LISLE, Ill. -- The International ProStar and Cummins ISX engine - at one time one of the best-selling truck and engine combinations in the North American Class 8 market - are officially back together.
Navistar International reached an important milestone this week, achieving an internal ‘Ok-to-ship’ status on the first 300 ProStar+ builds with ISX15 engines. The designation, reached five days ahead of schedule, means the ProStar+ with ISX15 has been sufficiently field-tested and is now ready for deployment into customer fleets. It’s a significant milestone for Navistar, considering the launch of the ProStar+ with ISX power was only announced in August, requiring an unprecedented four-month development program.
Truck News executive editor James Menzies visited Navistar’s Lisle, Ill. headquarters this week and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of Navistar’s ‘SCR War Room,’ as well as a spin in one of the very first International ProStar+ tractors with a Cummins ISX15 engine.
Navistar’s long and winding journey to EPA10 compliance has been well documented. While all other North American truck and engine manufacturers chose selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust aftertreatment to meet the EPA10 NOx standard, Navistar saw an opportunity to differentiate itself from its competitors and offer what it perceived to be a more customer-friendly solution. Navistar would opt to eliminate NOx emissions in-cylinder, through heightened levels of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), a technology employed to some extent by all engine manufacturers.
Detractors felt it wasn’t possible to achieve the mandated NOx reductions using EGR alone, at least not without significant compromises in engine performance and reliability. One of those engine manufacturers was Cummins, which initially declared it would meet the EPA10 standard without SCR, but backtracked soon after and announced it would join the rest of the pack, minus Navistar, in pursuing SCR.
That left Navistar at a crossroads, as the lone manufacturer to shun SCR. Would the company join Cummins in changing course and employing SCR, or continue to pursue the EPA10 standard without exhaust aftertreatment? Navistar opted to proceed with its in-cylinder solution, effectively ending its longtime relationship with Cummins, at least in the North American market. (Navistar continued to offer Cummins engines in certain export markets with less stringent emissions requirements).
Here in North America, Navistar’s International trucks would not be reconfigured to accommodate the bulky SCR hardware and its related plumbing. Instead, the company would forge ahead with what it dubbed Advanced-EGR and would cease offering Cummins engines.
Navistar, having banked a sizeable stockpile of EPA emissions credits for having been cleaner than required in previous emissions go-rounds, was able to work on its in-cylinder solution well after the Jan. 1, 2010 implementation date for EPA10. While the industry came to accept, even embrace SCR, Navistar steadfastly defended its position to eliminate emissions in-cylinder. That all changed this past July, when Navistar acknowledged it would be unable to meet the EPA10 standard before its steadily dwindling bank of emissions credits would be exhausted.
“That’s really where the wheels came off the cart,” Jack Allen, Navistar’s North America truck and parts president, told a small group of trucking industry journalists in August. “It’s not in the technology; it’s really in the timing of that technology being ready versus when the credits were going to run out. We got to the point in the intersection where those two factors were coming together like a freight train.”
Allen’s comments followed a July 6 conference call, in which Navistar declared it would change directions and adopt SCR. On Aug. 2, it announced it would bring Cummins back into the fold and offer its ISX15 in several of its trucks. That same day, Navistar announced it would begin by offering the ISX15 in the ProStar+ in January 2013. It was an ambitious target, and meeting it would require a Herculean effort from the engineering departments of both Navistar and Cummins.
When I arrived in Navistar’s Lisle, Ill. headquarters this week, much had changed since the last time I visited in August. Former CEO Dan Ustian had been replaced with Lewis Campbell, who was charged with making the difficult decisions required to get Navistar’s financial house in order. Troy Clarke, the recently named president and chief operating officer of Navistar, was taking on a more visible role in the company’s restructuring. A very public battle for seats around the boardroom table had been resolved, with Navistar finally relenting to activist investors Carl Icahn and Mark Rachesky and granting them or their representatives, positions as directors.
Very quickly, the new leadership has instilled a culture of transparency. For example, staff now receive daily updates on how the company is performing in relation to key performance indicators. This transparency was on full display during my visit this week when I was invited into what Navistar has dubbed its ‘SCR War Room.’ This is the command centre from which the transition from Advanced-EGR to SCR has been orchestrated.
Here, Thomas Smith, director of integrated ISX and SCR programs, serves as General.
“A well-planned effort is really what leads to a well-executed effort,” he told me while explaining the meaning behind dozens of wall-mounted charts, timelines and diagrams. The largest of these charts is dubbed the “Integrated Master Schedule” in which every task is assigned and then updated by the team that’s working on the project.
“The champions of those tasks update it so that as leaders, we can come in and quickly visualize if we are falling behind on something (marked in red) or are on track and completed (marked green),” Smith told me. “All this is done so we can get fixated down to the detail level of what people need to do to meet our deadlines with quality and really make a flawless launch. It’s a visual representation of what’s in front of us.”
Another chart serves as a “Risk Matrix,” highlighting potential pitfalls and action plans to ensure they don’t come to bear. One example identified on the chart was a potential shortage of electrical harnesses.
“We wanted to monitor that very closely,” Smith explained. “There was a lot of risk of not being able to have the physical parts we needed when we built the trucks. I’m happy to report we didn’t have any significant harness issues with our builds. No risks have manifested themselves into issues.”
With its transition to SCR, Navistar is fast-tracking a launch process that would ordinarily take years. That, said Smith, has been the greatest challenge.
