Turn off and save

The answer to soaring diesel costs could be as simple as turning off the engine rather than letting it idle, reports ALAN TITCHALL.

Save.jpgIf sustainability simply means improving your bottom line to pay the bills in the future, then take a ‘green’ lesson from contractor Fulton Hogan.

The company’s ‘smart drive’ initiative, trialed in the Bay of Plenty region in recent years, is aimed at changing driving habits to improve vehicle running costs by reducing fuel consumption and engine maintenance. The programme is so simple, it’s almost common sense – turn your engine off, rather than let it idle and back up the habit with good servicing and smart driving practices.

When it comes to wear and tear on the engine, idling time is as bad, if not worse (with built up fuel residue from low-temperature running), as traveling on the road. So, turn the engine off when not in use and save. For a large construction company, the savings can be huge.

Fulton Hogan, for instance, says it uses around 1.2 million litres of fuel every month, which translates to a whopping 15 percent of the company’s $1 billion annual turnover.

Learning from the UK

Since the on-going Smart Drive trial was launched in the Bay of Plenty in 2004, Fulton Hogan has been looking at improving the scheme and releasing it in other regions around the country.

“The programme was originally developed over four years ago and our understanding of driver behaviour training has moved on,” says the company’s sustainability manager, Michael LeRoy-Dyson. Massive increases in the cost of diesel since then has made the behavioural changing initiative even more relevant, he adds.

“We looking at reviewing the results of the Bay of Plenty trial with a UK training programme that is being studied by the Ministry of Transport, and combine the two into a new pilot scheme.”

The UK scheme under review by the ministry is called Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED), a brand put together by the UK Department for Transport for the truck and van sectors, and now being implemented across other sectors. It has been successfully reworked for the aggregate industry in the UK, for instance.

“SAFED has been peer reviewed and very successful. It jumped out amongst our studies of overseas fuel efficiency and safety programmes,” says Rick Barber, Land Transport manager transport relations (northern).

“We are still gathering data in New Zealand and reviewing the UK programme, but should have a design for the pilot stage of a new [Kiwi] scheme in the next few months.”

As one of the biggest users of heavy machinery and roading equipment, the local contracting industry has shown keen interest in the ministry’s progress, he says. 

Kicking old habits

Such initiatives around the world focus on a driving style that maximises fuel economy and safety through braking distances, manoeuvring, speed limits, gear use, tyre pressures, maintenance, route planning and loading.

Fulton Hogan’s Smart Care programme also set out to dispel a few myths about running diesel engines. Heavy vehicles, for instance, only need a warm-up period of three minutes, and just 30 seconds for light vehicles, before getting down to action.

It is also widely believed that it is more fuel efficient to let an engine idle than turn it off.  However, a warm engine only needs to run for more than 30 seconds before burning more fuel than would be used by switching it off and on again.

More efficient engines

The age of the equipment has an obvious say in the fuel bill. Engine technology improves in efficiency with every new generation of machine.

In recent years, heavy machinery manufacturers have been enhancing engine performance to meet tougher emissions regulations through electronics and high pressure injection systems.

Caterpillar, for instance, initially developed its ‘Acert’ technology for stationary diesel-fueled generators to meet US EPA Tier 2 and Tier 3 emissions standards, and serve as the foundation for meeting US EPA Tier 4/EU Stage IIIB emission levels in 2011.

Caterpillar says it spent US$500 million researching this new engine technology that not only lowers emissions, but also optimises power and fuel economy.

Acert technology combines electronic control with the delivery of cool air (instead of recycled heat) and multi-fuel injection into the combustion chamber. Unlike single-injection fuel delivery, this system lowers peak cylinder temperatures so the fuel burns more completely, providing better efficiencies all around.

Another ground-breaker for the company will be the launch next year of its D7E track-type tractor with a Cat C9 engine powered by Acert technology and an on-board generator to convert engine power into AC electrical current that drives the tractor. This electric drive train configuration has 60 percent fewer moving parts, requires less servicing and reduces lifetime operating costs by an average of 10 percent. The electric power also enables the machine to move 25 percent more material per US gallon (4.5 litres) of fuel consumed.

The combination diesel/electric power is the future of Cat engines, with its obvious savings.

“Fewer moving parts reduces oil and filter changes and generally requires less maintenance and servicing,” says Goughs service manager, John Gillman. “It also means the equipment is back on the job quicker.”

Service essential

Better engine technology also means that maintenance and servicing  is essential to any ‘sustainable’ management programme, says CablePrice product support and technical engineer, Danny Turner.

Built to such stringent specifications and finer tolerances, modern diesel engines need clean air and clean fuel to keep running efficiently.

“Diligent maintenance and servicing on today’s efficient engines is critical,” says Turner.

“Our new High Pressure Injection (HPI) engines are designed to meet EU 5 emission standards, and future engines will meet EU 6, tier 4 standards.”

These engines need both clean air and clean fuel to work properly.

“So both air and fuel filters should be serviced regularly. Blocked airflow has the same effect of a choke on a car, while water and other contaminants will damage the injection technology in these latest engines.”

Turner says it is important that tankers and pump nozzles be fitted with the latest filter media, such as the Donaldson range distributed through Transdiesel, that will take the moisture and other contaminants out of the fuel.

“Twenty years ago with the older engines, this wasn’t such a problem. With the high pressure’s these engines are working under today (up to 30,000 PSI), service and maintenance is critical to their efficiency.”  

Contractor Vol.32  No.6  July 2008
All articles on this website are copyright to Contrafed Publishing Co. Ltd.