Machine Idle Time: Changing A Business Practice Through Technology

by Richard LeFrancois

In November of 2005 I found myself in Fairbanks Alaska helping to install an aftermarket Idle reduction system on a Volvo L150 wheel loader. A second Volvo wheel loader, an L120, was outfitted with the technology shortly thereafter. After installation the first loader was sent to work in Deadhorse, Alaska for the winter and the other worked the winter at Ft. Greeley, Alaska.

The pilot project that took place and the results from testing the technology on these two wheel loaders that winter has helped change the idle management practice for equipment operators in the mining and oil industries in Alaska, Colorado and Wyoming and in the oil fields of Alberta, Canada and Russia.

The technology, called Temp-A-Start, is patented and until that pilot project it had never been installed on a piece of construction equipment. Prior to that time its sole use was in the over-the-road trucking industry with engine manufacturers such as Detroit Diesel licensing the technology and integrating the technology into their ECM (Engine Control Module).

Reducing Machine Idle Time = Reducing Fuel Usage and Emissions

On the surface the technology is quite simple in that it monitors engine block temperature and battery condition. It will automatically start and stop the engtne based on parameters set by the manufacturer. At 0 degrees the technology has proven to run the engine 2.2 hours in a ten hour period all the while keeping the engine oil temperature at a ready to work state and the batteries fully charged.

Ok, I know, for those of you in the northern tier of the United States and Canada your machines never idle longer than necessary: you hear this all the time in our industry.

Unfortunately, others, especially the Calfornians, think otherwise.

Legislation Coming Your Way

"ARB adopts landmark rule to reduce toxic emissions from off-road equipment...California Environmental Protection Agency Resouroes Board today adopted a pioneenng regulation aimed at reducing toxic acid cancer-causing diesel emissions from the state's estimated 180,000 "off-road" vehicles used in construction, mining, airport ground support and other Industrtes..." News Release July 26, 2007.

Now, we all know this ruling is not aimed at just reducing idle time on machines. The installation of retro-fit diesel particulate traps for older machines plus a government program to replace older engines with newer less polluting engines is being discussed.

Both solutions are going to cost the operator money to come tnto compliance with their machines. The question is: how much?

The Positive Side Of Regulation

Obviously, reducing idle time on your machines cuts emissions and equates to fuel savings with the dollars saved moving directly to your bottom line. But, there is more to it than cutting emissions and saving fuel. Think about the folling issues:

1. Reducing idle time reduces your machine run-time hours which in turn reduce the number of oil drains you perform. There is a definite ROI in eliminating oil drains.

2. Reducing the number of oil drains for your fleet and you automatically reduce the amount of consumables needed to perform this task. There iS a definite ROI in reducing consumables within your operation.

3. Reducing the number of oil drains opens up shop time for your mechanics to focus on other tasks. This is an efficiency gain with a definite ROI.

4. Reducing the number of oil drains reduces the opportunity to introduce contamination into your engine or other components. Your oil sample program will deliver enhanced ROI.

5. Reducing the number of oil drains and you automatically reduce your environmental waste stream and administrative cost. A definite ROI here.

Other Benefits...

In addition, use of this automatic start-stop technology and the monitoring of battery voltage have shown to reduce battery service calls, reduce alternator failures, detect bad electrical grounds, reduce starter failures, and since it prov1des warm oil upon a cold start, reduce upper valve train wear.

The technology definitely has its use. The question is: is it for you?

Changing a business practice is not easy. But, this piece of technology was not named one of the best 50 products introduced in the trucking industry in 1995 and one of the top 100 products introduced to the construction industry in 2008 by accident.