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PIT celebrates the success of its fuel testing programs

BLAINVILLE, Que. -- As rigs zoomed around Transport Canada’s 6.4-km test track in Blainville, Que. this June 5, hundreds of people circulated inside a nearby test hangar, networking and soaking up details of fuel-saving technologies,...

A PIT crew does traction tests on a tractor during drive axle trials.
A PIT crew does traction tests on a tractor during drive axle trials.

BLAINVILLE, Que. — As rigs zoomed around Transport Canada’s 6.4-km test track in Blainville, Que. this June 5, hundreds of people circulated inside a nearby test hangar, networking and soaking up details of fuel-saving technologies, electric vehicles, liquid natural gas vehicles and, of course, the fifth birthday of the precocious testing group Performance Innovation Transport (PIT).

PIT is made up of scientists, technicians, trucking industry experts and administrators who run top-quality tests under tightly controlled conditions, to find out whether the promise of fuel-saving technologies translates into performance. It is a program of FPInnovations, an independent Canadian forestry research institute.

The crucial achievement of PIT is the calibre of the science it does: Before PIT, trucking companies had a problem as they looked for ways to reduce fuel burn. They could take vendors at their word, or, for better or worse, take a swipe at testing the fuel-saving technologies themselves.

Truer words have never been spoken when Christopher Trajkovski, the vice-president of maintenance with Bison Transport, told the masses at the PIT party, “Having PIT do the testing frees us up to stick to our core competence, to make prudent capital decisions.”

FPInnovations created PIT in 2008, but its story actually begins a year earlier. Two Quebec carriers, Robert and Cascades, wanted to test some aerodynamic accessories on the Blainville test track. Transport Canada granted their request, provided they let FPInnovation, with its decades of expertise in testing technologies, design and run the trials.

Dubbed Energotest, the plan gained instant credibility because FPInnovations chose to design and run the trials to conform to the SAE J1321 Joint TMC/SAE Fuel Consumption Test Procedure – Type II, Recommended Practice. A dozen equipment suppliers lined up and paid up to have their gear tested on Cascades and Robert rigs that October.

The participants at the trials quickly learned what it meant to play with real scientists: no cutting corners and no shrugging off any screw-ups. The SAE procedures were to be followed to the letter and suppliers were drawn by the rigour of the methodology.

“The trials give industry-wide validity to the tests,” said Andrew Smith, the CEO of Advanced Transit Dynamics in Solana Beach, Cal., which attended Energotest 2007 with its TrailerTail technology.

As part of the deal with Transport Canada, the Energotest 2007 results had to be made public. The industry learned, for example, that Michelin wide-base tires reduced fuel consumption by 7.2%, Laydon Composites side skirts improved fuel economy by 7.2% and ATDynamics’ TrailerTail reduced fuel burn by 5.1%. Transtex Composite brought in its BoatTail, which reaped fuel savings of 2.6%.

Other winners were Meca Form’s truck fenders (1.4% improvement) and Passing Lane Distributors’ Liberator Exhaust System (1.1% improvement). Another test showed that leaving the back doors open on an empty, open-topped wood chip trailer improved mileage by 1.6%.

The tests were crazy successful and other fleets wanted in on the action. FPInnovations created Project Innovation Transport (“Project” later became “Performance”) to bring trucking companies, suppliers, government agencies and later, municipalities together in an organized way to do technology testing, development and implementation. Their numbers have grown from just six fleet partners in 2008 to nearly 50 partners this year.

Since the partners largely underwrite the cost of each test campaign, PIT gradually adopted a “them who pays, gets the numbers” approach that eventually restricted Energotest results to the partners and suppliers who paid to have their wares tested.

From the early days PIT not only tested suppliers’ products, but also ideas proposed by its partners. In 2009, for instance, PIT tested transit buses. In 2010 PIT did stop-and-go urban duty driving cycles. In 2011 PIT tested a modified trailer to see if its reduced drag coefficient would translate into reduced fuel consumption. It also runs long-term tests; ie., a year-and-a-half-long fuel use and capital cost comparison of hybrid trucks with conventional diesel trucks, the results of which were made public last year.

PIT has also been acquiring some high-end test equipment. A couple years ago it bought a portable emissions measuring system (PEMS) made by Horiba Ltd. This September, PIT will take delivery of a very rare, and very expensive towing dynamometer built by Taylor Dynamometer.

“This will let us simulate downhill, uphill, different weight loads, from zero to 200,000 lbs,” says Bernard Ouellet, leader of operations, PIT.

The Energotest trials occupy PIT for about two weeks a year, but it is a very busy year-round operation, says Ouellet.

“If I talked to you about all the things we did in the other 48 weeks, it would fill all 12 of your editions.” Suffice to say that PIT’s partners deliver truckloads of project ideas to its doors. “Members decide what we do and base business decisions on our results,” Ouellet comments.

Since 2007 PIT has been gaining increasing respect from fleets, some of which are telling vendors they will only consider PIT-tested products, and agencies, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency.

On the flip side, test result letters from PIT also benefit vendors. At the PIT party, Guy Lemieux, an authorized Quebec distributor for Cerma Advanced Lubrication Technology, showed me a letter from PIT based on a 2011 Energotest, in which Cerma reduced fuel consumption by 2.1%. Considering the cost of a small bottle of this product, his letter is a key sales aid.

While the suits mingled at the PIT party, the PIT team wrapped up another Energotest. Over the course of nine days it compared the fuel consumption of two 2013 Volvo VNLs, one delivering power to both drive axles, the other delivering power to just one drive axle. It tested several power/axle configurations on three 2012 Kenworth T660s, and did traction tests. It tested trailer skirts, underbelly products and ran some in-house tests.

“We tested many things,” Ouellet says.

PIT’s status and respect continues to grow; it is telling that for this year’s Energotest the truck component manufacturer Hendrickson hired PIT to test some trailer configurations and Shell Canada hired PIT to run summer-long trials of a new fuel it wants to put on the North American market.

“To attract the OEMs is something very big to achieve,” says Ouellet. “To attract them to a third-party company that is just five years old is good. The OEMs are trusting us to do things. Imagine how much our members trust us.”

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1 Comment » for PIT celebrates the success of its fuel testing programs
  1. Bosmar Truly says:

    What a ride, PIT! Thanks for the great article and history lesson.

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