Monday, 8 May 2017

Never Turn Right - How UPS Drivers save Fuel and Time

It goes without saying that delivery companies give serious thought to the routes they use. Anyone starting out on the problem of vehicle routing would naturally look for the shortest distances and the fastest roads in order to complete deliveries efficiently.

UPS, however, breaks from common sense with its no-right-turnpolicy (in the UK, that is). Literally, by routing its trucks to take predominantly left-hand turns at junctions, the company is achieving massive efficiencies and savings.

The idea is this: turning right at junctions requires cutting across a lane of on-coming traffic, which subsequently requires longer wait times (thus fuel) and a higher risk of accidents than simply turning left on to the closer lane. Since adopting the policy, around only 10% of UPS truck turnsare to the right.

Despite this approach often resulting in longer distance journeys, the time saving has allowed the company to cut the number of trucks it uses by 1,100, thereby reducing total distance travelled by 28.5m miles. Consequently, this saves 10 million gallons of fuel, emitting 20,000 tonnes less CO2, while delivering 350,000 more packages every year.

This impressive and unconventional strategy comes out of the field of ‘vehicle routing problem(VRP) - which since its inception by George Dantzig in 1959 remains an active area of management science. VRP uses mathematical formulas to calculate the best route between a set of points, and has been applied in diverse settings; from delivery and taxi fleets to catching chickens on a farm.

The results of UPS’s no-right-turn policy raise the question; why don’t all road users apply the rule? The answer is a matter of collective effect versus the results seen by individuals. That is to say, although traffic in total will be more efficient not all routes will be faster, and people are unlikely to comply unless it benefits them directly.

Like with many environmental policies, it only takes a few people opting out to make the whole thing fall apart. As commented in an article by The Conversation, ‘[this] is a good example of the prisoner’s dilemma, the famous game theory problem’ in which individuals break the rules to take advantage of group compliance.

A no-right-turn policy may then have to be enforced by government rather than rely on public volunteerism. This behavioural change would no doubt be unpopular at the outset, but if UPS can save 10 million gallons of fuel in a year and countless hours stuck in traffic, just think what an entire city could save.

This is a summary of an article in The Conversation, January 2017.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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The Rise of Autonomous Mining Vehicles

The mining sector is experiencing a revolution thanks to automated vehicles and smart technologies. Massive investment is starting to pour into autonomous 'load haul dump' trucks and trains, with many other mining functions already operating as smart, remotely operated, technology.

The main benefit of adapting these technologies is their significant productivity increases, and the safety they achieve both through being highly accurate, and implicitly reducing the number of humans required in mines. The robotic components of automated mining vehicles can handle all functions of driving, from ignition, acceleration, braking, transmission and accurate navigation.

Autonomous trucks are already being keenly adopted by some of the world’s largest mines, Rio Tinto having hauled a billion tons of high-grade ore from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The 70 autonomous vehicles operating in this region are capable of independently moving 25 million tons per month.

Some of the front runners in these technologies are Komatsu and Caterpillar, who are working with mining giants such as Rio Tinto and Barrick Gold. Komatsu has developed a driverless autonomous haulage system (AHS) for ‘ultra-class dump trucks’ - that is, trucks with a capacity of at 272 tons, which operates through a wireless network system, high-precision GPS controllers and obstacle detectors.

The current generation of autonomous vehicles must still be supervised by humans, albeit tele-operationally by experts many miles away; fully autonomous trucks that don’t require even remote manual supervision is not yet a reality. Though many companies are racing to develop such equipment, with BHP Billiton already completing trials in a Mexican mine, and Volvo testing a fully autonomous truck more than 1km underground in Sweden’s Kristineberg mine.

Globally, mining industries are also recovering from a steep downturn - which mining operators hope they can abate any recurrence through the productivity increases achieved by automated equipment.  Precarious commodity prices, lower-grade ores, increasing operational costs (thanks to ever deeper mines) and a shortage of skilled personnel, all compound to represent a clear need for productivity improvements.

The prospective efficiencies offered by these technologies is well known by the mining industry and are set to become widely adopted, with the smart mining equipment market forecast to grow from $5.8bn in 2014 to $13bn in 2020. Thus, while autonomous vehicles may not appear so quickly on our streets, their place in industry is set to steadily grow.

