He said it would be different this time.
Mark Fields, then Ford’s newly minted president of the Americas, sat down with me at the company’s Louisville Assembly Plant in 2006 to talk about his Way Forward restructuring plan.
I was skeptical. The Way Forward sounded an awful lot like the company’s 2002 restructuring plan and countless ones before that: close plants, slash costs, wait for car buyers to rediscover Ford.
At Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the mantra from the mid-’90s through about 2010 had been “shrink to grow.” Every big initiative started with closing plants and was supposed to end with higher sales and profits. And while job losses mounted, sales improvements never arrived.
Eight years ago, Fields promised different results.
“This is not your typical cyclical downturn,” Fields said then. “This is an inflection point for the entire industry. We have to change or die. I expect everyone in the organization to understand that.”
Then, for the first time in decades, things actually changed.
Fields spent the first half of 2006 going from plant to plant, warning workers that job losses were coming, that their pensions could fail if the company went under, that Ford could not survive without massive changes. At the Louisville plant, a line worker gave him a knife and a cigar cutter because he knew Fields was going to be doing a lot of slicing.
That summer, Bill Ford Jr. resigned as the company’s chief executive, bringing in Alan Mulally from Boeing as his replacement. Mulally ran with Fields’ plan, adding key financing provisions.
The rest has become modern auto industry legend. GM and Chrysler collapsed in the 2008 recession. Ford avoided federal bailouts and thrived. Fields’ cost cutting and Mulally’s plan to borrow $25 billion before the market crash kept the company afloat.
On July 1, 2014, Mulally retired as Ford’s CEO, and Fields took over.
Mulally and Fields were always on the same page when it came to how to rescue the company, but I expect a significant change in tone from Dearborn. Mulally used an aw-shucks style of Midwestern straight-forwardness, often playing up his Kansas roots. Quick with a smile and praise for his team, he avoided criticism and spontaneity. In press conferences, he stayed on message, constantly repeating a handful of key turnaround phrases.
A New Jersey native, Fields is more confrontational. In that meeting in Louisville eight years ago, he criticized Toyota commercials that talked about how much that automaker had invested in the United States.
“They’re trying to say they’re like an American car company, and they’re not,” Fields said bluntly. He rarely pulls punches when talking about the competition.
He’s less blunt these days, but not much. In April, when an analyst asked if Ford was de-emphasizing sales of small cars because it no longer needs to sell as many fuel-efficient vehicles to stay compliant with federal standards, Fields responded sharply.
“Absolutely, not,” Fields said, adding that the company isn’t trying to game fuel economy standards. “We’re focused on delivering what customers want.”
Style differences aside, Fields’ leadership shouldn’t represent a major change at Ford. He’s been driving the turnaround there for nearly a decade.
As automakers increase their use of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber to improve fuel economy, the process of treating and painting surfaces is changing. In Part 1, in TMV’s spring issue, PPG Industries discussed new pre-treatment steps needed to increase the use of aluminum in vehicles. In Part 2, BASF discusses the challenges of coating carbon fiber.
Costly, half the weight of steel yet just as strong, carbon fiber has increasingly become a material of choice for automakers.
Formable into complex shapes, the high-tech material gets used in body panels and interior components on race cars, high-end sports cars, and electric vehicles. Performance cars from Chevrolet’s Corvette Stingray to the Lamborghini Aventador use carbon fiber extensively to boost the vehicles’ power-to-weight ratios.
From engineers to designers to environmental regulators, carbon fiber holds the answer to many of the biggest challenges facing automakers. However, costs are prohibitively high, and companies can’t use decades-old methods of applying paint to the material.
“A number of automakers have approached the paint community, and their desire is to utilize the process used today to paint the vehicle, but to incorporate all of these composites,” says Paul Lamberty, technical manager at BASF Coatings Solutions North America. “That’s the challenge. Today, nobody is successful at meeting that challenge.”
