Body makers and chassis OEMs are making a concerted effort to work more closely together to provide fleets with products that fit together smoothly and seamlessly.
“There are several factors driving more integration,” says Shannon Harrop, director of product development for Heil Environmental, a refuse body maker. “One concerns the physical reconfiguration of the chassis to deal with emission rules. Exhaust systems can't be re-routed as easily as they once were, and the addition of new components — such as the diesel particulate filter — can reduce the amount of open space available on the frame.”
Fleets want control systems in the cab to have ergonomic setups so their drivers will be more comfortable, but they also want them to be easier to maintain and to take up less space. That's but one goal OEMs and body builders are aiming to achieve through better integration, says Harrop.
“We're also trying to design electronic setups that offer more continuity across the different chassis we install our bodies on.” That also helps shrink the time it takes to install a body on a particular chassis, so fleets can get their trucks sooner.
“It all comes down to doing a better job on the front end,” Harrop notes. “Today, we're mounting virtual bodies on virtual chassis using advanced CAD [computer aided design] programs so we can work a lot of these physical and technological issues out before the manufacturing process starts. It also helps us validate the customer's specs, making sure they've incorporated all the design changes resulting from new emission rules, for example.”
“Changes, both pre- and post-body installation, cost a lot more money today,” adds Bob Raybuck, technical services director for the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA). “And we're going to see more, not less, need for integration going forward as more electronics get added to both the vehicle and body, while real estate on the frame gets even scarcer due to the addition of new emissions control systems, hybrid propulsion systems, auxiliary power units, etc. That's going to impact all aspects of the vehicle.”
Trucks OEMs are looking to improve overall vehicle integration efforts by pre-configuring the chassis to receive certain types of bodies. Autocar LLC, for example, is in the midst of wrapping up a three-phase plan by the end of the year to provide true plug-and-play integration of body and chassis.
“Electrical problems, the major cause of downtime for refuse trucks, often can be traced to the need to splice together body and chassis components,” says Charlie Luper, Autocar's manager of databook configuration and pricing.
“The first phase of this plan involved working with body companies to integrate their controls into our cabs,” he explains. “Now we've now integrated all body switches and controls into the dash and overhead console, so the body companies can mount control boxes in the cab and connect their standard wiring through three plugs under the dash.”
PLUG & PLAY
Autocar is currently working with major refuse body builders, including Heil, McNeilus, Labrie and EZ Pack, to implement phase two of its integration program, which involves installing Autocar switches on the bodies themselves. “We run the wires and they just drop their controller into a panel we provide at back of cab,” says Luper.
In the final phase, Autocar will install the body companies' controllers and make all the connections, as well as punch holes in the frame rails for the brackets. “We'll also test the connections at our plant, so we'll know that when they plug the body in, they'll work,” says Luper. “Then, the body company just mounts the body on the chassis and plugs it in.”
Phil Christman, vp & gm of International Truck & Engine Corp.'s severe service division, believes that plug-and-play capability between body and chassis is critical to shortening vehicle delivery time to fleets. We want to make our vehicles “as road-ready as possible when they leave the factory so body installation time can be minimized, yet integration between body and chassis improved,” he points out.
Christman notes that International's multiplexed electrical wiring, combined with its Diamond Logic electronic control system, allows for faster plug-and-play between the chassis and the body, eliminating the need to splice into wiring harnesses to make body-truck connections. This ensures greater integrity of the electrical system, while also speeding up delivery times.
Frame space is another big chassis prep issue, according to Jeff Sass, marketing director for Kenworth. “Customers need shorter lead times for vehicle delivery today, and that means we need to cut time out of the production and body installation process where we can without sacrificing quality or capability,” he explains. “Part of that is delivering a clean back-of-cab chassis, especially for dump and beverage bodies. We must locate components, such as the battery box, fuel tank and DPF, in such a way as to still deliver a clean frame layout.”
Again, that requires OEMs, body builders and fleets to work more closely together up front, says Landon Sproull, chief engineer for Peterbilt. “All the extra components we deal with today reduces available frame space on the chassis, which is why we need to clearly understand the customer's specs and body needs right at the start,” he explains. “Added to the design changes resulting from the new emission rules, it's forced us to really rethink how we integrate major components and the body on the truck. That's why you've got to make sure the customer requirements are clearly defined at the outset.”
