MAKING THE GRADE

The 2016 PowerTorque Technology and Innovation Awards

Who could have imagined 20 years ago that profitability in the transport industry would depend largely on technology to produce sustainability and longevity?

There’s no decrying the importance of the driver in the transport equation, but, instead of leaving it to the person behind the wheel to get the job done on their own, the introduction of satellite tracking, telematics that transmit engine and driveline information back to base, and the overall involvement of electronic management systems has redefined what we do and how we do it.

The ability of a truck to communicate with its maker sounds a bit like a prayer meeting, but this two-way communication doesn’t depend on any religious intervention; it merely relies on a suitable telephone or satellite connection.

In a country with total blanket internet and telephone coverage, a head office can monitor every aspect of the vehicle, from engine and driveline operating parameters to the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) associated with temperature control of compartments in fridge vans. A geofence system can confirm when a vehicle arrives in a depot to load or unload and automatically generate invoicing to complete the financial side of the business.

With total communication systems in place, a truck heading from Sydney to Perth will be able to accurately predict its arrival time, determine if it needs to be serviced along the route, pre-book itself in for a maintenance schedule and advise the service team in advance what parts it might need.

In the United States there’s a suggestion that truck companies in the future will not be able to justify having in-house maintenance facilities. Trucks and trailers will be maintained under contract repair and maintenance agreements through the supplying manufacturer dealer network, and fleet sizes will vary even on a weekly basis by having in place a flexible rental agreement that increases or decreases vehicle numbers according to the work available.

In this scenario, the driver will be employed by the truck manufacturer and will be supplied fully trained and familiar with the equipment to the end user.

We are, fortunately, a long way from implementing autonomous trucks on Australian highways, but we are not that far from adding technological support that assists the driver in making the right decisions through their working day to achieve the best in vehicle performance and fuel economy.

In determining the recipients of the annual PowerTorque Technology and Innovation Awards for 2016 we have looked at what is probably the single significant change in vehicle purchase decisions of the past decade. Engine technology has changed, and with low-sulphur fuels the engine manufacturers have reduced emissions, improved power production and reduced parasitic power loss caused by ancillary equipment.

Air compressors, power steer units or electrical steering systems no longer operate at full demand all the time. They become involved when necessary, and, consequently, reduce the constant load on the engine when not in use to the benefit of fuel economy.

For some manufacturers the advent of automated manual transmissions (AMTs) has resulted in a total shift of driver culture, and companies such as Volvo Group Australia now supply the I-Shift or mDRIVE transmission as a standard item, shifting the inclusion of a manual gearbox to an optional change on the order form.

Early AMT technology was pretty basic in comparison with the ability of the latest units, and it’s this generational change that leads us to the two companies that in the Australian market have led that change.

Eaton has traditionally been the provider of the transmission that outlasts Australian operating conditions. What may not be common knowledge is that the tremendous efficiency of the latest UltraShift PLUS Eaton Roadranger transmissions is the result of local Australian research and development completed by Eaton’s own technical team in Melbourne.

The latest versions of the Australian influenced UltraShift PLUS transmissions benefit from software controls developed in Australia, and, as PowerTorque’s ongoing road test programme has shown, the technical ability of these latest transmissions complement even the most proficient driver.

In recent months, PowerTorque has attended briefings in North America on the latest versions of the Volvo Group’s I-Shift and mDRIVE transmissions that now include two crawler gears to improve performance in heavy haul applications.

Enabling the transmission to operate effectively and safely at high gross loads while manoeuvring at speeds at as low as 0.5 km/h is an immense achievement. But the benefits of the latest AMTs do not stop there.

Using satellite positioning and predictive adaptive cruise control enable a vehicle to predict whether additional power output is needed to crest a gradient without downshifting, thereby saving fuel and maintaining momentum. The software programme can memorise over 4500 individual routes, adding to its knowledge and being able to implement that advantage in the quest for peak fuel efficiency.

PowerTorque Magazine is pleased to recognise two major companies, with duplicate awards to both Eaton Transmissions and Volvo Group of the PowerTorque Technology and Innovation Award for 2016 for the UltraShift PLUS transmission from Eaton Australia and the I-Shift and mDRIVE transmissions featuring crawler gears from Volvo Group.

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