Carbon fiber and body in white
Carbon fiber is closer to a fabric than it is to the metal panels automakers are accustomed to painting. Imagine how many coats of paint it would take to make a sweater as smooth as a piece of sheet metal, and you get an idea of the scope of the challenge.
BMW avoids painting carbon fiber panels with i3
With its i3 compact electric car, German automaker BMW wanted to use colored carbon fiber body panels to slash weight while still offering protection against crashes. Instead of solving the challenges of painting the panels, BMW found an alternative process.
The i3 uses an aluminum frame, upon which workers affix a carbon fiber shell structure. Instead of treating, priming, sanding, and painting those surfaces, BMW attaches thin, pre-painted thermoplastic panels on top of the carbon fiber, creating a smooth, colored surface.
“Water consumption is reduced by 70% because the process does not involve priming, painting, and drying of the complete body, as with conventional models,” a BMW official says. “Instead, the bumpers, and front, rear, and side parts of the BMW i3 can simply be painted individually, which conserves resources.”
Also, avoiding the body dip process cuts about 22 lb of weight out of each vehicle, according to BMW officials. With electric vehicles, weight determines how far the cars can go on a single charge, so shaving pounds means adding miles. At a little bit more than 2,600 lb, the i3 is about 1,000 lb lighter than the steel-bodied electric Ford Focus.
What automakers want is “body in white” – a phrase that goes back to the earliest days of the auto industry when finished vehicle shells were built and painted separate facilities from the assembly plants.
In most auto plants today, semi-finished cars move into the paint shop with most of their exterior metal panels welded together. Manufacturers dip the partially assembled vehicle bodies into pretreatment and electrocoating baths before sending them on to the paint booths where robots apply thin layers of primer and paint, giving vehicles the smooth finish that customers have come to expect. Paint shop pros call these Class A surfaces.
The body-in-white process doesn’t work for carbon fiber.
“Current carbon fiber substrates are still very rough and inhomogeneous. They tend to be porous with pits and voids as well as with fibers resting on the surface,” Lamberty says. “Some of these fibers are not fully covered with resin and act as micro wicks. All of these substrate defects cause imperfections in the paint coating.”
Manual, expensive painting processes
Even if the panel was smooth, carbon fiber provides extra challenges. Most automotive paint shops use electrostatic systems that run a mild electrical current through the body panel, creating an electromagnetic charge. That charge attracts the misted paint molecules, creating even coverage coats and less overspray than gravity driven processes. With carbon fiber, Lamberty says, the material isn’t uniformly conductive, so electrostatic systems can lead to paint clumping on parts of panels that carry more charge.
“You can end up with different thicknesses of coating. It causes a very rough and unacceptable appearance,” he explains. Lamberty says coatings companies and carbon fiber producers are exploring new techniques to lessen such challenges, such as the use of conductive primers and extra sanding steps.
The bigger problem, though, is that automakers now must take significant portions of the vehicle painting process off the assembly line when they use carbon fiber. Manufacturers have spent decades and billions of dollars to make the painting process as fast and flawless as possible.
Lamberty adds, “The way they’re painting carbon fiber now is really not production feasible. It’s very costly.”
For now, the main solution is elbow grease. Automakers take the carbon fiber panels off the assembly line and, much like aftermarket car painters, apply primer, sand the surface, and then apply another layer of primer. They repeat the process until they get a panel as smooth as a piece of sheet metal, and then they paint it.
Between the roughness of the surface and the conductivity challenges, carbon fiber is not only more expensive than steel, it requires repetitive manual finishing, adding manpower costs to the equation. That kind of hand work is possible with low-volume, expensive sports cars, but it’s too time consuming and costly for plants producing 100,000 or more vehicles per year.
Electrocoating and multi-material panels
Problems in preparing carbon fiber start before panels get to the paint booths. Automakers electrocoat (e-coat) vehicles with thin deposits of zinc and other materials to protect against rust and corrosion. The curing processes used in e-coating can be too hot for the composite body panels, causing surface distortions that would require more sand, prime, and paint steps.
