How Innovation is Keeping Fuel Costs Down, Drivers Comfortable
TruckLabs VP of Product Andrew Kelly sees an increasing need for truck fleet operators to reach emissions reduction goals while tackling increased fuel costs and driver shortages. Thankfully, technology and product innovations are now speeding solutions for keeping fleets online and drivers comfortable. Kelly shares his insights on the latest innovations sparking the future for fleets and top solutions helping the trucking industry face unprecedented disruption.
Q: What trends and innovations are most exciting for the trucking industry, especially against the backdrop of ongoing challenges, including rising fuel costs and driver shortages?
A: Sensor technology, the enabling of IoT through connected devices, and the pursuit of aerodynamics are among advancements paving the way for the future of trucking fleets, said Kelly, who oversees the design of TruckWings, a key product offering from TruckLabs. The tractor-mounted active aerodynamic device automatically closes the gap between a truck cab and the trailer at highway speeds to reduce drag, improve handling, and save fuel.
Trip data that can now be collected along a truck’s route is providing increased visibility into how to optimize routes, economize on fuel, improve driver satisfaction, and increase the operational efficiency of entire fleets. New platforms can measure a truck driver’s performance while accounting for real-world complications, including weather, traffic and load. Data systems and sensors provide minute-by-minute data that can pick apart stories about truck performance to see how a truck operates, noted Kelly.
Truck design and the adoption of leading-edge aerodynamics are also shaping the future of the industry, Kelly added. Aerodynamics are one of the most cost-effective means of improving a truck’s efficiency. Improvements in aerodynamics for trucks are going beyond fuel efficiency design to the frontier of EV capabilities.
Q: What does the future hold when it comes to the adoption of electric truck fleets?
A: For sure, we can hear the silent roar of electrification, said Kelly. Designing electric trucks addresses the dependence on fossil fuels and the increasingly important issues of carbon emissions and fuel efficiency. But, there is a lot of apprehension from an operational standpoint, and massive adoption is still well around the corner, Kelly noted.
Aerodynamics is critical for America’s trucking fleets. While EV manufacturers continue to address issues around battery weight and range, aerodynamics is one of the most critical factors in achieving range targets in electric trucks. Aerodynamic losses are irreversible in EVs, whereas energy spent on acceleration can be partially recovered with regenerative braking in trucks, for example, Kelly said.
We see the aerodynamic choices of passenger car EVs on the market today that stand apart, including flush door handles, digital side view mirrors, and 3D wheel covers. Truck manufacturers have to make the same leap in aerodynamic efficiency to hit their range targets for market appeal. As manufacturers continue to put R&D investments into battery technology, the first generation of electric trucks will look much like their diesel counterparts. That leaves room for aerodynamic design to help in this first stage of adoption.
Right now the fastest way that a truck manufacturer could reduce drag on an existing truck model is to apply TruckWings, said Kelly.
Q: How does the TruckWings product address fuel efficiency and aerodynamics, while making the lives of fleet managers easier?
A: TruckWings closes the gap between the truck cab and trailer, where airflow commonly creates drag and stability issues. The product can be quickly installed and requires zero driver input to operate. Using vehicle speed and a smart sensor to detect trailer clearance, the patented folding panel design automatically deploys and retracts for easy use and maximum maneuverability without being prone to damage from user error. Common aerodynamic product offerings on the market today include long side extenders, which can limit turning radius during in-town driving. TruckWings retracts automatically at speeds under 50 mph without driver input, so trucks can be easily maneuvered for all driving conditions.
TruckWings traces its origins to a visit company founder Daniel Burrows made to a truck stop. Inspired by his work with climate change, Burrows noticed the gap between the truck and trailer and wondered if there was a better way to create energy and performance efficiency for commercial trucks.
The latest generation of the TruckWings solution automatically fits about 90% of trucks that are being manufactured and can be customized for others. That allows TruckLabs to buy parts in bulk to have on hand for delivery and service for any make and model of truck and cut down on lead time.
TruckWings works for all major OEM tractor models, a symbol that our customers have already pushed the limit and are keen on what makes a tractor most efficient and are looking to unlock best in class trucking aerodynamics, said Kelly.
Q: How do aerodynamic solutions for trucks help with driver retention?
A: Driver shortages have kept the trucking industry scrambling as supply chain and logistics issues have gone from one-time “black swan” events to an ongoing global challenge. Trucking fleet operators have responded by working to improve driver retention and the comfort of long-haul drivers.
Aerodynamic solutions like TruckWings can help. Product reviews and studies show that TruckWings helps reduce buffeting and improves the stability of a truck traveling in crosswinds, which can reduce fatigue associated with fighting crosswinds. Drivers also have reported feeling that TruckWings helped with straighter driving, said Kelly. The product operates automatically, so drivers don’t have the hassle of another device to maintain or operate.
Trucking companies today are looking for just about anything that can keep drivers happy and comfortable, but also need to take advantage of the latest technology to improve fleet operations and stay competitive.
So much is changing for the industry, yet the basics of driver comfort, safety and optimizing routes remains at the core of doing good business.
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