‘Next Level of Police Vehicle’ Among Icom’s New Propane Offerings

Icom North America (New Hudson, Mich.) has manufactured the Icom propane liquid injection system for the law enforcement sector since 2011, starting with the Chevy Tahoe Police model. The company announced in July that it extended its propane autogas fleet offerings with 2013 through 2016 3.7-liter Ford police sport utility, police sedan, Explorer, Taurus, Edge, Flex, and Lincoln MKT, MKS, and MKX models. Those fleet platforms are focused on police, government, and livery vehicles. Founded in 2004, Icom manufactures, assembles, certifies, and distributes the Icom JTG liquid injection propane vehicle system and additional patented Icom propane products.

Albert Venezio, chairman of Icom North America, told BPN the recent additions to its lineup highlight Icom’s commitment to police vehicles.

“This is the next level of police vehicle,” he said. He stressed, however, that Icom still offers a certified propane system for the Chevrolet Tahoe police model, including the direct-injection version, and that its partner company, Imega (Stuart, Fla.), will soon offer a strong-performing system for Dodge Charger police cars. Venezio is seeing police fleets across the country moving to SUVs because they are more comfortable for the officers and hold more equipment.

Icom hopes to sell about 1000 of the Ford police vehicles, which are all bi-fuel, through the 2016 model year.

The move strengthens Icom’s presence in the law enforcement market, with the company offering General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler products. Police fleets, Venezio explained, tend to use one manufacturer, which previously limited Icom’s access to law enforcement agencies that used only GM products. Now, it can sell to police fleets that use any or all of the Big 3 auto manufacturers’ vehicles and can stress to them the benefits of propane liquid-injection systems.

According to Venezio, “With liquid injection we have excellent miles per gallon and much better performance than vapor injection. There is better acceleration, no cold-start issues, and most importantly, no engine valve recession issues that have plagued vapor injection.”

He is proud of the work Icom North America has done since its founding in 2004. Partner Ralph Perpetuini, who was general manager of Icom in Europe for 20 years, is CEO and runs the Icom U.S. plants. The two implement the strategic vision, while Venezio focuses on business development and sales. Icom now employs seven autogas fleet development specialists who cover the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Venezio notes that Icom is the inventor of the patented Icom propane liquid injection system and that numerous OEM propane liquid injection systems on the market today in the U.S. use Icom technology. He adds that Icom offers the most EPA-certified platforms in the propane industry, with about 700 certified bi-fuel vehicle platforms and about 100 dedicated propane vehicle platforms. Bi-fuel is available on all Icom certified vehicle platforms and available also in dedicated versions for all Ford 6.8-liter platforms, which are large work trucks and shuttle buses. Ford F-150 3.7-liter, Ford F250-350 6.2-liter engine, and Ford Transit 3.7-liter vehicles are available dedicated. Icom will soon roll out many GM 6.0-liter vehicle platforms and many additional certified direct-injection vehicle platforms.

Autogas Network Focuses On Infrastructure, Training
Although the new platforms are a positive step for Icom, Venezio believes they are not as positive if propane marketers don’t buy in to the autogas concept, use autogas in their own fleets, and sell propane as an engine fuel. To help more propane marketers sell autogas, Icom in May of this year formed the Propane Autogas Network to educate fleets and propane marketers and to provide one-stop shopping for fleets to have access to the vehicle systems, including installation and service, propane, and fueling infrastructure. The network will also allow propane companies to purchase infrastructure and systems similar to a buying group.

“We have an excellent core group of propane companies and vendors joining the network and will launch in October,” notes Venezio.

Training is a main aspect of the Propane Autogas Network. Propane marketers often bid on a school bus contract, for example, but many of them need support in selling propane autogas. Autogas fleet development specialists for Icom or the network will train propane marketers as part of the program. Twelve propane companies will serve as founding members, and the group will include system manufacturers such as Icom and Imega and fueling infrastructure manufacturers, equipment distributors, and eventually OEMs.

“The goal is to make it easier for propane companies to sell autogas,” Venezio explained, adding that it will help systems and infrastructure companies sell more equipment. He believes propane autogas “has only scratched the surface in the U.S.” and that the propane autogas industry “was virtually dormant” when Icom came to the U.S. in 2004. Icom exhibited its first liquid-injection systems with CleanFUEL USA and dealers in 2006 at the National Propane Gas Association’s Southeastern Convention in Atlanta, and this started what Venezio refers to as the “renaissance of autogas” in the U.S. “The Icom liquid injection technology was the game-changer and launched the renaissance,” Venezio contends. “The system has come a long way since then, with the addition of many patented components and systems such as the external fuel pump and JTGhp direct injection system.