In some cases, the carbon fiber itself can stand up to the higher heats, but other composites used with it cannot.
Lamberty explains, “There are various types of carbon fiber composite and reinforced materials. Not every type of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) is resistant enough at high temperatures. For example, carbon fiber reinforced polyurethane starts to lose stiffness at high temperatures and will sag, warp, and distort.”
Lightweight materials and fuel economy
Despite manufacturing challenges, interest in carbon fiber continues to build. With federal fuel economy regulations mandating an average 54.5mpg by 2025, all major automakers have said slashing vehicle weight will be a priority for more than a decade. A study published in 2012 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Automotive Laboratory found that producers would need to cut average vehicle weights by 27% and add more hybrid and electric vehicles to their fleets to comply with new standards.
For example, the 3,215 lb Toyota Camry is the best-selling car in the country. A 27% weight loss would cut 868 lb. Without extensive use of carbon fiber composites, that may not be possible. Ford late this year will launch its new 2015 F-150 pickup, a vehicle that swapped steel body panels for aluminum, slashed its engine displacement by 23%, and reduced frame weight by replacing standard steel rails with lower-weight, higher-strength steel alloys. The total F-150 diet saved Ford about 700 lb.
“They’re going to have to use either carbon fiber or something similar to it, whatever they invent,” says Paul Lamberty, technical manager at BASF Coatings Solutions North America.
However, even carbon fiber body panels will be too heavy on their own.
“They’re going to be using mixed substrates on the vehicle forward,” Lamberty says. “They’ll use carbon fiber wherever they need the structural aspects, then they’ll use other lightweight substrates elsewhere.”
Carbon and composite materials are already corrosion resistant, so today’s panels often skip e-coating. But, getting back to the body-in-white concept, Lamberty says automakers want to send entire vehicle bodies through all processes, regardless of the main material used.
“There’s a good reason for this. Even with carbon fiber and composites, they still use metal,” Lamberty says.
Metal tabs and inserts can be built into carbon fiber panels in the molding process, creating anchors to attach panels to frames, for example, or to add metal hinges for door placements.
“With any exposed metal part, they want that corrosion protection, so they’re going to want everything e-coated,” Lamberty notes.
Looking for solutions
Lowering the temperature of the e-coat process could allow lightweight CFRP and other reinforced composites to go through baths and ovens without warping. Lamberty says BASF and others in the automotive paint world are working on new chemistries that offer metal parts the needed corrosion resistance while operating coolly enough not to harm composites.
A colder bath could solve one problem yet create others. Some of the adhesive bonding techniques used in auto body construction rely on high-temperature treatments to fully cure their connections. With steel, that can happen in e-coat or in the bake-drying steps that follow painting in most plants. As with e-coating temperatures, paint baking can warp and distort some composites. So, if automakers turn to lower-temperatures and less oven time, some adhesives would need to be changed as well.
Once companies solve temperature issues, the challenges of surface roughness, void spots, and stray fibers wicking away primer and paint would still remain. In addition, carbon fiber is far too expensive for widespread use. Estimates vary, but a 2009 study from Ford put the price premium at more than 10-times steel prices. A 2011 report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) environmental group shows about a three-times cost premium (RMI showed a similar price difference to Ford’s study, but its report accounted for cost savings from simplified manufacturing processes).
Lamberty says many different groups – coating producers, material specialists, automakers, mold companies – are working to develop the technologies needed to get carbon fiber cost effective and suitable for traditional automotive assembly.
“We’re all working together on this one. We are looking at in-mold coatings to apply with the formation of the part with carbon fiber,” Lamberty says. “We are also formulating the coatings to minimize the effects of the wicking and porosity of the substrate. It’s definitely going to be a marriage of technologies – not just the substrate layers but the paint chemistry that goes into each layer.”
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of TMV and can be reached at email@example.com or 330.523.5381.
