Fuel for Thought

by Dan Malovany
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With hundreds of thousands of delivery vehicles on the road, baking and snack companies operate one of the largest fleets in the nation. Every day, a variety of a route trucks, step vans, long-haul vehicles and 18-wheelers rack up millions of miles on the road to fill up supermarket shelves with fresh, short shelf life products. Throw in a couple million more miles for shipping fresh and frozen products to the in-store bakery and food service channels often daily, and it’s easy to see how a penny saved can add up to billions of dollars earned on an annual basis.

It doesn’t matter whether a company operates its own direct-store-delivery (DSD) system or relies on independent distributors, common carriers or a warehouse network. Rising fuel costs, directly or indirectly, can spell bad news for the bottom line. When it comes to shipping products, even a fine-tuned engine isn’t music to a fleet manager’s ears if the truck is snarled in traffic or standing idle as the driver waits in line to make a delivery.

With new engine designs, miles per gallon of newer trucks may have risen over the years, but the cost of fuel has shot up proportionately more, noted Bob McGuire, vice-president, director of logistics, Alpha Baking Co., Chicago, IL, and chair of the American Bakers Association’s Logistics Committee. As a result, the actual cost per mile has increased over the years even as fleets and vehicles have become more efficient.

“We’re all looking at wider bodies on trucks and maybe making the bodies without metal to take weight out of the truck,” Mr. McGuire said. “We’re trying to run trucks that are the size we need but no more. We’re designing our routes to be more efficient. Studies have shown that making routes with right-hand turns gets better mileage.”

Over the years, ABA’s Logistics Committee has explored an array of alternative fuel options, including liquid propane gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), hydrogen, hybrids, electric and even waste vegetable oil. “Everyone is trying to grapple with this issue, but there is no easy solution,” Mr. McGuire said.

For fleet managers, part of the challenge to lower distribution costs involves situations beyond their control, especially in urban areas where traffic jams can make on-time delivery a roll of the dice. However, even this issue can be managed by today’s fleets. To better track distribution in real time, many bakeries and snack fleet managers now rely on global positioning systems (GPS). Ford’s Crew Chief system, for instance, can track a vehicle’s location, monitor its operation and provide vehicle diagnostics and maintenance suggestions, noted Ramzi Kort, assistant brand manager, Ford Commercial Vehicle, Dearborn, MI.

“Inefficient start-stop driving as well as traffic congestion are unique challenges that urban bakeries face versus those who are more long-haul distributors,” he said. “That’s where alternate fuel choices come in, as well as technologies such as Crew Chief, which tracks miles per gallon and idle time. Also, the nimbleness that you get with the Transit Connect [vans and wagons] can be quite handy, where its 39-ft turning diameter allows an urban baker to easily navigate through tight areas.”

FUEL-SAVING OPTIONS.

To respond to rising gas prices and provide new ways to lower ongoing distribution costs, Ford’s Commercial Vehicle Division offers myriad alternative fuel choices, according to Mr. Kort. Its gaseous engine prep package, available on F-Series, Superduty, E-Series and Transit Connect models, allows conversion to either CNG or LPG systems. For congested areas, Ford also offers an electric version of its Transit
Connect vehicles. The company’s Flex Fuel program operates using ethanol E-85 (up to 85% ethanol/gasoline blend) with its E-Series, F-Series and Superduty models. Additionally, biodiesel can be an option with its F-Series and Superduty vehicles, and the E-Series offers a hybrid system as an option.

Freightliner Trucks, Portland, OR, supplies a variety of fuel-friendly vehicles. The Freightliner M2 112 can run on LNG or CNG and perform a broad range of applications to increase productivity, performance and profitability, according to the company. Additionally, the Freightliner M2 106 Hybrid truck provides fuel efficiency and qualifies for government incentives. With several million miles of successful field-testing, the Eaton Hybrid Electric Drivetrain System — featured in the Freightliner M2 106 hybrid — can position a business as environmentally friendly.

Many truck and van companies try to design vehicles to maximize the amount of products they can carry. Especially in urban areas, size and shape matters. Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter vans, for instance, come with fuel-efficient diesel engines, 547 sq ft of cargo capacity and can carry up to 5,375 lb of payload, noted Dan Barile, product and technology PR specialist, Mercedes-Benz USA, Montvale, NJ.

Additionally, Sprinter vans feature an interior standing height of 6 ft, 4 in., and its rear door allows access to cargo up to 5 ft, 2 in. wide and 6 ft tall. Side doors open 4 ft, 3 in. wide, and step height is only 19 in. For ease of access, Sprinter cargo van doors can open 270°. “Sprinter vans are attractive to small businesses because of their frugal, fuel-efficient diesel engine, which helps keep operating costs low,” Mr. Barile said.

Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Gaffney, SC, recently launched its gasoline-powered chassis. UPS has ordered more than 2,000 FCCC gasoline-powered walk-in van (WIV) chassis for its fleet. Because the gasoline-powered MT-45G and MT-55G share the same chassis platform as their diesel-powered counterparts, there is no compromise in durability associated with less robust chassis typically used with gasoline engines, according to the company. The full-section steel straight-rail construction is capable of carrying up to 13,000 lb of cargo, and the chassis is built to reduce flex and bowing while meeting the heavy payload demands of the pickup
and delivery business.

Workhorse Custom Chassis, Troy, MI, produces the framework for the route delivery and step van industry and is that industry’s exclusive supplier of the GM Vortec gas engine and powertrain, which are tested up to 150,000 miles. The company’s W42 model is built for 12,000- to 14,000-lb gross vehicle weight (GVW) walk-in van category and provides a fuel-efficient, low-maintenance platform for vehicles, according to the company.

SAFE TRAVELS.

Throughout the years, van and truck manufacturers have added a plethora of safety features. Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter van comes with such safety features as rollover control, anti-lock brakes and traction control, according to Mr. Barile. The company’s Adaptive ESP stability program automatically measures the van’s load condition so it can then react with just the right amount of control. If a wheel starts to spin or skid, sensors will prompt the program to automatically implement the optimal control action. Other options include Bi-Xenon headlights, a pressure monitoring system and a Parktronic parking aid that uses sensors to avoid backing up or running into poles, walls and other obstacles.

Ford offers the AdvanceTrack with roll stability control as standard on its 2012 Transit Connect trimlines. The system uses sensors to monitor loss of traction and relies on anti-lock brake systems to bring the vehicle under control. Moreover, the company’s SYNC system helps drivers communicate without taking their eyes off the road, according to Mr. Kort.

“The safety of our customers is paramount to everything we do,” he said.                    


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