Technology has revolutionised the logistics sector, allowing for fewer emissions and more proficiencies


Smoke-belching, diesel-guzzling heavy trucks move over. There’s no place for those in SA logistics, where telematics and other advanced technologies are driving the ‘greening’ of the fleets.

In-cab cameras, wireless sensors, onboard load cells, GPS tracking and monitoring, combined with sophisticated real-time data analysis… Better trucking efficiencies mean better fuel economy, which in turn means fewer CO2 emissions and therefore less pollution of the environment. It also means that the haulier spends less hard cash.

This is vital in a highly competitive industry, in which fuel remains the biggest contributor to road transport costs, according to the Logistics Barometer South Africa 2015. The University of Stellenbosch’s logistics department compiled the barometer to take over where the authoritative annual State of Logistics report left off, when it was discontinued in 2014 after 10 editions.

Transport accounts for the largest chunk of logistics costs in SA (59.8% in 2013), followed by warehousing (14.3%), inventory carrying costs (13.5%), and management and administration (12.5%). Most freight is still moved by road (61%) in the country, despite the efforts to shift cargo from road to rail (which accounts for 36%).

Rail is more environmentally friendly for carrying heavy bulk loads but trucks will continue to be the most flexible and convenient alternative. That is why the reduction of diesel consumption and emissions is such a pressing issue.

The Stellenbosch researchers calculated the financial burden of carbon emissions on the domestic economy: ‘In 2013, freight logistics caused 21 million tons of CO2 emissions, which at R265 per ton added R5.5 billion to the national CO2 bill. The total cost of emissions is estimated to have placed a R14.1 billion burden on the economy.’

The government is planning to phase in a carbon tax from 2016 onwards. The logistics sector, as many others, argues that this will put additional strain on an already stretched industry. The state also plans to regulate the transition to cleaner fuels in line with Euro V emission standards for reduced sulphur content.

‘The primary purpose is to improve the quality of the air we breathe,’ the South African Petroleum Industry Association explained in a recent networking session. ‘This is brought about by using advanced vehicle engine technology to convert harmful emissions to more benign components and also increase fuel efficiency.

‘The refinery upgrade programmes incorporate large-scale capital investment into the gasoline and diesel producing units of a typical refinery.’ Negotiations are under way on how to finance the cleaner fuels initiative.

Technology can assist logistics firms in understanding and calculating fuel usage and CO2 emissions, and in analysing data relating to fleet efficiency. ‘There is a considerable demand for new technologies in the market that will maximise the efficiency of vehicle fleets by lowering costs through more effective operations,’ says Byron Messaris, automotive and transportation industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan Africa.

‘These specific technologies result in less total fuel consumption, reducing the overall emissions and carbon footprint of fleets.’

Telematics, according to Messaris, are also effective in managing driver behaviour. ‘This is essential in not only reducing vehicular accidents but also leads to improvement in overall running costs of vehicles by monitoring driving patterns and behaviour that can often negatively impact the condition of a vehicle.

Logistics extra2
‘These technologies result in less total fuel consumption, reducing the overall emissions and carbon footprint of fleets’


‘Technology developments in the automotive and transportation industry are expected to accelerate over the next few years. In 2014, Frost & Sullivan found that almost 100 000 telematics units were sold in the commercial vehicle market in South Africa alone.’

The research house expects telematics penetration in this market – ranging from light and medium to heavy and extra heavy commercial vehicles – to reach 34.7% by 2021, generating $400 million in SA.

The country’s leading logistics providers, which include Bidvest, Barloworld Logistics, Crossroads, Fuel Group, Grindrod, Imperial Logistics, Laser Logistics, Supergroup, Unitrans and Value Logistics, typically rely on telematics such as routing software and GPS navigation to find the most efficient route and avoid unnecessary detours.

Then there are applications that use wireless sensors to monitor tyre pressure and load cell technology that automatically weighs the payload and protects the axles from being overloaded.

