EPA ‘07 engines turn out to be a lot less trouble than anticipated.
With approximately 2,000 EPA ’07 engines already in its fleet, Phoenix, AZ-based Swift Transportation has had plenty of opportunities to see the good and the bad in the new emissions technology. Most of the news is good, according to VP of procurement and shop operations Michele Calbi, and the bad news has led to some brilliant new training strategies.
“What we found, initially, when we received our EPA ‘07s was that no matter what we said to the driver—yes, we got the nod, ‘I understand’—but then when a passive ‘regen’ happened, they were calling in.”
The drivers were not used to the dash lights coming on, according to Calbi, and they were interpreting it as a ‘check engine’ light. “We found a couple of them had stopped on the side of the road and called it in,” she says, “so we decided that we needed to be a little more proactive about it.”
Calbi’s response was to script and record an audio CD (certified by Swift’s two engine OEMs, Volvo and Cummins) that tells drivers what to expect from their ’07 emissions systems. The green discs hang from the rear view mirrors of the ’07 trucks, where the drivers can’t miss them, and they bear a label that says ‘Please listen to this immediately upon getting into your truck.’ The driver then pops the disc into the truck’s CD deck and listens to the training lesson either before hitting the road or while driving away.
“We have found we’ve really eliminated any of the issues with regard to calls in about passive regeneration,” Calbi says.
But the training doesn’t end there: Those drivers are then required to take a short ’07 emissions system quiz the next time they’re at a Swift terminal.
“They have to take a training test within a particular amount of time, and if they do not certify, they will be stopped,” Calbi explains. “If they are stopped, that means they have to retake the test, or sit down with someone and learn more about the engine in order to pass the test. It’s not so difficult that they can’t pass, but it is enough to get their attention, so they understand, when they move into an EPA ’07, they’re dealing with a different type of exhaust system.
“In our training for our technicians, we need to be out front,” Calbi continues, “because when they come in we may need to change some parameters or do some other things with the trucks. We want to make sure that the technicians fully understand that there’s going to be some hot spots on the truck that weren’t there before, and some other opportunities with regard to the DPF and the engine operation.”
Calbi has also taken the unique measure of designing bolder ULSD warning stickers for fuel tanks, to ensure that drivers are always filling up with the proper fuel. “Otherwise, you know the outcome,” she says. “They’ll be stopping all the time with passive ‘regening,’ and they’ll be using what I consider non-revenue-generating fuel.”
As with Duplainville Transport’s John Drake, the only thing Calbi is unsure of is when and how the DPFs will be cleaned…
“The only unique service need that we’re going to encounter is when we have to replace or clean the DPF, but that may be after our trucks are sold or traded in,” she says. “So we may not have to experience a whole lot of DPF changing. We tend to keep our day cabs longer than we keep our sleepers, so we will see some.
“I was just at a seminar and asked the suppliers there and the independents, ‘What are you going to do about that? Are you getting machines?’ And I kind of got a, ‘Hmm, I didn’t think about that.’”
Does Calbi have any thoughts on who will be buying DPF cleaning machines? She thinks that engine distributors will be first in line, followed by OEM dealers.
“But it depends on how expensive it is, and how much space it’s going to take up,” she says. “Our intention at this point is not to purchase any equipment. It may change as we learn more: You’re talking maybe 36 months out before we experience anything, and then probably another year after that before we even decide whether it’s necessary for our particular fleet whether we have to purchase any equipment. But we have a high level of service from our distributor, so there’s really no fear factor.”
“So Far, So Good”
Last October, we reported on the ’07 diesel testing being done by Phoenix, AZ-based Knight Transportation. At the time, VP of equipment and maintenance Dave Williams was sanguine about the ’07-spec’ Cummins ISX that had been in one of his trucks since mid-2005. At the time, the truck was running well, and Williams wasn’t anticipating any problems with the unit.
“So far, so good,” he says. And as if to prove it, he goes on to say that Knight now has 500 trucks with ’07 engines on the road, “and we’re adding to that every day.” In other words, the company’s purchase cycle has not been affected in any way.
Williams looks at engine performance on several different levels, including reliability, performance and a spectrum of different cost measurements, and so far he hasn’t been surprised by any of the numbers returned by the ’07 engines. “If you compare it to the 2002 experience, I think this one has been better from a mechanical standpoint,” he claims. “We haven’t had as many electrical bugs and little things that tended to crop up.”
Furthermore, he says, the drivers have noticed no difference in performance or reliability. “From a performance standpoint, the engine is the same engine they’ve been driving since 2002, so they really haven’t seen much difference,” he says.
Like the other maintenance managers we spoke with, the biggest change Williams has seen is some confusion among his drivers as to the meaning of the new DPF regeneration dash lights.
“Some of (the lights) are meant to tell you that regeneration is happening, some of them are meant to tell you that there’s a problem, and there’s one particular light that tells you that the system is just hot, and you shouldn’t go back and touch it,” he says. “Getting drivers to understand which light was which was an initial challenge, but we’ve gotten through that and don’t seem to have any real significant issues.”
Williams has also seen a slight degradation in fuel economy with his new trucks, but like John Drake of Duplainville Transport, he can’t determine whether that’s the fault of the engine itself or the new ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.
“Maintenance practices have not been affected in any way yet,” Williams continues, although he admits that it may be too early to tell if the much-feared elevated underhood temperatures will become a factor.
“The thing you have to understand about higher underhood temperatures is that those problems don’t manifest themselves early,” he says. “They usually manifest themselves late in an engine’s career. Any time you have heat involved, you’re going to have fatigue in metal, so I wouldn’t say (those fears) have gone away, but it’s certainly not something that’s scaring us from buying the engines. I think it’s just something that we have to keep our eye on.”
While he keeps one eye on the underhood temperatures, Williams will be keeping his other eye on the DPF cleaning regimen. “Certainly, the particulate filter is an issue, and will be an issue, in that we expect in our life cycle to have to clean that filter once,” he says. “But we haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve had to do that yet, so that’s still a little bit fuzzy, but we don’t anticipate any huge issues there.”
Williams says that Knight will typically run a truck somewhere between 400,000 and 450,000 miles, and the DPF cleaning cycle is closely correlated to the truck’s duty cycle. “So our duty cycle being over-the-road, long-haul, good fuel economy, we don’t anticipate changing those or cleaning those until somewhere in that 350,000 to 450,000 mile range,” he explains. “Right before we get rid of the truck, we’ll probably have to clean it.”
That doesn’t mean that Knight Transportation will be investing in DPF cleaners anytime soon, however. Williams plans to work with his Cummins distributor for the initial DPF cleanings, pay close attention to how the cleaning technology develops, then decide if the process should be brought in-house.
“I can see us, long term, in some of our larger shops, getting into that business,” he says. “I know, initially, the equipment was fairly expensive and it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. We’re hoping for some advances and cost reductions in that technology and equipment.”