Future Fleet Forum – driving forward

Published:  27 June, 2019

Day two of Future Fleet Forum 2019 was characterised by a lively discussion on issues such as road safety, skills, and the maintenance challenges of emerging technologies as delegates engaged with speakers across a range of interactive workshops. Lotte Debell reports.

One of the highlights of Future Fleet Forum 2019 was a fascinating look at how the entertainment industry can educate and raise awareness of important issues such as road safety.

Dara Tallon and Owen McArdle

How’s your driving? was a television series for Irish channel RTE One made by Dara Tallon and Owen McArdle, documentary producers with Oddboy Media, which they described as ‘taking a frank and honest look at our nation’s motoring abilities’. Its purpose was to try to reduce the number of preventable deaths on Irish roads, many of which are caused by the usual culprits: drink and drugs, speeding, mobile phone use and distraction, and unsafe vehicles.

‘There are four million people in Ireland and 200 deaths and thousands of injuries on our roads every year,’ said Dara. ‘38% of all fatalities involve alcohol, and mobile phones are a factor in 20-30%. We wanted to try to do something about it.’

They teamed up with car insurance company Boxymo to create four, 30-minute episodes that combined entertaining family viewing with important messages about road safety in a way that engaged with viewers but steered clear of the type of graphic imagery usually associated with road safety campaigns.

‘The content had to be interesting, it had to entertain, but it also needed emotional impact,’ said Dara. So the series set out to look at Irish driving habits, good and bad, and the programme opened by posing the question: we spend so much time driving, so why are some of us so bad at it? Then the series went on to look at how factors such as drink and drugs affect a driver’s abilities and spoke to relatives of road death victims.

‘Our core audience included caregivers and parents,’ said Owen. ‘We needed to connect with them by creating something entertaining and thought-provoking but not shocking. Emotion was key.’

To show how different factors affect driving abilities, the show used real drivers and adopted a cause and effect model: road tests followed by an emotional hit. The drink driving segment was one of the big successes. It showed a young man drinking two pints – within the legal limit at the time – then the potentially tragic effect on his driving. He then sat down with the family of a drink-drive victim. After that episode, the legal alcohol limit was changed.

The show also incorporated some of the smaller road safety messages. ‘Everyone knows that drink and drugs, speeding, and using your mobile are not going to end well,’ said Dara. ‘But what about the little messages? Within each episode, we included a “safety ripple” that would engage with everyone. For example, we talked to a family whose son died in a crash after a party. Speeding was a factor, but for parents with teenagers going to parties, it was a reminder to ask: “Who’s driving? Are you staying the night? Keep it slow.”’

These little messages also included things like tyre condition and pressure and how these affect control of the vehicle, demonstrated through real tests. ‘You’ve got no control,’ realised one woman after she hit a cardboard pedestrian in a car with bald tyres.

‘Doing these tests gets people talking about things they might otherwise not talk about,’ said Owen. ‘Engaging with the emotional consequences helped people to understand the issues of road safety. It was very effective, and we have just finished the second series.’

In TV terms, the series was a hit. Viewing figures were in the region of 250,000 per episode, a 20% audience share. The show trended on Twitter and was covered by the national papers, and some of the messages in the programmes supported successful road safety lobbying. Hopefully, the impact of the series will also be reflected in future road safety statistics.

Mick Sweetmore

Emerging technology should not compromise fleet safety standards,’ said Mick Sweetmore, Head of Fleet Engineering and Transport Services at Merseyside Police and President-Elect of the Society of Operations Engineers. In an interactive session, Mick discussed how new technologies are changing fleets and invited delegates to consider strategies and timescales for meeting Government targets, pointing out that decisions need to be made now.

The City of London started working on its strategy five years ago said Vince Dignam, CoL’s Business Performance and Transport Group Manager, looking at alternative fuels, engaging with suppliers on future technologies, and setting up a hierarchy for vehicle purchase decisions that starts with electric and ends with diesel as the last choice. A key issue remains electric infrastructure, however.

This also affects the blue light services said Mick. ‘The emergency services are not exempt from low emissions requirements so there are decisions to make in relation to our vehicles of choice and the infrastructure required. But we all know that diesel won’t be the fuel of choice in 20 years so vehicle replacement programmes need to look ahead and consider which vehicles to run over the next 10 to 15 years.’