Feeling tired after a long car ride is no accident. Although the driver is seated the entire time, navigating busy city streets, curvy country roads, or even slow-moving commuter traffic puts them in an almost constant state of motion, pushing and releasing the vehicle’s pedals to accelerate, brake, or clutch.
Legs and feet continuously change position. As the ankle flexes, the lower leg extends and retracts, and the muscles in the thigh and buttocks contract and relax. Since the thigh muscles are in constant use, seat designs – especially the front of the pad that supports the thigh – are important in driver comfort.
“Even holding the accelerator pedal at a desired position requires constant muscle activation,” says Alexander Siefert, manager of seating comfort and biomechanics at Wölfel Group, a German company specializing in engineering services and related testing systems for the design and development of car seats. “This alters the stiffness of the muscles involved. It also has a significant effect on seat-pressure distribution and stress/strain values within the tissue, which are important measures of seat comfort.”
Seat simulations with motion
Engineers on Wölfel’s seating comfort and biomechanics team developed the calculated sitting man in research (CASIMIR) finite-element model to help set current German occupational and health standards (vibration and shock) for working drivers of vehicles such as trucks, taxis, buses, and construction equipment.
Future of CASIMIR model
Andreas Nuber, Wölfel assistant manager for research and development, says adding muscle motion to the human seating model will kick off a new wave of development. The group plans to:
Validate other muscle groups, besides the thigh/buttocks, improving muscle-tissue modeling to more realistically represent contraction dynamics and vertebral-disc characterization, which could accurately predict loading on the lumbar spine.
Test materials using Isight (Simulia’s process automation and optimization software) for the identification of seat-cushion viscoelastic-foam properties.
Develop data-exchange formats with developers of other prominent body models, such as RAMSIS and AnyBody, (under the UDASim project funded by the German government), so standards could make a global seating-comfort analysis a possibility.
The original version of the model simulated the impact that various foams and seat materials had on human muscles. However, to get a better picture of how to make seats more comfortable, engineers needed to better understand pressures on muscles as they moved during typical vehicle operations.
Working with Abaqus, the finite-element analysis (FEA) tool in Dassault Systèmes’ Simulia software, Wölfel engineers enhanced CASIMIR to include detailed muscular models that make their digital-driving simulations even closer approximations of real-world conditions.
“We have high confidence in our Abaqus analyses because of the software’s advanced non-linear and contact capabilities,” Siefert says. “Its material models for seat foam and human tissue are extremely useful when conducting human-body simulations for car seats.”
Wölfel engineers recently coupled two models to better simulate seating impact on muscles:
- A volumetric model representing passive nonlinear muscle behavior
- A filamentary model representing the active muscle force required to either maintain posture or make the movements, such as pedal operation, that are necessary for driving
By coupling the two models, engineers could see that passive volume stiffens when the filamentary model is activated.
Pursuing this strategy, the team performed seat-comfort simulations that accounted for muscle activation. In one study, they validated muscle activity in the abdomen and back for use in upright-seating-posture studies. In another, they analyzed the thigh and buttocks and began to understand the importance of pedal operation on seat comfort.
Testing simulation methods
To further prove the concept and benefits of coupling the volumetric and filamentary muscle models, the team decided first to simulate an imaginary muscle outside of their CASIMIR software.
After setting up simulations of different loads on the volumetric model and different states of muscle contraction on the filamentary model, the engineers used the embedded element option in Abaqus to generate a kinematic relationship between the two.
In an experimental setup designed to demonstrate the real-world veracity of this coupled scenario, engineers lowered five different weights onto a sample calf muscle (from a rat) to mimic muscle contraction and measured the results. The team observed that the upper muscle volume in the calf lifted up in both the coupled simulation and the real-muscle experiment.