“This year, a high proportion of the Atlanta convention [exhibitors] had something autogas in their booths. It’s dramatically grown,” Venezio said. “The goal of the Propane Autogas Network is to project the growth much further. Of the thousands of propane companies in America, only a few hundred or so utilize propane vehicles in their own fleet. A propane company salesperson cannot pull up in a gasoline vehicle to discuss autogas with a fleet and expect to succeed. It is important that propane companies have propane vehicles and utilize their own supply. We have most propane work truck models available in bi-fuel and many also in dedicated versions. This is key and we can make it easy for them to enjoy the benefits and [low] cost of autogas for their own fleets before they can sell autogas effectively to fleet customers. There is an education curve needed to support propane companies to attain autogas sales. It’s not as mysterious or complicated to sell autogas as some may think. We do it every day with propane company partners across North America. Part of our job, with our partners, is making autogas development simple, seamless, and effective. Icom has hundreds of successful autogas fleets including UPS, DHL, FedEx contractors, state DOTs, counties, municipalities, and private fleets.  Icom systems utilize many millions of gallons of propane autogas each year. Let’s work together to grow it exponentially.” Offering national fueling across the country is another goal the network hopes to achieve over the next couple of years.

“So you could use the same card reader or credit card to access all the different fueling infrastructure,” Venezio explained. “Instead of paying $3.29/gal. at U-Haul, you pay $1.49/gal., with some regional variations depending on where your fleet is.”

Propane Autogas: Explaining the Technology
Related to the Propane Autogas Network, Icom plans to publish articles explaining how propane autogas systems work. That would help offset the No. 1 complaint Venezio has heard from people in the propane industry who are against the use of propane autogas: They had negative experiences with it in the 1980s and 1990s when carburetion kits were used. The articles will explain how the technology has improved since then and how it has matched the OEMs’ engine fueling deliverables since the advent of liquid injection.

David Griffin, Icom southeast autogas fleet specialist, will be part of the team writing the articles. Griffin, who joined Icom in March of this year, previously served as shop manager for almost 20 years for Herring Gas (McCall Creek, Miss.). He told BPN the articles will discuss “how we got to where we are today on fuel systems.”

Griffin said that one of the articles might discuss that when he started out in the propane industry in the mid-1990s, most of the propane vehicles were using the original technology that was used in the 1970s, which was almost the same as a gasoline carburetor in which propane enters the engine through the center of the intake manifold. Propane technology moved to a central injection system that injected propane into the air horn. The computer had some control over the air/fuel mixture, but propane still entered the engine through the center of the intake manifold, and when the entire intake is full of propane, anytime a backfire occurred, it created problems, Griffin said.

From there, companies in the late 1990s produced an injection system in which the speed of injection could be controlled. Vapor was still used, but it was injected in with fuel injectors.

“Vapor injection improved the control of the fuel and what comes out of the tailpipe without the bad side effects,” Griffin stated. The problem with the early versions of vapor injection in the early 2000s, however, was that the software that makes the system work correctly was complicated.

He noticed the systems improved even more by around 2006, when his company, Herring Gas, bought its first GM trucks that came straight from the factory with liquid propane injection systems using Icom technology. The Herring fleet operated about 160 trucks, and about 100 ran on propane.

The Icom articles will explain different fuel system technologies and how each one brought the propane industry closer to what the government was looking for.

“The goal was a system that’s reliable and EPA-compliant that can truly match the gasoline fuel system performance and reduce emissions,” Griffin noted. “Nothing else but liquid can do that.”

Update on Propane Optimization Process
In 2013, Icom added the propane optimization process (POP) as an option on its systems. The POP option prevents drivers from switching from propane to gasoline unless the vehicle runs out of propane. Venezio explained that the option has been successful with fleets, and most of ICOM’s fleet customers choose this option, which allows fleets to make sure their drivers use the maximum amount of propane in their bi-fuel vehicles.  

As an example, Venezio mentioned airport shuttle drivers who might not care if the shuttle owner saves money on fuel. “We took it out of their hands,” he explained. “That took fleet usage from about 80% propane in a drive cycle to about 95% to 96%. The system is about 90% of all our bi-fuel sales, because fleets want to enjoy the most use of propane and save the most money.”

Liquid-Injection Propane on Transit Gets EPA-Certified
Icom announced on Sept. 1 that it achieved EPA certification on model year 2015 Ford Transit 3.7-liter dedicated and bi-fuel platforms. The fleet platforms focus on delivery, shuttle, and work truck vehicles.