Mick pointed out that other things to think about include the reliability and maintenance considerations of running a diverse fleet, and how things like battery weight can alter the operational aspect of vehicles. ‘When Euro VI came in for ambulances, the Adblue added 60kg in weight to the vehicle. Because the margins were so tight, ambulance services had to compromise on the equipment they could carry.’

This balancing of the benefits of new technology with the challenges it can bring was a theme many delegates could relate to. The weight impact of electric on vehicles in the 3.5 to 7.5-tonne range and the increased wear on roads from heavier vehicles were two concerns. Mick pointed out that from the point of view of the blue light services, electric can only be applied in certain situations at present. Hot pursuit vehicles, for example, can’t risk running out of power. ‘So we are talking to manufacturers and watching the market closely. We’re being asked to make decisions about vehicles now, but the technology isn’t quite there yet for our needs. Something has to change because we are only 20 years away from the end of diesel and petrol.’

The transition to new technologies also brings maintenance and training challenges. Mick talked about the irtec light standard and how it can help ensure the safe running of fleets. Several delegates said that currently they outsource electric maintenance and leave battery maintenance to the manufacturers, but that eventually, they would like to train their own staff to work on batteries. As Vince Dignam pointed out, ‘We don’t want to end up where we were in the LPG days when we couldn’t get the vehicles repaired anywhere'.

‘The technicians of tomorrow will need to be trained and assessed to work on the vehicles that will come onto the market,’ agreed Mick. ‘The Society of Operational Engineers is looking at developing a model for alternative technologies, such as EVs, hybrids, and hydrogen.’

Andre Lagendijk

There is a need to develop the skills required to service and maintain electric vehicles because this technology is becoming the alternative of choice for many municipal fleets – infrastructure permitting. The first of three presentations looking at the current and future practicalities of electric came from Geesinknorba Product Manager Andre Lagendijk, who focused on the evolution of battery technology.

‘When something new comes onto the market, the usual first impression is that it doesn’t work,’ said Andre, who argued that this is not the case for battery-powered RCVs. ‘The technology is available now and it works.’

Electric RCVs are now at the stage where their purchase requires no compromises in performance or handling. ‘They have excellent energy efficiency, operational figures match expectations, and shift lengths are easily achieved. Moreover, drivers love them.’

With their low daily mileage, Andre argued that RCVs represent an ideal use of electric technology. In inner cities, they tend to do no more than 100km a day and energy consumption is around 1.4kWh per tonne of collected waste, depending on the type of waste. Today’s technology, said Andre, is more than fit for the purpose. ‘It will continue to evolve, but that is a good thing. Just look at the development of smartphones ten years ago compared with today.’

The challenge is, of course, charging. The most common battery in use in vehicles is Lithium Iron Phosphate. It is safe, it has high current/peak power rates, a slow rate of capacity loss, and a lifetime of around 3,000 full charges. Another option is a Lithium-Titanate battery, used for faster DC charging.

Fleet operators need to adopt or upgrade infrastructure in order to charge vehicles. And different types of charging are possible. Standard AC charging, for example, is possible from a standard AC socket in a workshop. However, fast DC charging needs a special charger and infrastructure. Then there are other options currently in development such as smart grid or wireless charging. ‘Wireless charging might seem impossible today, but you can already do it with phones. Be open-minded.’

Charging time will obviously vary. ‘AC charging of an RCV will take between five to ten hours. This is usually fast enough as they are not used 24 hours a day and no additional investment is needed. For DC charging, with a 150kWh charger, it can take just one to two hours.’

For those concerned with price, Andre argued that it is important to look at the total cost of ownership because the cost of running and maintaining electric RCVs is much lower than diesel. As an example, a 200kWh charge at €0.06 p/kWh costs just €12 compared with €140 for 100 litres of diesel fuel at €1.40 per litre. That might not remain the case, of course, if and when the Government decides it needs to make up the tax shortfall of reduced diesel use.

The other thing to bear in mind is that battery technology is advancing rapidly. Andre told delegates that everyday batteries gain around 1W in energy density and lose one gram in weight. There is also a lot of work going on into solid-state batteries, which are much denser, so vehicle weights could reduce. These would also allow ultra-fast charging.

