Testing, one, two …

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As manufacturers scramble to get 2007 engines into the field, fleets want to be sure they’ll have adequate testing time to avoid problems they encountered in 2002 – and, potentially, some brand new ones.

Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series of articles on what to expect from 2007 engines, in terms of maintenance, durability, fuel economy and overall cost. (See “Clearing the Air: Filtering diesel,” April 2005).

It was barely two years ago that the Technology & Maintenance Council held its first Diesel Summit to address emissions and equipment concerns. The industry was freshly reeling from the effects of ’02 emissions regulations, which resulted in reduced fuel economy, durability issues and high underhood temperatures, due largely to the use of cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) to curb emissions.

Faced with the prospect of much tighter emissions regulations for ’07, Joe Stianche, fleet manager for Sanderson Farms, spoke for many at the meeting when he said, “We’re just now eating ’02. Mikey ain’t gonna eat this twice,” referring to the omnivorous kid of Life Cereal ad fame.

No choice, just concerns
But, like it or not, everyone eventually is going to have to belly up to the ’07 engine bar, and the concerns are serious. Consider that:

  • ’07 engines will use higher levels of EGR, except for Caterpillar’s, which will use a second-generation of its ACERT technology. This likely will mean even higher underhood temperatures;
  • The new engines will use a diesel particulate filter (DPF), which won’t be cheap and will require periodic maintenance to prevent performance and fuel economy losses due to exhaust backpressure;
  • Ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel must be used, since combustion of sulfur creates particulate matter, which can poison DPFs. The new fuel will cost more, and likely have fewer BTUs than current fuel, thus causing increased consumption, at a time when fuel prices already have hit record levels. Moreover, depending on geographic area, the fuel still may not be available for some fleets who would like time to test the new engines. More on that later;
  • A new engine oil, code-named PC-10, must be used, since the ash found in today’s oils can plug DPFs. And it will have to be more resistant to thermal breakdown, since ’07 engines will run hotter. However, the new oil isn’t scheduled to be available until mid-2006.

Given that so much is still up in the air, how can fleets be sure that the new engines will be tested adequately?

‘We’ll be ready,’ say engine makers
Despite testing challenges, engine manufacturers are confident that the job will be done right. According to Greg Gauger, director of on-highway power systems at Caterpillar, test engines went to OEMs in January, and those engines went out to test fleets. “We are going to build a significant number of engines in the July-August timeframe for OEMs to get into customer fleets,” he says. “Those will probably start seeing service in September.”

While he acknowledges that ULSD has been a challenge, “We have taken some steps to help our customers get the fuel they need to properly test the engines,” adds Gauger. “And the oil companies are helping. There are many customers that run dedicated routes, and they have been installing fueling stations as an interim solution.”

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Meanwhile, Cummins, working with International Truck & Engine, has had a field-test evaluation program with about 20 major fleet customers since the beginning of this year, says spokesperson Cyndi Nigh. “We’ve made arrangements with certain fleets, based on duty cycle, to have ULSD fuel available,” she says. “The object is to optimize the integration of the proven engine design with the new Cummins Particulate Filter and to fine-tune calibrations and certain performance parameters.”

According to Tim Tindall, director of 2007 emissions projects for Detroit Diesel, the company will team with the Freightliner Group to provide 50 trucks powered by the ’07 Series 60 engines to fleet customers across the country. In addition, he says, there will be several MBE 900 and 4000 engines available for fleet testing.

Tindall adds, however, that the availability of unofficial PC-10 oil is highly dependant on each oil company, which can make testing coordination very difficult. Also, he says, the new oil’s formulation is likely to change as producers refine their products throughout next year. Nonetheless, he concludes, the testing program hopefully will build customer confidence in the performance, reliability and fuel economy of the new engines, and afford customers the opportunity to build experience with DPFs.

