NEWPORT, R.I. — Vehicle connectivity innovations will soon change the face of the trucking industry, reshaping everything from maintenance practices to driver productivity, according to Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America.
Nyberg was one of several Volvo C-Suite executives gathered in Newport, home of a leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, to share their vision of the industry’s future.
Data connectivity with trucks was established back in 1990 but since then there has been a steady evolution of connectivity in the business world but Nyberg feels trucking has fallen a bit behind other industries in keeping up with connectivity. By 2008 the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on the planet – 6.6 billion. By 2020 it’s predicted the number of things connected to the Internet could rise to 30 billion.
So why shouldn’t there be greater connectivity with truck equipment? There will certainly be great demand for it from the new people entering the industry, according to Nyberg.
“People under 25 have never lived one day without the Internet and connectivity. Their expectations are different (from previous generations). In a few years they will be in management positions and they will have different expectations when it comes to connectivity. We need to think differently,” Nyberg told Volvo customers and business media gathered for the event.
Volvo is already starting to employ the “different thinking” Nyberg called for with its focus on platooning vehicle technology. Such technology, where trucks can communicate with each other and team up to follow a lead vehicle, is technology that is possible today because it can be applied to existing vehicles and infrastructure, provided the regulations that would allow its use on North American highways was available, said Susan Alt, senior vice president of public affairs for Volvo Group North America. Vehicles operating in platoon mode are able to greatly reduce the following distance between them than is currently acceptable thanks to the onboard sensors. By tightening up the following distance significant drafting advantages are created which improve fuel economy.
Alt said Volvo is working with the state of California on a bill that would allow platooning of three- to four-truck combinations.
“We are doing it state by state and hoping NHTSA will jump in federally,” Alt said. “The technology is available but your average soccer mom is not going to be ready for it (on our roads). I see this as something starting small and growing. I see starting with two-truck platooning.”
Two-truck platooning provides advantages over running B-trains because the two tractor combinations are not tied to each other and don’t even need to be from the same company to enjoy the advantages of better fuel efficiency while travelling the continent’s highways, pointed out Jeff Cotner, Volvo’s chief designer.
Another advantage would be that the drivers in the following vehicles would get a chance to rest since their vehicles would simply be following the motions of the driver in the lead vehicle. And eventually the following vehicles could be driverless, according to Nyberg.
“If we can have road trains in the future with the following vehicles running driverless, it will improve the driver shortage,” Nyberg said.
Predictive shifting is another area where connectivity can change the face of trucking, improving safety and productivity. For example, as the truck approaches a hill, preprogrammed information on the terrain allows the truck to handle the climb and descent in the most efficient manner. As the truck comes into the hill it is automatically sped up to delay downshifting, then the truck’s momentum and stored energy is employed on the downhill portion to accelerate and get better roll off.
Maintenance is another key area to be affected by advances in connectivity.
“Remote diagnostics is something we are putting a lot of focus on. We believe it will be one of the game changers in the industry,” Nyberg said. “We need to change the mindset. It’s not acceptable to have an unplanned stop. That’s a vision that we need to strive towards.”
Remote diagnostics capabilities lead to 70% reduction in diagnostic time and a 22% reduction in repair time, Nyberg said.
Volvo has now included its I-Shift automated transmission to the list of components that can be dealt with through remote diagnostics, and Nyberg adds “our ambition is to include the entire truck.”
There are 15 different ECUs on a Class 8 truck, all of them collecting vast amounts of data. If all that data could be brought together maintenance could become much more predictive. For example, the truck itself could become smart enough to alert the maintenance department of a pending alternator failure so that replacement of the alternator can be included on the next preventive maintenance check.
“The wireless workshop is coming. Vehicles will self evaluate and will be repaired remotely via wireless updates,” was the prediction from Rich Ferguson, senior vice president, aftermarket and soft products.
But the massive of data amounts of data harvested should not mean a huge dump of data on truck owners. The focus should be on providing solutions, not reporting problems with fault codes.
“When we started the journey into remote diagnostics in 2012, we quickly understood that customers didn’t want data overload. They want solutions. The just want to know when they will get their truck back,” Nyberg said.
Volvo is also using connective technology to ensure it is meeting its own standards on repair times and getting a handle on how quickly repairs are made under real world conditions. The track turnaround times for repairs it operates geo fencing around all its dealers , tracking when a vehicle enters the dealership for repairs and when it leaves.
Nybeg also sees this massive collection of data on which components fail and when having an impact on future component design.