GREEN BAY, Wis. – With diesel fuel prices north of $4 per gallon, carriers and shippers are on the lookout for ways to conserve valuable fuel resources. For some in the industry, energy conservation is an art; for carriers like Schneider National it’s literally a science. With the company poised to kick off its rigorous annual testing program in a few weeks, company officials and industry leaders recently reflected on the origins and impact of the program that has helped Schneider run one of the most energy-efficient fleets in the industry.
Schneider’s use of the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) testing program – used by just a handful of carriers in the industry – has roots dating back to 1989. That year, Steve Graham (then manager of Schneider’s tire program) realized that fuel economy should factor heavily in tire purchasing decisions and wanted to learn how to test various tires for their fuel efficiency. He traveled to the Transportation Research Center of Ohio, which used the SAE protocol for tire testing. Graham believed that Schneider could adapt the scientific, methodical practices outlined in these widely accepted standards – designed to eliminate the influence of variables – to evaluate the efficiency and performance of its own equipment.
Upon returning, Graham launched Schneider’s first testing program. “It started quite primitively,” recalls Graham, now the vice president of purchasing at Schneider. “Today’s program is much more sophisticated, but the goal back then was the same as now: find new ways to minimize fuel usage and reduce our environmental impact.”
Testing Program Still Going Strong 22 Years Later
Today, Schneider employs an on-site team of engineers who work year round on a wide range of equipment-research needs for the company, including process development, maintenance training, troubleshooting equipment and component testing. Yet their focus is always on preparations for the coming summer, when they turn their attention to the careful and accurate testing of various equipment (following SAE’s Type II and Type III on-highway fuel economy testing guidelines) that may benefit both the company and the environment.
Though the number of technologies and/or products tested each year can range from 10 to 40, they are all tested in the same controlled manner on a 50-mile route in Northeast Wisconsin that is representative of the load factor (the stress of a load on the engine) of its fleet. Two trucks are pulled from the fleet for the summer so they can be dedicated solely to testing, as are two veteran drivers with extensive testing experience. In each test, one truck becomes the “control” truck, while the other is outfitted with the technology and/or product being evaluated.
Extreme care and precaution is taken to ensure that no other variables besides the item being tested could cause a difference in the results between the two trucks. The company has invested in high-quality scaling equipment (since fuel is weighed before and after each trial to determine the efficiency of the trip) as well a large tank that is positioned at the testing site so that the same batch of fuel can be used in each test. Both trucks travel the predetermined route, accelerate in the same manner, idle the same amount of time and stop in the same places.
“We rely on experienced drivers to help us determine which runs are successful and which need to be thrown out,” says Graham. “For example, if one of our trucks is passed by another truck carrying a heavy load that causes a gust of wind as it moves ahead of our truck, our drivers know to tell us that this particular trial is invalid.”
Routes are run as many times as needed until the team is confident in its results, which are analyzed at the test site in a special trailer the company purchased and converted into a command center.
“We actually hold ourselves to a tighter standard than SAE protocol requires to determine even the smallest variances,” reports Graham. “Even if a device yields less than 1 percent fuel efficiency, that small amount of savings can add up to huge numbers when you consider the vast size of our fleet.”
Case in point: In 2010, Schneider added Deflecktor aerodynamic wheel covers to its trucks after extensive SAE testing. The device delivers 0.8 percent fuel efficiency, which translates into 1.8 million gallons of fuel conserved each year on Schneider’s trucks.
Industry Suppliers Applaud Schneider’s Focus on Energy Efficiency
Equipment manufacturers have been so impressed with Schneider’s testing protocol that they often ask the company to verify their own results – and sometimes even rely on the company to test on their behalf. In 2008 Schneider piloted the forthcoming 2010 engines produced by Detroit Diesel and helped the manufacturer correct the issues in the new engines before they went into mass production. As a result, the engines were road ready in time for the January 1, 2010, deadline.
“We work with customers every year to validate the results we get on our products during our own internal testing and to get their perspective on how the product works when it’s in their hands,” says Tim Tindall, director of sales for Detroit Diesel. “When it comes to understanding how to get the most fuel efficiency benefit out of a vehicle, Schneider absolutely is an industry leader. The diligence, care, attention to detail and knowledge base that Schneider’s testing team exhibits are among the best. We consistently want to include Schneider National in evaluations of our products because we can be certain of the quality and accuracy of the information we get back.”
Some of the items slated for testing between June and August this year include:
• Low viscosity motor oils
• Renewable fuel alternatives
• Low-rolling resistance tires
• New engine calibrations
• Predictive cruise control (in which the engine uses mapping software to determine how to best conserve vehicle momentum when approaching or cresting hills)
• Verification of Freightliner tractor wind tunnel testing
According to Graham, shippers who are concerned about the environmental footprint of their supply chains can do two things this Earth Day: work with a carrier who cares about energy efficiency as much as you do and learn more about the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership program – an innovative, market-based partnership to reduce fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from the freight sector.
“For those customers and colleagues who have yet to become SmartWay members, there’s no better day to take action than Earth Day. Join us and, together, we can deliver a cleaner tomorrow,” Graham added. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/smartway/transport
Schneider National, a SmartWay™ Transportation Partner charter member, is a four-time winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Award of Excellence. For more information on Schneider's environmental record and initiatives, visit www.schneider.com/Sustainability
About Schneider National, Inc.
Schneider National, Inc. is a premier provider of truckload, logistics and intermodal services. Serving more than two-thirds of the FORTUNE 500 companies, Schneider National offers the broadest portfolio of services in the industry. The company’s transportation and logistics solutions include Van Truckload, Dedicated, Regional, Bulk, Intermodal, Transportation Management, Supply Chain Management, Warehousing and International Logistics services.
Headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., Schneider National has provided expert transportation and logistics solutions for 75 years. A $3.1 billion company, Schneider National conducts business in more than 28 countries worldwide. For more information about Schneider National, visit www.schneider.com