As one of the few companies that is participating in the EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership as both a carrier and a shipper, Tyson Foods has been able to garner a unique perspective on the program. And that perspective is helping drive down costs and drive up environmental benefits for the company’s private fleet.

“Working with carrier partners and what they are doing in the industry…[has] helped us a lot in terms of vehicle specs,” says Blue Keene, senior director of transportation for Tyson’s fleet.

Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, AR, is one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef and pork and the second largest food production company in the Fortune 500. Its private fleet recently began an initiative to “drive out miles” to meet the goals of both the SmartWay shipper and carrier programs.

Tyson’s Class 8 fleet, which numbers about 2,600 power units running a variety of equipment including day cabs and sleepers, dry vans, and refrigerated units, operates out of three base terminals in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Its over-the-road sleeper fleet of approximately 1,000 trucks services customers in all 48 states with each run taking between six and 10 days. Tyson also operates a local delivery fleet and a “farm application” fleet that delivers items such as eggs, feed, birds, etc.

SLEEPER COMFORT

Each sleeper is equipped with an auxiliary power unit (APU), Keene says. The company operates 160 diesel-fired APUs and 757 electric units, 480 of which also have shorepower capability.

“We’re trying to convert our tractors so if shorepower is there, the drivers can run the comforts of that cab,” Keene says, adding that all new specs call for electric units with shorepower. The savings on the units are about 0.6 gals. per hour, per unit.

The tractor fleet is predominantly Mack and Freightliner vehicles right now, but Tyson also operates Kenworth and International tractors for evaluation as the company continually looks for the best vehicle fit.

Tyson’s trailer fleet is spec’d for aerodynamics as well, including its 2,200 refrigerated trailers, which are kept on seven-year trade cycles. Current specs on the reefer units include an undertray aerodynamic system rather than full side skirts. According to Keene, the trailer fleet is comprised of 75% skirted trailers and 25% with the tray system, although the company is still evaluating which system to use going forward.

Twenty-five Carrier Transicold Vector hybrid electric/diesel refrigeration units are also undergoing evaluation on company trailers. Keene says the units are being tested at three facilities equipped with electric standby power. “The savings identified are absolutely there,” Keene notes, adding that a complete conversion of the fleet is unlikely in the immediate future because of infrastructure challenges. “We’ve got 2,200 trailers out there and a trailer might be in Amarillo, TX, one day and Knoxville, TN, the next. With 56 facilities served, trying to get electric power [for all of them] is not easy.”

Tyson is also planning to test compressed natural gas tractors in the fall once the new Cummins 12L CNG engine is available. The company has tested CNG tractors in the past but did not find the power output sufficient, Keene says.

“The 9L engine performance just wasn’t what we needed it to be to haul 90,000-lb. feed loads,” he says. Tyson regularly hauls through mountainous regions as well, creating added power demands. Still, Keene says the payback for natural gas is there if the power demands can be met.

“I think there is a lot of upside potential if Cummins can get that engine out there,” he adds.

Regardless of on-vehicle technology, though, Keene says an overriding criteria for any initiative is the return on investment.

Besides vehicle specs, Tyson Foods also incorporates a number of other initiatives to improve efficiency, lower costs, and improve its environmental footprint. These include the installation of PeopleNet telematics systems in the farm application tractors to measure performance of both drivers and their vehicles.

Tyson worked with shippers to consolidate shipments, thereby eliminating unnecessary routes.

“We looked through our entire network and identified high volumes of shipments,” Keene says. “If I can put two more pallets on a [trailer] and it’s a high-volume lane, then I [might] go from 12 shipments a day to 10.”

That initiative saved an estimated 3.9 million truck miles in 2011.

Like many private fleets, the Tyson fleet is also authorized to operate as a for-hire fleet to reduce empty miles. Keene says the fleet generates about $1 million a month through backhauls with about 50 customers participating in the program.

Because Tyson only ships about 40% of its product on its own fleet, the opportunity to work with other carriers and shippers has also led to changes, including altering shipper patterns where appropriate and reducing packaging to save space on trailers. Direct shipping to customers’ docks saved the company an estimated 1.5 million truck miles in 2011, the company says, while sustainable packaging efforts cut an additional 2.1 million truck miles while also reducing raw material use.

“I work with our trafficking group and help decide whether [initiatives] are best for our private fleet or our third-party shippers [or both],” Keene says. In some cases, it has meant moving shipments to rail. In 2011, Tyson says it shipped products over 18.8 million rail miles, eliminating 74 million truck miles.