Turning engineers on—and off

  • 08-Aug-2011 04:17 EDT
DTNA wind tunnel testing.jpg

Aerodynamics and other vehicle-related topics will be discussed during an Executive Leadership Panel focused on improved fuel economy/freight efficiency. Wind-tunnel testing at DTNA is pictured.

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is providing executive leadership for SAE International’s 2011 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress (ComVEC), slated for Sept. 13-14, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL.

Serving as Co-Chairs for the Executive Planning Council and representing DTNA are Dr. Wilfried Achenbach, Senior Vice President, Engineering & Technology, and Landon K. Grogan, Director – Engineering Services & Vehicle Integration, a 30-plus-year member of SAE.

Assistant Editor Ryan Gehm recently spoke with both Achenbach and Grogan via phone to gain their insights on how the event is shaping up and, importantly, the main technology topics to be discussed at this year’s ComVEC.

SAE: How will this year’s ComVEC be different from those in past years?

Achenbach: In terms of industry conditions, we are cautiously optimistic that it’s improving. But with the greenhouse gas regulations, with all the focus on carbon dioxide, it’s really a changed pattern I think compared to the years before.

Grogan: This is a thing that I commented on when we accepted the handover last year to take over the sponsorship position this year—for nine years we as an industry have been facing these emissions regulations [for NOx and particulates] that have been driving up the price of the vehicle and the costs on our side. From a customer’s point of view, even though the air is getting better, they couldn’t really see any improvement on their business side. Now we’re moving into an era of greenhouse gas regulations that will hopefully have the effect of increasing fuel economy so that there’s a business advantage for our customers. So that’s quite a change for the industry and that [will be reflected in this event].

SAE: Are you encouraging your staff to attend and to contribute either in tech papers or on panels?

Grogan: Absolutely. We’ve encouraged them all along, and we also have representation on the engine side with our compatriots at Detroit Diesel. So they’ve got papers, and we’ve got papers coming from our part of the organization. We hope to have a pretty good contingent of representation from DTNA at the meeting as well. One of the other comments that Ryan Jefferis [of DTNA], who’s the technical committee lead this year, made is that even though the number of papers this year didn’t go over the record set last year, he felt like the content was very good—a lot better quality papers. So we’re looking forward to improved content in the event, and hopefully we’ll be a part of that.

SAE: Personally, what do you hope to get out of the event?

Achenbach: I think this is a very important industry event, and I am really glad even as a newbie to be able to lead it. It has additional value for me being new to this industry in North America; for the last six years I worked in Europe in the commercial vehicle industry [and prior to that on the Passenger Car side of the business at Daimler and Chrysler]. For me it’s a great way of getting to know people and gain some networking into the industry here. And as an industry-wide event it’s a great way to learn from each other—suppliers as well as OEMs. The SAE ComVEC is one of the arenas where we really can exchange opinions and have an open discussion without falling into those traps where we’re not allowed to talk about competitive stuff. That is very important.

SAE: What value do you see ComVEC providing to young engineers?

Achenbach: I think this event could be a traction point for the industry for young engineers, especially compared to the passenger-car side. Most people relate easily to passenger cars and see them as technology-driven; sometimes our industry is perceived to be a little bit old-fashioned, and that’s not really true. If you look to today’s trucking with everything you need on the telematics side, the focus on fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, I think there’s more technology today in a commercial vehicle than in many passenger cars. It’s important to show this to young engineers really to get them attracted to our industry. This [event], for us, is an opportunity to do that, especially to people at universities and colleges.

With on-highway the focus is very strong on fuel efficiency and telematics in the future, and with off-highway it’s on robustness and versatility, so I think both aspects are very interesting for young engineers. If you work in a passenger-car environment, you always have to deal with platforms which have 300,000 to 500,000 units per year. So looking at the work environment, it’s very much focused—everybody has his piece in the setup. With our smaller volume, the work setup in my opinion is much more interesting because young engineers get a chance to cover way wider ground.

