Standardizing driveshafts

These are heady days for Dana Corp.'s Spicer Driveshaft Group. In 2000, Dana purchased one of Europe's largest driveshaft makers for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, giving its Spicer subsidiary access to different ways of engineering and manufacturing truck driveshafts. Spicer also won the 2000 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for manufacturing, often described as the standard of business

These are heady days for Dana Corp.'s Spicer Driveshaft Group. In 2000, Dana purchased one of Europe's largest driveshaft makers for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, giving its Spicer subsidiary access to different ways of engineering and manufacturing truck driveshafts.

Spicer also won the 2000 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for manufacturing, often described as “the standard of business excellence.” Spicer's win marks the second time a subsidiary of Dana has received the Baldrige award.

However, those two events have also given Spicer a new engineering mission of sorts — how to merge the best driveshaft technology from Europe and North America into one standard package that can fit in trucks from both markets. That's not an easy task, says Brad Jones, Spicer's program manager in charge of the project.

“Why are we even considering standardization? Because truck manufacturing has become a much more consolidated and global enterprise,” Jones explains. “Our direct customers are truck manufacturers such as Volvo, Freightliner and Peterbilt. If you look at their operations today, you see that Volvo owns Renault and Mack, Freightliner is owned by DaimlerChrysler, and PACCAR owns Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF trucks in Europe. These are no longer just North American truck makers — they build trucks for markets around the world.”

Designing a driveshaft that uses standard components for both European and North American trucks would make it easier for truck manufacturers to integrate those driveshafts into their trucks and, by extension, their production lines. That could cut both the cost and time needed to put the driveshaft into their products.

Jones notes that what Spicer is contemplating is not as simple as it sounds. This will be a complete “spline to spline” re-engineering of truck driveshafts, from the transmission to axle connection points. That means universal connection joints will be needed to link all the pieces of the driveshaft together. That gets complex, for example, when North American truck driveshafts are designed using half-round end yokes and European units are equipped with flanges instead.

“The truck specifications differ, too. Europeans use smaller trucks, with smaller clearance areas around the driveshaft, resulting in smaller ‘swing diameters.’ In North America, though, trucks have longer wheelbases, greater clearance requirements, and are custom-built with a range of options open to fleets not seen in Europe,” Jones says.

“We conducted a detailed five-page survey recently of OEM engineers, dealers and fleets to see what they wanted from their driveshafts,” Jones says. “What we got from the fleets was a desire for longer warranty periods and reduction in vibration. By standardizing driveshaft technology, we can tap into the European specialty for ‘lubrication for life’ products, which would then help us extend warranty periods for fleets.”

Eliminating the need to add grease to a driveshaft also eliminates the concern over grease spills and the shop improvements needed to prevent environmental contamination.

The biggest challenge to making driveshaft standardization happen, says Jones, will be in the manufacturing process. Spicer has only begun to examine the differences in how driveshafts are put together in Europe versus North America. That's where he sees most of his time and energy going for the near future.




Each month this column looks at emerging truck technology issues through the eyes of a leading engineer.

Name: Brad Jones program manager, Spicer Driveshaft Group, a division of Dana Corp., Toledo, OH.

Background: An 11-year Dana veteran, Jones has been working exclusively with the Spicer Driveshaft division since 1992. As program manager, he is actively working with engineers from Spicer's new European subsidiaries to “rationalize” both North American and European driveshaft designs. Jones, a native of McComb, OH, has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo.

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