Other CASIMIR uses
For the medical world, the Wölfel biomechanics team is adapting the model so it can be used for the evaluation of customized implants or the risk assessment of pressure ulcers (PU). It is hoped that the PU work might ultimately speed the development and efficacy of devices used with items such as mattresses and wheelchairs to help prevent the condition. According to R&D assistant manager Andreas Nuber, as anatomical enhancements continue, the ultimate goal – still well into the future – would be to use the model to study tissue health on the cellular level by coupling it to non-FE sub-models.
Human-body modeling could also be used to evaluate a variety of working scenarios that involve either strenuous or repetitive physical activity. If CASIMIR can accurately replicate active muscle movements for specific working motions under real-world tissue loads, says Nuber, simulations may be able to contribute to the prevention of a variety of widespread occupational injuries such as rotator-cuff injuries of the shoulder or herniated vertebral discs in the spine. Wölfel engineers are working with Germany’s Federal Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (FIOSH) – which has been involved in CASIMIR’s ongoing development – to realize these goals.
“We’re still fine-tuning our simulations so that they’ll even more closely correspond to measurements,” Siefert notes. “But after our study validated the coupled-model method in the isolated muscle, we wanted to show it would work in the full body-model.”
To prepare the full-body model for a similar coupled analysis, the separate thigh and buttocks models needed to be further enhanced. High-contrast photos from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Visible Human project were especially useful in achieving more accurate muscle volumes. Whole-body MRI scans in the prone and supine positions (from another source) provided additional detail. In the volumetric thigh model, smaller muscles were assembled into one volume to simplify the calculation.
For the filamentary model, the team first focused on the hamstrings (flexors), since that is the muscle group that contacts the seat and is activated during driving.
CASIMIR’s thigh and buttocks simulations were then placed on a cube of foam representative of a car seat. The model was loaded for its own weight, as well as with the hamstrings activated. When the team compared calculations from this setup with actual measurements from test subjects, the gravity-loaded scenario results were in close agreement (there was lateral expansion of the full thigh and movement between the muscle volumes). For the muscle contraction case, the vertical displacement (lifting up) of the leg also matched expectations.
Full-body simulation model
Finally, it was time to try out CASIMIR’s full-body model on a seat-pressure distribution scenario with muscle activation. The team explored a number of different loads including gravity and then knee flexion with resulting heel forces. Simulation and test results were in close enough agreement to validate coupling of the muscle models in future full-body-model simulations.
Now that CASIMIR is capable of simulating not only passive reactions of tissue to external forces but also active muscle contractions, the team can offer Wölfel automotive customers sophisticated seat-design and driving-comfort guidelines.
The engineers’ research benefits not only drivers, but the bottom line of car-seat suppliers and manufacturers everywhere.
“Experimental seat-comfort studies have traditionally required many subjects and the testing of several hardware prototypes, all of which can be time consuming and expensive,” says Andreas Nuber, Wölfel assistant manager for research and development. “Simulating comfort using FEA greatly simplifies the process. It’s objective, reproducible, and cost-effective. If we eliminate just a single hardware prototype during the design process, the savings can be as large as $69,000.”
IMTS 2014 booth #E-3125,
With 53 engineers and 22 Doosan CNC machine tools, NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) easily has more technical expertise and production capacity than many mid-sized job shops. But it needs every bit of that capacity and expertise to do one thing – win races.
“The first year, JGR didn’t win anything, in fact, they pretty much tore up everything,” says Mark Bringle, technical sponsorship and marketing director, remembering the 1992 start of the company. “And we were over budget. The Gibbs organization began to question whether they should even be in racing.”
A year later, Dale Jarrett piloted a JGR car across the finish line in Florida, winning the Daytona 500, and the company has been winning races ever since. Bringle credits the skill of JGR’s engineering team, coupled with advanced technology from sponsors, for the team’s large collection of wins.
Machine tool partnership
In 1998, JGR and machine tool maker Doosan signed a sponsorship that included four horizontal machining centers, 11 vertical machining centers, five turning centers, a 9-axis mill/turn multitasking machine, and a 5-axis vertical machining center. All 22 Doosan machines run two shifts a day.
