Trucks at Work

Vectoring in the customer’s voice

So I spent last week in central Michigan at a ride-and-drive event touting Eaton Corp.’s new medium-duty Procision automated truck transmission.

[You can read more about that new transmission by clicking here. To view photos of that event – including test trucks equipped with the Procision in action – go here and here.]

In an interesting aside to all the test truck rubber being put on the hills and roads within Eaton’s 660-acre Marshall Proving Grounds, I spoke with Alison Thomas (at left) about how the OEM tapped into direct customer feedback over a five-year period to help guide the development its new Procision gearbox.

In 2009, she told me Eaton formed a 12-member customer council made up of 10 fleet managers from select customer fleets as well as two dealers to represent the needs of what she called “the smaller guys” who buy only one or two commercial trucks as year.

Meeting once to twice a year, the council would first review progress on suggested items from its previous meeting, then review and offer feedback on what Thomas called “current developments.”

Thomas – who serves as Eaton’s product strategy manager for medium-duty automation – said the input provided by the council’s members provided in her words “one of the most important pieces of information” that guided the development of the Procision.

“They gave us insight on everything from cost targets to service and repair needs over time,” she explained to me. “And we’re getting this as we work on the product, not after it’s been finished.”

Jeff Carpenter (at right), engineering manager for the Procision, noted that “dollar analysis” provided by customers during the gearbox’s development process proved unsparing as well.

“Regardless of their fleet application, in some order they would all touch on four key metrics: performance, efficiency, reliability, and cost,” he said. “So we basically all four of them – PERC for short – were non-negotiable base design, what we call CTQ or critical qualities.”

Yet to get the Procision to do everything desired while meeting base cost and life cycle requirements meant taking a lot of margin out of the product for Eaton.

For example, by factoring in a 400,000 mile “B10” lifespan for the new gearbox meant a lot of potential component repair dollars get eliminated. “It takes us out of the aftermarket revenue stream but that’s what our customers wanted,” he said.

[Below you can watch Carpenter provide a brief overview of the key features on the new Procisison.] 

Thomas added that Eaton also crafted a five-member “service council” made up of the best five technicians serving in its customer fleets to help the OEM make the Procision easier and less expensive to maintain.

“They helped us figure out how to package certain transmission components more efficiently, in particular using a spin-on [hydraulic fluid] filter to reduce both maintenance time and shop waster,” she said.

Of course, many manufacturers in the trucking space rely on customer focus groups of some sort to help better tailor their products – be they chassis, cabs, engines, axles, you name it – to market needs.

For example, the Technology & Maintenance Council has long positioned itself as a repository of such information – a group designed from the ground up to bring trucking industry maintenance executives together with their equipment supplier counterparts.

Yet I think what Eaton is doing represents the “next wave” of this type of customer/supplier interaction – conducting actual hand-in-glove design efforts from the drafting table all the way through final production.

And as the cost and complexity of today’s clean and more fuel efficient commercial trucks keep rising, you can bet more collaboration is on the way, too.

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