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The Kenworth T880 Mixer at Eaton Proving Grounds on Wednesday Nov 4 Eaton automated manual technology made it a cinch to drive up and down very steep grades on a dirt road course Photo by Aaron Marsh
<p>The Kenworth T880 Mixer at Eaton Proving Grounds on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Eaton automated manual technology made it a cinch to drive up and down very steep grades on a dirt road course. (Photo by Aaron Marsh)</p>

VIDEO: Eaton automated manuals: So easy, even a newbie could do it

Across the many sub-industries of trucking and transportation, where drivers are often hard to find and keep, some technologies Eaton has available on its commercial transmissions that allow precise maneuvers and more controlled operation may interest fleets.

Why do I say so? Because for a non-CDL driver getting behind the wheel for the first time of a Kenworth T880 Mixer with a PACCAR MX-13 under hood and loaded to 42,000 lbs. — much heavier rolling hardware than I'd ever piloted — an Eaton transmission made the truck about as easy to drive and make small, incremental movements as a large SUV from the passenger-car world (and subjectively, maybe more fun, too).

PHOTO GALLERY: Check out photos of the vocational trucks at the Eaton event.

Eaton brought reporters to its proving grounds facility in Marshall, MI last week to demonstrate some of the features, a few of them newly available on its UltraShift PLUS and Fuller Advantage automated manuals. That included test drives with a number of vocational trucks on a dirt road course complete with steep grades and even a few deep, uneven-bottomed puddles to climb in and out of. 

Full disclosure and setup: I have a regular driver's and motorcycle license. I tend to own and drive cars, not trucks. I prefer cars smaller, fast and agile, with a well-executed manual transmission if possible. In driving trucks — maybe something I've rented for a move, for example — the heaviest I'd handled prior to this event was a 12-ft. box truck. Because I'm not a very frequent driver of them and I live where it's easy to get stuck in traffic, for moving trucks, vans, etc., I find an automatic makes things less stressful.

One of the features of the Eaton automated transmissions I found most helpful is called Urge to Move. With this enabled, all you've got to do to get a truck moving is take your foot off the brake pedal (you can still launch/start up as normal by applying the accelerator). This could be in forward or reverse, including driving or backing up a grade, and Urge to Move will move the truck at a slow, controlled speed.

[Watch Urge to Move slowly bring  — in very controlled fashion — a Western Star 4700SB with Detroit Diesel 13 and Eaton UltraShift PLUS VCS automated manual transmission and loaded to 63,000 lbs. down a steep 20% grade.]

"It makes all the difference to the driver in here — he's got less to worry about down here [pointing to the various controls inside the truck] and he can worry about what's outside," noted Eaton systems engineer Nick Jelen. "That's important for someone driving a mixer, for example, because they're doing a lot of things in here with their drum controls and so on and they may have people outside giving them hand signals and things like that."

[Watch Eaton technology take the Western Star dump up a steep 20% grade, stopping and starting several times.]

I could see that technology making life a lot easier creeping forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic or having to make short, controlled maneuvers around a construction site. Urge to Move also incorporates Eaton's Hill Start Aid feature, which holds the truck's foundation brakes on until the transmission system builds enough torque to hold the truck and move forward — very handy in that Urge to Move minimizes rollback, should you be starting from a stop on a hill.

"Especially with driver turnover, it's easier to get someone in here who can do what the truck needs to do," Jelen said.

Another Eaton option I found useful is Blended Pedal. It's designed to bring manual-transmission finesse for very slight movements to the automated manual transmissions, allowing the driver to manipulate clutch-slip using only the accelerator pedal. "You still have to use your foot on the accelerator to modulate it, unlike Urge to Move, which does it for you," Jelen noted.

[Listen to Eaton engineer Nick Jelen explain Urge to Move and Blended Pedal while operating the Kenworth T880 Mixer.]

When enabled, let's say in the transmission's Low (deep reduction drive ratio) mode, you can use Blended Pedal to inch that big truck forward just a hair or two if needed while barely increasing engine speed, if at all. When you want to move normally, there's a "dead pedal" zone you push through with the accelerator, and Blended Pedal disengages. 

I also drove a Peterbilt 567 dump truck, which like the mixer had a PACCAR MX-13 engine and UltraShift PLUS VCS automated manual and drove just as easily. Loaded with gravel to 61,000 lbs., the Peterbilt felt very rooted and reminded me of driving something like a really overgrown four-wheeler ATV.

But the kicker had to be a Western Star 4900SB heavy hauler with a Detroit Diesel 16 600-hp engine pulling a long flatbed and loaded to 125,000 lbs. No question about it, before last week, that thing was way out of my league (and certainly my comfort zone).

[Watch the loaded Western Star heavy hauler take on an 8% grade, stopping along the way — there's a 15% down grade on the other side.]

But it also was a cinch to drive, all things considered. You just swing those turns nice and wide, and Eaton's UltraShift PLUS had an additional Low mode — which engaged an extra deep-reduction auxiliary transmission — that allowed even that heavy fella thus loaded to reverse easily from a dead stop back up a 15% grade at the proving grounds course.   

Urge to Move was again a favorite of mine, letting the truck move forward from a stop very easily in that slow, controlled, no-thinking-required way that I can see having all kinds of real-world applications.

Beyond those features, another helpful one I found on the Eaton transmissions was "Auto Neutral" — if you accidentally leave the truck in drive and pull the parking brake, the transmission automatically shifts into neutral and displays "AN," saving you from an "oops" moment leaving the truck in drive when getting out of the vehicle or powering down. You just shift the transmission into neutral to cancel the feature.

And the Eaton automated manuals' use of engine braking in Low mode took much of any intimidation factor out of driving that heavy hauler and the other trucks down steep declines — including ones just after a steep incline where it took what felt like a pretty long time before I could even see over the hood where that road was going. The Eaton transmissions kept the trucks from speeding away down the hills and, from where I was sitting, made for more confident control.

They're just a few of Eaton's technologies, but it's something to keep in mind if your organization has struggled with driver turnover or is looking to hire from a pool of younger drivers who simply may not have experience with heavy trucks like these vocationals we had some fun with at Eaton Proving Grounds.


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