Beyond diagnostics

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When Detroit Diesel (DDC) introduced the industry’s first electronically controlled, unit fuel-injection system in 1985, it quickly became apparent that there would be no going back to mechanical engine-control systems.

DDEC (Detroit Diesel Electronic Control) provided a closed-loop, pulse-width-modulated method of delivering the precise amount of fuel needed under given circumstances. Not only did it make fuel economy gains possible, but it also was the beginning of truck serial-communications technology, which has since evolved, allowing vehicle-wide monitoring and control.

In addition to controlling engine functions and storing fault information for retrieval by service technicians, today’s electronic control modules (ECMs) from major diesel-engine manufacturers provide the following functions, aimed at helping fleet managers improve overall efficiency, safety and equipment longevity:

  • They can be calibrated by users to set parameters, such as horsepower (within mechanical limits), rpm, top speed limit, top speed in “xth” gear, idle time and shut-down conditions.
  • They can collect and provide real-time and average data on mpg, gears used, engine and vehicle speed, operating and idling time, cruise-control use and brake-event data. In-cab display of data is often used to make drivers aware of their performance.
  • Their open architecture lets users download data to a PC and fold it into other information systems. In addition, the SAE J1587/1708 industry-standard data link allows a connection between ECMs and mobile communications systems, so ECM-sourced data can be transmitted to a fleet’s or vendor’s facility while a truck is on the road.
  • Companion software downloads the ECM information and processes it into standard and customized chart, graphs or reports.
  • Here’s how some forward-thinking fleets are taking advantage of these capabilities.

    Not just for megafleets
    “We use our Detroit Diesel Data Summaries mainly for driver training and improving fuel economy,” says Jim Frieze, director of equipment and maintenance at O&S Transport in Springfield, Mo. The 48-state, dry-van carrier runs 145 company-owned power units and contracts with around 115 owner-operators.

    “It’s easy to look at a report generated from DDEC data and see how a driver is doing and then make recommendations on how he can improve,” says Frieze. “And we’ve established benchmarks. For example, the percentage of idle time should be in the single digits, and cruise-control use should be over 50 percent That’s very achievable.”

    Electronic control helps O&S reinforce its drivers’ fuel-efficient driving habits. “DDEC allows a progressive reward system. We’ve set the parameters so that if a driver is meeting his fuel-economy performance goals, the electronics will raise his top speed limit.”

    Among many other capabilities, Mack’s VIP can estimate arrival time based on trip distance, road speed and target arrival time.

    Frieze also uses data gathered by DDEC to identify unsafe driving habits. For example, “We can tell, almost to the moment, when a driver has been coasting and overspeeding down a hill. We also monitor hard brake applications – any deceleration of 7 mph or more per second. That type of information is cross-referenced to our accident data to correlate unsafe driving practices with claims. The important thing is to get feedback to the driver.”

    Frieze currently downloads information from DDEC once a month via cable and a PC, but he’s excited about DDC’s new IRIS (infrared information system). Developed by Vehicle Enhancement Systems, Rock Hill, S.C., IRIS uses infrared light beams to transfer data between a truck’s engine ECU and other onboard computers and a base unit at a fuel island, shop entrance or terminal gate.

    The base unit continuously transmits an infrared signal, via an optical “eyeball.” In turn, each IRIS-equipped truck has a similar, marker-light-size eyeball on either side of the cab.
    When a truck enters a base station’s field of view, IRIS wakes up and automatically downloads the ECU’s data in a matter of minutes, says Tom Diefenbaker, DDC’s director of electronic products business development.

    “You can bet IRIS will be on our next batch of new trucks,” says O&S’ Frieze. “The quicker we can get data, the quicker we can identify and solve problems.”

    Safely on time
    “We put safety first, and schedule second,” says Jack Morris, director of maintenance for Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Auburn, Wash. “But people are people, and drivers will sometimes operate their trucks unsafely trying to make up time they may have lost at the last truck stop.”

    The Western LTL carrier operates 400 power units, running a 60/40 mix of Caterpillar and Detroit engines. Cat’s reporting system is called FIS (Fleet Information Software). “Both systems will give you the same information,” says Morris, “just in slightly different formats.”

    “We watch rpm and vehicle speed very carefully. For example, if there’s a time interval where the engine’s been idling, but vehicle speed is, say, 75 mph, something doesn’t add up, and we know the driver’s been coasting down a hill. Or, we might see 75 mph at 2300 rpm, and we know he’s been overspeeding down a hill in gear. That’s also bad, because our engines are programmed to cut fuel above 65 mph, and running the engine at high rpm with no fuel tends to damage injectors.”

