When you’re fighting to keep owning and operating costs as low as possible, just tracking fuel consumption isn’t going to give you the insights you need. In addition to knowing what you burn, you need to know what you earn. Fuel efficiency is the measure of how much work a machine can do with one gallon of fuel.

Even though your fuel efficiency number is the truest indicator of how effectively a machine uses a gallon of fuel, many machine owners don’t have the time or resources to determine the fuel efficiency of machines in their fleets. So what can you do?

Experts suggest you consider the variables at your site that will impact how fuel is consumed. By taking steps to control fuel burn rate, you may also find ways to increase production, which could increase your overall fuel efficiency.

Understand the machine application

The type of work the machine performs is a primary factor. In a difficult load-and-carry application (in a sand-and-gravel pit, for instance) a loader might burn 60% to 100% more fuel than the same machine in a truck-loading application in an aggregates yard. When you’re comparing two machines, you’ll want to be sure that the machine application demands are similar.

Evaluate operator technique

The way an operator runs a machine has a tremendous effect on the fuel burn rate. For example, an operator maintaining an aggressive truck-loading cycle of 20 seconds or less can cause the machine to burn 60% to 80% more fuel than the same machine working at a more moderate pace, such as 30 seconds per cycle. You’ll want to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether shorter cycle times or reduced fuel burn is more advantageous to your bottom line.


Manage your idle time

The percentage of time a machine idles can significantly impact the fuel burn rate. A medium wheel loader typically consumes less than a gallon per hour when idling. On the other hand, a 980K working steadily (no idle time) in a difficult application (such as load-and-carry) might burn more than 12 gallons per hour.

Here’s the point to remember: The higher the percentage of idle time, the lower the overall fuel burn. Industry research indicates that idle time of 30% to 40% is common for machines in North America. So, if you have two similar machines, doing similar work and one is burning six gallons per hour and the other is burning 12 gallons per hour, take a look at the idle-time column.

Configure machines for efficiency

Machine features can influence the fuel burn rate. Many features that can diminish the fuel burn rate often go unnoticed or under-utilized; here are some to look for:

  • Productivity and equipment management technologies
  • Power-dense engines (more performance, less weight)
  • Eco or economy modes that help manage engine speed and fuel consumption
  • Engine-idle-management/auto-shutdown/cool-down systems
  • Load-sensing hydraulics; lock-up-clutch torque converter
  • Hybrid energy recovery systems
  • System-designed controls, buckets and work tools

So, if you’re making equipment-management decisions based on the fuel burn rate of various machines, first make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Enhanced machine technology has made important contributions to fuel efficiency, but according to Caterpillar, the really big gains are in understanding application differences, improving operator technique and controlling idle time.

Get more insights into fuel efficiency.