“The time scale we’ve had has made us become more rigorous because we don’t have time to make a mistake and then recover from a mistake,” he explained. “This team didn’t have the chance to not hit it the first time, so we added some sub-elements to ensure we did hit it the first time. Typically, a 36-month to a four-year program builds in some ‘what-if?’ scenarios. We had to streamline that. We didn’t have the luxury to do a lot of development. We successfully squeezed this program down because we didn’t have a lot of development to do. We have a proven product in the ISX, we had an aftertreatment system that has been in production for four years and a truck that’s been in production since 2007 and that had this engine in it at one time. We just had to marry those back together again. We’re not developing any new technology and that was the real key.”
The obvious risk in accelerating such an important project would be that of taking shortcuts, resulting in mistakes that would manifest themselves somewhere down the line. Smith insisted that hasn’t been the case.
“The common misconception people have about engineering is, they think to go fast you have to cut corners, but in fact it’s the exact opposite,” Smith told me. “To go fast, you have to overlay more tests and more analysis, because you can’t afford to have a failure and back yourself up again - it’ll set you too far back.”
While most of the initial focus within the SCR War Room has been on integrating the ISX15 and Cummins’ SCR aftertreatment system within the International ProStar+, at the same time, engineers are adapting Navistar’s own International MaxxForce 13 engine to accommodate SCR. The ISX project, however, has thus far presented the greatest challenge.
“The ISX was the most challenging (project) because of the time scale,” Smith said. “We have a little bit more time with the other launches. Relative to when we made the decision to put the ISX in our trucks to when we had to produce the trucks that are going to customers at a great quality level, that was the most challenging aspect.”
Navistar officials, including Smith, are quick to credit Cummins and its team of engineers with contributing to the success of the program. The two companies have fully-integrated engineering departments working together on the project and those not working under the same roof have twice-daily conference calls to discuss progress and to resolve any issues that have surfaced.
Another wall chart within the War Room details Navistar’s timeline for its transition to SCR. So far, all the deadlines have been met, however unrealistic they may have seemed at the outset.
“From the ISX program, there isn’t a milestone we established back in August that we haven’t met,” Smith said. “Delivery is key to this program and we have to hit our mark.”
Shane Spencer is director of integrated reliability and quality with Navistar. It was his job to oversee field-testing of the initial International ProStar+ tractors with ISX engines. In addition to the 300 ProStar+ tractors slated to be delivered to customers as early as this week, Navistar’s Escobedo, Mexico plant has also churned out 15 more that were placed into the “Q-build” (Q for quality) fleet that Spencer oversees.
He has these trucks scattered between test sites in Dallas, Texas; Denver, Col.; Boston, Mass.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Fairbanks, Alaska. Then there was the truck parked in the Navistar parking lot on the day I visited. It was a ProStar+ 122 day cab with 450-hp ISX15 engine. The SCR system was tidily packaged in what Navistar calls a ‘switchback’ configuration. This common installation will be suitable for over 90% of Class 8 tractors operating in linehaul applications. The SCR packaging is similar, if not identical, to what you’ll find on any other truck make.
Of the 15 Q-build tractors Navistar has produced, most have now reached about 230,000 miles in real-world testing. They’re run 22 hours a day, leaving two hours between driving shifts for engineers to conduct inspections, make necessary repairs, download trip reports, etc.
During a two-hour drive over a combination of interstates and city streets, Spencer explained that testing has revealed no significant failures.
“It has all been minor,” Spencer said of any problems that have arisen in testing. “Nothing has fallen off the truck. There have been no mechanical failures throughout the program. The only things we’ve had have been some on-board diagnostics monitoring tuning that we’re working on with Cummins.”
One advantage Navistar enjoys by being the last to employ SCR, is that most of the initial hiccups with the technology have already been worked through.
The Cummins engine and aftertreatment system are well proven, leaving Navistar to spend more time focusing on the smaller details, such as how the hardware is packaged and mounted to the vehicle.
“We relied really heavily on the Cummins experience on the engine side of it,” Spencer explained. “We assumed they did their job right and it looks like they have, and we have focused more on the structural components; the new electrical system and plumbing that our trucks never had a need for and all that extra stuff, like the routing and clipping of harnesses. We’ve added extra clips even if we didn’t think we needed them to make sure the harnesses are staying put and staying dry.”
The performance of the Cummins engine on the highway presented no surprises. It’s the same Cummins ISX15 you already know. On our drive, it was as smooth as ever, pulled our 77,000-lb load effortlessly and lived up to its reputation as the benchmark to which other 15-litre engines are compared. As for the ProStar+, it’s a well-designed, fuel-efficient tractor. Navistar has taken its share of criticism over the course of the past two years, but few, if any, shots were directed at its flagship tractor. The truck we were in was a fairly basic spec’, but forward visibility was excellent and the cab was comfortable and ergonomic.
The ProStar/ISX combination was a winner before, and there’s little reason to believe it won’t once again return to its former glory. Still, Navistar isn’t looking to bring more Cummins engines into the fold, at least not as of yet. Spokesman Steve Schrier told me the company currently doesn’t have any plans to introduce smaller displacement Cummins engines.
There’s no surprise there. Navistar has too much invested in its MaxxForce engine line to be introducing an alternative. And the company is very pleased with its own engine, especially when SCR is added and it can be tuned for optimum performance. The 15-litre was a different story altogether, since the MaxxForce 15 was not yet fully developed when Navistar chose to adopt SCR.
As for the MaxxForce 13, Spencer told me it is “really liking the SCR” and that initial tests are encouraging.
“You do things the engine likes when you have SCR, like more (focus on) timing and less EGR, so the engine really runs great,” he said. He noted the engine is currently within the EPA10 emissions limits, but has yet to be certified by EPA.
“We start our field testing here in a couple weeks,” he said.