There are clearly still challenges for electric – infrastructure being the main one, but also ethical issues around sourcing battery components, which need to be considered – but Andre points out that we are facing a huge change in mobility. ‘It is not just RCVs that are affected. Electric requires a change of mindset, but we should think of the possibilities, not the impossibilities. The technology is here today and it is ready.’

David Maidman and Russell Markstein

David Maidman from Biffa and Russell Markstein from Electra Commercial Vehicles demonstrated the readiness of electric RCVs by presenting the results of two case studies. An electric RCV from Electra was put to work by Biffa on two contracts, one with Manchester City Council and the other with South Buckinghamshire District Council.

‘These are two very different environments,’ said David Maidman. ‘In Manchester, the vehicles conducted high-density housing collections of four-wheeled containers, while South Bucks was a typical municipal environment with mixed low-level housing and two-wheeled containers. Our main interest was to assess the operation of the vehicle and how it impacted day-to-day operations.’

The results? David and Russell provided delegates with the average daily stats for both trials, including hours on shift, tonnage collected, mileage, battery utilisation, battery capacity used, and power cost. While both trials were a success, the stats showed that energy efficiency is maximised when the vehicle is used in an urban environment.

That said, as others pointed out through the day, the most significant hurdle to adoption for councils is infrastructure. ‘It is a big issue,’ said David. ‘Council depots are usually old and have not seen much investment. There are more questions than answers right now. Is EV an interim or a long-term solution? There are lots of alternative fuels out there and we don’t know what the future holds.’

Then there is the skills issue for new technologies. ‘We have a massive skills shortage in this area,’ said David, pointing out that most apprenticeship programmes are based around diesel engines. ‘Alternative technology is coming on at a rate of knots. This is a wake-up call – we need to change what we are doing.’

The municipal sector is leading the charge on alternative fuels, but even councils are struggling to recruit mechanics, technicians, and engineers. ‘This should be an opportunity to go out to young people and say: “we are at the cutting edge, come and work for us”. Then there’s AI and driverless vehicles. If ever there was an application for driverless technology, it is in vehicles that do the same route every shift – that is the next stage and EV is a massive part of that future.’

Proving that interest in electric vehicles is high, there were lots of questions from delegates. Canadian attendees were interested in cold-weather battery performance. Not an issue, according to Russell. ‘These are very large batteries and they are temperature-controlled so they stay at an optimum temperature. We did cold weather testing and it didn’t affect power consumption. In fact, battery efficiency was almost better.’

The upfront costs and available funding were queried, as was the longevity of the technology. ‘The only thing I am concerned about going forward is that suppliers keep this going, and electric is not just a five-minute wonder,’ said Vince Dignam. ‘We were very impressed when we ran the technology in the City of London and found we could double-shift the vehicle because it still had a 70% charge after a full shift, but we need the apprenticeships and government funding to push this forward.’

Russell said that Electra is offering the vehicles on a full lifecycle package. ‘We are municipal specialists and we are prepared to put our necks on the line by guaranteeing this technology – that’s how much we believe in it.’

Dominik Kalt

There are four global megatrends influencing the future development and adoption of new technology, said Dominik Kalt, Head of Product Management – Sweepers Technology at Aebi Schmidt Deutschland. The combined influence of these trends – sustainability, digitalisation, urbanisation, and the increasing focus on work/life balance – is making the case for electric vehicle technology, particularly in the municipal sector.

Sustainability demands zero-emission vehicles, and this is driven by EU regulations and political pressure. However, as Dominik pointed out, the environmental footprint of vehicle production is also important. ‘We must also have sustainable manufacturing and reduce waste and avoid pollution in the design of the products.’

He added that urbanisation has had a great influence on Aebi Schmidt. By 2050, it is estimated that two-thirds of the global population will live in urban areas and the number of megacities is expected to double by 2030. This means that the need to reduce noise and vehicle emissions, and manage traffic will become more urgent, as will street maintenance.

Work/life balance reflects the city’s duty to create an attractive living environment for its citizens. ‘There will be greater demand for cleanliness in cities, and the equipment to achieve this will have to be more efficient as working hours reduce.’

