ArvinMeritor may be 100 years old, but the company is keeping its focus on the future, according to Garrick Hu, vice-president advanced engineering and product strategy. Hu leads the cross-functional team at ArvinMeritor charged with looking ahead at potential new processes and products and the technologies that will help make them a reality.
“Technology is applying science to solving problems,” says Hu. “Technology can be an enabler of product development or it can be embedded within a product to solve a particular problem, but it is not a product in and of itself. Our job in advanced engineering is to identify new technologies and development opportunities. It is exciting work.”
Four areas are of particular interest to the company today, Hu notes: hybrid vehicles, vehicle dynamics and controls, emission-reduction technologies and materials.
“I would like to see 2007 be a non-event. That would be good for everybody, including carriers,” says Hu. “Longer term, however, I think that higher costs for fuel and for new engines will push some carriers toward greater segmentation of their fleets and the vehicles they use. Fleets will trade the benefits of standard truck and trailer specs for route- or application-specific specs in order to manage costs without sacrificing performance.
“This move could launch a period of greater innovation, including the targeted use of various hybrid technologies for specific applications or tasks,” he continues. “How often does a driver really need 600 horsepower, for instance? With series hybrids, you could downsize the truck's engine, run it constantly at its ‘sweet spot’ and add electrified axles to supply extra power on-demand when needed.
“You could also locate a smaller engine elsewhere, say under the sleeper bunk. I have a patent for that, in fact. Moving the engine could reduce the frontal area of the truck and enable aerodynamic and weight-distribution improvements that are not feasible now,” Hu notes. “Generally speaking, I think we'll see more interest in what hybrid technologies can do; there will be people very open to trying new solutions.”
“Just because the technical solutions exist and you can do something, doesn't necessarily mean you should do it,” cautions Hu. “As an industry, we need to learn more about the physical realities of using some of these technologies. We need to know how drivers react.
“What would happen if everybody had adaptive cruise control, for instance?” he illustrates. “Would highways be safer or would everybody override the system? What would happen if all trucks were required to have adaptive cruise control and to stay in the right lane? Might that actually end up creating merge problems for other motorists? If we want to create safer highways, we have to learn more about the human/machine interface. That is really the next safety frontier.”
On another frontier, ArvinMeritor announced the launch of a new alternative-power vehicle development program with Unicell Ltd., a medium-duty body builder, last spring. The new 16,000-lb. vehicle features a fully electric drivetrain. “This is an exciting vehicle application for our expanding role as a true systems integrator,” says Hu. “It gives us the technology to do any type of alternative power vehicle, from electric to fuel cells and everything in between.
“To help make 2007 a non-event, we also presented a suite of emissions solutions at the Mid-America Trucking Show last year, ranging from our SCR systems used in Europe today, to our particulate filters with active regeneration. Currently, we have nine active programs with OEMs worldwide to develop emission solutions. Our unique technology in plasma fuel reforming will also help provide solutions for 2010 and beyond.”
Materials are Hu's other passion, one that goes back to college days. “I'll never forget my first materials class,” he says. “It was during the oil crisis in the 1970's. The professor said, ‘Earth produces gas; we just refine it.’ His point was that materials are not a renewable resource and that we should get involved in materials science.
“Today, we are looking at materials in a whole new way. We are designing with the ability to recycle in mind and making new materials choices, as well. Carbon fiber, for instance, is being replaced with titanium in numerous applications, not strictly for weight or performance, but for cost and availability reasons,” Hu explains.
“In the past, we also thought lightweight components were only of interest to certain market niches like bulk haulers to help them increase payload capacity. Now we are considering reducing weight for fuel economy. We know a 1,000-lb. weight reduction is worth about a 1% improvement in fuel economy and that has value to most carriers, not just a few.
“There are lots of new problems to solve today,” Hu observes. “Technology is perhaps our most powerful tool to get the job done.”