    Oak Harbor’s operations can also use ECM-generated data to determine why a load wasn’t delivered on time. “We might see that a truck sat mysteriously for two hours, 337 miles into a trip,” Morris chuckles. “Hey, isn’t that right about where that driver’s girlfriend lives?”
    “We don’t really use the data as a club to beat drivers,” concludes Morris. “As long as the load is delivered, and the truck was operated safely, operations says it’s OK. But we can always do better, and this data can definitely help.”

    Getting that data from Cat engines, according to Dave Semlow, Cat’s marketing manager for the truck engine division, will be easier with this fall’s introduction of Pocket Tec, a software package for Palm handheld devices. A fleet version will capture and display data that fleet managers now use a PC to read, while a driver version will allow drivers to monitor their own performance, in real time, on the road.

    Driver display units are often used to make drivers aware of their performance (Cummins unit shown).

    Skipping the formalities
    Joseph Fleming, president of Falcon Transportation, says his company uses ECM-generated data for “informal driver training.” Falcon is a Youngstown, Ohio-based truckload carrier serving the automotive industry, with flatbeds for steel and vans for auto parts, from Chicago eastward, and up and down the East Coast.

    Falcon’s technicians pull data from the company’s 1,000 Cummins-powered tractors at every major service (28,000 miles), which equates to once every three to four months. “We’ll watch things like mpg and idling time and, if necessary, simply have a talk with drivers who are out of line,” says Fleming. “That’s assuming their vehicles have no mechanical problems.”

    Fleming has only one complaint with the system. “We need a better, faster way to extract data from the ECMs, so we can do it more consistently. It’s hard to justify paying someone to walk around the yard with a cable and a PC.”

    “That’s something we’re working toward,” says Cliff Putterill, manager, Cummins engine data information systems, but there’s no set introduction date.

    Cummins has, however, recently made some other enhancements to its information-gathering products. Cummins and ProMiles Software Development Corp. have introduced an interface between Cummins RoadRelay 4 (Cummins’ trip recorder system that pulls data from the engine ECM) with Global Positioning System capability and ProMiles Fuel Tax reporting package.

    “It gives fleet managers the ability to easily calculate fuel tax when using RoadRelay 4 with GPS,” Putterill says. The RoadRelay 4 with GPS and ProMiles Fuel Tax system must be integrated with Cummins Inform or Inspec vehicle and fleet management software. It automatically provides state-by-state and vehicle-by-vehicle fuel tax information, as well as trip sheets.

    Once RoadRelay 4 data is downloaded into Inform or Inspec, it is then exported to Cummins PowerTrip and ProMiles Fuel Tax software. Fuel Tax then automatically populates data fields with the information from RoadRelay 4. And because Fuel Tax is used by IFTA auditors in all Canadian provinces and most U.S. states, a business can be sure that its trucks’ mileage reports will match those generated by the IFTA auditors, according to Putterill.

    Information in bulk
    Jim Kennedy, director of maintenance for McKenzie Tank Lines, finds Mack Trucks’ VMAC (Vehicle Management and Control) and Vehicle Information Profiler (VIP) to be valuable training tools in teaching drivers proper shifting and accelerating, and cruise-control applications. Tallahassee, Fla.-based McKenzie owns 551 Mack tractors and hauls bulk materials throughout the United States and Canada.

    Aside from fuel economy, Kennedy monitors predefined vehicle and driver events, such as panic braking, and engine and vehicle overspeeding. So, by matching service-brake application data against vehicle speeds above 50 mph, for instance, he can determine if a driver rides the brake or tailgates.

    Kennedy doesn’t use the information to “beat up” drivers, however. “I believe in doing things in a positive way,” he says. “Drivers are human beings we hire to do a job. Our job is to help them by showing them where they’re costing the company money.”

    McKenzie is part of Mack’s partnership in the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI), and the information gathered by VMAC and VIP’s two ECMs – engine and cab-mounted – comes in handy in the company’s IVI field testing. “One of the things we’re testing is smart cruise control,” Kennedy says. “Mack’s system helps by telling us how much time drivers actually spend in the cruise mode.”

    VIP’s theft deterrence feature, which requires a driver to enter a password before operating the vehicle, is another plus for McKenzie. “It recently saved me a truck,” Kennedy recounts. “The thief had cut the satellite cable, so we couldn’t track the vehicle.