In 2004, John Drake of Duplainville Transport took a calculated risk with four of his Peterbilts. That’s when Drake, fleet manager for Duplainville, agreed to test four Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ’07 spec’ engines from Caterpillar in his fleet.
At the time, neither Drake nor anyone else knew what sorts of performance and reliability issues might come up when the new engines—with their higher underhood temperatures, hotter exhausts, and diesel particulate filters (DPF)—started putting miles the road. Now that he’s had time to evaluate the four engines in revenue-producing service, what’s Drake’s verdict? Full speed ahead!
TAKING THE TEST
Duplainville Transport is the shipping subsidiary of Sussex, WI-based commercial printer Quad/Graphics, operating 90 company trucks and a similar number of owner-operator units. With printing plants in Wisconsin, New York, West Virginia, Georgia and Oklahoma, the company racks up a lot of miles in both hot and cold climates, on daily and weekly long and short-haul runs, making it an ideal test fleet for engine manufacturer Caterpillar. Specifically, Cat wanted to test its clean gas induction (CGI) technology, which recirculates non-combustible exhaust gas after it has passed through the aftertreatment system, and puts it back into the combustion chamber.
That test was successful enough that Drake and Cat converted the four test trucks to full production engines last March, and those trucks have been operating successfully for over half a year now.
“We’re really out of the test environment now and into the full production mode with the DPFs and new engines,” Drake says. “We were basically doing injector tests, that’s what the four engines were set up for. The CRS (Cat Regenerative System), the device after the turbo, is different, we’ve got the full DPFs on now, all the emissions devices; we didn’t have that on the first go-around.
“We had some wiring issues after Cat swung the engines and put on all the aftertreatment,” he explains. “Then the trucks had to go to Peterbilt to be retrofitted with ’07 upgrades: new radiators, engine mounts, they had a whole retrofit kit. It actually took 50 hours to put the retrofit kit in, to make sure that the chassis was up to ’07 engine spec’s.
“Since March, we’ve had no issues whatsoever with them,” he says. Even a fuel economy penalty of a tenth of a mile per gallon on the ’07 Cats has not concerned Drake, because he feels that most of the blame for that lies with the ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD). “With ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel, our whole fleet dropped a tenth of a mile,” he says.
A year ago, Drake stated that he wasn’t going to worry about fuel economy numbers until the four test trucks had passed the 80,000-mile break-in period, and they are just now nearing that mark. Does that cause Drake any anxiety?
“The trucks aren’t quite broken in, but I watch them,” he says. “I take a look at them every couple of weeks, and see how they’re doing. I haven’t really been talking to the drivers, because they haven’t been calling about anything, so no news is good news.”
AVAILABILITY & QUALITY
When the engine test started in 2005, Drake’s biggest concern was finding ready sources of ULSD for the four trucks being monitored. Today, availability isn’t an issue, says Drake, but quality is.
“It may vary from fleet to fleet, but what we’re finding is that the quality of the fuel is different on the East Coast or the South versus what we’re getting in the Midwest,” he explains. “We’re getting worse, and they’re getting better; it’s a quality issue.”
Drake tells of a time one of his trucks fueled up with ULSD at a truck stop in New Jersey, and burned 150 gallons of fuel in only 500 miles—that’s about 3.3 miles per gallon. Clearly unacceptable. “The fuel that he had put into the tanks was pretty much muddy brown, which means there was probably quite a bit of water in it,” Drake says.
“We’ve seen this quality difference in different parts of the country. We even see that in our bulk tank,” he continues. “We get pretty good fuel for the most part, but every once in a while we get a load that’s not up to snuff. That’s always been a problem, but it seems to me that the ULSD magnifies the problem.”
Although he’s not a big fan of fuel additives, Drake confesses that he may have to make some adjustments to his thinking. Accordingly, he is currently testing some fuel treatments in the hopes of addressing the ULSD quality problem. The biodiesel option, meanwhile, is off the table, because Drake feels biodiesel is “not quite there.”
CJ-4 COMES THROUGH
What is quite there is the new blend of CJ-4 engine oil. Not only has it met all performance expectations, Drake says, but he has been able to maintain the fleet’s 30,000-mile oil drain intervals without any difficulties.
“We’re using Chevron, and the switch for us was seamless,” he says. “We’re testing, but we haven’t had any issues.”
In fact, Drake is fearlessly plotting a switch to a 50,000-mile oil drain. Because every truck in the fleet is equipped with an APU and a Spinner II centrifuge bypass filter, Drake has already scored some big successes with fuel economy and engine wear, and he’s feeling lucky.
“Between the Spinners and not idling the trucks, at 30,000 miles the oil’s still pretty translucent,” he says. “So, that’s a good sign, and we test every other oil change.
“Actually, we have two trucks we’re testing now at 50,” he admits. “We used two team trucks, because they rack up the miles pretty quickly. We’ll do a couple oil changes and move forward from there.”
Even the much-feared underhood heat issue has become a non-issue to Drake.
