Clever steering systems could help longer truck combinations negotiate the twists and turns of the UK’s trunk roads, but could also be put to work on the bins.
The majority of bin wagons are three-axle rigids, which means their capacity to carry rubbish is limited despite the use of compactor bodies, says David Cebon, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight.
Deploy an urban artic with a semi-trailer fitted with a compactor body instead, and equipped with a Path Following Steering System to help it manoeuvre through congested streets, and it may only have to make one trip to the rubbish tip to discharge its cargo because it is full rather than two. That would save time, cut fuel usage and lower CO2 emissions.
Innovative technical solutions only work if the way in which fleets are managed changes too; and that is where the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight comes in.
A £6m project set up with aims that include reducing the environmental impact of trucks, it involves Heriot-Watt University’s Logistics Research Centre as well as the University of Cambridge’s engineering department. Also participating are well-known operators such as Tesco and John Lewis and manufacturers of vehicles and components such as Volvo and Haldex.
Many of the ideas Cebon is promoting as centre director are already well-known to operators although the extent to which they are implemented is another matter entirely. They include avoiding empty running, making use of load consolidation so that two trucks do not end up each running half-empty to the same destination and employing routing and scheduling software to ensure that deliveries are organised in the most efficient way possible.
Another initiative he is advancing is the use of portcentric logistics. This involves using ports as distribution centres rather than solely as entry points to the UK for goods that are then trunked to a distribution centre elsewhere in the country.
“It can often be difficult for individual firms to do these things though because of the significant research that may be needed,” he says. The Centre however may be able to point the way.
Regarding safety, Cebon is concerned that there is little incentive for operators to run vehicles that are safer than the mandatory regulatory standards they operate under. One incentive that could be introduced he suggests could be to allow those who voluntarily exceed those standards to gain a commercial advantage through being allowed to run bigger, heavier vehicles than their competitors.
By exceeding the standards however he does not necessarily mean fitting extra safety devices.
“What I’ve got in mind is independent accreditation for their maintenance operation or for their driver training, with regular audits,” he says. “Accreditation could for example mean that those who hold it will not be pulled over by the enforcement authorities and their trucks sent over a weighbridge.”
Something operators will have to get to grips with Cebon believes is the need to have specialist vehicles to handle each job they undertake rather than run general-purpose vehicles that can tackle the majority of jobs but don’t do any of them very efficiently.
As well as deploying the largest – and fullest – trucks possible on long-haul work, that may involve the use of electric or hybrid vans to handle short-haul local runs delivering goods bought over the internet. Their increased use combined with the boom in internet shopping could lead to a further fall in the number of car journeys as more and more people decide to by online rather than shop at the out-of-town hypermarket.
“Always remember that when it comes to transporting freight, the least-efficient vehicle is the family car,” he observes. “It weighs 1.5 tonnes, but usually only carries 40kg of shopping.”