But for the yellow parking brake control if this Peterbilt 579 equipped with Endurant automated transmission from the EatonCummins joint venture note righthand shift stalk looks very carlike to you that39s no accident It drives that way too Photo Aaron Marsh Fleet Owner

From mechanical to smart devices: Trucking's one-way street

Oct. 19, 2017
Eaton-Cummins joint venture's new Endurant automated transmission follows industry's biggest trend

MARSHALL, MI. The all-new flagship heavy duty transmission that's come from Eaton Cummins Automated Transmission Technologies, the Endurant, is "like what you're seeing across our industry — mechanical devices are all becoming smart devices."

The description came from Jim Michels, manager of global business communications for the Vehicle Group at Eaton Corp. And in more ways than one, that transition in trucking to smart, connected devices that once upon a time were mechanical things is a one-way, no-turning-back proposition.

Michels noted that, as promised, the first trucks with Endurant automated transmissions began to roll off the line Monday, Oct. 16. Orders for the Endurant, which the Eaton-Cummins joint venture boldly labels "the best in the world," have "exceeded what was forecast," he added. Initially, they'll be bolted into Peterbilt 579 and Kenworth T-680 tractors.

What makes this transmission special? Well, for starters, it's no automated manual. It was never a manual transmission that had automated shifting added to it, and it'd be close to impossible to go the other way and make the Endurant into a manual.

Even if you could, you'd need maybe three or four arms and inhuman precision to shift the thing.

The new transmission is a ground-up, scratch-cake effort that's been launched first for line-haul trucking. Boasting a number of advantages and efficiencies, the first to know is that the Endurant's engineering was free from constraints of a typical automated manual.

Reporters got a chance to test out Kenworth T-680 and Peterbilt 579 tractors with the new Endurant automated manual paired with Cummins X15 diesel engines. (Photo: Aaron Marsh / Fleet Owner)

Matt Erdmann, manager of program management for the Eaton-Cummins joint venture, explained to Fleet Owner how that process was significantly different and affected the end product. He described tweaking a manual gearbox to make it into an automated one.

"Basically, you took a manual transmission, you pulled off the shift tower and you said, 'Okay, I'll make some motors down inside do that instead of an arm that does the back-and-forth motion,'" he said. "We didn't need to be held captive to something that had to have that 'H-pattern' in it."

"Shifting sideways is wasted motion," he added. "It's just changing a pattern, and wasted motion is wasted time."

The Endurant features four linear shift rails, so all its shifting is linear. It results in faster, smoother shifting, with no side-to-side wear to develop over time, Erdmann noted. The transmission is air-driven, using pneumatic rather than electronic actuation, which provides high power density and speed for gear changes.

Driving experience

In Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks and paired with Cummins X15 diesel engines, reporters got a chance to put the new Endurant through its paces yesterday at the Eaton Proving Grounds test facility. Certainly delivering on that "smooth and precise" promise, this automated transmission can level the playing field considerably between inexperienced and veteran drivers, giving big trucks distinctively carlike drivability.

That was exactly the goal, noted Greg Inglett, an engineer with Eaton Cummins Automated Transmission Technologies. And it could be a real advantage for fleets now looking to recruit drivers from younger generations who've often had very different, and sometimes limited, driving histories compared with those in the average age group for truck drivers.

There's a lot of "smart" function going on inside the Endurant, and the driver may not even realize much of it is happening. An airbag pressure sensor gauges the weight of the trailer, for example — or senses that there is no trailer if you're unhooked — and selects the appropriate launch gear, continually optimizing for efficiency.  

No PowerPoint presentations here; this test of the Endurant was all about driving. Shown here are Eaton-Cummins joint venture engineers Greg Inglett (left) and Chris DeFrancisco (center) and Eaton Corp.'s Jim Michels. (Photo: Aaron Marsh / Fleet Owner)

Fleets can also specify a default launch gear to program in, such as 4th, for the 12-speed transmission, depending on their use and application. The clutch is made of durable organic material and features its own diagnostics and prognostics; the Endurant will tell you well in advance when the clutch needs to be replaced, and that can be accomplished without dropping the transmission from the truck.