Brooks Strong, president and owner of body maker Strong Industries, notes that a change to any one of the 35 variables that go into fitting a dump body onto a truck will affect the other 34. “Working more closely with truck OEMs and customers helps take a lot of the guesswork out of what we need to do on our end with the chassis,” he says. “It saves us from having to do a lot of re-work on the vehicle, which adds cost and time to production.”
“It's all about creating a footprint for the body on the truck, not just in terms of the space it needs today, but for tomorrow as well,” says Nick Lengacher, medium-duty product manager for International. “We're dealing with more complex bodies and the rigid needs of exhaust aftertreatment systems, making it tougher to find real estate on the vehicle for everything.”
For example, pre-'07, body manufacturers could pretty much re-route a truck's exhaust system as they saw fit to match their spacing needs and meet customer requirements. But now, they must pay a steep price-upwards of $5,000 — if they want to move the exhaust system, since emission rules severely limit how far exhaust components can be from the engine, he explains.
NTEA's Raybuck concurs. “Body builders used to be able to manipulate the exhaust at will, making it easier to install their product.” But now, OEMs can't always shift from vertical to horizontal exhaust packages. “That's only going to get more complicated as we approach the 2010 emission rules,” he adds.
“The challenge is finding room so we can deliver a complete vehicle package with fewer mistakes at the get-go,” says International's Lengacher. “Something that requires little if no re-work to bring the chassis and body together as a seamless unit.”
Body makers feel that the key to improving vehicle integration is better communication with chassis manufacturers. Chris Weiss, vp-engineering for Knapheide, explains that this helps minimize what he calls field engineering. “We used to do a lot of cut-to-fit to get our bodies on the chassis,” he says. That can have negative consequences. For example, cutting and re-welding removes the electrocoating that gives Knapheide products added corrosion resistance.
Giving body manufacturers a way to communicate their needs to the OEMs will improve integration over the long term, says Weiss. “We need to have input about what's good or bad about a new chassis model before the design is set in stone,” he explains. “Even if our input isn't accepted, at least we have time to prepare for that change.”
According to Weiss, from an installation standpoint, physical changes to bodies create the most headaches. “They definitely cause more issues. For example, one truck OEM went to a suspension bracket that was one-inch wider than what they'd previously used. Suddenly, our bodies didn't fit anymore,” he says. “We had to work with them to get approval to shave 1/4-inch off that bracket so we could get our bodies to fit again.”
This back and forth between truck OEMs and body manufacturer is even more critical for fleets, as many are now relying on body suppliers to perform the spec'ing and vehicle engineering services that used to be done in-house, notes Weiss.
“As companies get leaner and look to get us to provide services they used to do in-house, we have had to increase our application engineering and service support capabilities,” he says. “We didn't have an applications engineering department two-and-a- half years ago; now we do.”
Yet working through the challenges involved in tighter body-chassis integration has resulted in big benefits for the end customer. “Trucks will be much more reliable and less expensive to maintain because integration will eliminate many potential problems and make it faster and easier to diagnose those that do occur,” explains Autocar's Luper. “Even though full integration will cost somewhat more on the chassis side, this cost will be more than offset by time and materials savings by the body companies. It's a win-win for everyone involved.”
Making the connection
Truck OEMs are using a variety of methods to create better connections with body builders, mainly through new detailed manuals and annual meetings to discuss integration issues face to face.
Kenworth, for example, recently published a 100-page Medium Duty Body Builders Manual for its 2008 T300 equipped with Paccar PX-6 and PX-8 engines. The manual features sections on dimensions (including turning radius data), frame layout and components. Other sections provide information on body mounting, frame modifications, electrical systems, routing, plus safety and compliance.
“The information will help body builders fit their products on our chassis and help reduce the cost of the installation for our customers,” says Jeff Sass, Kenworth's marketing planning and research director.
Landon Sproull, chief engineer at Peterbilt, notes that his company recently organized a meeting between Peterbilt engineering and sales staff and 40 body builders to gain a better understanding of their needs. “We need to work more hand-in-hand to deliver the more integrated product customers want,” he says.
Nick Lengacher, medium-duty product manager for International Truck & Engine Corp., notes that the need to work more closely with body manufacturers to address different truck market requirements has fostered the creation of more specific application engineering positions.
“I've got one engineer focused on street sweeper and utility applications, one dedicated to fire engines and ambulances, another on the beverage and towing & recovery vocations,” he says. “Each one of those applications requires a different level of complexity in the body, both in terms of physical and technological requirements. We continue to sharpen our focus on the specific needs of each truck segment so we can improve integration across the board.”