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A Sneak Peek At The Latest In Trucking Engine Technology

We recently took a closer look at what some of the oils of the future might look like, but what about the technology underlying the engine that requires the oil? The fact is, there’s a whole host of new engines and engine technology hitting the scene as fleets and governments alike expect better fuel economy and higher levels of reliability from future big rigs.

As a result, manufacturers have answered the call. There’s a whole new crop of engines being released that burn cleaner, use less fuel and last a lot longer than older models.

It was last year that most heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers began unveiling new models, substantially revamping the current crop to meet new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) GHG17 emissions regulations. GHG17 was the final step as part of the EPA’s CO2 reduction plan.

And although a new administration has taken office, with a new head at the EPA, engine makers are moving forward, using the next few years to figure out how to get even greater efficiency out of model-year 2020 vehicles and beyond. After all, that’s only two-and-a-half years away now.

Time flies, doesn’t it?

Behind the Numbers

When it comes to 2017 heavy-duty diesel engines, what can we expect from this model-year? Limits on 2017 engines come in at 460 grams/bhp-hr. For a broader sense of what this means, it’s around 4.52 gallons/bhp-hr.

You may be reading that but still wondering what exactly it means. Essentially, it means that engine makers will need to increase efficiency by anywhere from 7 to 20 percent compared with where the engines were just seven years ago, during model-year 2010.

While engine makers have had to squeeze greater efficiency out of their engines, they have also put a renewed focus on reliability, especially considering who their customers are. We are talking about the largest fleets in the country.

But how did they do it?

Analyzing the Technique

Meeting the new goals required a new level of technical expertise, one in which engine manufacturers were up to meeting. Whether they began employing more advanced electronic controls or making hard mechanical changes to the engine itself, the engine of today does not look like the engine of yesterday.

Whether we’re talking about new injection systems, novel new piston designs, higher compression ratios or even aftertreatment systems, there are a ton of different ways new big rig engines have evolved.

Fleets and truck owners benefit from lighter engines that use less fuel yet offer more horsepower. All of this combines for a better experience for everyone, from the engine manufacturer to the end user: the truck drivers themselves.

And while the jury is still out on which variant is the best, we want to take some time to speak to the fleet technicians in our reading audience today.

Are you ready to get wonky with engine technology?

Cummins Moves the Line

If there is a name usually associated with innovation in truck component design, it’s Cummins. Last year, Cummins rolled out a couple different GHG17-compliant engine variants.

The two variants focused on two things specifically: Fuel economy for one and performance for the other. Although they are technically almost the same engine, the version focused on fuel economy has several different upgrades to give it that extra boost in fuel consumption.

One specific change was to a wiring harness. Past models had left the possibility for water ingress, while the new one does not. Cummins also modified the turbocharger actuator and did a complete redesign on the recirculation cooler.

Aftertreatment systems used to vary greatly since OEMs used to package them all differently. Now, engine manufacturers can count on a simple, straight-down-the-pipe design that’s the same for every vehicle.

Much of the changes Cummins has made are internal, even if the aftertreatment system steals the show. They’ve even changed the hydrocarbon injector they connected to the diesel particulate filter.

The fact is, Cummins is innovating at the edge of engine design the same as they always have.

Detroit Diesel Double D Series

Owned by Daimler Trucks North America, the Detroit Diesel business unit has been hard at work on GHG17-compliant engines, and could even be said to have had one in production before the requirement was ever put into place.

Some changes to new variants include a longer oil drain maintenance interval stretched out to 50,000 miles. Detroit Diesel has also upgraded the capabilities built into its Integrated Power Management System (IPM). Now with its own acronym, IPMs are common on newer engines.

Detroit Diesel has modified their IPM to make it more tightly integrated with new transmissions. This is where powertrain upgrades also come into play. Upgraded transmissions help keep RPMs low and fuel savings high.

More savings come in the form of advanced predictive cruise control system and an integrated collision mitigation system called Detroit Assurance. There’s also a new electronic interface called Detroit Connect that can be built into the vehicle or accessed through an app on a mobile device.

Anyone using the app or viewing information in the panel can access a full diagnostic analysis of the truck via a virtual technician that lives inside the computer itself. Isn’t it amazing how far remote diagnostic systems have come in such a short period of time?

An International Flair

International, the company behind Navistar engines, recently unveiled a new 12.4L engine, basically saying they designed this thing from the ground up; or what the industry refers to as a “clean-sheet” design.

The main appeal of the new engine, labeled the Navistar A26, is weight. Not only is it 55 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the N13, but it comes in almost 700 pounds lighter than engines with only a couple more liters. There’s a big trade-off there, but without a performance sacrifice.

The A26 is rated for a 1.2-million-mile life and some models can get up to 475 horsepower and up to 1,750 pound-feet of torque. The best part? The engine retains its performance edge without sacrificing on fuel economy.

According to the company, the A26 is at least 5 percent more fuel efficient than the N13, even before you add on things like predictive cruise control and a variable geometry turbocharger. Engineers also took their hand to the mechanics of the engine, reducing friction between moving parts by utilizing an advanced new cylinder head and cooling module.

Paccar Hard at Work

Paccar – never one to rest on their laurels as their competitors innovate – has introduced a 2017 vehicle lineup that includes a whole slew of new displacement, horsepower, fuel efficiency and torque readings.

A big difference about Paccar’s new MX line is that they now deliver peak torque around 900 rpm, which is far better for situations in which the trucker downspeeds the driveline. Considering how big a topic downspeeding has become in recent years, this development comes as no surprise.

In addition to adjusting the peak torque level, Paccar has also modified the fuel injectors and engine pistons for greater fuel efficiency. But beyond physical changes, Paccar is also focusing on what kind of turbocharger they use – if any at all.

Depending on whether an engine comes in above or below 485 horsepower, some variants may not come with a single cylinder air compressor. When combined with a controlled variable displacement and cooling pump, this change goes a long way in eliminating internal engine drag and component friction.

Like so many others, Paccar is expecting these new models to be paired with GPS-based predictive cruise control, as Kenworth announced earlier in the year when they decided to upgrade to the new MX series engines.

Volvo Group Making Moves

On the final stop on our tour of the latest engine technologies, we come to Volvo, partnered with Mack. For 2017, they have released three new heavy-duty engine variants, all with an MP designation. They range from a 10.8 liter in the MP7 to a whopping 16.1 liters in the MP10.

Not only is each variant GHG17-compliant, but they offer a few interesting new innovations, the first being the addition of a rail fuel injection system. By using this system, precise injection timing allows for a complete burn with virtually no soot as a by-product of the combustion process.

Certain engine ratings on the MP line also come with a two-speed clutched coolant pump to lower parasitic engine loss. An optional turbocharger could also deliver an additional 30 – 50 horsepower through a fluid-coupled gearing system unique to that engine design.

The company sees this more through the lens of fuel efficiency than performance. Sure, you’re adding more horsepower, but what you are really doing is taking 30 – 50 horses of pressure off of the engine. With less work to do, more fuel is saved.

The Final Word

The fact is, no matter who holds the presidential office or what bills are passed in the halls of Congress, trucking companies will continue to innovate. After all, the market demands it.

Fortunately, fleets have more choice than ever in what truck they buy and what engine they spec for it. No matter what kind of route you run, newer, more efficient engines are here to stay.

Has your fleet jumped on the bandwagon yet and upgraded to more efficient engine technologies? If not, now is the time. Save on fuel and increase performance. Now that’s a win-win!

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