With the average yearly cost of running a heavy-duty commercial truck at $180,000, fleet operators are looking for every opportunity to optimize those costs and streamline operations. One way they can do that is by re-examining how they estimate vehicle weight, taking advantage of the technologies that are available today – and may already be on their trucks – to make that process simpler and more cost-effective.
Operators want to know the weight of their trucks to help manage fuel, drive more safely and comply with regulations, but until now, obtaining accurate weight information has been both time-consuming and costly. The traditional method of stopping at a weigh station eats up time — and time, of course, is money. If there is an issue, a truck would have to return to its distribution center to correct the problem and then travel again. The delay may cause the delivery to be late, other vehicles to be rerouted, penalties to be assessed and customers to be unhappy.
Some solutions will allow vehicles to bypass weigh stations if they complete a certification, but vehicles are still subject to frequent audits, and the certification requirements are out of reach for smaller fleets. A third alternative, using auxiliary weight scales and sensors, is often too expensive and requires additional maintenance.
The answer is right in front of us
Many fleet operators are already using devices on their vehicles to capture data for purposes such as electronic logging device (ELD) compliance or tracking assets. These devices can also help estimate weight when paired with additional vehicle data, a more robust hardware solution, edge processing and machine learning.
The key is to combine knowledge about powertrain systems, vehicle dynamics and other areas with a predictive model that is trained on vehicle data and uses advanced data science capabilities.
One could build a model for determining a vehicle’s weight by using the specific information related to a particular manufacturer’s vehicles. But a software model that works for one truck model probably will not work for another, at least not without significant updates. And today’s fleets are composed of a mix of makes and models.
A more flexible predictive-based model combines statistical methods — such as regressions and neural networking — with input signals such as vehicle acceleration, road grade and powertrain dynamics. In this way, a predictive model can infer a vehicle’s mass.
A weight-measurement system does a lot more than just calculate a vehicle’s weight. It can serve as a foundational input into other applications and help fleets manage many important factors:
- Total cost of ownership (TCO). Weight estimation enables fleets to lower their costs with better fuel management and more efficient route planning. Fuel costs can account for up to 40 percent of a vehicle’s TCO, so reducing usage by even a few percentage points can result in big savings. By knowing accurate weights for individual trucks, fleet managers can be more efficient with their deliveries and continually balance loads among trucks.
- Control. The ability to dynamically assess weight in real time allows fleet managers to adjust routes dynamically for compliance and optimal load management. Managers maintain visibility and control over what is loaded and what is not, even after the truck leaves the base of operations.
- Reduced accident risk. Stopping distance, cornering characteristics, traction characteristics and vehicle weight are directly related, so understanding accurate vehicle weight means potentially reducing accident risk. Accident costs involving trucks can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars each year, and truck accidents are often fatal.
- Vehicle wear and tear. A system could combine weight information with other data — including engine load and duty cycle — to predict when a vehicle will next need maintenance. Vehicle weight has a direct impact on the timing of replacing consumables, such as tires and brakes, and monitoring weight helps drivers bundle preventive maintenance and avoid unscheduled repairs. And because maintenance costs can account for up to 15 percent of a vehicle’s TCO, these savings add up quickly, too.
- Overweight alerts. Aptiv’s system lets a fleet owner or driver set a vehicle’s weight target. The owner or driver will then receive one alert through an app if and when that vehicle enters the target weight range, and another alert if and when it exceeds the range. These alerts can also help to lower TCO by avoiding costly weight violations and eliminating delays caused by stops at weigh stations.
- Compliance: Vehicles with accurate weight-detection systems can bypass weigh stations and avoid maintaining cumbersome scales, which results in saving time. Identifying whether a vehicle is overweight can help fleet operators avoid overweight penalties.
- Electric vehicle range. EV battery range varies significantly by load, especially for commercial vehicles. If operators have to limit electric vehicles to short distances because of this unpredictability, that would significantly decrease their usefulness and value. As operators move to electrify their fleets, the weight measurement will help them accurately determine the range of their EVs.
Aptiv has decades of domain expertise working with OEMs and understands what data can be used to estimate vehicle weight. We used that knowledge to develop proprietary algorithms that combine physics-based and predictive-based models to more accurately determine weight across mixed fleets of various makes and models.
Aptiv can capture the dynamic signals needed to calculate a vehicle’s weight in real time through our device, which digests thousands of signals from the vehicle’s systems. Our Connect Edge software can intelligently pre-process these signals in the vehicle by using data science models and machine learning. It collects and transmits only the data that is needed for learning and monitoring.
Our approach minimizes the amount of training required, and our solution includes Aptiv Connect Fleet Insights, software that visualizes the weight estimation data and gives a fleet the option of using its existing application.
Leveraging the devices already in the vehicles to perform the vital weight-estimation function just makes a lot of sense, and fleet operators owe it to themselves to give this option a closer look.