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Fuel Sustainability: When Does it Make Sense to go Extra Thick?

March 2, 2015

FedEx air cargo containers

In Air Operations Strategic Projects, we are constantly looking at new technology that will impact the air operation in the next five to ten years. Sometimes, exploring one technology will lead you down a completely different path, make you challenge conventional wisdom and save some fuel.

A few years back, we were exploring ideas for fire suppression technologies for the containers used to protect cargo during transport. As we began exploring the numerous fire resistant technologies, such as composites, fire retardant coatings, and tighter container seals to limit oxygen flow, we noticed our container weights varied significantly, some with up to 20 percent higher than industry standard container weights. Together with ULD (Unit Load Device) Planning, Global Planning & Engineering, and Aircraft Engineering we found that some containers were modified by manufacturers to address various operational issues.

For instance, thicker aluminum side panels were added to mitigate fork lift damage and double thick floors were added to mitigate warping. These multiple configurations complicated the management of the containers. Typically we operate 10,000 to 20,000 of each container type and they had to be matched to the type of freight being shipped.

However, as we learned, some of these technical solutions wound up having minimal operational benefits.

The team categorized all the container configurations and determined each one’s operational considerations. Then the team looked at the container repair history to determine if these operational issues were being prevented. In particular, we looked at the most expensive repair items and noted that they were primarily due to structural damage and base warping. The inherent nature of container loading and unloading, in the very dynamic and time sensitive nature of hub and field sorting, introduces many container damage opportunities. As a result, we were making containers with thicker aluminum panels to prevent damage. Ironically, we found that a fork lift can quickly penetrate a container side panel regardless of the aluminum sheet thickness. We also noticed the warping was not significantly reduced with the thicker floor panels because the very nature of our floor rollers will, overtime, warp container bases naturally. The repair for this is to remove the floor panel, flip it upside down, and run it across a tool with floor rollers to flatten them out.

We conducted an exhaustive analysis of the types of structural damage and developed a lighter weight container configuration we could standardize across the container fleet and still meet operational needs. We then conducted an 18-month in-service trial using the light-weight ULD configuration, which demonstrated that there was no increase in damage trends.

With these positive operational results, we took the next step and requested approval to standardize the container fleet to the light weight configurations. The fuel savings were quite significant with an estimated 20 to 25 percent reduction in average container weight. In FY14, we launched the program to modify the container fleet and once completed, these light weight containers will save us up to $7.6 million in fuel costs annually! And we must not forget saving fuel also reduces our carbon emissions, which supports our Corporate Environmental Sustainability initiative.

We continue to look for more ways to reduce container damage, including our research into composite container technology, which will also have the potential to reduce our container weight once again. It’s exciting to work with a team across the Op-Co and to ask the hard question – is there a more efficient way to do our job and are we really solving the problem or just masking it with a temporary fix? And with the openness and support of management to take and nurture a concept that not only saves the company money, but also helps the environment.

Fuel Sense blog posts:
Fuel Sense: Every Drop Counts at FedEx Express
Fuel Sense: It Only Works When We Work Together
Two Misunderstood Words: Economical and Responsible
Saving Fuel to Defend our Nation
Fuel Sustainability: Simple Adjustments Save Millions
How We Overcame Cultural Inertia and Saved Millions


Comments

    Anonymous says:

    Glad this article showcased efficiency without alarming customers to think their goods would be damaged.

    Shuichi SATO says:

    That’s an astonishing fact!
    Thickness have nothing to do with mitigation of damage.

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