Finally, the influence of digitalisation on municipal vehicles can be seen in the increasing connectivity of fleets and city networks, the prevalence of driver assistance systems, and the long-term trend towards autonomous vehicles.

‘Combine all these and there is an acute need for action. These are all highly political topics and cities need to be the pioneers for their citizens,’ said Dominik. ‘But there are also funding opportunities for cities to invest in new technologies, and EVs fulfil all these requirements. They are CO2 neutral and low noise, and they are more efficient.’

The sector is undoubtedly moving away from diesel. He predicted that a certain number of vehicles will remain diesel in the short and medium term and the rest of the market will be split between electric and alternative fuels.

‘For us, it is the application that determines whether the vehicle should be electric or another solution,’ said Dominik. Battery power, for example, is ideal for operation in inner cities and pedestrian areas and over short transit distances or for clearly defined operational shifts. Other alternative solutions may be more suitable for inter-city traffic and on highways, or where longer transit distances and less defined operational shifts are the norms.

‘We see battery electric vehicles as the first step for municipalities and the focus of street sweepers for the next few years. We see hydrogen as the second step and there are still issues – lack of infrastructure and the high cost of fuel cells – but it will become more important in the future.’

In the meantime, before hydrogen takes over, electric offers financial benefits for councils. The high acquisition costs may put some people off, but, like Andre, Dominik argued that buyers should focus on the total cost of ownership.

‘EVs offer lower fuel use, lower maintenance costs, a longer service life, and the potential for second-life for batteries. There are also funding opportunities for municipal authorities and some manufacturers, including Aebi Schmidt, are willing to implement strategic partnerships with municipalities.’

Added to this is the fact that cities will eventually ban internal combustion vehicles and EVs will be the only way that councils and commercial operators can continue to provide a service.

Nick Bridle

Is there anyone here who has not been asked to improve efficiency and reduce costs?’ asked Nick Bridle, Fleet Operations Specialist from Assetworks, the integrated fleet management information system provider. He followed it up with another question: ‘How many of you know how many databases, systems, and spreadsheets it takes to operate your fleet management system?’ Because effective management and integration of data go to the heart of efficiency in today’s world.

Nick delivered a whistle-stop tour of the company’s Capital Asset Management software, demonstrating the benefits of consolidating databases and spreadsheets and centralising fleet data to make more informed decisions. He explained how CAM can help support efficiency strategies by offering cradle-to-grave asset management, including strategic replacement forecasts, annual asset replacement plans that allow for the scoring and ranking of assets, and the ability to run both standard and bespoke life cost models. It also runs asset disposal processes and updates the status of assets in FleetFocus.

However, CAM doesn’t just integrate with FleetFocus. ‘You can use third-party products with CAM,’ said Nick. ‘It is built to manage all kinds of assets that can be replaced, from vehicles and plant to phones, computers, and office equipment.’

A useful feature is the ability to control asset categories, specifications, options, and attributes as part of the procurement process. The system allows you to set minimum guidelines for procurement and run custom lifecycle analyses. ‘Do you know when it becomes more expensive to maintain an asset than replace it?’ Nick asked. As an example, he showed a vehicle with a default ten-year replacement cycle where the analysis identified maintenance costs rising significantly after year eight.

Nick went on to explain how strategic forecasting can help fleet operators plan for diminishing budgets. ‘These forecasts can alert you to future risks of lots of overdue assets that need replacement down the line. Running a strategic forecast means you can identify upcoming replacement peaks and adjust these to smooth out your replacement plan.’

In a similar vein, he showed how operational rate cards by asset category can support operational budget forecasts. ‘These can show the parts and labour, etc, required for each vehicle at different stages of the lifecycle so you can begin to build your budgets. You will know how many hours and technicians you need to maintain your fleet.’

CAM can also assist with better replacement planning. Taking into account various factors used to determine when an asset needs replacement, the system allows you to review an asset’s history, check its maintenance costs against its category, and its rank and score to determine when it needs replacement.

Finally, CAM eliminates the single point of failure problem that plagues many businesses that have one person managing a huge amount of data and an array of spreadsheets.

Future Fleet Forum will return on 22 January 2020. The Future Fleet Awards will open for entries on 1 August 2019.

For more information about the forum and the awards contact Ann-Marie Knegt

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