Dennis Losh, engineering director for business development at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, has a unique role in truck engineering: He examines future technologies and determines what's worth pursuing and what isn't.
Losh says that there are two particularly important factors that must be taken into consideration when making decisions about where to place his company's precious resources: practicality and cost.
“My job is to look for new technology ventures outside of our core business of safety systems, and cost is always in issue,” he explains. “We work in a very tight-margin industry, so the cost of technology is always a major focus before we begin research.
“However, we also have to answer this question: Does the technology in question truly solve a need in the industry? Are we providing value through solving a particular problem with the system or device we're looking at? That also drives out decision-making process.”
Losh is currently looking at the use of auxiliary power units (APUs) to reduce engine idling, as well as at hybrid power systems for commercial trucks, i.e., tying an electric and diesel engine together in one truck to boost fuel economy.
“When you look at devices such as APUs, you have to look at the diversity of the market for it. The product has to have broad appeal…but also interest for niche players, such as owner-operators, small fleets, construction fleets, and both on- and off-highway truck operators,” he says.
Losh notes that in exploring a particular technology's potential contribution to trucking, he has to remind himself not to “reinvent the wheel.”
“Many of the systems we're looking at exist in one form or another today already,” he says. “The issue becomes finding partners currently working with a particular technology and helping them take it to the next level to make it more attractive and/or useful to the market, thus broadening its appeal.”
On-board weighing scales are a case in point. “There are niche applications, such as logging, that are very sensitive to loaded vehicle weight,” Losh points out. “In logging's case, they need to be able to put as many logs as possible on their vehicle to maximize revenue, while at the same time make sure they are not overloaded. [They must ensure] that the load weight they're carrying is safe.”
Maximum safety and load are critical for those trucking niches where weight translates into profits, such as cement trucks and waste haulers. “The ultimate on-board weighing system [enables] them to haul the maximum amount of pounds allowed so they can generate the most revenue per load, and also eliminates the need to stop at highway scales…That cuts out non-value added stops that reduce vehicle productivity.”
Losh also thinks that APUs and hybrid systems are technologies that can ultimately help fleets control costs, although in totally different ways.
“Obviously, the driving force behind both technologies is to reduce engine idling. That cuts down exhaust emissions, surely, but for the fleet it also reduces fuel consumption and thus operational costs,” he points out Even minor reductions in fuel consumption by Class 8 trucks can provide fleets with huge savings. Losh points out that since trucking consumes about 32-billion gallons of diesel a year, it must absorb an additional $320 million in expenses for every one-cent increase in the price of fuel.
But Losh emphasizes that the decrease in emissions that accompanies reduced fuel consumption is not enough to make the issue of the impact of diesel engines on the environment go away.
“The issue with diesel-powered APUs is that you're still burning fuel, although much less of it, and therefore still creating emissions,” Losh explains. “Hybrids, on the other hand, can provide that auxiliary power without creating emissions and also help improve over-the-road fuel economy. But a hybrid system is much more complex than an APU,” he notes. “There are trade-offs to consider for each.”
For Losh, that's the attraction of this kind of work. “It's all about looking for that right combination of cost, industry benefit, and manufacturing capability,” he explains. “It's a complex task, but it is rewarding.”