SAE: What is the central theme for this year’s Congress?

Grogan: We came into this last year with a recommendation that the appropriate theme would be CO2 and greenhouse gas reduction—and so the impact on fuel economy, or freight efficiency since we’re talking about commercial vehicles. This is a very timely thing. Again, it actually has a benefit for each bottom line in the operation of the truck. So I think this is a very interesting topic for everybody in the commercial-vehicle industry.

Achenbach: It’s very much in line with what our customers want to see. And with greenhouse gas [standards for] 2014, we will do the first step and it’s not only legislation on the engine side [as] in the past. Now it brings in the vehicle side, too. We will see another step in 2017, and from my point of view, this will not be the last step.

With the emissions up to now [NOx and particulates] we had to deal with every company [individually] because we have a global footprint and the emissions regulations were different in Asia compared to Europe compared to North America, which didn’t make it too easy to provide engine and vehicle technology suited for all those areas. We should try to avoid these same mistakes again on greenhouse gas. It doesn’t need to be one standard, but it should be a closer standard than we have seen it in the past.

SAE: What are the main technical issues to be discussed this year?

Achenbach: The setup will be along four major topics. One is we have a Global Executive Leadership Panel (Sept. 13, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.) mostly dealing with engine, engine components, and challenges we expect to see on the engine side. A second panel will focus very much on the vehicle arena and vehicle integration (Sept. 14, 3:45-5:15 p.m.) We will talk about freight efficiency, which has to deal with improving fuel efficiency on the one hand but also reducing the weight of the vehicles where we are able to increase payload. The whole spectrum of opportunities we see on the vehicle will be discussed: aerodynamics, rolling resistance, optimizing auxiliary loads, etc., so it’s really a lot of ground to cover.

And when you talk about the vehicle side, we are not dealing with let’s say 5% fuel-efficiency improvement; we are down to each measure has 1%, 1.5%, or even below 1% improvement…I think the time of big steps is over, so you have to work on all different facets of the product to get at the end of the day 5% improvement. That’s a very important message, and I think we will benefit from having a cross-industry discussion at ComVEC.

Another arena will be commercial-vehicle integration for military bases and homeland defense (Blue Ribbon Panel, Sept. 14 at 9:45-11:15 a.m.) And the last panel will focus on electronics (Electronics Executive Panel, Sept. 13 at 4:45-6:15 p.m.) We are well aware of the increasing role of electronics; there is no engine or aftertreatment system today without electronic controls. And there’s an increasing future with lots of benefits if you look to predictive technologies, to telematics.

(Go to www.sae.org/events/cve/ to find more information on the Executive Panel topics as well as on technical sessions and more.)

SAE: What are some of the mutual challenges facing the on- and off-highway industries?

Achenbach: Looking to technology development, especially lightweighting and aerodynamics, most of those developments take place in the on-highway side of the business. The typical approach in most cases is over time [technology] waterfalls from on-highway to off-highway. We have a few areas where we see quite the [opposite], like looking at hybrids and natural gas; we see more of that from the Class 6-7 in distribution applications. Here we’ve started moving from the off-highway or distribution [areas] back to the on-highway side.

Grogan: [Off-highway] particulate and NOx level requirements lagged the EPA on-highway requirements, so we’ve had quite a few interesting discussions with some of our compadres in that industry about what our experience was and to provide them with some lessons learned in the development process, and I think that process continues.

If I’m an off-highway military vehicle [engineer] and I’m looking at my logistics footprint of supplying fuel to the vehicle for the frontlines, then fuel economy is going to be a pretty big part of what my interest is. So I think to some extent these things will matriculate their way into these off-highway areas, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the particular situation.

Hybridization is one area where the military could really benefit, not only for the fuel economy but also the electrification of the vehicle. Right now they’re sort of limited by the technology [batteries, in particular] and the availability of technology. If things happen on the on-highway side to increase volumes, that’s going to benefit them too.

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