No Rest for the Weary

"NO REST FOR THE WEARY" IS a fitting saying for the new heavy duty truck industry these days. Having just completed a hectic period of product development, revisions and performance and compliance testing to meet 2007 EPA-mandated diesel emission standards, the drive is now on to meet the 2010 regulations.

Like the 2007 standards, the EPA standards for 2010 compliance are much more comprehensive than simple emission output levels. For 2007, the required changes in diesel engines and related systems had a great deal of complexity added to the process with the introduction ULSD (ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel), requiring less than 15 parts per million of sulfur. With the previous standard already low at 500 PPM, 15 PPM is like a tablespoon of sulfur in an Olympic sized swimming pool full of diesel fuel. This was a challenge met and solved with our fuel delivery systems in the United States.

For 2010, the major changes include systems such as SCR (selective catalytic reduction requiring an additional chemical, like urea) and additional exhaust after-treatment. Even more challenging for the parts and vehicle manufacturing industries will be the introduction of on-board diagnostics (OBD) systems.

OBD is a familiar term in the light vehicle industry, where it has been required since 1996. Light vehicle OBD were adopted by the EPA as an electronics monitoring system for on-board emissions equipment. The current light vehicle engine management computer employs a network of sensors to monitor the functioning of all fuel, ignition, and emissions components. The computer then compares them to predetermined values in an effort to ensure that vehicle emission output remains within the originally required tolerances.

The OBD requirement for heavy duty vehicles is new. Requirements for an OBD system on smaller trucks, those under 14,000 pounds, already exist, so the technology is not an unknown quantity for many parts and vehicle manufacturers.

However, fleet owners will be forced to adapt to a level of systems sophistication—both electronic and mechanical—unseen in their vehicles before now. Not only will these components significantly impact the purchase price of the new vehicle, the ownership expense can be expected to go up simply because there are a greater number of components that can fail. Added to this is the cost of new diagnostic tools and technician training that will be required to keep the fleet running.

Technician training, management awareness, and information are keys to the truck operators' success with these impending changes. The industry will need to take a deep breath, and then move forward with training and information very quickly.

There is a level of exposure in the industry to OBD technology that should allow for easier implementation. However, the demands placed on heavy duty trucks are likely to be more rigorous than most other vehicles.

Manufacturers are already exploring new products designed to meet these challenges, integrate different processes in manufacturing with new techniques and develop new testing procedures designed to accurately simulate the true working conditions that the components will face.

Even though the light vehicle 100,000-mile emissions equipment warranty has forced part manufacturers to test long term in the past, the scope of long term durability in the heavy duty market is just beginning to be addressed by the 100,000-mile mark.

The EPA outline of the standards is available in PDF form at http://epa.gov/obd/regtech/420f06058.pdf. Public comment on the 2010 standards is open until Monday, May 7. The comment submission procedure is outlined at http://www.regulations.gov/ and all comments must reference Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0047.

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