Thomas R. Stover, Chief Technology Officer for Eaton Corp.’s vehicle operations, recently began his term as SAE International’s 2014-2016 Vice President–Commercial Vehicle. A 22-year member of SAE International, who joined Eaton in 2002 after 25 years with Cummins Engine Co., will be charged with providing leadership and continuity for the society’s commercial vehicle initiative and for ensuring that industry needs are integrated into the standards, events, and educational programs. In his current role at Eaton, Stover is responsible or technology, innovation, and engineering excellence for the Vehicle Group worldwide. SAE Magazines Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan recently spoke with Stover about his new role with SAE and the current state of the industry.
• As a longtime member of SAE, what have you gained from your experience, and what do you tell young people is the value of SAE?
Personally, it’s a sense of connectivity with the industry. It’s allowed me to keep up with developments, provided forums for interchange of ideas and information, and it’s provided me with a network of professional associates. I’m continually surprised by how valuable that’s been to me, both in terms of my development as an engineer, in my professional life as an engineering leader. What I tell young engineers is that in order for them to really find their full potential, they need a way to influence events beyond the boundaries of their own organization. Professional organizations like SAE are an ideal way to do that, whether it’s through standards development, committee work, organizing sessions, or being part of local section organizations. Engineers that understand that and take that to heart are the ones that really do begin to influence not only externally but internally as well.
• SAE's Commercial Vehicle sector encompasses both the on- and off-highway segments; do the trends in those industries often align?
There are a lot of common elements. When I look at the history of the commercial vehicle industry as it relates to engineering over the past 30-40 years it’s been driven by the march on criteria pollutants, NOx and particulate matter. Lately, the same has been true of the off-highway industry with the advent of Tier 1, 2, 3, and 4 off-road emissions in the U.S. Many of the same technologies have been applied. One of the things that’s new now is that the advent of fuel-economy regulations in the U.S. in the commercial vehicle industry. What’s going to define the challenge for the next 20-30 years is how do we improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas production in the commercial vehicle space. Ultimately, I think that’s going to translate into the off-road space as well, even though that’s not really being broadly discussed at this point.
• What can SAE do to help find solutions to the fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas challenges?
We certainly want SAE to be an asset to the industry, but I think SAE has to find the right way to participate as those regulations, procedures, and processes unfold. Some of the things that are certainly possible are things like standards for aerodynamic testing for heavy-duty trucks, for example. That’s a key piece of the fuel-economy regulation. It’s a very complex and demanding test environment, and it’s an area that really calls for the development of standards. There are a number of other activities that relate to new testing approaches and new ways of complying with the regulation that I think SAE could definitely play a key role.
• Innovation plays a key role in your position as Chief Technology Officer, what are the keys to fostering that innovation among your staff at Eaton?
We really define our space in the market by our ability to innovate and provide differentiated solutions for our customers. In the Vehicle Group, we take a very strategic approach to innovation. We have a dedicated team of advanced development engineers that are charged with creating a certain growth potential each year. We have dedicated innovation events where we bring together large cross-functional groups of people, and that process has been consistently producing growth potential on the order of 10% every year. The fact that we put focus on it, support it, and talk about it at the leadership level gives it a lot of visibility in the organization and it energizes the entire engineering organization to know that the business leadership is behind the work and supporting it and actively helping it move toward realization.
• What can SAE International do to help foster innovation in the commercial vehicle industry at large?
SAE does a number of things in the commercial vehicle space to foster innovation. The North American International Powertrain Conference, the ComVEC conference, there are a number of things that allow professionals, technical leaders, and business leaders to share ideas. That’s a pretty important thing. The more we have a chance to at least understand the big ideas, the macro trends that are driving the industry, the more chance we have to kind of drive the right kind of activities within our own organization.
• Eaton is longtime host of the Supermileage competition; what has been your experience with that event?
I could not be prouder of the fact that Eaton has hosted the Supermileage event at our Marshall, MI, proving grounds for 35 years this year. The competition has really become a proving ground for some of the finest young minds in our engineering schools. It’s just incredible when you talk to the students the energy that they have for it. It’s a very difficult, challenging competition, but the students have unbounded enthusiasm. The teams come from all over North America as well as internationally. It’s all in the spirit of competition and learning. It’s exciting to be involved in something like that.