Venezio stressed that his company is the first to offer an EPA-certified dedicated propane version of the Transit, which replaced the Ford E-series van. He added that Icom expects to announce additional EPA certifications for dedicated propane systems in the coming months, including the Ford F-150 with a 5.0-L engine, as well as for GM 6.0-L 2500, 3500, and HD applications. “Icom is the first to achieve propane direct-injection certifications, and we have many more of those coming in the fall and winter.”    —Daryl Lubinsky

Arrow Tank — A Busy Year Building Vessels and Bobtails

For Arrow Tank & Engineering Inc. it has been another busy year building vessels and bobtails, endeavors boosted by good material supply that has the workplace buzzing and the team working nonstop to get products out the door and into the hands of customers. The Cambridge, Minn.-based company recently completed two significant plant expansions to help keep up with demand in the industries it serves. Arrow Tank’s paint facility has more than doubled in size and now includes a second 28x100-ft spray booth, and another 24,000-sq-ft building has been constructed to house its heavy-plate roll, which is capable of manufacturing shells in excess of four inches thick.

In addition to propane trucks and tanks, its various divisions offer custom industrial fabrication; fire suppression equipment; post-weld treatment; and high-purity equipment distribution for the semiconductor, biomedical, and pharmaceutical markets, among others. With new resources and expanded capacity in place, the focus on prompt turnaround is being prioritized. Tim Schweppe, general manager of the propane division, said in August and September throughput for propane vessels was up 25%, with on-time deliveries hitting 99% —“definitely a step in the right direction.”

“Propane marketers continue to ride the wave of building smart bobtails utilizing technology and larger capacities to improve efficiency of their deliveries,” he said. “Additionally, a large majority of our complete bobtails tend to be from our MOFLO lineup that are capable of maintaining higher flow rates, with some exceeding 100 gpm. We’re also seeing the next generation of safety features becoming more common in the northern climate, such as rear-view camera systems, front and rear disc brakes, differential lock/traction control, and automatic tire chains to overcome dangerous and harsh conditions of the environment.”

Schweppe added that companies are focusing more on driver-operator comfort by specifying equipment to make the job less strenuous and difficult. “On the chassis side, air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering, power windows/locks, power/heated mirrors, and air-ride cab suspensions are the norm. Likewise, RF system options such as PTO, throttle, power reel-out, and meter display are practically standard features these days with approximately 75% of our complete bobtails having a peripheral interface with the meter’s electronic register.”

Arrow Tank was founded in 1957 to manufacture storage containers, mainly for the oil and gas industry. Its products included above- and below-ground storage tanks, water tanks and trucks, liquid fuel tank trucks, propane tank trucks, propane transports, and large storage tanks. Initially, all operations took place in a modest manufacturing facility in Edina, Minn. However, a surge in demand in the 1960s prompted the construction of a new 80,000-sq-ft facility in Eagan, Minn.

In 1971 Arrow Tank relocated its main fabrication plant to Cambridge, Minn. and added a satellite facility in Coon Rapids, Minn. Today, the company employs a workforce of more than 170, with all cargo tank fabrication, bobtail assembly, and service and parts departments located in Cambridge under about 165,000 square feet of production space. Large-scale shipping is accommodated by rail, truck, or waterway. Coon Rapids is now home to general offices and the technical division.

Schweppe, who oversees production, sales, and service of cargo tank manufacturing and bobtail fabrication, joined Arrow in 1997. His duties have included sales, bobtail design, technical assistance, and field service. “We’re seeing significant investments in the smart side of bobtails, in the chassis and on the safety side.” He comments a plus is that the investments can lead to longer service intervals. Recent onboard options, he notes, are rear-view camera systems and automatic tire chains, expensive upgrades, but they are increasingly being called for.

For the automatic chain option, one system is manufactured by OnSpot (Stratford, Conn.), providing the traction of a set of conventional snow chains at the flip of a switch without having to stop the vehicle. An electric switch mounted in the cab provides 12 volts to an air solenoid mounted on the truck’s frame rail. Compressed air to the solenoid is supplied from either the vehicle’s onboard air system or a 12-v compressed-air kit. When the dashboard switch is activated, the solenoid opens, allowing compressed air to enter the air chamber and lower the chain wheel so it contacts the inside of the tire. The friction between the tire and the rubber-covered chain wheel causes the chain wheel to rotate, creating enough centrifugal force to flail the chains out in front of the tire.

