Payload optimisation: How to get the most out of your trucks

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This article was published in the January issue of Global Cement Magazine in 2021.

Payload optimisation: How to get the most out of your trucks

Payload, or how much a truck can safely load and haul, is a key specification for truck buyers. On the road to lower costs and better service in cement logistics, higher payload ratings promise to deliver more with less. This article looks at the limits of such traditional approaches and explores digital ways to boost the payload of your fleet. Any home improvement project requires at least one trip to the local DIY shop. As we all know, hauling heavy construction materials like cement bags can be challenging without the right vehicle or trailer. However, even the most powerful and sturdy car/trailer combination has its payload limit, i.e. the maximum amount of weight it can safely hold and transport. Overloading a trailer might be very tempting, as it avoids multiple trips to and from the shop. These are both time-consuming and add extra costs to the project. However, safety considerations outweigh all others. Overloading a vehicle beyond its payload limit can cause serious accidents and major damage to the chassis, brakes, wheels, or engine.

by Thomas Bergmans and Dirk Schlemper, INFORM GmbH, Germany

Losing to gain

Whether you are a ‘DIY-er’ or a dispatcher at a cement plant running the outbound logistics for your bulk and bagged cement operations, managing payload is key to safety, efficiency and profitability. In particular, bulk material logistics is all about weight, and every kilogram saved from a truck or trailer’s tare weight means more payload and greater profitability per job.

Here is a simple calculation: Saving 200kg from a cement bulk truck that undertakes 2.5 loads per day results in a payload gain of 500kg per vehicle per day. With a fleet of 150 vehicles over a 12-month period, the gain amounts to 18,750t. Using 28t bulk tankers, that equates to 670 full truckloads. Or in other words, one truck out of the 150 trucks is not needed.

For this reason, the trend among truck and trailer manufacturers is to produce vehicles with the lightest possible tare weight to allow for as much payload as is legally permitted. It is an envelope that is constantly being pushed, with new approaches to challenge the design of structural and mechanical components in search of the perfect solution.

Another way to gain payload is to cut weight from your truck’s body that is not needed, for example by removing onboard compressors. Depending on size, on-board units may weigh up to 400kg, plus the additional weight of the power take-off (PTO) to tap the truck’s diesel engine. Many customer sites provide cleaner, onsite compressor units which can be used to unload cement into silos instead.

The limits of losing

As a first step, all these measures are great and are needed. But, as with all first steps, there are limitations as to what can be achieved. Some of them may even be beyond a cement producer’s control. Many operate a mixed fleet of their own trucks and contract hires or make use of the spot market.

A more challenging way to move more payload is to increase the loaded ratio of your fleet. A truck running empty or inefficiently, is money down the drain. Reducing empty runs can be achieved by finding suitable backhauls for the return trip to the cement plant. Fly ash hauls from nearby coal-fired power plants, for example, can mean a substantial gain in payload. Removing inefficiencies by improving the overall quality of your strategic, tactical, and real-time planning is the ultimate yet most rewarding challenge. It offers the highest gain in payload, productivity and profitability.

Let us circle back to the simple calculation above: with a fleet of 150 trucks and an average productivity of 2.5 loads per day, the total annual shipping volume would be 2.65Mt. If productivity of each truck was increased to let’s say three loads per day, just 125 trucks would be needed to ship the same annual volume. This means 25 fewer trucks. Remember, reducing the weight resulted in a saving of just one truck.

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