A growing number of fleets feature satellite tracking and in-cab cameras to monitor driver behaviour and assess on-road risk. For instance, Barloworld Logistics uses DriveSmart, which gives feedback on driver performance. The firm provides training interventions in cases of risky behaviour, such as speeding, harsh braking or sudden lane changes, while drivers who display excellence in driving are rewarded.

Many fleet management systems incorporate a web-based fuel and environment component. Standard Bank’s Eco2Fleet is a stand-alone service that monitors and compares vehicle emissions to reduce the carbon footprint of a fleet.

Then there’s Volvo’s Dynafleet, which gives customers a comprehensive overview of fuel consumption, distance driven and emission levels. It shows how a specific driver performs on fuel efficiency and provides in-cab coaching that gives the driver tips on how to drive more fuel-efficiently throughout the journey. A further functionality sends an alert if there are major changes in fuel level, as this could indicate fuel theft.

Meanwhile, the Fuel Efficiency Score report provides an overview in terms of fuel performance. ‘A 0 to 100 score, presented in both colour codes and figures, will show you the performance within four key areas: anticipating and braking; engine and gear utilisation; speed adaptation; and standstill,’ says Volvo.

Driver behaviour is closely linked to fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Michael Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency is widely quoted as saying: ‘Between the worst truck driver and the best, the difference in fuel economy can reach 25%.’

Closer to home, Paul Nordengen, research group leader of network asset management systems at the CSIR, says: ‘We have to get the basics right before we introduce new technologies. There’s still a lot of scope in vehicle maintenance, getting tyre pressure and payload weight right, as well as in driver training. I’ve had feedback from companies that enjoyed huge fuel savings after sending their drivers for advanced training on a specific truck model as opposed to generic training.’ Nordengen is the person behind the ‘Smart Truck’ pilot project in SA, whereby heavy commercial vehicles are designed according to performance-based standards (PBS).

‘PBS is not super rocket science but a design methodology that allows a more dynamic vehicle performance. The design is based on the on-road performance of a truck and its stability during typical, aggressive driving manoeuvres at various speeds, as well as its roll-over tendency, pavement wear and the road space used during turns.’

Logistics extra
Smart trucks save fuel because they have a 20% to 45% higher payload, which translates into 10% to 24% improved fuel efficiency.

Nordengen explains that while a typical 56 ton truck combination uses up to 60 litres per 100 km, some PBS trucks have improved to 39 litres. ‘During 2014, the 109 smart trucks participating in the pilot project saved approximately 75 000 trips, 1.3 million litres of diesel and 3 400 tons of CO2.’

Unitrans is the leader in the PBS extra-heavy haulage sector, transporting around 22 000 tons of products daily at 75 tons to 125 tons per trip.

‘An investment of more than R400 million was made into new-generation fuel tankers, new road train applications, bulk tankers, agricultural and mining yellow metal equipment,’ according to the holding group’s 2014 sustainability report.

‘This investment improved service delivery and additional cost savings through enhanced efficiencies. Fuel usage decreased by 36% per ton of product transported (compared to a standard road legal combination), which directly translates into CO2e emission reductions. These savings are shared with customers.’

However, it’s not only trucks and their drivers that contribute to the reduction of harmful emissions – environmental awareness is growing throughout the logistics supply chain.

In March this year, MAN Truck and Bus became the first 100% carbon-neutral truck production site in Africa. The truck and bus-chassis assembly plant in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal builds some of the most fuel-efficient commercial vehicles in the country, and operates entirely off solar energy. Any surplus energy is fed into the eThekwini power grid.

According to the plant’s production head Heiko Kayser: ‘We have calculated that our energy cost savings for 2015 will be in the region of R1 million, with a CO2 saving of 860 tons per annum. These figures will improve over the following years.’

The business case for ‘green’ logistics, driven by technology, seems stronger than ever. It might even serve to clear the remaining smoke-belching, energy-hogging trucks off the roads.

By Silke Colquhoun
Illustration: Mr.Xerty ©