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The future begins today: Technology that will revolutionize
Wed Nov 23, 2016 01:12

The future begins today: Technology that will revolutionize trucking is already here
Brian Ethridge | July 11, 2014

Technology unveiled in Europe in recent weeks — like Daimler’s self-driving tractor-trailer, pictured here — will revolutionize trucking in the U.S. and globally in the coming years.

It’s a cold, rainy morning in Aachen, Germany. I’m on the tail end of a two-week jaunt through Europe that began with Daimler’s introduction of a self-driving truck and wrapped up Wednesday with ZF showcasing a host of innovative new products and technology.

It’s been an informative trip, although I’m ready to feel the hot Alabama sun on my shoulders and eat a plate of ribs.

I’ve said it before: Europe is the center of automotive and truck design today. This trip, along with an earlier visit to Meritor in May, have only affirmed that. And that means, like it or not, changes — and big ones — are coming to the North American trucking industry.

We’ve now reached the payoff point with the explosion of computing technology that began in the 1990s.

The Internet, GPS, smartphones, virtual reality, social media, miniature electronic control modules, instantaneous data transfers and processors are now combining to introduce technology that will fundamentally change the way trucks and fleets operate.

The first hints of this coming technological transformation are plain to see here in Europe.

Meritor’s innovative “intelligent axle” is Exhibit A. Daimler’s Autonomous Truck is Exhibit B. And then there’s ZF: its new Traxon AMT and Smart Truck Maneuvering system stole the show this week.

But the company also introduced a host of intelligent chassis and ride control systems that use electronic sensors to actively smooth ride quality and enhance steering response no matter the weather or road conditions.

And these aren’t just cases where engineers are designing these systems simply because they can.

In each case, this technology is being actively pursued and invested in to solve specific problems. Moreover, if you’re a truck OEM or top tier component supplier, you simply can’t afford to sit on the sidelines in this Technological Arms Race. There’s too much at stake. So make no mistake: This technology and the changes they will bring with them are coming, to one degree or another.

Do I think that in 10 years truck drivers will be obsolete and rolling robots will be hauling our goods from state to state? No.

Do I think that in certain cities 10 years from now a truck driver stuck in heavy traffic will be able to turn control of the truck over to an onboard computer and rest while the vehicle drives itself through the congestion? Absolutely.

Do I think that if you’re wondering where your Amazon package is you’ll be able to turn on your computer and see exactly where in the world it is at the given moment? No question.

Do I think a driver faced with a tight and hazardous backing situation will be able to climb down from the cab, walk to the back of the truck and use his tablet computer or smartphone to precisely and safely guide the trailer to exactly where he wants it? Without a doubt.

Do I think that fleets struggling to find drivers will embrace technology that will allow a driver in a lead truck to steer an electronically controlled convoy of two or three vehicles across country with no drivers in the trailing vehicles? Yes.

Do I think the driver in that lead truck will be a highly trained, highly paid and highly valued transportation specialist? Without question.

All that said, let me offer a few final Euro-Technology thoughts before I wander out in the rain to find a good German beer and some weinerschnitzel:

1. I firmly believe Volkswagen is coming — via acquisition — to the North American truck market. There is no way the suits in Mannheim are looking on at the advances being made by Volvo, Daimler, ZF, Meritor and a whole host of their continental competitors and thinking, “Nein! We don’t want to sell our trucks and technology in the United States!” VW wants in. The only question is how they’ll decide to enter.

2. You may long for simpler trucks and engines that could be torn down and rebuilt under a shade tree. But the trend lines are clear: Vehicles are getting more complex. Which means that our industry — on both the fleet side and OEM side — has got to start proactively dealing with a technician shortage that is only going to get worse as these technology enters production and becomes commonplace.

3. That said, it may be time to start considering establishing a new type of technician: A Vehicle Software Technician, for lack of a better term.

But as trucks transform into computer-controlled rolling robots, we’re going to need specialists who can analyze, troubleshoot and repair the myriad of onboard electronics that are essential for uptime. In any event, it seems likely to that as vehicles grow more complex, it may make sense to establish specialty tracks for technicians: The concept of a guy working on an engine one minute, putting brake shoes on the next and installing a fifth wheel after that may be archaic and hurting shop productivity.

4. Don’t panic! Change is coming. But it’s not going to hit all at once. There will be headaches. But there will also be concrete advantages. But guys who deal with the learning curve, understand and embrace these new systems are going to be a hell of a lot more valuable to fleets in the near future than guys who don’t.

5. Finally, keep in mind that there’s money to be made in all this. Lots of money. And the fleets that figure out how to leverage all this new technology to their benefit will be the ones making it.

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jack Roberts. He is the executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive.
Inside development of the Volvo CE LX1 as the hybrid-electric loader goes into field testing

Marcia Gruver Doyle | October 21, 2016
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Volvo CE's LX1 loader delivers a payload to the HX1, an autonomous hauler. Both machines were unveiled at the company's Xploration Forum.

