Vortex Generators: An Inexpensive Way to Improve Aerodynamics

Fuel Savings

There are many products available today that can help your fleet improve its fuel economy. Side skirts, boat tails, gap fairings and rolling-resistant tires can contribute to significant savings at the pump. However, all of these products are expensive. It could take more than a year for your fleet to generate a return on its investment into new tires or the latest aerodynamic device.

One way to save money on fuel without breaking your budget is to purchase vortex generators for your fleet. Originally developed for airplanes, vortex generators are small aerodynamic devices that can be positioned on a tractor or a trailer. The devices work in tandem to help maintain steady airflow when the truck is moving. This reduces wind resistance and aerodynamic “drag,” key factors in how much fuel trucks use. As explained in our article about aerodynamics, more than 50% of a tractor-trailer’s fuel use goes toward reducing drag when traveling at highway speeds.

The two leading vortex generators for commercial trucks today are Airtabs and VorBlade Cab and Trailer Systems. Both help reduce fuel consumption and many truck drivers maintain that the products also provide stability in windy or slick weather.

Working in Tandem to Reduce Drag

Developed by Canadian manufacturer Aeroserve Technologies Ltd., Airtab Fuel Savers are wishbone-shaped devices that can cut down on aerodynamic pressure on the cab and the trailer. Airtabs are designed to be mounted four inches apart from each other near the tractor-trailer gap and at the back of the trailer. The Airtabs create swirls of air that bridge the space between the tractor and trailer, and allow air to flow more smoothly in the back of the vehicle as well.

The makers of Airtab claim that carriers can save between 2% and 5% on fuel just by using Airtabs alone. The product is among the least expensive ways that fleet owners can improve aerodynamic performance. A single Airtab costs $2.75. A pack of 80 Airtabs retails at $220.

A Quick Return on Investment

VorBlade’s vortex generators were originally developed by physicists for the aviation industry. Re-designed for large trucks, the VorBlade Cab and Trailer System can reduce the impact of crosswinds by 60%. Research by the Texas Transportation Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program found that the full system can save as much as 9.5% on fuel consumption. VorBlade recommends that the product be installed on the cab and along the length of the trailer. Even when used only on the cab, VorBlade claims the devices can save as much as 3.76% on fuel.

With curved blades contained inside a rectangular structure, the VorBlade device looks quite different from an Airtab. Still, both products work similarly, as they are arranged in rows to cut down on turbulence around a truck. VorBlade promises that fuel savings from its product will deliver a return on investment within three months. An individual VorBlade device costs $7.90, while a fuel system for one tractor-trailer is priced at $875.

Smoother and Safer

Some truck drivers debate the overall impact that VorBlades or Airtabs have on fuel economy. However, most drivers agree that both products contribute to a significantly smoother and safer ride. The devices break down the curling airflow around a moving truck and reduce crosswinds. That improves the stability of the trailer in windy weather and makes it safer to change lanes. Vortex generators also reduce the amount of spray between the tractor and trailer in the rain and snow, making it easier for drivers to see through their side-view mirrors.

Sources: Aeroserve Technologies Ltd., VorBlade, Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Transportation Institute