Brian Levy, design engineer, explains, “We manufacture more than 2,000 different parts, 150,000 total parts per year, which makes up 90% of a finished race car. We simply wouldn’t be where we are today without the Doosan equipment. We don’t have to rely on anyone else, no outsourcing, no waiting on someone to deliver a part. Our advantage is that we make everything here.”
NASCAR rules evolve constantly, creating the dual challenges of staying current on regulations while maintaining a competitive edge, Levy says. “The Doosans are a huge resource that we have,” he adds. “Every time we get a new machine in-house that has a new capability, whether it’s being able to machine more complex geometries or use different types of tooling, we are all over it right away.”
After each race, crew members offer suggestions on how to improve car performances, Levy says. With the newer multifunction Doosan machines, he says there are few limits to what JGR can produce.
“When our race teams come back from the track and suggest they’d like to try a new spindle geometry on this part – which is a little bit different than what we’re running – we can draw it up in 3D, download it to the machines, and have that new part on our desk in two days or less,” Bringle comments. “Being able to turn design concepts or new ideas around in such a short time is really a tremendous advantage.”
Maintaining a large number of internal machines also lets JGR experiment with new techniques and materials. For example, the team is now using titanium in several car parts instead of steel or aluminum. Though more costly, Bringle says the lighter-weight material shaves time on the track.
“We try to get all the extra weight out to achieve our 3,400 lb limit,” Bringle says. “At the end of the year we will take all the parts out of the car, weigh them, and decide which ones need to be redesigned or reworked. One of the goals is to get the center of gravity for the car as low as possible because that helps the performance of the car. We want most of the mass of the car to be as low as possible, so the upper parts of the car must be lighter than the lower parts of the car.”
NASCAR suspension coiled springs
The front and rear springs on race cars are not flat on the bottom. A coiled spring terminates with the end of the tang hanging in space. Joe Gibbs engineering teams have to manufacture a helical spring perch that serves as the mating part for the spring. The team uses its Doosan VC 630/5AX dedicated full 5-axis vertical machining center to simultaneously machine all five surfaces of the part.
As the suspension travels, the interaction of the spring and perch greatly impacts the spring rate of the whole suspension system, affecting the behavior of the car. Race engineers will spend weeks and months working with the complex geometries of these two mating parts. Setups change from track to track and driver to driver.
Though tracks are all basically ovals, they’re all different – some are longer, some are shorter, and the speeds are different. Some tracks have more banking, some have more bumps, so the load that each wheel experiences changes from track to track, and even from corner to corner within the same track.
Machining specific springs and spring purchases for each driver and race allows race engineers to fine tune the relationship between those parts, tailoring how the suspension of the car moves and how the load is distributed on all four corners of the car.
Pressure to win
Team founder and three-time Super Bowl winning coach of the Washington Redskins Joe Gibbs, known as “Coach” at JGR, says crafting custom parts for every driver and race isn’t easy, but winning rarely is.
“To win in professional sports you have to have people who perform under pressure,” Gibbs states. When asked about his 17-year partnership between Doosan Infracore America, he sums it up as, “I think one of the most important things about Doosan, the machines, they’re great, they’re awesome, they’re the best. But really it’s their people and the way they stand behind you for the life of the machine. We have a great partnership here and you can see the Doosan machines perform under pressure, because we have a race every seven days. It’s great having Doosan as partners, and having them at your back.”
Steering system drag link
The drag link connects the power steering box to the spindles in racecar steering systems. Joe Gibbs Racing’s old design required three separate pieces welded together. Using Doosan’s Puma MX2600ST mill/turn multitasking machine, engineers were able to make the part from a single blank, lowering weight, increasing strength, and shortening production time.
A 9-axis vertical machining center and horizontal turning center, the Puma’s B-axis spindle can articulate 120° in either direction and has a 40-tool automatic tool changer. Work piece capacity is 30" of maximum turning diameter and more than 60" of turning length.
