LP Gas

A coaching system makes one retailer’s drivers more fuel-efficient

Truckers typically downshift to the lowest gear available when driving up a steep hill. But as Mirabito Energy Products’ Matt Meehan learned, downshifting isn’t necessarily the best approach for a truck’s long-term health.

Mirabito Energy Products uses technology to boost fuel efficiency.

“Trucks don’t always like to be over-revved,” says Meehan, vice president of Mirabito’s Home Comfort Division. “Nowadays we’d rather have you lug that truck up the hill in a higher gear.”

New technology New York-based Mirabito recently employed supports that notion, Meehan adds. The technology, Vnomics software that plugs directly into a truck’s data bus, monitors just about everything that takes place within a trucking unit, he says.

“If I get a check engine light that comes on in a truck for low coolant, I’ll probably know before the driver does because the truck will sense that,” he says. “There’s direct communication with the truck and the back office.”

According to Torren Delforte, regional sales manager at Vnomics, the software was originally developed at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which received a $30 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to research and develop a preventative maintenance technology for a sector of the military.

Vnomics commercialized the technology about six years ago, but energy companies like Mirabito are most interested in the opportunity to gain an advantage in fuel-efficiency, Delforte says.

“The driver coaching system coaches drivers in real time to operate their vehicle,” Delforte says. “We improve fuel-efficiency in real time.”

According to Meehan, who referenced a test sample of four vehicles, the company experienced a 10.4 percent average mile per gallon (mpg) improvement between November 2012 and January 2013 on vehicles operating with Vnomics.

“It’s to help aid you to be as efficient as possible,” Meehan says. “We don’t want guys breaking the speed limit or excessively braking. All of that affects the cost of operating the vehicle.”

Sixty Mirabito trucks have Vnomics, including 18 bobtails and three LP gas transports.

“We spend a lot of money on diesel fuel,” says Meehan, whose company delivers propane in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. “We probably go through 50,000 gallons a month. Times 12 months, a 10 percent savings on mpg is tremendous savings for us.”

Mirabito Energy Products uses Vnomics in 18 bobtails and three LP gas transports.

Before Vnomics was installed in bobtails, Mirabito tracked driver performance over a 10,000-mile baseline period to measure driver fuel-efficiency without the coaching tool.

“One guy had a shift score of 44 out of a possible 100 in the baseline period,” Meehan says. “Then he goes to an 82 with the coaching on. Another guy we had who was in a retail propane truck before we turned the driver coaching on was an 84. We turned it on and he went to an 86.

“By and large what we find is the scores went from about 32 to 56. These guys can save us a fair amount of money.”

Mirabito planned to install Vnomics in other vehicles, Meehan adds. The company first invested in the technology for its transport business, which has traditionally hauled light oil products. Mirabito started hauling propane about two years ago, and it’s been a propane retailer for about 21 years.

COMPANY: Mirabito Energy Products

LOCATION: Binghamton, N.Y.

FOUNDED: 1927

EMPLOYEES: 35 propane employees

CUSTOMERS: 14,000 propane customers

ONLINE: www.mirabito.com