A BIG PLANT GETS BIGGER

Rolf Lockwood

August 30, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 18

Recent travels took me to Chillicothe, Ohio, where I arrived very late in the evening with a few hours of work yet to do. As I drove into town I was dreading the prospect of having to depend on hotel-room coffee to keep me and my laptop going. There’s nothing worse with a deadline looming. But lo and behold, what should I see but the Tim Horton’s sign shining brightly through that American night like a lighthouse. Not a mirage at all. So with two extra-large coffees and a few donuts in hand, I felt as welcome in deepest Ohio as I could possibly be.

That welcome was continued the next morning at Kenworth’s huge plant on the outskirts of town. Huge indeed, and about to get almost 30% bigger as an expansion is now underway. The major project will add 105,000 sq ft to the factory’s present 372,000 sq ft, where more than 270,000 trucks have been built since it opened in 1974. They’ll add new manufacturing technologies and processes with an extension to the main assembly line, plus new cab, sleeper, and T2000 trim lines.

After a few presentations we had a lengthy tour and I watched as T660s and T2000s and W900s went from thin air to whole trucks in a matter of hours. It actually takes about an eight-hour day to build a truck in what is clearly a well orchestrated but labor-intensive process. In fact, a blue T660 with an ’07 Cat engine that we watched being assembled early in the afternoon miraculously appeared later that evening outside the country club where we’d had dinner.

Kenworth is ready for 2007, incidentally, with all its trucks re-engineered to deal with the packaging and cooling challenges of next year’s engines.

Chief engineer Mike Dozier, possibly the youngest man in that position anywhere in the world, says the company’s “field test program has consisted of numerous vehicles operating in customer applications and from the PACCAR, Cummins and Caterpillar Technical Centers.

“We’ve undertaken extensive validation testing of production-representative vehicle, engine and emissions systems,” says Dozier. “This program has provided millions of miles of performance data to help support the development of overall system reliability. All aspects of Kenworth’s 2007 engine emissions program have been very closely co-ordinated with our engine partners, Cummins and Caterpillar.”

Kenworth developed new, high-performance cooling systems to promote reliability, durability and heat transfer performance while controlling weight and cost. Among the lesser changes, it will make both silicone coolant hoses and extended-life coolant standard with all 2007 engine
installations.

The engine lineup will include Cummins ISX, ISM and ISL engines, as well as the Cat the C15, C13 and, new to Kenworth, the C9 for vocational configurations.

One last note: all Kenworth trucks with 2007 EPA-compliant engines will be 2008 models.

Sticking with power sources, some interesting news from Freightliner at the recent Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. President and CEO Chris Patterson introduced a proof-of-concept prototype utility truck and discussed the company’s plans to bring medium-duty hybrid vehicles to
market.

The prototype vehicle on display, a Business Class M2 106, was a full-parallel hybrid, similar to hybrid electric cars, with regenerative braking that recharges the batteries and electric launch functionality. It has an integrated electric motor in line with the engine and transmission, enabling operation with electric or diesel power, either separately or in combination. The truck launches with electric power and the diesel engine provides
additional torque as required.

The prototype M2 106 model has a 33,000-lb GVWR chassis powered by a 230-hp MBE 900 engine that offers 660 lb ft of torque. By incorporating a 44-kilowatt, 59-hp electric motor, the engine can manage 290 hp and 860 lb ft of torque when the electric and diesel motors are paired.

“Freightliner LLC has been testing hybrid vans for some time through our Freightliner Custom Chassis business unit. This prototype is an important step toward future production of a medium-duty hybrid commercial vehicle,” said Mike Delaney, Freightliner’s senior vice president of marketing. “We’re bullish on hybrid technology and its future in the commercial marketplace.”

Of special interest to utility customers, the prototype truck integrates the hybrid system with hydraulics for electric power takeoff (ePTO) operation. On a jobsite, that means the engine is off most of the time with the hydraulics run by batteries. When the batteries get low, the
engine automatically turns on to recharge them. This takes about five minutes and, when the batteries are fully recharged, the engine automatically turns itself off. Work isn’t interrupted at all.

There’s an advantage or two for utility customers beyond fuel savings. Because of the electric PTO operation, the engine will idle far less, meaning lower levels of noise, heat and exhaust emissions. And because the batteries are charged by regenerative braking, brake shoes will receive far less wear, extending their life and reducing maintenance costs.

Patterson said Freightliner is considering implementing the hybrid system in a variety of medium-duty trucking segments, including beverage, school bus, and P&D applications. They’re collaborating with the Hybrid Business Unit of Eaton Corporation on this effort, by the way.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty bullish on hybrid technologies too, and I think they’re going to take parts of our industry by storm within the next few years. I’ll be watching closely, of course.

This newsletter is published every two weeks. It’s a heads-up notice about what you can see at www.todaystrucking.com where you’ll find in-detail coverage of nearly everything that’s new. Plus interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months. Subscribe today!

If you have comments of whatever sort, please contact me at rlockwood@newcom.ca.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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