John Elsner is VP of Strategy & Business Development at Pedigree Technologies. John is an experienced executive with more than 25 years in telematics and IoT, including the industry’s leading GPS tracking device supplier. He leads Pedigree’s efforts to find and integrate partnering solutions that align with the needs of the heartland industries Pedigree serves -- trucking, heavy equipment, agriculture, and oil and gas. Before joining Pedigree, John was a supplier and witnessed firsthand the Pedigree team’s passion to develop curated solutions based on the team’s intimate knowledge of what customers need. John brings the DNA to guide Pedigree as it provides the highest value for customers, offering an extraordinary range of productivity and safety solutions.

Six Ways to Use Technology to Save on Fuel

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Your two biggest trucking operational expenses are the cost of drivers and the cost of fuel. If you’re paying $70,000 a year for fuel logging 100,000 miles, the $7,000 savings you could receive with a 10% reduction in fuel costs is a pretty obvious reason to do all that you can to optimize fuel consumption. 

Here are six technologies to augment drivers’ performance and reduce fuel coststake note that not one of these technologies involves magnets, magic, or secret potions. 

 

1. Cruise Control:  Adaptive, Predictive Powertrain, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

Cruise control has come a long way in the last ten years in both cars and trucks. We’re all familiar with basic adaptive cruise control that helps reduce driver fatigue with a slight improvement in fuel usage. Adaptive cruise control manages distance to the vehicle ahead and more safely automates acceleration and deceleration to provide a limited level of automation and improve driver convenience.

Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) from OEMs like Mercedes-Benz Trucks and Mack Trucks can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 5% by controlling acceleration, coasting, braking, and gear optimization in concert with the GPS location to determine the best speed for the vehicle. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) cruise control is PPC on steroids. Like PPC, it considers speed limits, gradients, downhill slopes, road conditions, and radius of bends to adjust speeds and predictively time gear shifts.   

AI systems, however, add real-time contextual data to dramatically improve fuel economy. These systems not only assess the vehicle load but also assess over-the-horizon traffic congestion and weather conditions, all while taking into account drivers’ Hours of Service and time of arrival requirements. Traxen, a provider of AI-based cruise control system called iQPilot for after-market installation, is seeing a 10-15% improvement in fuel efficiency on freeways. Interestingly, Traxen displays a map with upcoming conditions on ELD tablets, so drivers better understand AI-driven changes in truck activity. Without this display, drivers are less likely to trust AI-based decisions and tend not to use cruise control.

 

2. Optimize Engine Settings

Electronic Control Modules (ECM) provide a wide variety of parameters that can be tuned to reduce fuel usage. ECM settings for cruise control, speed management, acceleration, and intelligent coasting can deliver consistent driving behavior to save fuel. Reducing idling time can also be configured in ECM parameters to yield significant savings. OEM and after-market devices using “out of the box” settings may underperform given your actual fleet’s usage, so it is worth your effort to understand what you can configure that best meets your operational needs and whether you can do so with your own maintenance resources or engage the help of experts. 

 

3. “Skip the Line” – Inspections and Tolls 

Every time a truck stops and starts, it takes more fuel. Waiting in line is even worse. Weigh station bypass services such as DriveWyze can help drivers avoid lengthy enforcement inspections. The service is based largely on a carrier’s safety score and other state screening criteria. Carriers with the best safety scores can receive bypasses, in some states, up to 98% of the time.  Saved time and less hassle keeps drivers happier and fuel isn’t wasted idling in line. 

Take advantage of automated toll services to keep rolling through toll stations. You’ll save on fuel by not having to stop and the automated billing that comes with this service often includes reduced toll rates to further save money. 

 

4. Wasting Fuel – It’s a Drag 

Aerodynamic drag using add-ons to the tractor and trailer is one obvious method to reduce drag and save fuel. Those are “table stakes” in long-haul trucking, so what else can you do to reduce drag? 

Road drag is a key element of fuel consumption. If your wheels aren’t rolling properly, you’re essentially “dragging a sled” and burning more fuel than you should. What can make your rig behave like a sled? Underinflated, unbalanced tires and unbalanced loads can do that. 

  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) – Tires lose pressure all the time. A TPMS can monitor all tires and axels and alert the driver and the dispatch system when action is needed to correct a tire inflation problem. 
  • Axle Load – Uneven loads can lead to increased road friction and reduced fuel mileage. On-vehicle axle load monitoring systems alert you to load imbalances, which not only helps with fuel economy but can help avoid expensive fines. 
  • Bad Tires/Hubs Efficient forward motion means you want your tires to roll straight and stay on the road. Unbalanced tires, uneven wear, and bald spots will all have an impact. Wheel hub monitoring technology from companies like ConMet use vibration analysis to detect problems in both the hub and the tires. 

Monitoring and maintaining tires, wheels, and axle load can not only save fuel as you roll but can prevent costly repairs and downtime by alerting you to conditions before they become critical. 

 

5. Don’t Burn Fuel When Standing Still 

Idling engines consume a lot of fuel. The easy but not very practical answer is to turn the engine off and go “dark.” The practical answer: use the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) instead of the primary engine for power generation purposes to keep the cab’s “lights on.”  A diesel-fueled APU is just as much an “engine” as the primary power train engine, but it uses only a tenth of the fuel to operate. Battery-powered APUs can be even more efficient.

It is important to actively monitor APU use to gain maximum benefits: 

  • Ensure engines are not idling when they should be using the APU. 
  • Monitor the APU status before problems arise. 
  • Enforce engine idling policies to deliver fuel savings and avoid fines where strict “No Idling” rules are in place.

