Photo: USA Truck
USA Truck's goal is to have its entire fleet on automated manual transmissions soon.

How lean approaches are leading to big savings

Oct. 18, 2019
At USA Truck, equipment, maintenance and operations programs are promoting fuel savings

“We‘re working toward bringing the average age of our tractor fleet down to 2.5 years and that lets us take advantage of new fuel saving technologies on a regular basis,” says Jeff Harris, VP of maintenance at USA Truck. “For the trucks in our operation, for example, we’re spec’ing the latest aerodynamic models from OEMs, including International LT Series, Kenworth T680 and Freightliner Cascadia units.”

USA Truck’s tractors also have the most efficient Cummins and Detroit engines and within one year the entire fleet will have been transitioned to automated manual transmissions. “We’re spec’ing Eaton UltraShift Advantage Series gearboxes and this year we’ll be adding the manufacturer’s new Endurant 12-speed model,” Harris relates. “The key to optimizing the fuel economy of those powertrains is to set engine and transmission parameters for the correct horsepower and shift points.”

Other equipment specifications aimed at improving fuel efficiency at USA Truck include using FlowBelow Tractor AeroKit systems consisting of aerodynamic wheel covers and tractor tandem fairings. In addition, more fuel-efficient synthetic lubricants are used in transmissions and rear axles.

“We’ve also been replacing APUs and diesel auxiliary cab heaters on some units with start/stop idle control systems from truck and engine manufacturers,” Harris says. “Those systems, including Detroit Optimized idle, Cummins ICON and International and Kenworth OEM solutions, promote fuel savings.

At USA Truck, evaluations of various tires and retreads, including their fuel efficiency, are continually underway. Additionally, according to Harris, the carrier has been testing three automatic rear trailer tail systems and is close to making a decision about which solution to deploy.”

Founded in 1983 with ten trucks and incorporated in 1986, Van Buren, Arkansas-based USA Truck now fields more than 1,400 tractors to provide comprehensive capacity solutions to a broad customer base throughout North America. Included are truckload, dedicated contract, intermodal and third-party logistics services.

As one of the nation’s largest over-the-road truckload carriers, notes Brian Gilreath, senior director for operations, for USA Truck being a responsible corporate citizen means taking a proactive approach to reducing its carbon footprint.

“We’re continually focused on what’s working best and where we can better apply lean thinking approaches,” Gilreath says. “Those conversations take place at all levels of the company at all times.

“For example, we’ve focused on ways to optimize fuel use through better routing,” Gilreath continues. “In addition, for drivers in our dedicated operation, we’re using LinkeDrive PedalCoach devices that help improve fuel economy. The devices establish a fuel target that dynamically adapts to the road, load, and driver, constantly calculating the optimal fuel rate during every trip so drivers have an MPG goal.”

Heading into 2020, USA Truck is anticipating realizing a significant gain in fuel economy, Jeff Harris states. “Not too long ago we were happy to have the fleet average 6.5 MPG,” he says. “Today, we’re looking at the potential for a 30 percent improvement and a 9 MPG average.

“We also know that well-maintained trucks are more efficient,” Harris adds. “We recently added a telematics coordinator to our staff so we can take advantage of the data from equipment to look for predictive maintenance opportunities.”

USA Truck also takes recycling and conservation at its six shop facilities seriously, Harris notes. For example, sampling helps generate less waste oil while used oil is recycled and oil filters are crushed and sent to a recycling facility. Tires, metal cores and batteries from all shops are all remanufactured or recycled as well.

Energy use is also lower at USA Truck’s shops with smart chargers, which also help extend battery life and more efficient lighting. In addition, the carrier has replaced its wash bay system with a time and motion-based solution that cuts electricity and water usage.

USA Truck, according to Brian Gilreath, has also incorporated ways to stage equipment at its facilities to prevent unnecessary fuel use. In its offices as well, the company employs a paperless fax system and maintains a digital document storage facility to limit paper usage as much as possible, and it recycles all of its shredded paper waste.

Other lean approaches at USA Truck include equipping computer monitors with an “auto-off” feature to save power when they‘re not in use and utilizing LED bulbs to reduce lighting energy usage. Overall, in fact, USA Truck is so serious about reducing carbon emissions that it even brings food vendors to its headquarters facility daily to help reduce fuel use by team members.

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