As an industry, we are currently in a period of significant evolution in the drive towards truly sustainable transport. Over the past few years, reducing energy use has been front and centre of an industry wide strategy to limit or eliminate our emissions altogether and meet the challenges of rising fuel prices. Even with the introduction of fully Electric Vehicles this is still an important consideration, as operators benefit from preserving as much on-board energy as possible to allow for a greater range. But it is still an industry reliant on the human element and driver habits that can ultimately make or break the cost and efficiency of transporting temperature-sensitive goods.
Many companies, including ourselves at Brightec, are in the business of creating technology that improves these efficiencies in a way that is invisible to the user. We believe that technologies like ours will only be embraced when they are no obstruction to the user and quietly perform their duties without fanfare. BlueSeal air curtains were designed with the driver in mind to produce the most efficient, hygienic and user-friendly solution to preserving cargo temperature during door openings.
The trade-off of this is that when these efficiencies are improved, this can lead to a complacence in driver behaviour where there is over-dependence on the ability of technologies like ours to preserve cargo temperature. Simply put, there is not a technology on the market that can fully replace the energy (and fuel) savings made by good driver habits.
Commercial Transport and Refrigeration Aftersales Specialist Norman Highnam of Highnam Assist said: “The critical balance is to preserve the energy used to cool or heat the box and using air curtains helps tip the balance to support energy reduction. However, changes in operational routines and driver behaviour have a significant effect on the vehicles ability to preserve energy when it is needed most”.
To clarify, BlueSeal air curtains are not a replacement for keeping doors closed. They greatly decrease the rise in cargo temperature when doors are open and can reduce the energy used to return the inside of the vehicle to the desired temperature by 30-45% resulting in a significantly better preservation of goods. This is itself a fantastic accomplishment that we are very proud of, but this can only be effective when door openings are kept to a minimum by drivers. In a study of ours, we deduced that cooling energy use increases by 3 to 5.5-fold compared to when in transit.
Without a climate barrier, the cargo space and product temperature can often not be cooled back to the desired temperature levels after door openings. A climate barrier like an air curtain can solve this issue, by keeping out ambient, warm and humid air, but it still takes time and energy to bring back the temperature. There is no question that drivers must do what they can to reduce the duration of door openings through both improved technology and an awareness of their routine behaviour when loading and unloading.
So what behaviours can we change and how can we encourage better habits? For us, there are a few notable ones that will pay dividends in the long run to your operating costs.
Firstly, and most obviously, keeping the time that doors are open to an absolute minimum. This was a major consideration for our latest model of BlueSeal air curtains when we introduced the BlueControl module. This new model features a digital display that displays how long doors have been open. Through speaking to our customers, we understood that this was an important tool to keep drivers aware of the length of door openings, especially in instances where the product is particularly vulnerable to temperature change.
Another factor that we have discussed at length in an online article (found on the ‘Insights’ page of our website) is the importance of only opening the necessary doors on vehicles with two or three doors. Often all doors are opened unnecessarily during loading and unloading when the vehicle would maintain cargo temperature far more effectively with less doors open. However, even with minimal doors open we would encourage an effective climate barrier as this is not in itself enough to prevent the infiltration of warm air.
There are also other factors that can reduce the energy demand for refrigeration, including trailer insulation maintenance, parking location (avoiding direct sunlight) and considering the colour of the vehicle and its effect on transmission load.
All of the above behaviours can make a difference to your bottom line at the negligible cost of driver training so if your daily operation isn’t considering these, you could well be doing your operation (and bank balance) a disservice.
In temperature-controlled transport, the name of the game is preserving as much energy as possible and we believe that this starts with your driver behaviour and getting into good habits. And if your drivers are active proponents in furthering the efficiency of your vehicles, there are plenty of technological advancements out there on the market to help them further achieve this. An effective climate barrier is a good place to start.