 

6. Better Planning  

Time, distance, and fuel prices can all be optimized by good planning. Giving dispatchers and drivers the tools to select the optimum route is an important means of saving fuel. 

  • Routing Software – Driving a route that considers duration, regulatory restrictions, rest stop locations, traffic patterns, etc., is going to optimize the time and distance required to minimize fuel usage. 
  • Fuel Stop Aware Routing Software – Stopping for fuel has its own cost in time and idling. A routing package that is aware of in-network fuel stops can plan routes and fuel stops for the best-priced fuel as well as time and distance.   
  • ELD and Fuel Stops – Allow your ELD and fleet management system to plan fuel stops with full knowledge of driver hours to save money and avoid inefficient and out-of-network fuel stops just because driver time is nearing its end. 

 

Summary 

There are lots of ways to waste fuel when transporting a load. Fortunately, there are lots of ways and tools to optimize fuel efficiency. Some of the solutions even provide additional cost-saving benefits like avoiding fines, extending tire life, and monitoring vehicle system health to avoid failures. Using solutions that improve efficiency and save the driver time could help with driver retention. 

Bottom line?  Fuel costs are so high that implementing any number of these solutions can be easily justified on fuel savings alone.   

 

 

“Where’s My Stuff?” – Listen to Your Bluetooth® Tags

If you’re in the construction, equipment rental, oil & gas, or municipal/environmental business (to name a few) your “stuff” is valuable because it costs a lot, but even more so because it’s what you use to make money. Knowing precisely where your equipment and tools are can make the difference between meeting a schedule or incurring costly delays.

A common technology to track valuable “stuff” is the Bluetooth “tag”, one of the most flexible, available, and cost-effective means of asset management. They are rugged, weatherproof, long-life battery powered devices that can be installed on most anything including tools, ladders, light equipment, bins and dumpsters, and iron attachments. So, what is a “Bluetooth tag?”

I’ve got Bluetooth speakers and a Bluetooth headset, are they “tags”?
Nope. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that is perfect for nearby, device-to-device communication. “Tag” refers to applications where the data quantity is small to modest, not a stream like music or a phone call, and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) named after its low power features with a range of about two hundred feet. Popular consumer BLE tags include Apple’s AirTag and devices from Tile used to find personal items like wallets and keys. Industrial applications use tags built for tough use and low maintenance.

The nature of the BLE tag data communication is different than continuously connected IoT or consumer device applications. The tag periodically transmits, “I’m here”, and it’s the system’s job to simply listen. The listening element is called a “gateway”. Simply put, the tag tells the gateway, “I’m here,” much like when your kid returns from a date and shouts, “Mom, Dad, I’m home.”

So it is the gateway that listens for nearby tags. A gateway with its own GPS location will connect to the internet over a cellular radio or local network and report on those tags that are in range. The gateway itself can be a mobile phone, tablet, vehicle tracking device, or “box” installed on a building.

Why would I want a Bluetooth tag vs. a GPS tracker?
It’s a matter of affordability. If you have valuable assets where real-time communication from anywhere is needed, then an asset tracker with GPS and cellular communication is your best bet, but at a cost of about 3 times more for the device and service. But if your “stuff” isn’t as valuable and you just need to know where you left it last, then Bluetooth tags might be right for you.

BLE “I’m here” isn’t like GPS.

“Here” simply means “within ‘earshot’ of the gateway” whose location is known.


Here’s how an asset tracking system
using BLE works:

    1. Equip all the assets you want to track with a BLE tag compatible with your selected gateway(s) and record which tag goes with which asset. Note: Some assets have integrated BLE tag capabilities, like many tools from Milwaukee and DeWalt.
    2. Identify the vehicles, warehouses, yards, or sites of interest and deploy gateways.
    3. Select and integrate an asset tracking system to host the asset database, identify assets whose BLE tag is reporting to the site gateway(s), and display results. Coverage in large areas can be accomplished with multiple gateways or on vehicles that move about that area.

The BLE system answers some questions and not others:

    • Is my asset here?
      Yes, and “here” is the location of the gateway. If you’ve an array of gateways it might also know, “In zone 3C of the yard” or “At Site 203”.
    • What happens when my assets move?
      If the tag is in range of just one gateway, you’ll only be notified when the unit is out of range. If you have multiple gateways a tag’s movement will show as it moves between neighboring gateways.
    • What happens when my assets leave the yard?
      The system reports your asset as “gone” when it stops reporting. If it is being transported by a vehicle with its own GPS tracking and BLE gateway capability, you’ll know “asset A is with truck B”. Otherwise, the asset’s location is known only when it shows up in another monitored area.
    • Can many gateways receive the same “I’m Here” signal?
      Yes, if a tag is nearby any number of gateways within range can hear it.
    • If the tag doesn’t have GPS, how does the system know its location?
      The gateways’ locations are known whether they are fixed or part of a device with GPS tracking, so by default the tag’s location is known when in range of the gateway.
    • How can you make a phone your gateway?
      Because BLE tags can be detected by most mobile phones, a standard smartphone can be used to both deploy tags and identify tagged assets using a tag application on the phone.
    • What environments work best with tags?
      Like any radio signal, BLE tag range is impacted by the environment. It works best outdoors or spacious indoor environments with no building interference. If you keep your assets enclosed in a metal truck or locker it may not be detectable.
    • If I already have tags on tools, will they work with tags I purchase separately?
      Yes and no. Some gateways and tags are designed to work together so check first about interoperability.


In Summary, BLE asset tags can help identify the presence and help locate most any asset. They are simple to install, offer a long life (typically more than 3 years), and provide a common or standard wireless interface that communicates to a gateway or smartphone. They’re not an option for on-the-road vehicle tracking, but a powerful complement to identify where all your “stuff” is.