As you're driving along in cruise, if the truck heads down a grade and picks up a few miles per hour over where the cruise is set, the Endurant will shift into neutral. It's called "Smart Coast" and saves fuel. The transmission can also grab neutral as the truck slows to a stop and re-engage the appropriate gear when it starts again. A "Predictive Cruise Control" feature uses GPS to look at the road ahead and, for example, may hold a lower gear as the truck is approaching a hill to climb.

The Endurant's "Creep" feature is a major highlight of the transmission's appeal and makes particularly easy work of various slow maneuvers. It's available in 1st through 4th forward gears and 1st-2nd reverse gears, allowing the truck to be moved slowly, smoothly and with a good deal of finesse, if needed. Just take your foot off the brake in gear and let the truck move; it works just as well with or without a trailer, and starting off from a stop pulling forward or backing up a hill.

Fleet Owner got a chance to test that on grades up to 15% loaded to about 65,000 lbs. The Endurant makes it nearly impossible to roll backwards either moving forward or backing uphill.

Things like being stuck on an incline in traffic, backing up to hook a trailer or pulling around a yard looking for a trailer should be easier to manage, and can be done without ever touching the accelerator. You can modulate the "creeping" movement with the brake pedal for precise movements.

The shift stalk controlling the Endurant is simple and can be learned quickly such that the driver doesn't need to look at it. For example, shifting from neutral to drive or reverse is just a click-roll forward or back, and a large button at the end places the transmission in and out of manual mode.

In manual, pulling the stalk toward the driver or nudging it upward shifts up, and a press down away from the driver or a nudge downward downshifts. It's all meant to be more intuitive.

And notably, while the transmission is running its advanced diagnostics, a "limp home" mode is designed to get the truck to its destination, if possible, should something break. That might be one of Endurant's three speed sensors or even if a pneumatic shift solenoid fails, preventing access to certain gears.

"If there's an issue in the transmission, based on the failure, we'll still be able to get home or have the driver complete his mission," Inglett said. "Especially with our IntelliConnect [Eaton's transmission telematics/ diagnostic solution suite], we'll know there's an issue with the transmission, and it can be sent to a dealership" to make sure repair parts are available and to schedule when to come in for the fix.

No going back

The Endurant's design and new thinking, like other products and systems finding their way into trucks, has produced something different. Not only is it purposely designed for automation, connectivity and max efficiency and can't be de-engineered back to a manual device, it offers drivers and fleets advantages they'd probably never give up.  

The Eaton-Cummins joint venture opens up new collaborative capabilities and will bring enhanced powertrain technologies going forward, noted Scott Davis, vice president and general manager of Eaton Cummins Automated Transmission Technologies. (Photo: Aaron Marsh / Fleet Owner)

"It's a significant evolutionary step forward in our product family, and maybe it's a revolution vs. an evolution," contended the joint venture's Erdmann. "I think it would be a tough sell for fleets to give up all the advantages they've gotten.

"My best driver and my worst driver don't have as big a gap between them anymore; your best driver is always going to be hard to beat, but we've really brought the bottom end of the talent pool up in performance such as for fuel economy," he told Fleet Owner.

Advanced shift strategies are being applied continually with the Endurant to interpret and optimize for driving situations and environments. "We can do so many more things now," explained Erdmann.

"If I own a fleet and my job is getting freight from A to B — and getting it there on time — the way I do that is by having dependable equipment and a driver pool that's happy with their jobs," he said. "If you've got a truck that breaks down and it's a surprise, one, the job didn't get done, and two, you've got a driver who's losing money and may be stranded in some location they don't want to be in.

"By taking that from an unpredictable failure to something where we can give you plenty of notice that it's about time to replace the clutch, for example, you take all that chaos out of somebody's organization and operating pattern," Erdmann continued.  

"I don't think a fleet is going to want to go back."

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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