The manufacturer explains that the principle of the system is similar to a small generator driven by a bicycle tire to operate a headlight. Six lengths of chain spaced at 60º intervals on the chain wheel ensure there are always two chains between the tire and road surface, whether the truck is accelerating, braking, or is in a wheel lock-up position. The traction from the chain wheel is obtained in either forward or reverse. When the dashboard switch is turned off, the solenoid exhausts the air provided to the chain units and return springs in the air chambers bring the chain wheels back to their resting position. And, of course, drivers shifting between forward and reverse these days are doing so by engaging an automatic transmission, industry standard throughout most of the fleet over several years. “Ten years ago we installed the tire chain systems on a couple trucks, but now they represent 10% to 15% of builds,” Schweppe said.

Regulated safety features such as RF remote internal valve closure and engine kill (E-Stop) to prevent an unintentional release have evolved into convenience features that make the delivery process more efficient while improving equipment longevity. For example, with a remote PTO, the pump doesn’t engage unless product is flowing and registered. Additional efficiency upgrades include in-cab interfaces with the register that ultimately make their way to the back office. Such systems operate through wireless networks or transfer data to a disc or thumb drive. “The cool part about it is that the systems save time. Drivers have customer account information at their fingertips, and it is more accurate. In some instances the software includes mapping, which is extremely helpful when a driver travels an unfamiliar route,” Schweppe commented.

Like the passenger cars that share the road with bobtails, electronic troubleshooting systems to diagnose maintenance concerns and repair problems are now standard. “Truck builds are definitely becoming more complicated,” Arrow Tank’s general manager said. “There are now so many electronics on a truck that a typical 3200-gallon bobtail has about 380 feet of wiring harness. Some harnesses may contain up to 27 wires in each harness.” He added that while the typical truck 20 years ago had one work light, today’s may feature six — four docking lights and halogen stadium lights. “We frequently install LED six-light systems, and there is a super-light option with a wide-angle flood behind the truck that will reach to the end of the delivery hose 150 feet away.”

He remarked that the smart aspect of bobtails was being driven by customers, who are increasingly seeking efficiencies such as higher pump system flow rates and consistency in pumping. “Many systems start out fast and fall just as quick,” observed Schweppe. “We are installing onboard heat exchangers/stabilizers that provide more consistent flow rates — 60 to 70 gallons a minute — and there’s a beauty in maintaining 65 gallons per minute when you’re making a 500- to 1500-gallon delivery. In the past flow rate could fade by 10 to 20 gallons per minute, making a significant difference on big drops.”

He added that providing faster flow rates is another area Arrow Tank is helping marketers to maximize efficiency, and that solutions involve going back to the drawing board and utilizing mechanics and propane properties to make it happen by incorporating hydraulic pump drives rather than PTOs. Schweppe explains the systems in an online YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg0O0D1j-EI titled “Arrow Tank: Benefits of Hydraulic Pump Drives and Heat Exchangers in LPG Pumping Systems.”

Further, Arrow tank is building bobtails with up to 6700-gal. capacity on tri-axles and up to 3499 gallons on single axles. In most regions 3200s and 3400s remain the most popular, increasingly fitted to a propane-fueled chassis, but in mountainous regions in the West diesel still rules. The company also builds trucks with 5000-gal. tanks that are 80 inches in diameter. However, most-sought in that range are the 84-in. variety, resulting in a package that is nearly identical in length and yielding a capacity of 5500 or 5600 gallons, Schweppe said.

With cargo tank capacity rising steadily over the years, the company offers tank stretching services, adding volume to existing tanks. In most instances, stretches for 73-in. tanks yield up to 3200 gallons and 5000 gallons or more for 80-in. tanks. As part of the process, cargo tanks are updated to the latest ASME and DOT requirements. Likewise, vessel openings are upgraded or added to increase performance and facilitate a new piping assembly.

Arrow Tank manufactures both Deckline and Fleetline bobtail packages, both incorporating computer-aided design and manufacturing to enhance fit and finish. Among the available chassis are Kenworth, International, Freightliner, Mack, Ford, Peterbilt, and Hino. “What would have been considered unnecessary creature comforts 20 years ago are now standard,” Schweppe observed. “There’s a lot more thought about driver comfort and truck system efficiency, and marketers are demanding more and more smart bobtail features for their fleet operations.”     —John Needham

Blossman Gas Makes 5th Acquisition in 12 Months with Southern Propane in Jacksonville, Florida

Southern Propane based in Jacksonville, Florida, has been acquired by Blossman Gas, Inc.  Its 2500 customers will join Blossman’s customer base of 150,000. In addition, Blossman will be servicing their Jacksonville-based autogas customers from the new store.
Blossman Gas Propane Truck

Southern Propane has been in business for 34 years in the Jacksonville market. Six of its employees will be joining the Blossman Gas team. 

