Challenging trends

Around 300 road transport experts from all corners of the world gathered in Amsterdam for the 15th Heavy Vehicle Transport Technology (HVTT) symposium. They were accompanied by various multinational companies that appear to be dealing with specific requirements and challenges to modernise their logistics operations, but are often at odds with government regulation.

It quickly became apparaent that members and scientists involved in all kinds of projects, including shippers, focus on two key operations in transport: How to get the end product as efficiently as possible from the production plant to a warehouse; and  how to get the product to the end customer as sustainably and quickly as possible.

This, in the perspective of rapidly growing  transport demand in Europe – which should grow by about 50 per cent in a period where a rapid decrease of CO2 output of 50 per cent – is also required.
From the beginning of the conference, the audience learned that modern day multinationals are facing a hard time finding out whether or not, or just how far, they would have to switch to other drivelines for the trucks they are hiring or operating, and in which direction city logistics would develop.

Will traditional city distribution systems remain – based on supplying shops – or will we face a complete overhaul, where city logistics means delivering to customers’ homes while city centres transform into entertainment centres where customers undergo all kinds of experiences in what we used to know as ‘shops’ and where customers only get acquainted to new products, which in the end they order to be delivered at home. That would mean quite a change, wouldn’t it?

Never before have there been so many technologies to discuss and to research in order to create sustainable transport and logistics for the global supply chain community. For shippers, it raises questions about the kind of fuel to invest in, with careful consideration for how it might affect operations. Aside from the fuel and driveline discussion, we see many developments when it comes to trailers, particularly developments leading to more efficient combinations which in many cases are restricted due to road safety concerns and red tape.

Smart dolly, A-double
At the venue there were two sessions complementing each other perfectly. One was about the development of a smart-dolly system where Dutch engineers had developed a prototype four-axle dolly with steer axles along with a battery and electromotor. The construction has a steering system on all wheels and the steering angle is quite sharp, ensuring optimal vehicle swept path when manoeuvring roundabouts and tight spaces. The dolly was designed wth the objective to form a two-trailer combination. The dolly has a battery that is powered by the engine of the prime mover and an electric motor to drive the wheels as well as steer them where necessary. When the combination arrives at its destination, it splits, leaving the driver of the prime mover to park trailer one by a loading dock, and the dolly to do the same, autonomously with the second trailer. The investigators are talking about combinations which technically can manage 80, and up to 88-tonnes Gross Comination Mass (GCM).

Dutch logistics giant, Ewals, which operates a fleet of about 3,800 trailers, attended HVTT15 to promote its A-double combination. Ewals presented a similar combination in 2017 at the Transport Logistics show in Munich. Fleet Manager, Bart van Rens, is convinced that allowing A-doubles on European main roads on a large scale would be the solution to meet the problems European road transport faces at the moment: Congestion, drivers shortage, and a bad reputation as a CO2 emitting activity.

“When you halve the number of [prime movers], you deal with the CO2 problem and the drivers shortage immediately,” van Rens said. “Problems appear complicated, but you still have to go for simple solutions.” He added that tests with A-doubles appeared sucessful in Sweden and in Finland. “A start has been made with a similar test in Spain by transport company, Sese. We expect Arcese from Italy to start on a short term as well.” 

Van Rens does not believe in a pan-European approach when it comes to the legal part of allowing A-doubles on European roads. “We’ve seen where this leads to with the B-double. The situation with the B-double is still disappointing. A big difference between A-double and B-double is that the latter has no multimodal opportunities with for instance the railways. With the A-double this is surely possible,” he said – explaining that he is  anxious to set up a route in the Netherlands as well, where there are around 2,000 B-doubles on the roads these days, most of them on a GCM of 57.5 tonnes. “We’ve executed test drives in Sweden, between Gothenburg and Oskarshamn, some 320 kilometres to the west. We’ve realised that the dolly plays a key role. The example we use has a coupling height of only 98cm, as we work with megatrailers. Underneath the fifth wheel, the dolly has a turntable, which leads to a more stabilised ride, especially during turns.”

The dolly, according to van Rens, is also equipped with a smartbox, to provide the fleet manager visibility on axle loads. “An average load for an Ewals trailer by the way is just 13 tonnes,” he said. “Ideally, we would prefer to use an A-double combination in terminal work. In this case between Duisburg in Germany and Rotterdam.”

European doubts
By the time the A-double became the subject of dicussion, Anthony LaGrange, working as a Director General at the European Union (EU) on vehicle approval, had already left the conference. This was a pity, as he confirmed how difficult it is to reduce the output of CO2 by a sector which is confronted with an increasing level of work. He would not acknowlegde the B-double as a solution –however succesful in several member states – would be the way to realise the mandatory reduction in the short term required. It seems apparent that Bart van Rens of Ewals is right in stating that his A-Double project should be started in member states and not in Brussels.

Platooning and connectivity
Then what would be a solution in reducing CO2 emissions in road transport? There were many representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure. The Dutch had decided that during the HVTT week in Rotterdam, a week long trial was organised with connected trucks and intelligent traffic management systems. Nobody called this ‘platooning’ and strictly spoken it wasn’t, but we did see convoys of trucks rolling gently along green traffic lights. According to the Dutch, the more relaxed way of driving leads to a fuel consumption reduction of ‘between six and fourteen per cent’, not yet taking into acount the advantages of ever green traffic lights.

The conference in Rotterdam was filled with speakers about platooning. However the only realistic conclusion has to be that full scale platooning is not yet possible and it is still a couple of years away. The year 2023 could see first multibrand platoons. Problems such as connectivity, multi-brand platoons and the ever ongoing discussion of the optimal distance betwee the trucks as well as the many legal questions facing this technology, can only lead to the conclusion that platooning is on its way, but not as fast as we want it.

One speaker from the Eindhoven University stated that electric transport is possible if we only we start to believe that we can. The Dutch are establishing windmill parks in the North Sea off of the Dutch coast. He stated that the use of and the production of solar cells and panels globally has never met any prediction. The use of these always exceeds any prediction by wide margins. The same is to be expected with battery technology which already has come a long way since 2012. Should the same pace of better price and increased capacity of batteries be upheld in the near future, an electric truck would cost the same as a diesel truck and have a reasonable range by the year 2030.

Aeroflex project
On the way to such a future, with the help of European money, a project has started that should bring improvements in the use of trucks and other means of transport. The Aeroflex project is a new initiative which follows from the Transformers Project as described in Global Trailer 40. With Aeroflex, engineers from the truck and trailer industry supported by independent engineers, aim to lower CO2 output with 18 to 33 per cent. The project uses existing loading units which can be used in multimodal applications, as a starting point. The project also takes the B-double possibilities and A-double options into account as a possible solution to reduce CO2 while meeting rising demands of transport. The same goes for aerodynamic solutions to improve fuel consumption. Apart from Daimler, most truck manufacturers are involved, together with trailer companies Schmitz Cargobull and Van Eck, as well as a number of universities and independent think tanks.

Fast Fact
The International Forum on Road Transport Technology (IFRTT) aims to facilitate the exchange of industry knowledge and experience among commercial road transport experts and advocates. The IFRTT is a community of over 1,000 experts from across the globe.  Since 1986, it has organised a symposium every two consecutive years on Heavy Vehicle Transport Technology (HVTT), which offers a platform for researchers, policy makers, regulators, road agencies, commercial vehicle manufacturers and the wider transport industry to discuss and support the development of safe, sustainable, efficient and productive road freight transport.

(Image: Ewals Fleet Manager, Bart van Rens.)

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