Fearless Fleet

Arizona's Knight Transportation gives '07 engines a shot.


We like to find out about things for ourselves, through our own experience, rather than relying on rumors and other peoples' negative perceptions," says David Williams. He's referring to negative perceptions of the 2007 model diesel engines that will be hitting the streets in a few months—negative perceptions that could lead to a repeat of October 2002, when fears about new diesel engine technology led to a precipitous slowdown of new heavy truck sales.

Williams is vice president of equipment and maintenance for Phoenix, AZ-based Knight Transportation, and since June of 2005 he has been overseeing the testing of a 2007-spec' Volvo VN with a 2007-spec' Cummins ISX engine, running on 2007-spec' ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD). When he discusses the experience of testing the new engine, with its new blend of fuel and its new aftertreatment system, he gives off an air of confidence: his company will be able to make its 2007 purchasing decisions based on real-world experience, not rumors and fears.

COOPERATION IS THE KEY

The key to the success of Knight Transportation's testing experience lies in its close relationship with engine supplier Cummins Inc. "Our two companies are joined together at many different levels," Williams says. At the most basic level, Knight runs the vast majority of its 3,500 tractors on Cummins ISX engines. At the next level, Knight hauls freight for Cummins. Beyond that, Knight staffers serve on advisory boards for the engine company, and Cummins has provided its own quality experts to assist Knight in achieving Six Sigma quality standards. To say that Cummins is a presence at Knight Transportation's maintenance operations is an understatement: on the day that Fleet Maintenance visited Knight's headquarters in Phoenix, two representatives— a Cummins Southwest division factory manager and a territory manager, Cummins Rocky Mountain—were on-site, and a technician from the local Phoenix Cummins dealer had his service truck pulled up to one of the maintenance bays to work on a Knight tractor.

SIX SIGMA PROJECTS

"Cummins is very involved with Six Sigma," Williams says. "They have lent their expertise to us, to help us with some of our issues. The first project we did was actually directly related with Cummins, addressing our fuel economy. They came in with some of their Six Sigma experts and helped devise a 'black belt' project that would help us to identify some things that would help us with our fuel economy. It ended up opening our eyes to some things that we hadn't really considered before.

"We've also invested a significant amount of time in helping them develop their products, giving them feedback, helping them understand what we're looking for, what's important," Williams says. "When you're developing a product, there are different choices you have to make, whether you go down this path or that path. We've helped them to understand which path, to us, is most valuable, and they've made decisions based on a lot of that input."

BACK TO 2002

Knight also field tested a new Cummins '02 ISX engine before they went to market, and that experience helped pave the way for the current test. In that earlier test, time considerations led to compromise: most notably, the 2002 engine, with its exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system, was retrofitted into an earlier model truck. That's not a good recipe for a foolproof test, but it had to do, and both Knight and Cummins learned from the experience.

"You've got to go back to our experience in 2002," Williams says. "We got involved early. With the 2002 engines, that was a fairly significant change to the base engine. In other words, you were adding several components that hadn't been there before. Exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) was something that was new and significant to the engine. New turbos were coming on. There was a lot of new hardware and software that was unproven, and so that was really a bigger deal to us than 2007."

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