Firms take the hi-tech road in a bid to counter rising fuel bills

21 Aug 2008

A telematics company from Galway has come up with new technology which it estimates can reduce fuel bills by 10-15pc by tapping into a vehicle’s engine and monitoring driver behaviour behaviour such as harsh braking and acceleration.

Telematics is the sending, receiving and storing of information via telecommunication devices. In relation to vehicle tracking, transferred data from on-board units installed in vehicles is displayed on screens at the customer site.

Celtrack, in partnership with a Dutch engineering firm, has developed Controller-area network bus (CAN-bus) technology which can show whether fuel is being consumed excessively. It allows transport companies to access the information in real-time and when combined with route planning, enables them to work with their drivers on changing behaviour, shortening journeys and cutting costs.

CAN-bus is a computer network protocol and bus standard designed to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other without a host computer.

The Celtrack solution focuses on three areas in relation to fuel management, explains sales director, Helen McBreen: idling, servicing, and mileage.

“Our system can inform transport managers if vehicles are idling, which could be due to poor driver behaviour. It calculates if a vehicle is going at under 2km per hour for a given time, but takes into account traffic and the type of operation involved [for example, a waste management vehicle going through a housing estate], using algorithms which concentrate on changes in longitude and latitude,” she says.

“An overdue service means more wear and tear on vehicles. Our system can alert staff and managers when a service is due, for example, after 40,000 miles have been driven. Regarding mileage, it can show the routes drivers take and recognises when mileage is unnecessary or unauthorised. It also uses fuel cards such as those from DCI or Topaz to match mileage with fuel expenditure so companies can better understand what the actual fuel cost is in terms of miles per gallon.”

Drivers letting vehicles tick over is a major problem for transport companies, and a carefully driven vehicle is cheaper to maintain, according to Jimmy Quinn, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association.

“It’s amazing to think a driver can be thrown the keys of a €120,000 transport unit after five minutes familiarisation. Training coupled with better technology can really improve fuel management and anything that can interface with CAN-bus systems makes the job so much easier,” he says.

“There is huge interest among transporters in any technology that can make their vehicles more fuel efficient, whether it’s something simple to do with human behaviour or high-end chip technology, as fuel and labour costs combined are an enormous outlay,” says Quinn. “Fuel can account for around 20pc of total operating costs. Fuel prices are very volatile. Some stability has returned to the market in terms of fuel costs but it is likely to be several months before hauliers will see the benefits of this.”

Founded in 2000, Celtrak is a sister company of Connaught Electronics. It started out with a GPS solution for AXA, which monitored the speed of young male drivers, and then moved into the logistics space looking at cost-effective ways for fleets to communicate with companies while roaming across Europe.

It formed a partnership with Thermo King and is now its global provider of telematics solutions, allowing customers to track the movement and temperature of refrigerated fleets.

“Since 2004, we’ve been working closely with large civil engineering and utilities companies, which have quite unique challenges in terms of managing costs. We developed a product and service to allow them to monitor activity and improve the efficiency of their mobile operations,” says McBreen.

“By getting real-time information as to the position of vehicles and crews, companies can respond much faster to changes, using a web-based service to make instant decisions. For example, a water authority might have a civil engineering firm on contract, which is required to respond to a burst pipe within half an hour of a call. Our devices ensure the vehicle that’s closest to the incident can respond within the allocated time.”

Celtrak is supplying the new CAN-Bus solution to the Irish and UK markets since the start of this year. “We’re looking at a 20pc growth rate in sales in the UK this year with an outlook of 50pc growth there within three to five years. Towards the end of 2008, we will take a broader view, examining opportunities in Europe and the US.”

By Sorcha Corcoran

Pictured: Celtrack sales director, Helen McBreen