divide the diesel

Fleets will have to be more careful in their storage of diesel if they want to protect costly filters that will be introduced to trap particulate matter in exhaust stacks.

Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) will become the industry’s dominant fuel in 2006, boasting 15 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, compared to current levels that float around 500. But if the two are mixed and used to fuel engines built to meet 2007 standards – some of which will be available as early as next year — the higher sulfur content could destroy related particulate filters.

There are several secrets to an uncontaminated fuel supply, says Steven Levy of Sprague Energy, a U.S.-based fuel supplier.

Fleets that store their own fuel should let tanks run as low as possible before beginning a changeover, and then be vigilant in their use of the low-sulfur fuel, he said. A 10,000-gallon tank holding 1,000 gallons of 500 ppm fuel will need about three 8,000-gallon loads of 15 ppm fuel to reach 15.4 ppm. (Although, you might be able to get away with fewer loads, since many refineries are looking to release fuel with less than 10 ppm of sulfur, and perhaps go as low as 6 ppm.)

Fleet age key factor

No matter what your maintenance budget was last year, it’s important to take a closer look at the age of your equipment when crunching numbers, since that will play the biggest role in related costs.

Penske Truck Leasing, for example, will spend U.S. $2,000 per year to maintain trucks traded in at 42 months old, while those costs swell to U.S. $2,500 per year when a truck is kept until it’s 50 months old, says Ken McKibben, senior vice-president of field maintenance.

“It is a fact that maintenance costs for all trucks are not the same – age matters,” said Joe Fleming, a former math teacher who now runs Ohio-based Falcon Transportation, a truckload operation with 1,200 power units. Once breaking down the fleet into age groups, he assigns specific maintenance tasks to each group.

Final totals are then used to calculate a cost per mile for each group of trucks – and a fleet’s sales department is usually a good source of estimated mileage that equipment will face in the coming year, he said.

Beware “universal” ATF additives

A decade ago, a fleet shop may have been able to get by with a couple of types of automatic transmission fluids (ATFs). But an increase in power densities, hotter operating temperatures and demands for longer drain intervals have since led to six distinct classifications, explains Tom Hansel of Chevron Texaco. And the number of ATFs continues to grow – particularly since a selection of motor oils can be used in selected applications.

It’s important to remember that they aren’t created equal.

If you pour a Dexron III fluid into a transmission designed for ATF+3, the result will be harder shifts, Hansel says as an example. An additive might offer an easier shift, but it will also result in 15% to 20% less torque, resulting in excessive wear and heat, and affecting long-term durability, he adds, referring to the need to use recommended fluids.

A truly “universal” fluid may be a pipe dream for several years.

“There’s been a lot of talk about SAE trying to get control of this and trying to get one spec’ that makes everyone happy,” said Allison Transmission’s Tom Johnson, “but I don’t see that happening.”

Dock locks have improved

Lower “dock locks” and stronger designs for underride guards seem to have reduced some of the damage associated with early generations of the hooks that keep trailers from unexpectedly rolling away from loading docks.

The locks were responsible for damaging 8.6% of the guards studied by the American Trucking Associations in 1998, and about 3.5% were bent in the middle, caused when the dock lock did not completely retract when a spotting tractor moved the trailer.

Some of the damage is solved by stronger guards that were mandated by the federal government, along with additional reinforcements in the form of diagonal braces, said Don Carter, a project engineer with Great Dane trailers.

But the locks themselves are causing less damage because their hooks can be limited to reaching nine to 12 inches from the ground. They can be installed even lower by excavating an area at the base of the loading dock, said Kyle Nelson, vice-president of marketing at Rite Hite, a company that makes the equipment.

It’s also important to consider the final clearance of lift gates before relying on the locks, said Ted Raquet, vice-president of sales at the Maxon Lift Corporation. A 72-inch lift gate on a dry van, for example, will leave 10 inches of clearance, and stay clear of the modern designs, he said.

Simple multiplexing

Mutliplexing systems that send a variety of signals over a single wire have meant a number of improvements for electrical systems.

“Smaller wire bundles means more room for body builders,” said Carlo Nardini, director of technical support for Freightliner. Computers are smart enough to shed power loads to such things as cigar lighters if battery voltages drop too low. Cruise control can be turned off when headlights or wipers are turned on. And it’s the same technology that feeds the signal for the ABS warning light on your dashboard.

But they can be complicated to repair.

“Body builders need to hire electrical and electronic experts in their ranks,” Nardini said, adding that technicians need to embrace the use of PCs as diagnostics tools.

There are some common steps that should be taken when troubleshooting any of the equipment:

Don’t forget the “roll call” that will identify all of the equipment that’s multiplexed, said Marty Fletcher, director of technology and training at U.S. Express Enterprises. “Shops in the field don’t know what’s multiplexed and what’s not.”

Never overlook the obvious, said Chad Pearson of Noregon Systems, a supplier of PC diagnostic tools. If the headlight is out, check the bulb before tearing apart the wiring.

Hand-held tools are fine for quick changes to engine parameters or light troubleshooting, but PC-based systems are needed for the increasingly complex systems, said Fletcher.

Beware that fault codes that haven’t been cleared may send you down the wrong path. You may need to reset everything and take the truck on a road test in an attempt to recreate the fault. Most of Fletcher’s problems have included intermittent connections.

Wal-mart to see RFID

Carriers loaded with goods bound for Wal-Mart may see an end to bar codes as the retailer adds its name to the growing list of companies that want to identify goods with RFID tags.

Unlike a bar code, these tags can be read even when they are not in the line of sight of a reader, and that could mean quicker loading times at distribution centres.

About 135 suppliers are expected to attach these unique “licence plates” to each pallet shipped to the retail giant, which will wire a variety of regional distribution centres, grocery distribution centres and cross-dock operations beginning in 2005. All of its suppliers are expected to use the new tags by 2006.

For its part, Wal-Mart expects the technology to slash inventory costs by 5% – simply by identifying what’s in stock in any given store – trim another 7.5% from labor costs, and recover $700,000 on every $1 billion in sales that would normally be lost when customers can’t find goods that are out of stock.

The equipment is easier to use, but those asked to use hand-held devices to read the tags should be careful to hold the equipment directly in front of them, since the readers will pick up information from other tags in the vicinity, says Tech Center’s Ken Crawford, whose company specializes in RFID.

Designs with lower frequencies, such as those used to tag cattle, actually need to come in contact with a reader. But a 915MHz tag can be read from distances of 12 to 18 feet.

Protect the e-mail

Companies that set arbitrary limits on storage space for e-mail could unwittingly be deleting records that are required by law, warns Michael Morris, vice-president of Millican and Associates, an information management firm.

“It isn’t based on sound business practices,” he says of IT departments that limit all employees to a common amount of storage space, or simply delete files after a specific number of days.

A better system will give people a chance to file legally required documents into a record-keeping system, he adds, noting that the system should include formal reports when files are destroyed.

But Morris also warns against keeping records longer than they’re required by law.

“Keeping stuff forever is not necessarily good… old records may not tell the story you want them to.”

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