Volvo Construction Equipment introduced its first concept of a hybrid wheel loader at the 2008 ConExpo-Con/Agg … and then went silent.

The long wait between then and now was acknowledged by Scott Young, Volvo CE’s program manager for electromobility during the company’s recent Xploration Forum.

But the wait has had its upsides, Young says: electrification technology has vastly improved in the meantime, and the company can also take advantage of the systems parent Volvo Group has applied on its buses.

But perhaps the biggest change during the wait is Volvo’s rethinking of its technology process: “It’s now fundamental that we connect earlier and more closely with our customers,” Young says. “We have to understand what the surrounding impacts are.”
The LX1

All that is background to what Volvo revealed at the Xploration Forum, its concept LX1 hybrid loader. Volvo says the L120-size LX1 is “fundamentally a new machine,” with 98 percent new parts, and capable of doing the work of a L150-size wheel loader. It will be one of the key machines that Volvo intends to use in its Electric Site research, to be completed in 2018.

“We can get much greater efficiency with electric systems, compared with conventional systems,” Young says. “As opposed to mechanical or hydraulic systems, with electrification we can decouple and move everything around and change the way the machine actually runs.

And because subsystems are not linked, they can now be optimized individually, leading to greater efficiency.”

For example, on the LX1, since the electric motors are on the wheel hubs, Volvo was able to change the frame of the machine, eliminating the axles and moving the bucket closer to the center of the machine.

“This allows us to lift more with a physically smaller machine,” Young explains. Additional energy storage led to a reduction in engine size, and now small electric motors propel the machine’s hydraulic system.

The result is a machine that has 50 percent more fuel efficiency than a conventional machine.

That 50 percent gain in fuel efficiency is a much larger number than the 10 percent gain Volvo was looking at in its initial hybrid loader concepts, Young says. “And this can go much, much farther than just being used on a wheel loader,” he adds.

Field tests

The LX1 driveline has no axles; instead electric drive motors are mounted at each wheel.

The LX1 has gotten the attention of long-time customer John Meese, senior director of heavy equipment at Waste Management. The massive environmental services firm, which runs 270 landfills throughout North America, has purchased more than 2,000 Volvo machines since 2002, which is by Meese’s estimation is the largest Volvo fleet in the world.

Although competitors came calling with hybrid loaders, Meese says he held true to the brand even though he heard nothing from Volvo about a possible hybrid. “It was like listening to crickets, it was so quiet from them,” Meese says.

The silence was finally broken last November when Meese visited Volvo’s Eskilstuna, Sweden, facilities and gave him a sneak peek at the LX1.

“We were immediately excited,” Meese recalls. “It’s the hybrid that they promised eight years ago.

“One of the first things you see is the dramatic slope of the hood,” he continues. “Our transfer stations are in tight quarters and visibility is important.

You notice that you can get right up against the back of the machine and the operator can see you. That’s huge.”

The LX1 driveline has no axles; instead electric drive motors are mounted at each wheel.

“In a conventional machine, the axles have a tendency to be the lowest part of the machine, which means it can get hit by waste material — just like a rock can hit them if you’re working in a quarry,” Meese comments. “With no axles, an important part of the machine is not hanging low.”

The machine also has electric hydraulics, an energy storage system and a smaller 3.6-liter engine than a comparable conventional machine.

“With a diesel, even at idle it burns a couple of gallons of hour,” Meese says. “It’s not doing anything except throwing money out of the stack. With the LX1, in the half hour I ran it last year, the engine didn’t start up.

This means that we may be able to run a shift and not have to have the engine running.

This is so quiet, we think it will give us an opportunity to expand our hours of operation because there won’t be any noise pollution. We see a huge savings there.”

Now Waste Management is participating field studies of the LX1 at two facilities in California, where the prototype will go head to head with conventional loaders in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction tests.

“We’re going to benchmark every possible thing in terms of emissions,” Meese says. “We’ll also pull in a lot of anecdotal information from the operators. We run more than 400 Volvo wheel loaders and a good percentage of those are L150s.

If we save 10 percent fuel on an annual basis on that block of wheel loaders, it would save us 100,000 liters (26,417 gallons) of diesel fuel. And with a 50 percent savings of fuel, that’s a pretty substantial savings.”

Meese says Waste Management was an early adaptor of telematics, and “we feel even more committed to what this type of technology can do.

If you’re an end user with a fleet of machines and you don’t know what’s happening with them through telematics, shame on you.

And if you recognize what electromobility can do for you and you sit back and wait, shame on you, because again you’re missing the boat. I say adopt it early.”

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    • The future begins today: Technology that will revolutionize — PS POST, Wed Nov 23 01:12
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