Woolworths take the lead towards a greener future – Words by Ed Higginson
Industry needs early adopters to create change, and Woolworths has a strong track record for continuous logistical improvement. This was demonstrated by being one of the first to insist on protective side underrun for its fleet of trailers, and among the first to order Euro 5 and then Euro 6 trucks, years before any mandatory legislation.
As part of the process towards reducing emissions in transport, the company has become one of the first to take the next step in reducing the carbon footprint of its fleet by introducing a fully electric, 14-pallet delivery truck into regular operation.
Paul Graham, Chief Supply Chain Officer for Woolworths, said: “Woolworths is actively investing in safe and sustainable transport, and we see electric vehicle technology playing an important part in our future fleet strategy.
“We are excited about the possibilities of electric vehicles − not only from an environmental and safety perspective, but also in managing store delivery windows. Reducing restrictions means we can take trucks off the road in peak hour, which is good for other road users.”
At last year’s IAA commercial vehicles show in Hannover, it was clear the world is moving away from diesel, with electric power set to be one of the main propulsion options for the future.
Some countries are moving faster than others. Norway claims that 2018 sales figures show 40 percent of all vehicles sold were based on electric power. Iceland is next at around 14 percent, while Europe, China and the US all sit around 2 percent. Australia’s electric vehicle market share is just 0.2 percent.
There are many contributing factors behind the increasing global popularity of electric vehicles, with Government incentives being the main drivers to promote the range of vehicles on sale, in addition to the increasing availability of charging infrastructure.
The Australian Logistics Council has recognised these challenges and with members including Woolworths, Linfox, Toll, Australia Post and DHL, has formed the ALC Electric Vehicles Working Group. This group will investigate the benefits of electric vehicles, working with suppliers and Government to reduce the impact our growing freight industry will have on the environment.
Ben Newton is the Head of Transport Development for Woolworths and a member of the ALC EV Working Group, and is excited to put the fleet’s newest addition into service.
“Electric vehicles are coming, and we need to learn how they are going to impact a retail supply chain operation. We are looking to understand the charging infrastructure, safety and driver impacts [in order] to be proactive, rather than be caught on the back foot in a couple of years’ time,” he said.
The Hino GH 1828, fitted with a SEA-Drive 180 electric drive system, is already delivering groceries to supermarkets around Melbourne. Running 100 percent electric gives the 14-pallet delivery truck a range of 190 to 220 km, which is more than enough for supermarket deliveries around the city.
“We have worked closely with SEA Electric on the development and refinement of the vehicle, which has been delivering produce and chilled products to our Victorian supermarkets from our Mulgrave Distribution Centre. It has performed really well and generally been making two runs per day,” Ben said.
SEA Electric has developed facilities in Melbourne to convert glider cab/chassis from various manufacturers into electric-driven trucks that are ready for service, with a model range stretching from vans up to 26-tonne trucks.
It has been developing its electric products for the past eight years, prompting Glenn Baird, the managing director of SEA Electric, to comment that the introduction of the SEA-Drive 180 model to the Woolworths fleet is an indication of the speed of this technology entering real-world operations.
Running with a permanent magnet motor, the electric drive system produces 225 kW of continuous power and a maximum power output of 372 kW. Continuous torque ratings are 1852 Nm, rising to a maximum torque capability of 3500 Nm with a 94 percent peak system efficiency.
Woolworths driver Steve has been impressed with its capability. “Performance from 0 to 60 km/h is great, and provides an acceleration rate from rest that is better than most other trucks we use, so it is more than adequate in a city application which is its ideal operating environment.
“The new Hino GH cab also gives drivers the comforts they expect in any modern truck, which is important when trying to make any major change. The design and features of the cab interior and materials are typical of the latest Japanese designs, which stand up well to heavy use, especially in the multi-drop segment where different drivers jump in each day.
“We have a set run at the moment whilst we see how it goes. We run from Mulgrave into the city store, which is around 60to 70km, and find it uses around 50 percent of its charge. The second run is just 30km and uses around 20 percent, so we could easily do a third run before having to plug it in”.
The truck gets a Lithium-Ion Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) battery system, with a passive cell energy density of 354 Wh/L certified to ECE Reg 100 REV 0. With a 10-plus year cell type, Woolworths expects to see reduced maintenance costs over total life cycle costs that could match a diesel truck within three years. With diesel prices only likely to increase, this payback may come much faster.
Another hurdle electric trucks must overcome is the lack of adequate infrastructure to charge the vehicles overnight. Standard charging is provided through an IEC 62196 Mode 3 charging unit (22kW). Maximum charge can be achieved in under eight hours, but there is opportunity for this to be reduced by updating the charging systems currently available.
As the Woolworths distribution centres have three-phase charging on their docks for plugging into individual vehicle fridge units, you wouldn’t expect this to be a problem for the grocery giant. However, as Ben said: “Not all three-phase sockets are equal. Charging time depends on the infrastructure as it varies between 22kW to 120kW, which makes a big difference.”
Steve added: “We plug the truck in at the end of the shift and it takes around eight hours to charge, but we need to be able to run trucks 24 hours a day, so I hear we are looking at three-phase charging at certain stores. As we can sit at the delivery docks from 10 minutes to 1.5 hours, if we were able to plug in whilst we wait, we could easily run it day and night.”
If charging stations can be coupled to solar energy at depots, the cost of fueling suddenly becomes very attractive. Just as importantly, it’s a solution that has minimal impact to the environment.
When considering the move to electric power, Woolworths had to consider more than just the truck. Built with a 14-pallet Peki body for maximum efficiency, the refrigeration unit is a Carrier Supra 960 that runs on 100 percent electric power as well.
Ben said: “The Carrier unit draws just 3 percent of the truck’s battery per hour, so there shouldn’t be an issue if you get stranded out on the road.”
Woolworths has also added an electric rear Whiting roller door for the safety of the driver, plus the Wabco TailGuard system and reversing camera for the safety of pedestrians.
One issue that needs to be considered with electric vehicles is just how quiet they are in operation. Great for late-night store deliveries in suburban areas, but will pedestrians notice you coming?
Steve said: “You do notice people looking at you strangely when you roll silently past. The biggest difference is that you must drive with your eyes rather than your ears. You need to learn to look at the gauges to know what the truck is doing, especially the speed.”
With many manufacturers starting to offer plug-in hybrids and full electric trucks overseas, we can expect to see many more electric trucks hitting our roads in Australia over the next few years. It will be a some time before they can run along the Hume or Pacific Highways, but seeing Woolworths moving confidently into this sector creates a blueprint that many other operators may find appealing.