Eaton predicts electrified future

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NASHVILLE, TN – Eaton’s Technology Innovation Center has looked into the future and believes it’s electrifying.

 “I think the next 10 years are going to be very dynamic, probably more dynamic than they have ever been,” says Larry Bennett, who leads the supplier’s advanced research and development arm. He sees the transmission becoming the heart of vehicle hybrid and electrical systems, which will have their own roles increase because of factors such as jurisdictions that want to ban internal combustion engines.

The predicted changes are not all about power sources, either. Future vehicles will be increasingly “connected and adaptable”, he said, referring to real-time changes and calibrations in the name of fuel economy, sometimes just a few seconds before they’re needed. Further Vehicle-to-Infrastructure and Vehicle-to-Vehicle communications will make it possible to shift to things like a more fuel-efficient route.

Then there is the emergence of autonomous vehicles. “The use of the vehicle and who owns it is going to change rapidly, especially in the cities,” Bennet added, referring to ride-sharing systems.

In the next five years, Original Equipment Manufacturers will be searching for the “low-hanging fruit” of available technologies that will help to earn Greenhouse Gas credits, he predicted. In the five years that follow, engine companies will increasingly look at options such as downsizing and also need to find ways to augment power in certain situations, perhaps with hybrids.

Advances in the next five years could include electromechanical valvetrain actuators, dual-clutch transmissions, smart-charging batteries, intelligent vehicle control, and over-the air programming. “We can change the calibration on a transmission once it’s pulled in and parked for the night,” he said, offering one example.

Look a decade out and the predicted technologies begin to include electric valvetrain actuators, Exhaust Gas Recirculation improvements, electric powertrains, efficient power management, predictive controls, and the systems that enable autonomous vehicles. Picture a purpose-build transmission for electric vehicles. That can offer better gradeability and acceleration with a smaller electric motor, he said.

A non-propulsion form of hybrid would be able to allow things like engine-off coasting and hotel modes, he added, predicting the quick adoption of 48-volt systems because of it. “They (manufacturers) want to take it off the engine and not have it spinning and creating parasitic losses.”

Looking further to the future, there are questions about which vocations will not be allowed to use internal combustion engines in different cities, he added. “There’s going to be a lot of electrification.” That will ensure machines are only used when needed and eliminate parasitic losses.

While vehicles will still rely on 12- and 24-volt power, Eaton expects growing interest in 48-volt systems for non-propulsion needs. Electric propulsion systems, meanwhile, could require north of 300 volts.

For the company itself, Eaton sees the transmission as the center of this universe. “We see the transmission as being ideally located on the vehicle to manage the electric power,” Bennett explained. A generator on the transmission, for example, could be used to run air conditioning compressors, offering the cooling without the need for an $8,000 Auxiliary Power Unit, he said. “Now you have hotel mode with the existing system that’s on the vehicle.”

New auto docking technologies will shut the system down and apply the brake before a trailer backs into a dock, and then creep into place. Emerging self-coupling features will also make the coupling of tractors and trailers less of a violent, damaging event.

The company already has the components to develop power management systems and power distribution modules. Lessons have already been learned that make it possible to better manage batteries, extending their lifespans, minimizing sizes and reducing costs, he added.

“Managing the electrical power. That’s where we believe our core competencies are.”

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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