“We are able to take a 105 lb blank and machine it down to an 8 lb finished part, and the tolerances are 0.003" from one end to the other,” says design engineer Brian Levy.
The old system demanded 15 hours of machining, 18 setups, and 42 hours total setup for the three parts. The Puma still requires about 15 hours of machining, but setup times fall 77% to 9.5 hours. Eliminating welding saves even more time.
Levy credits the drag link change for moving racers two to three positions higher in qualifying rounds for races. He continues, “The increased part stiffness improves the responsiveness of the steering system, providing better feedback to the driver’s hands, which allows the driver to take each turn more smoothly.”
Titanium wheel-mount cones
During a tire change on pit row, the wheel carrier slides the wheel over a titanium cone attached to the axle assembly. A small cover goes on the end of the housing, and the cone mounts to the housing.
“This cone guides the wheel,” says Eric Groen, sponsor services manager and rear tire carrier on the #20 JGR Cup team. “You slide the wheel onto the cone and then drive the lug nuts down. Without this cone, it might add a full second to the tire change.”
Joe Gibbs Racing had used steel or aluminum for the cones, but those metals can ding during wheel changes, potentially creating metal-to-metal resistance that could interfere with the smooth mounting of the wheel. Titanium offers longer life and resists dings.
Mark Bringle, technical sponsorship and marketing director, explains, “These are a pain to manufacture. With titanium there is no heat transfer to the insert, so you have to cut it really slowly, and you’ve got to flood it with coolant. A blank for one of these titanium cones is $900. And then we have to hollow out the inside with the Woodruff cutter, and this part just eats inserts up. We probably have a full day of machining on a single titanium cone.”
Race engineers use five different Doosan turning centers for the slow, precise cuts, some that have been in the shop for as long as 16 years. Bringle says the machines’ box guideways allow superior rigidity, allowing for reliable part creation.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Doosan Infracore Machine Tools
IMTS 2014 booth #S-8100
Hydraulics and motion controls company Parker Hannifin has been gaining traction in the refuse truck market since launching its RunWise hydraulic hybrid system for heavy commercial vehicles in 2010. More than 100 trucks are on the road with refuse fleets using the combined power transmission and energy storage system, and orders to Parker’s truck-building partner Autocar continue, says Tom DeCoster, business development manager for Parker’s hybrid drives systems division.
Today, much of the industry’s attention is fixed firmly on compressed natural gas (CNG). Last year, more than half of the refuse trucks sold featured CNG engines as fleet managers looked to cut fuel costs as quickly as possible. In that environment, DeCoster says Parker is talking to customers about its technology, explaining to them that no matter what the fuel choice, hydraulic hybrid technology can cut energy consumption in heavy commercial vehicles.
“We see the hybrid having a solid place in the market, regardless of the fuel choice,” DeCoster states. “Our national diesel fleet average is a 43% fuel savings, which is pretty amazing when you consider that these vehicles consume a lot of fuel every day.”
Hybrids boost low-speed performance
As with gas-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, RunWise stores energy that traditional vehicles waste during braking. Electric hybrids store that regenerative braking power in batteries while RunWise stores it as pressurized fluid in a hydraulic accumulator. When the truck’s driver takes his foot off the brake pedal and onto the throttle, RunWise releases that stored energy, using it to power the vehicle up to about 20mph. The truck’s engine doesn’t have to rev up until the vehicle is already rolling at a decent speed.
Hybrids offer the biggest benefits in low-speed, start-stop traffic where they can constantly gather energy, a key point for garbage haulers because refuse trucks typically operate in those slow, energy-intensive conditions.
As refuse haulers have ordered more RunWise trucks, Parker has continued to invest in the system. The first generation of the trucks, for example, could only recapture braking energy down to about 5mph before the truck’s conventional brakes applied stopping power. The hybrid system on the newest trucks works all the way down to 1mph.