“We do not currently have any ’07 engines in customers’ hands,” says Mack spokesperson John Walsh. “We plan to continue internal testing, and to initiate customer testing by the end of this year.” Those customers, he adds, will be selected based on all the environments in which Mack trucks typically run. “Since the DPF is the most significant technology change, we will also be targeting a range of duty cycles and some cold climates, to assure effective operation and regeneration,” he says. “We also need to target routes where we can assure a supply of ULSD fuel.

“We’ll meet with these customers regularly,” Walsh continues, “to get feedback on how the engines are performing. Once the test period is over, we’ll tear down the engines and associated components to assess wear patterns and the like, and to evaluate overall performance.”

According to Walsh, the reason for relatively late customer testing is that Mack wants to provide engines that are as close as possible to final production versions. That way, “The value of the data gathered will be much higher both to us and our customers.”

Volvo, whose engines are closely related to Mack’s, also will not initiate customer testing until the end of this year, according to Jim McNamara, senior manager of communications. Like Mack, the company will choose test fleets on the basis of operating environments and duty cycles the engines will experience in everyday operation.

“We can predict durability based on past experience and our accelerated durability testing,” says McNamara. And when fleet testing commences, “We’ll ask fleets to carefully monitor fuel consumption and other engine performance characteristics, such as drivability, engine response, underhood environment, the cooling system and oil change intervals.

“Of course, we will tear down the engines and other components at the end of the test period and perform careful evaluations of wear patterns.”

‘We’re not sure,’ say fleets
Although Schneider National currently is not testing any ’07 engines, “We’ll have some Cats and Detroits before the end of the year,” says Steve Duley, vice president of purchasing. “And we’ll get some Cummins engines during the first half of next year.

“The things we’ll be looking for right away include driver reaction – how does it pull, how does it sound, how easy is it to start, as well as feedback on any breakdowns. Also, we’ll put the engines on oil analysis. We want to prove out extended drains.”

Duley is concerned, however, about the availability of ULSD fuel. “We may have to limit where we can test and may not get the answers we want as quickly as we want them. We’ve learned from past experience that there is a lot of risk in new and different technology.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was to establish a ULSD corridor for ’07 engine testing, but “We’re so close to having ULSD available nationally, that we didn’t think [the mandated fuel corridor] was necessary,” says EPA spokesperson John Millett. “Plus, we’ve beefed up incentives for refiners for early ULSD deliveries.”

The short time available for testing before the new engines become a fact of life is the biggest concern to Marty Fletcher, director of technology and training for U.S. Xpress.

“There are only a few engines available for testing,” he says, “and almost 18 months of real-world testing is needed – six months for the equipment break-in period, and 12 more to cover all climatic changes.” In reality, most fleets will be looking at a 12-month test period at best.

Other testing concerns cited by Fletcher include ULSD availability, the lack of field training, minimal information for fleet services facilities and, at least initially, parts availability. Plus, “There’s no current certification calibration for use of 2007 engines with automated manual transmissions,” he says.

“The basic fear of the unknown is what we’re looking at again.”

Schneider National: Engine costs met forecasts
Schneider National’s net forecast of the additional costs imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions standards on engines built after October 2002 has been dead on, but line items within that total varied significantly. Speaking at a meeting of the National Accounting and Finance Council, Steve Duley, Schneider’s vice president of purchasing, said that in the company’s August 2001 forecast that the emissions regulations would result in a $20,000 increase in costs over the 6-year, 720,000-mile life of a tractor – or 2.8 cents per mile.

Given the surge in diesel prices, it’s not surprising that Schneider underestimated the cost of lost fuel economy by $2,000. Schneider also underestimated maintenance costs by the same magnitude. The Green Bay, Wis.-based carrier has found that oil drain intervals are 33 percent shorter than pre-2002 engines. Plus, the carrier saw some early failures of the most significant EGR components, including VGT turbo, EGR valve, VPOD, sensors, pipes and EGR coolers.

Duley notes, however, that experience with newer engines is better, so the maintenance costs should come down for later engine models before the next technology change in 2007.

Offsetting the $4,000 underestimation is the surprising reality that today’s trucks are suffering no penalty in residual value, Duley says.

Avery Vise