“We are happy to bring our companies together,” noted David Reynolds, COO of Blossman Gas. “This is the 5th acquisition Blossman has made in the past twelve months and our 74th store in our footprint. We will continue to honor Southern Propane’s long tradition of exceptional customer service in the Jacksonville area. This acquisition fits well into our strategy of growth and acquiring quality propane companies in the eastern half of the United States.”

Blossman's newly acquired Southern Propane location will remain at 5923 Soutel Drive in Jacksonville, Florida. Blossman Propane Gas, Appliance & Service serves customers in 12 states and has been providing propane and propane appliances, sales, installation and service to families throughout the Southeast and Mid Atlantic for more than 60 years.

Propane Education & Research Council Recognizes Friendswood, Texas Middle School for Improving Student Health and Safety With Propane School Buses

Friendswood Junior High, CleanFUEL USA, and Tucker Perkins from the Propane Education and Research Council recently celebrated the implementation of the school's propane-powered school bus fleets. In 2012, Friendswood Junior High began transitioning their bus fleet to alternative fuel, propane autogas. Today, 12 of its 50 buses run on propane, with three more Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2 buses on order. CleanFUEL USA and school bus manufacturer, Thomas Built, have partnered on C2 buses powered by the CleanFUEL USA Liquid Propane Injection (LPI) system.
PERC Grant Friendswood Jr. High Propane School Bus

The Propane Education & Research Council presented a $2,500 grant to Friendswood Junior High School toward its effort to improve students’ health and safety with the new green fleet. The donation is part of the Council’s new campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of transitioning away from diesel. PERC has partnered with journalist and former teacher Jenna Bush Hager and the nonprofit Adopt a Classroom to donate more than $30,000 nationwide to teachers at schools adopting propane buses.

Transportation Director Mike Jones said he’s pushing for an all-propane fleet. For Friendswood, “it’s a complete win-win,” Jones said.

“The fuel is cheaper, the infrastructure is simpler and it’s cleaner for the environment,” said Jones. “The new diesel models come with the after-treatment systems on the exhaust,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about any of that with the propane.”

Across the United States, a total of more than 7,000 buses have transitioned to propane. “Making the switch to propane-powered buses is a no-brainer for school districts,” said Curtis Donaldson, founder and managing director of CleanFUEL USA. “Schools are saving thousands in fuel costs but more importantly, students are reaping the benefits; propane buses eliminate the amount of diesel exhaust fumes as well as running quieter, meaning a cleaner and less chaotic ride for everyone.”

(Pictured left to right: Dana Drew, Friendswood Junior High School Principal, Trish Hanks, Friendswood Superintendent, Tucker Perkins, Propane Education and Research Council presents grant.)

Ray Murray, Inc. acquires Best & Langston, Inc. of Goldsboro, NC

Ray Murray, Inc. (RMI) announced on Oct. 1, 2015, the purchase of Best & Langston, Inc., a leading Hearth, Heating & Leisure Products Distributor based in Goldsboro, NC. The addition of Best & Langston makes RMI one of the largest Wholesale Distributors of Hearth, Grill, Propane and Compressed Gas Equipment in the U.S. RMI now has more than 80 employees, including 17 field sales professionals across 25 Eastern and Midwestern states including facilities in Mass., Penn., Mich., and now North Carolina.
Ray Murray Company team

According to RMI President & CEO, Mike Hopsicker (pictured in group photo, back right), “This acquisition combines two prominent and well respected equipment distributors. It will provide the ability to best serve specialty retailers, propane marketers and compressed gas customers from four strategic distribution centers across the Northeast, Midwest and now the Southeast.” (Also pictured in group photo are current RMI owners and partners Jim Murray (back left), Ray Murray Jr. (front left) and John Murray (front right) The company was founded in 1973 by Ray Murray Sr., photo, right, who retired in 1997.)

Best & Langston will operate as a division of RMI and will continue to do business as usual and service customers out of its existing Goldsboro, NC, facilities. All day-to-day customer interactions will remain the same. RMI has hired all Best & Langston employees. John Langston will remain with RMI as General Manager, Best & Langston Division. John will be responsible for all aspects of the acquired operations.

“The acquisition provides the opportunity to expand our product offerings and our inventory investments. It also enables us to share best practices across both companies that will enhance the ability of each company to provide exceptional service and achieve their respective success and growth plans," said John Langston, General Manager, Best & Langston Division.