Heavyweight answer

UK company’s racing car-style engineering technique claims to improve aerodynamics on trucks – dramatically cutting fuel bills. Jon Excell reports.

By applying engineering techniques usually reserved for racing cars to heavy goods vehicles, a UK engineering company has developed a system that is claimed to dramatically improve fuel efficiency.

The technology, called FSA (fuel saving aerodynamics), is a carefully-designed kit that can be retrofitted to truck cabs and trailers to improve aerodynamic performance. It has been developed by Piper Design of London, a company partly owned by former TV presenter Noel Edmonds.

So effective is the technology that it’s even given beleaguered retailer Marks & Spencer something to smile about. Since applying FSA to a much of its distribution fleet last September, M&S has shaved six per cent from its annual multi-million pound diesel bill. As a result, the company is now specifying the system for all new additions to its fleet.

Piper’s managing director John Piper explained that following studies of the aerodynamic behaviour of trucks on the road, his engineers realised there was plenty of scope for improved design. Because these trucks use a huge amount of fuel it was clear that there was a pretty big, and largely unexploited, money-saving opportunity.

Of course, Piper’s technology isn’t the first aerodynamic kit of this kind – although chief engineer Nick Carpenter explained that existing kits are typically imprecise bolt-on pieces based on an understanding of aerodynamics that is often 15 years out of date.

To illustrate, he claimed that during tests, a truck equipped with FSA was compared to one equipped with the most efficient existing kit, and the FSA truck demonstrated a 40 per cent reduction in drag coefficient. Depending on road conditions, this could cut fuel consumption by as much as 14 per cent.

Turning to the physical characteristics of the system, Carpenter said that while it is the detailed approach to aerodynamics (and not necessarily any radical piece of design) that is significant, there are a number of design features that the company considers to be new. He cited a clever aero-management beneath the trailer, as well as development of the roof of the cab unit as two areas where particularly innovative work was carried out.

So how has the truck industry reacted to claims that the efficiency of their trailers and cabs can be so dramatically improved upon?

Piper said that when he showed them the results, truck manufacturers initially reacted with disbelief. But he added that although they seem to be keen to learn more about the system, it’s still proving difficult to persuade them to take it much further. ‘Our impression of the truck industry is that it’s too easily satisfied,’ he said.

He also brushed aside fears that if manufacturers finally do wake up to the full benefits of FSA, then they will cut out the ‘middle-man’ ( a reference to his company and others offering such kits) and start building aero-dynamically efficient trucks.

He claimed instead that Piper is keen to work with manufacturers and share design input. Indeed, the company is currently talking to a number of cab and trailer manufacturers – including Daf, which supplies trucks and trailers to M&S.

‘Besides,’ he added, ‘while I’m sure people will try and emulate what we’ve done, we’re already two years ahead.’

Piper said that his company is now talking to a number of UK logistics firms and retailers and is happy to both license the technology to manufacturers as well as sell and manufacture kits in-house.