DeCoster notes, “There was still a considerable amount of energy to be recouped in those lower speeds.”
Steven Saltzgiver, vice president of fleet management for refuse company Republic Services, says his business is testing a prototype truck in California that uses both CNG and hydraulic hybrid technology. He likes what he’s seen so far, explaining, “We spend about half a billion dollars in fuel per year as an industry, so we have a strong vested interest in pursuing all of these technologies.”
Hydraulics vs. electrics
Gasoline-electric hybrids have gained a toehold in the passenger car market with vehicles such as Toyota’s Prius line. But refuse companies say electrifying the commercial world is more difficult because of higher weights and energy levels.
The performance of electric systems tends to decline as batteries drain, much like a flashlight slowly going dim as power drains away. Electrified trucks give the highest boost levels at the start of the day when batteries and trucks are full. Refuse trucks, on the other hand, start the day with the lightest loads and take on more weight throughout the day.
Republic Services fleet director Steven Saltzgiver comments, “We need a system that gives a big boost at the end of the day, when the trucks are their heaviest.”
DeCoster says the electrical storage that works well in a 3,000 lb Prius can’t scale up to 50,000 lb refuse trucks.
“In a refuse application, from 30mph down to zero, we’re capturing about 500hp. That’s a lot of energy to try to push into a battery storage system,” Tom DeCoster, business development manager for Parker Hannifin’s hybrid drives systems division states. “Most battery systems on the market today can’t handle that amount of energy that fast.”
Many refuse fleets are looking at CNG as a way of cutting diesel use, so in a sense, CNG trucks compete for fuel-saving dollars with Parker’s hybrid system, Saltzgiver says. But longer-term, he believes companies should consider ways to reduce fuel use, not simply replace one higher-cost diesel with less expensive CNG.
“We’re all being careful with our fleet investments. You never put all of your eggs in one basket. You have to try a bunch of different technologies to see what fits your needs,” Saltzgiver says.
After testing several systems, Saltzgiver explains natural gas has a lot of potential because experts believe its costs will be low and stable for many years, and most refuse fleets also run landfills that give off fuel-grade methane.
However, “There’s a lot of sulfur that you have to remove, and that can get pretty costly. There’s some potential there (for waste gas fuel), but it’s pretty expensive to get started,” Saltzgiver explains.
Obstacles to CNG truck growth
While Saltzgiver likes the large number of CNG trucks that Republic Services has ordered, he says there are plenty of challenges in supporting such vehicles in the field.
It takes Republic Services about two years to go through the construction and regulatory approval process to support natural gas trucks in its fleet. Utilities have to build higher-volume gas lines to depots, and staging areas have to be set up to fuel large numbers of vehicles simultaneously. Expenses include changes to truck-yard layouts and compressors to take the utility natural gas feed and force it into truck tanks.
In addition, CNG has less energy than diesel fuel, so truck drivers have to go through more gear changes to get the load moving than with diesel. Slower startup means more time spent moving from stop to stop, increasing the time it takes for a collection crew to finish its route.
DeCoster notes that adopting diesel-hydraulic hybrid systems offers quicker savings because the trucks don’t require any infrastructure investments. Still, in the longer term, he sees a lot of potential for a future CNG RunWise as more fleets make the depot improvements necessary to support natural gas.
Parker and Autocar announced plans last year to work out a CNG version of its RunWise system, and though the companies have not announced a timeframe to bring such a vehicle to market, they are continuing to develop the technology. Such a combination could address performance differences between the two fuels. Providing hydraulic power to CNG engines at low speeds could give trucks comparable acceleration performance to diesel hydraulic hybrids.
“I can’t think of any other technology that can cut fuel consumption by 40% or more while still maintaining the rigors of the duty cycle,” DeCoster says. “We’re fuel agnostic, so we expect to see big fuel savings in CNG or diesel.”
Parker Hannifin Corp.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of TMV and can be reached at 330.523.5381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.