Steering drivers into a pain-free future

March 5, 2013

Years ago, truck drivers like my grandfather had to work hard to make their living. From loading and unloading, to the pain they suffered through in their legs and shoulders due to double clutching and shifting, to the work to steer the trucks. This is not to say that today’s truckers don’t work equally as hard, of course, but due to technology, the work has changed.

Innovations like automated and automatic transmissions that eliminated shifting, and power steering that has made turning the steering wheel no more difficult than if you were driving your personal Ford around town to do some grocery shopping, have changed the dynamics of what it takes to drive a truck.

Now comes the latest innovation in steering technology, courtesy of a company long-known for its innovation – Volvo.

Volvo Trucks has introduced “dynamic steering,” which will be a part of its new FH series of tractors set to be introduced in Europe next month.

According to Volvo, dynamic steering “combines conventional hydraulic power steering with an electronically regulated electric motor fitted to the steering gear.” The result is more precise steering.

“This patented technology benefits the truck driver in all operating conditions. On the highway the dynamic steering system offers unbeatable directional stability. At low speeds even a heavily loaded truck is so easy to steer that you can do so with one finger,” said Claes Nilsson, president, Volvo Trucks.

Volvo has attached an electronically controlled electric motor to the steering shaft which works with the truck’s hydraulic power steering. It produces a maximum torque of 25 Nm and is regulated thousands of times per second by the electronic control unit, Volvo said.

“The task of the electric motor is to deliver perfect steering feel for every single moment of operation. For instance, the system’s sensors note that the driver wants to drive straight ahead and automatically ensures that no interference from the road surface is allowed to filter up through the steering wheel,” said Gustav Neander, project manager for Volvo Dynamic Steering.  “At low speeds, the electric motor’s assistance makes the truck exceptionally easy to steer. Even a heavily loaded construction truck operating off-road on a rough surface can be steered without the slightest effort. Truck drivers who’ve tested the system during the development process have all been highly impressed.”

Volvo pointed out four main benefits to the system:

  • At low speeds, the electric motor takes over the work from the driver’s muscles. Instead, the driver can relax and steer without having to strain his or her shoulders and arms. Another benefit is that Volvo Dynamic Steering centers automatically when reversing.
  • Irregularities in the road surface, such as cracks and holes, are dampened by the system. This means that the steering feels more stable since the driver does not have to compensate with constant minor adjustments of the steering wheel.
  • On the highway this precise control leads to increased directional stability, which in turn gives the driver a more relaxed driving experience with full control at all speeds. The dynamic steering system eliminates virtually all those small steering wheel movements that are unavoidable on today's roads.
  • A steeply cambered road surface or a side wind is quickly detected by the self-learning system, which automatically compensates so the driver can steer straight ahead without having to tug the steering wheel to counteract any sideways movement. A significant improvement of road safety and driver comfort.

Neander, citing figures from the Swedish Work Environment Authority, said 40% of truck drivers in Europe complain of back, neck, shoulder or arm pain due to steering.

“Our improved steering system offers a more relaxed driving experience that should counteract this kind of problem in the working environment,” said Gustav Neander.

And could add additional pain-free years to a driver’s career.

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