Diesel Fuel Savings and the Two Keys: Idle Time and Technology

Without question, diesel fuel savings are the single biggest opportunity to cut costs in the heavy equipment and trucking industries. The cost of fueling heavy equipment constitutes the highest non-operator cost associated with a construction/development operation. With respect to over-the-road trucks and fleets, “The largest operating expense is diesel fuel. A commercial truck can easily consume more than $70,000 of diesel fuel per year,” according to The Truckers Report.

The fact that diesel fuel is such a considerable expense in a heavy equipment or trucking operation means that even small diesel fuel savings can add up to a considerably larger net profit. There are two ways to shrink the difference between gross and net profit with respect to diesel fuel savings. Reducing idle time is one option. Increasing the energy output of diesel fuel is the second.

Increase Diesel Fuel Savings by Reducing Idle Time

Heavy equipment operation managers and fleet operator’s loath idle time for two reasons, one, idle time wastes fuel. Idle time is that time an engine is running without producing a profit. The second reason idle time is such a bane is because it generally means salaries and wages are also paid for non-production. When a machine or truck is idle, so too — more often than not — is the operator/driver.

There are several approaches to reducing idle time that does not require technology.

Operations Planning to Increase Diesel Fuel Savings

Idle time is almost always a symptom of one machine waiting for another machine or for laborers to complete a job. Trackhoes sit idle as workers connect the flanges on pipe. Loaders sit idle waiting for dump trucks to unload a haul and return; backhoes sit idle while laborers search for a gas or sewer line. Dump trucks sit idle waiting in line for a paver to hop the asphalt from another truck.

The objective of operations planning is efficiency. The more efficient the operation, the greater production is in relation to costs.

Idle time exists on every job site. Reducing idle time is a matter of planning. Too many trucks waiting in line for one paver? Reduce the number of trucks. Going to be digging around power and sewer lines? Locate them before starting a machine. Pipefitters slow? Use the machine to help or kill the engine while waiting.

While reducing idle time and inefficiency using these methods is basic, there are other factors that are not as easy to mitigate, but that are equally as important.

Appropriate Equipment and Operations Planning

Having equipment of the right size can mean a great deal with respect to fuel efficiency. While small operations do not always have the option of using equipment that is ideally sized for a job, using the wrong equipment for a job can be costly.

For example, using a backhoe to load a dump truck wastes fuel because the bucket is too small to fill the truck in a minimum number of passes. “You have to start by matching the loader to the trucks,” says Toby Welch, senior demonstrator/instructor at Caterpillar’s Tinaja Hills training center. “Two to three passes of the loader to fill the truck is optimal.”

Operations Planning: Efficient Staging 

Staging is a critical aspect — if not the most important component — of operations planning. And, one of the biggest contributors to wasted fuel and idle time is poor staging. Stage materials in a position that provides easy access as well as the shortest travel distance/time. Even more importantly, never stage materials in a place that requires moving it twice. Moving materials two or more times requires at least twice the diesel.

And, when machines and trucks work in conjunction, it adds to idle time. The farther a truck is from a stockpile, the more time that truck spends idling. Idle time is just as large a wage/salary expense that it is a fuel waste. If materials — pipe, lumber, cement, etc. — are from a trench, pit or hole, the more time laborers spend waiting unproductively.

Increase Diesel Fuel Savings with Fuel Saving Technology

Fuels saving technologies are big business in the world of heavy equipment and trucking. The reason being, technology minimizes the human element of fuel inefficiency. The majority of the technologies designed with the purpose of saving fuel are based on the use of GPS.

Heavy equipment and fleet tracking devices all have a number of uses. Simply maintaining a bead on where equipment is can help increase operational efficiency explains the Verizon subsidiary Telogis. “GPS is an extremely valuable business tool for construction companies that help them manage expensive machinery, from towers and mobile cranes to earth moving equipment, service vehicles, and heavy trucks. In fact, it is often used for all types of assets that are worth tracking, such as generators and compressors.”

But, GPS units can do more than just spot the location of a truck or piece of machinery.

GPS devices can also track things like engine revolutions per minute (rpm), machine speed, load weight, and the time a machine spends in a single place with the engine running — idle time. GPS devices can also help operate a piece of machinery as a “semi-auto-pilot.” Grade controlled and Accugrade bulldozers are equipped with GPS sensors that keep a blade at the appropriate elevation. The same technology is available for road graders and scrapers. GPS bucket control exists for graders and backhoes.

GPS controlled heavy equipment operation is the future of construction and development. But something GPS can’t do is control the energy output of fuel. While a GPS device can minimize idle time and inefficient operations, a fuel catalyst is necessary to maximize the energy output of a fuel.

Diesel Fuel Savings with a Fuel Catalyst

The fuel an engine combusts does not burn completely. Every engine produces incomplete combustion. Combustion inefficiency is product of a variety of factors, one being the nature of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are heterogeneous, non-uniform mixtures of fuel molecules — hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are vulnerable in a number of ways. Not only do they degrade, decompose, and change, hydrocarbons carry a charge. It is the charge of individual hydrocarbon molecules which prevent fossil fuels from being homogeneous, even mixtures.

The charge in hydrocarbon molecules lead to clumps of fuel clusters. Hydrocarbon molecules attract one another and stick together in clusters at a microscopic level. Fuel clusters are one of the biggest factors in combustion inefficiency and the primary reason catalytic converters are a requisite on production automobiles.

Fuel catalysts — not to be confused with catalytic converters — are pre-combustion mechanical devices that neutralize the charge binding fuel hydrocarbons together.

The active elements in fuel catalysts are noble metals, noble metals similar to those in catalytic converters (which are post-combustion mechanical devices) that reduce emissions. When diesel passes through a fuel catalyst mounted on a fuel line, the noble metals’ neutralization of the hydrocarbons allows the molecules in fuel clusters to drift apart.

The additional surface area molecules gain when separated allows them to oxygenize — oxygen being the common element in all fossil fuel combustion.

The effect a fuel catalyst has on diesel is similar to that of an electronic fuel injector. If an EFI produces a rich mixture the result is incomplete combustion. Combustion inefficiency leads to a loss of power and an increase in emissions. By keeping the fuel to oxygen ratio at 14.7 parts oxygen to 1 part fuel, an EFI maximizes the potential of fuel.

But, fuel injectors can’t homogenize diesel. A fuel catalyst, on the other hand, does increase the oxygenation of diesel and generate a cleaner burn. Hence, emissions drop and energy output increases.

Diesel fuel savings is not impossible. By combining best-practices methods, electronic technologies, and diesel fuel saving devices — proven fuel catalysts — diesel fuel savings have the potential to reduce costs and increase net profit.


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