This is a summary of an article in IndustrialVehicle Technology.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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For more information about Weald Technology see www.weald-tech.co.uk
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Next Generation Battery Chemistry?

Battery technology remains the make or break for electric vehicles (EV's). Though there has been impressive uptake of electric vehicles (indicated nowhere more strongly than Tesla overtaking Ford’s market value). However, there remains significant barriers to higher uptake related to ‘range anxiety’, battery life cycles, and higher purchase costs.

Nevertheless, battery technology is progressing quickly and becoming more affordable, with lithium-ion batteries potentially costing as little as $100/kWh by the 2020.

George Crabtree, senior scientist at the Joint Centre for Energy Research, however, thinks there is a limit to the gains that can be made with conventional lithium-ion; “They might get 50% better, but we’re not going to see a step change in performance. In 5-10 years’ time, I think we’ll reach the limits of cost too. If we want to get to the next level, we may need a new generation of chemistry.”

Two leading alternatives to conventional lithium-ion are; solid-state lithium-ion, and lithium-sulphur, which are both getting a major research and investment push.

Solid-state lithium-ion (li-ion) replaces the conventional gel electrolyte with a solid electrolyte. Solid-state batteries are less volatile to heat and easier to manage, as well as having potentially higher energy densities and lower costs. Unfortunately, the charge in these batteries moves slower than conventional li-ion, which can limit power density.

German electronics company, Bosch, is confident it can double the energy density and half the cost present day batteries by 2020 with solid-state lithium-ion, and is working to have the batteries ready for market within 5 years. The company’s ambitious development goals plan for 15 minutes’ charge times (to 80%), 300km range, a life cycle of over 1000 charges, and to retain 80% of its original capacity after 12 years (or 300,000km). Getting to this point, says electro-mobility executive Stefan Seiberth, will mainly focus on fine-tuning NCM (nickel, cobalt, manganese) chemistry.

Lithium-sulphur on the other hand, also offers a large energy capacity and considerable safety benefits over lithium-ion due to its less volatile composition, avoid swelling and reactive issues seen in other batteries. The active ingredient in the cathode is sulphur, mixed with carbon to improve conductivity.

One company that is quickly advancing this technology is UK based firm Oxis Energy. They are developing lithium-sulphur pouch cells that could be market ready within 5 years. Mark Crittenden of Oxis claims the theoretical energy density of lithium-sulphur is 2.7kWh/kg - five times higher than conventional lithium-ion. As a “rule of thumb” however, Crittenden says “the practical limit is usually around one third of the theoretical potential”, which is still comparable to competitive with lithium-ion.

Oxis also overcome a historic about lithium-sulphur’s short life cycle, achieving around 1,500 cycles. In considering the potential for lithium-sulphur to become a mainstream technology, Crittenden reflects: “lithium-ion when from zero to $80bn-a-year sector in approximately 30 years, and we can see a similar trajectory for lithium-sulphur.”

An important driver of the EV market to consider in the coming years, remarks Seiberth, is the EU’s requirement for all manufacturers to achieve a “fleet average of 95g/km of CO2 by 2021 - and most of them won’t be able to do that without electrification. By 2025 we think approximately 15% of all cars worldwide will be electrified in some way […] and one-third of all new passenger cars sold in Europe.”

As such, battery technology is clearly set to become a defining battleground for automotive market share within the next decade. Therefore it’s a good time to start getting our heads around it, in education and industry.

This is a summary of an article in Electric and Hybrid VTI, January 2017.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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For more information about Weald Technology see www.weald-tech.co.uk
Follow our world-record challenging electric motorcycle project at www.fast-charge.org
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The Honda Self-Balancing Motorcycle

Honda unveiled (at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January) a new technology which allows a motorcycle to self-balance without using gyroscopes. This is done by raking out the front and back forks, effectively balancing the 'bike by moving the front wheel back and forth, in a technique that is (slightly) similar to what experienced cyclists do at junctions to save putting their feet down. 

The new technology has many applications, Honda showing a video in which a motorbike can follow you without a rider (as have Yamaha, I recall).

This is a summary of an article from Asphalt andRubber. You can read the full article and see the bike in action HERE 

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, March 2017.

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For more information about Weald Technology see www.weald-tech.co.uk
Follow our world-record challenging electric motorcycle project at www.fast-charge.org
To sign up for the Engineering STEM newsletter visit www.weald-tech.co.uk/stem.html

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