“Underhood heat issues? I really haven’t heard anything about it,” he says. “The OEMs did an excellent job of expanding the surface areas of their radiators, and making sure that air moved under the hood. The exhaust temperatures? Yeah, they’re hot, but they’re where they were expected to be, between 1,100 and 1,300 degrees.”
The only issue remaining is the regeneration cycle of the DPF element. For an over-the-road fleet like Duplainville Transport, DPF regeneration should be transparent: The exhaust should reach a high enough temperature during everyday driving to trigger active regeneration, which oxidizes the accumulated soot and cleans the filter element.
“The only question the drivers had is what to do when the light came on on the dash,” Drake relates. “That’s the only issue that we had going through the conversion.”
The drivers’ questions were answered by training materials provided by the OEMs, and there was no issue.
“Peterbilt and Caterpillar both put out a simple sheet that tells the driver what to do when the light comes on, and what it means,” Drake explains. “We supplied our four guys with it, and as new trucks start coming in in January we’ll train our drivers. But really, theoretically, a driver shouldn’t have to worry about regeneration, because it’s going to be passive regeneration—it’s going to be regenerating while the truck is driving down the road, if everything is working properly.”
If the drivers have little to worry about, the maintenance technicians have even less, according to Drake. Maintenance practices and routines have not been affected in any way, and the only anticipated maintenance event may be years away.
“All we have to do through our maintenance department is worry about that cleanout,” Drake says, “whenever that period’s going to be. And nobody’s really defined that yet.”
Of course, the EPA did set a standard that a DPF should be able to go a minimum of 150,000 miles before it needs to be removed from the truck so that the ash accumulation can be cleaned out of the filter element, but OEMs quickly claimed that a minimum of 250,000 miles was achievable.
Which will it be for Duplainville Transport?
“We’re going to operate on the 250,000-mile interval, and it’s such an unknown that we just have to wait and see,” Drake explains. “We know we have to do it, we just don’t know when. I was just talking to one of our local vendors yesterday, and they’re not even sure what type of device they’re going to buy, because they’re uncertain about what they have to do.”
Drake is certain of one thing: His company will not be purchasing a DPF cleaning machine. Who does he think will buy them? “The engine dealer, or the truck dealer,” he replies. “It’s not going to be us.”
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
After a year’s hiatus, Drake is ready to start ordering new trucks again, for delivery in January. The time seems right: The 2007 engines have proven themselves, and the truck OEMs are offering him irresistible incentives.
“I think everybody knows that production levels are at an all-time low for Class-8 trucks,” Drake says, “so you can pretty much order them today and have them in 15 or 20 days.
“Today we’re going to pay less for trucks than we paid five years ago,” he goes on. “I don’t know how it works, but that’s the way it is. I’m sure it’s just based on supply and demand: Five years ago, there was a huge demand for trucks because of the pre-buy and all the worries about emissions. Today, because the demand is not there, and OEMs need the business, the price is down. But, that’s our situation; it’s going to be different for other carriers.”
Exactly what Drake will be buying, however, is still uncertain. He had been working with a few OEMs to spec’ his 2008 purchases, then when the spec’s were all but finalized, he threw them out.
Why throw out all that work? Was Drake just out of practice from not having spec’ed a new truck for over a year? No, he simply took a look at some of the 2006 trucks with Cat ACERT engines in his fleet that were consistently getting 7.5 and 7.6 miles per gallon, and he decided he wanted more.
“I challenged a couple OEMs we’re working with to give me an eight miles per gallon truck,” he says. “I called them all on Friday and I said, ‘Throw out all the spec’s we’ve working on and bring a truck over next week—I want an eight mile per gallon truck, that’s what this fleet wants.’
“So we started all over again yesterday,” he says. “Eight miles per gallon is attainable; it’s not something that’s way out there that we’ll never reach. We might have to do things a little differently; we might have to run them slower and educate the drivers, but look at the price of crude oil: $85 a barrel yesterday, what’s it going to be today?”
And what’s it going to be in 2010? That’s when truck and engine builders will face another round of strict EPA diesel emission restrictions that will stretch the limits of the industry once again. Will Duplainville Transport be ready? Will anyone be?
“2010 is going to be a whole different playing field,” Drake says, admitting that at that point he may have to look at every engine on the market. “The OEMs are starting to align themselves with their own engine product lines. Everybody’s headed in that direction, and for good reason; to try to keep everything under their control.”
“If you’re a truck OEM and you build your own engine, pretty soon you’re going to have your own transmission line, and you’re going to be able to control what that truck does so much better,” he says. “You’ll be able to put it out there and say, ‘We know this truck is going to be able to get 7.5 miles per gallon’—it’s not going to be looking at a spec’ sheet here and a spec’ sheet here and trying to marry all the components together. I think that’s the way the OEMs really want to go, with their own product. Overall, that’s a positive thing for the market.”
And, who knows, maybe new trucks will be even cheaper for a fleet like Duplainville in 2010 than they are today.